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Savant Short Review:

Hot Summer

DVD packaging looks similar to this VHS boxtop.

Hot Summer
First Run Features
1967 / Color / 2:35 flat letterbox / 91m. / Heißer Sommer
Starring Regine Albrecht, Chris Doerk, Madeleine Lierck, Hanns-Michael Schmidt, Frank Schöbel
Cinematography Joachim Hasler, Roland Dressel
Set Designer Alfred Tolle
Film Editor Anneliese Hinze-Sokolow
Original Music Gerd and Thomas Natschinski
Writing credits Maurycy Janowski and Joachim Hasler
Produced by
Directed by Joachim Hasler

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The 1997 documentary East Side Story was a compendium of musical numbers from Soviet-bloc films, with happy bolsheviks singing about tractors and and the joys of being an anonymous member of the proletariat. The docu mainly made one hunger to see what the full original movies are like. First Run Features has a new DVD with the entire, uncut 1967 East German Feature Heißer Sommer, and it's unlike anything you've seen before. The closest you can come to describing it is a Beach Party movie, only with ideological values that are totally different.


Two groups of spirited Deutsche teens, ten boys and eleven girls, compete in a game of sneaky tricks to see which group hitch-hikes first to the sunny Baltic for a swingin' collective summer vacation. Constant musical numbers address issues like 'It's really hot this summer', and 'Boys are immature,' done with all the panache of the Mickey Mouse Club, with cheerily bland choreography worthy of Barney the Dinosaur singalongs. Everything these kids do is organized by, for, and in the spirit of the collective whole, with Girls still against the Boys, as usual. The girls trap the boys in the barn with a barking St. Bernard, and the boys sneak a boxful of mice into the girls' loft - real high-concept hijinks. The only trouble comes when one girl, Brit (Regine Albrecht) proclaims she does what she wants when she wants to do it. She tries to monopolize two of the boys, including the handsome, guitar-singing Kai (Frank Schöbel). The tomboyish femme ringleader Stupsi (Chris Doerk) does her best to give everyone the right communal attitude, but it's a tough row to hoe.

What we've got here is a double-treat. First is the simple novelty of an Iron Curtain musical meant to inspire Soviet teens with acceptable values, made by the quasi-independent East German film company DEFA.  1 Comparing values to those found in the American equivalent, the A.I.P. Beach Party movies, is truly interesting: Hot Summer appears to be a politically-correct Communist antidote to those banned examples of Western decadence.

One's jaw drops at the beginning of Hot Summer, and never completely closes. Compared to idiotic Hollywood teen movies, this is even more awkward. The girls square off against the boys as groups, singing and dancing  2 in sub-Busby Berkeley musical numbers. Annette and Frankie at Malibu lived an endless summer without parents, free to mix and match themselves romantically with whatever beach bunny, surfer hunk, or even Martian visitor came along. These German kids want to have fun, but preach responsibility and restraint in everything they do. They're acutely aware of the fact that they're too young to have sex, that the boys are too immature and the girls too emotional. Their pride and strength is in doing what's right for the group.

Whereas our Beach Party movies were an idiotic celebration of tossing parental rules out the window in an orgy of shimmying bikini lust, Hot Summer steers a clear moral course in which all personal actions are subordinated to the needs of the group. When Brit and Stupsi seem attracted to the same boy, Stupsi very stoically withdraws, claiming it makes no difference to her. Brit's assertiveness is taken as selfish and dangerous at all times, skipping curfew and openly stating her desire to let whatever happens, happen. Stupsi's self-denial isn't viewed as repressed or a source of bitterness, but as a socially superior reaction to a petty squabble over romance. Who you end up with as a kissing-mate is all-important in the Western version: here, when the kids do pair off, they all seem to acknowledge that their personal desires are secondary to greater social needs.

It's all very weird, and probably a total fantasy when compared to real East German youth, who must have been just as self-centered and aggressively competitive as kids anywhere. The comparison is fun because our Beach Party fantasies also had little in common with real teen life. Boy, those poor Commie kids, if they saw the A.I.P. films, must have thought Southern California was some kind of sexual-musical paradise.

Along with the communal mindset comes a purposeful avoidance of emphasis on the leads as stars. The most dominant presence is (according to the production notes) pop star Chris Doerk, a spirited but annoying woman who seems almost asexual. She never actually pairs off with a boy, suggesting that the production committee behind this show really wanted to promote the idea of college-age teens remaining socially platonic.

Over here, Annette and Frankie were of course the center of everything. The other teens frugging around them were little more than glorified extras, who for character distinction, did little more than flex their muscles or wiggle their bottoms. The German teens are more down to Earth, and rather bland as individuals. Several of the boys are identified by their professional aspirations, but only a couple of the girls have career goals. One cute one with glasses (of course) is literary-minded.

Brit's predictable selfishness starts a romantic triangle that ends up in a fight. Because the girls initiate the pairings, the film insists that Brit is culpable. Her anti-social egoism results in the main story crisis, when a boat they've 'borrowed' runs aground. Stupsi, having the Right Socialist Stuff, jumps overboard and swims to shore alone rather than be a party to this obvious analogy to the folly of selfish competition. Instead of A.I.P.'s caricatured adults, the fishermen and cops are paternalistically understanding about the confused hormonal problems of good commie kinder, and the prison sentences that might ruin their careers are avoided.

It's odd to see a movie where the kids are the ones who don't want to break curfew, and who enforce rigid discipline with peer pressure. But Hot Summer is far less of a fantasy than the American beach pictures, with their silly car chases, whimsical inventions, and surreal illogic. The German costumes are much more conservative, although there's a moment where a girl almost loses her bikini top (one boy gallantly turns his back to give her privacy). A musical number showing clotheslines hung with multiples of Britt's white bathing suit is perhaps meant to symbolize the fact that the teens have 'made it' together. Two girls talk about the possibility of pregnancy, something very remote from the 'no consequences' fantasy of the Beach Party movies. It's rather unclear if Britt has sex with one of her beaus, or both.

This individual incentive to be different and break rules, is openly considered a betrayal of the group. The production notes make the nice point that the transgressor's sudden need to escape may have been intended as a veiled criticism of East Germans who sought to 'escape' their duties by hopping the wall into West Berlin. At any rate, the deserters return, and their disruptive urges are absorbed back into the group in a more acceptable form. Few of the teens pair off into permanent couples. That's for later, at the proper time dictated by society.

Boy, with this kind of official culture, Eastern-bloc teens must have been really alienated.

First Run Features' DVD of Hot Summer is technically a good DVD. The feature is not 16:9, and appears to be a PAL conversion, but most of the time it's sharp and detailed. The source feature has somewhat subdued colors, which were probably always so, and is free of damage. Easy to read removeable subtitles translate the dippy song lyrics, and the simplified German dialogue. With everyone constantly counting from one to ten, and talking about the color of each other's eyes, this would make an excellent German language learning tool.

Extras include a 'music video' by Chris Doerk, who mugs and squinches her face instead of acting, coming off something like Herman's Hermits' Peter Noone in cutesy bubble-gum mode. A much-appreciated text extra does its best to explain the movie in cultural terms, although I didn't pick up on an undercurrent in the film, that that the writer thought was critical of Communism. The featurette highlighting the Best of East German cinema is actually a DEFA historical promo reel, that was also included with the PAL DVD of Der Schweigende Stern.

Savant loves different, and Hot Summer certainly fits that description. Although the film begs ideological discussion, the real reason to see it is that it's so darn funny. You have to prepare yourself for new levels of unintentional hilarity, when your stars 'dance' in the farmyard while wearing moronic little bundles of hay. And you thought the smarmy, cheesy Beach Party movies were embarassing!

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hot Summer rates:
Movie: Good? Pretty strange.
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Music video, production notes, DEFA promo
Packaging:Alpha-pak case
Reviewed: January 11, 2002


1. The DEFA-Studio fur Spielfilme also did Savant's Sci Fi favorite Der Schweigende Stern (First Spaceship on Venus), which was photographed by Hot Summer's director, Joachim Hasler. If the importer Icestorm International could get us an original German version of that picture ... oh boy.

2. Well, not exactly dancing. There's one small section where the kids do something like Western rock'n roll dancing for about 30 seconds - but you don't get much of a look at it. Most of the time they prance, hop, wag their heads and wave their arms to the music, in choreography that would take about five minutes to teach to an average group of second-graders. It's absolutely hilarious to look at. With twenty grinning teens bobbing on screen, singing idiotic lyrics while marching down the road or unpacking their suitcases, it has to be seen to be believed.

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