Saturday, March 21, 2009

Go Ahead ‘N Ask: A Transsexual Angle on Summer Lovers By King Daevid MacKenzie

Like any good writer, I use three different reference books on English words while composing these columns - my grandfather’s 1917 copy of Crabb’s English Synonymes (sic); my dad’s old copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and somewhere in between is the Encarta World English Dictionary.

Said Dictionary defines “epiphany” as “a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.” Last week, I experienced an epiphany concerning a movie that I didn’t think could hold one for me after 27 years. The film is Summer Lovers, directed and written by Randal Kleiser.

Of Kleiser’s directorial talents, I’ve never been particularly impressed; I loathed his biggest box office hit, Grease, and any quality The Blue Lagoon contained was solely due to Nestor Almendros’ cinematography and the less said about Big Top Pee-Wee, the better.

Summer Lovers, on the other hand, fascinated me from its release in 1982. The story (originally written under the working title Trio) deals with American collegians Michael and Cathy, played by Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah, who spend a summer on the Greek island of Santorini, ostensibly Michael’s ancestral home. Just after arriving, Michael becomes obsessed with a French archaeologist who works on a dig site on Santorini and lives near the Americans’ summer residence. Michael pursues an affair with the French woman, Lina (played by the late French actress Valérie Quennessen), which gradually develops into a new bond between the three lead characters.

The film has developed its own little cult over the years, and even has its own Yahoogroup email list, which a member posted last week that a French language video edition she owns radically changes the dynamics of the story from those presented in the original English dialogue. In this edition, the nationalities of the three are switched – the couple become French tourists Michel et Catharine, and the French archaeologist becomes the American Trina – and, most significantly, at the end of the film Trina is identified as a post-op transsexual.

There appear to be several hints towards this end in the English version, such as Lina/Trina having the shortest hair of any female in the movie, a very independent attitude towards life in general, and in one scene a transgendered friend of Lina/Trina’s makes a film that Michael and Cathy watch the production of. Lina/Trina even discusses with Cathy how her parents threw her out of their home at age 15, a too frequent reaction that many real-life parents have to learning that their offspring are not heterosexual. In one scene, Lina/Trina asks Michael if he’s ever slept with another man, an idea he doesn’t immediately reject. In another shot, completely unrelated to any other scene in the picture, Lina/Trina even brings up the Greek god Dionysus being disguised as a woman to deceive his adversaries.

By this same token, the transsexual angle could be something that the French (or Quebecois?) distributors of Summer Lovers decided to graft onto the film without Kleiser’s knowledge. In the first draft of Kleiser’s Trio screenplay, Lina confesses that her father was sexually abusive towards her, which leads Lina to avoid sexual commitments in her adult life. This piece of information is not mentioned in the American release version of Summer Lovers; whether it figures into this alternate French version, I know not.

But at least this epiphany should allow for looking at Summer Lovers with new eyes, so to speak. M-G-M, which distributes the film in the U.S. nowadays, plugged it into as many cable slots as it could just a few years ago, so I assume Encore or The Movie Channel have a few plays still contracted. The 2003 DVD is probably still to be found for $5 at better Targets or Best Buys everywhere. It’s worth another look.

No comments: