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Movie Musical Monday, February 13th: QUADRUPLE FEATURE!!!! ‘Beach Party,’ ‘Muscle Beach Party,’ ‘Bikini Beach,’ & ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’

February 13, 2012

Good morning, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

It suddenly turned out to be winter here in New York, so naturally I have been perpetuating a state of denial by cowering in my apartment, crouched by a steam-emitting heater, watching beach-themed musicals.  Why?  Because nothing puts you in a warmer state of mind than swingin’ on the beach and dodging sex before marriage. (Wait a minute…)

Back in the early sixties, a film company that doesn’t exactly exist anymore called American International Pictures hit on a GOLD MINE in producing several B movies that were aimed at teens.  This was just past the point in American commerce where businesses and ad agencies started to realize how much buying power teens and young adults had.  Predictably, the entertainment industry had started cashing in by making films that were unabashedly geared towards a younger generation.  Then in 1963, AIP released Beach Party, and essentially founded a whole genre of film: beach party films.

Beach Party was the first of seven movies that AIP released in this style, and while every other studio on the block tried to copy their formula, no one could ever seem to do it with the same success.  This doesn’t make a lot much sense because, I’ll be honest, the movies are just not that good.  Their structure is beyond obvious and there is very little substance to speak of here.  The reason I am able to even write one post about more than half of the films this company put out in this genre is because these four are, when you come right down to it, all essentially the same movie.  First take a look at their titles:

  1. Beach Party
  2. Muscle Beach Party
  3. Bikini Beach
  4. Beach Blanket Bingo

AIP didn’t want anyone fearing that they were going to get anything less than they expected, so the company made sure there was no end to the kitschy titles and kept the word “beach” present at all times.

The central cast, the setting, and almost all of the plot points are also kept in tact from film to film.  Here are all four films, in summation:

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funnicello played opposite each other as Frankie and Dee Dee–initially introduced as Dolores in Beach Party–who are a couple of steadies who can’t think of anything else to do besides go to the beach on vacation for four films in a row. (Further proof these are all the same movie: Beach Party through Bikini Beach all have variations on the same opening sequence.  Ready?  One.  Two.  Three.)  They both end up staying in the a rented house/trailer area with their whole gang of friends, with the boys and girls sleeping apart.  It should be understood that although it’s clear these kids do nothing else besides think about sex when they aren’t groovin’ by the sea or jazzin’ the glass, that there is no actual sex shown in any of these movies.  Sorry!  The copious shots of girls gyrating in bikinis are supposed to make up for that.  Frankie’s hoping the relaxing beach atmosphere will help him get a look at what’s under Dee Dee’s swim suit.  Dee Dee, however, is a woman with a mind and her eyes set on marriage.  Then either Frankie or Dee Dee shows an interest in somebody else, and the two either break up or almost break up.  In Beach Party they each had someone to raise an eyebrow at, but this device alternates between the two of them for every feature following.  Eventually though, after a lot of swingin’, surfin’ and singin’, the friction resolves and they get back together or reaffirm their commitment.

Each film has a climactic fight sequence that goes on for-seemingly-ever (and someone always ends up getting sent through a wall) and boasts end-credits that showcase someone dancing their bottoms off, leading into a tie-in to another forthcoming AIP movie.  Other features found running throughout these films include: an introduction to various alternative sports, like surfing, drag racing, and sky diving; Running jokes; the use of time-lapse photography; seemingly random celebrity cameos; adults standing around and wondering what was this thing called sex anyway, and how did these kids seem to have so much of it (even though they weren’t actually having any at all)?*

WHY THESE MOVIES ACTUALLY MATTER: 

I know, I know–I started out by telling you that they are all the same, formulaic, profit-based, “meh,” factory-produced films.  But you know what?  They are exactly what movie musicals should be: a snapshot of a period in time (either in cultural content or in cinematic style) that still works today as a piece of feel-good escapism.  And in these suddenly bleak winter months, who couldn’t use a bit of that?  Plus, Stevie Wonder made his on-screen debut in Muscle Beach Party.  So there.

The other reason why these movies matter apply most specifically to the musical theatre performers reading this: the songs.  There are so many musicals that feature this style of music now, and these films offer so many great options for your books just waiting to be discovered and sung!  You may want to take a look at these films if you are planning on auditioning for, or want to be ready to audition for any of the following shows:

  1. Hairspray
  2. The Marvelous Wonderettes
  3. Grease
  4. Hairspray
  5. Buddy!  The Buddy Holly Story
  6. Cry Baby–>Ah!  I heard that scoff just now.  Listen: it’s being revised and is supposed to open in March of this year if all goes according to plan.  So don’t say I didn’t warn you.  In the meantime, though, you can always focus on that eventual audition for:
  7. Hairspray

For non-musical performers, watching these films will help you research your audition for Psycho Beach Party, and help you understand why the film version of that play is funny at all.  Parody only works if you know the source material well.  Also, they’re just ridiculous.  Laugh at them.

Finally, these movies came out between 1963 and 1965.  Need I remind you that Mad Men is back in a little over a month?  Now is the time to start planning ahead for Spring/Summer fashion, and you can get a leg up by watching those styles in action.

HIDDEN GEM SONGS:

There are so many great song choices from these films, I had to make a list of them.  Some of them can be perfect for a man or a woman, with just a couple lyrical adjustments.

  1. Don’t Stop Now: Male, uptempo
  2. This Time It’s Love: Female, ballad (Could work for male singer with lyric adjustment)
  3. It Only Hurts When I Cry: Female, uptempo (Could work for male singer with lyric adjustment)
  4. I’ll Never Change Him: Female, uptempo
  5. And so many more!
In closing I’d like to say that if you actually decide to sit down and watch any of these films, I recommend just skipping to Beach Blanket Bingo.  Since it’s that last one, it has the formula down-pat, it’s shot better, and there was clearly more money put into the film.  Plus it offers up a mermaid, Paul Lynde, and Buster Keaton (for some reason I still cannot determine, and who is utilized in a way I still don’t quite comprehend).  And make sure you have a drink, or several–preferably with a little umbrella for garnish.

As always, hope your week is just the most, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

*Sex, of course, was not documented or verified as truly existing until the sixties, though there had been some initial case studies done along a streetcar route in NOLA back in the fifties.  Contemporary evidence, however, suggests sex may have happened as early as 1958, somewhere in France.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2012 5:37 pm

    The original singer of “It Only Hurts When I Cry” from “Beach Blanket Bingo” is performing a special Valentine’s online concert for all to see on StageIt.com tonight (2/13) at 6:25pm PST, 9:25pm EST.. You can get a ticket (pay whatever you can) at: http://www.stageit.com/donna_loren/donna_loren_s_shindig_the_love_connection/6713. Or, check out her website at: http://DonnaLoren.net

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      February 16, 2012 8:54 pm

      Thanks, Jered! I missed the concert, unfortunately, but I will definitely check out Donna’s website!

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  1. Movie Musical Monday, February 27th: ‘Calamity Jane’ « The Green Room

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