Restored ‘Late Summer Blues’ wins new generation of fans

Director Renen Schorr speaks about how his classic 1986 debut feature film has withstood the test of time.

November 28, 2016 22:09
4 minute read.
Late Summer Blues

A SCENE from the 1986 Israeli classic ‘Late Summer Blues.’. (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)

‘I cried when I saw it again,” said Renen Schorr at a recent screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque of his debut feature film, Late Summer Blues, which has been digitally restored for its 30th anniversary and is now playing at cinematheques around the country. “It’s better now than it was when I directed it.”

Schorr, the founding director of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, Jerusalem, is not a man known for public displays of emotion. Although he burst onto the Israeli movie scene in 1986 with Late Summer Blues, he has spent most of his professional life developing Sam Spiegel into a world-class filmmaking center, one whose graduates have won hundreds of prestigious awards and which was even the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1996. He returned to directing in 2009, with The Loners, a movie about Russian soldiers who get sent to military prison. But Late Summer Blues remains his best loved film.

At the cinematheque screening, crowds who had loved the film when it first came out mingled with young people who had just heard about the film, which has not been shown in theaters for more than 25 years. Schorr described the technical process by which the film had been restored so that it now truly looks better than new, and spoke with joy of screening the film in Tel Aviv, where 20-something viewers were transfixed by it.

“This is a generation that lacks concentration, but all the cellphones were off,” he said. “They were transfixed by it... They cried... Some of them said they thought the film seemed as if it had been made today.”

The movie, which is set in the summer of 1970, combines music, comedy and drama to tell the story of a group of Tel Aviv high school graduates just before they are drafted into the IDF. The War of Attrition is raging on the Suez Canal, and it’s likely that some of these four guys (there are also two girls in the story) won’t come back alive, but they still have the normal teen worries: love, sex and passing their drivers’ tests.

“What we wanted was to see ourselves on-screen,” said Schorr, referring to himself and the film’s screenwriter, Doron Nesher.

The first Israeli film to open the Jerusalem Film Festival (in 1987), Late Summer Blues has become a classic, one of the few Israeli films from the 1980s to achieve that distinction. The characters are quirky and vivid, not heroic, sacrificial lambs but real kids, with all the insecurity, awkwardness and dreams of actual teens. I first saw this movie when it came out, when I was just a couple of years older than its heroes, and I saw it again at this cinematheque screening, now that I am the age of their parents and the school administrators. Seeing this restored version brought me back to how I felt years ago, and deepened my understanding of both of the generations in the film.

The story is narrated by Margo (Shahar Segal), an aspiring filmmaker who takes Super-8 movies of the group. He won’t be drafted because he has diabetes, but he envies his friends who are about to join the army, and not only because their military status impresses girls. The most fascinating character now, as he was back then, is Arele (Dor Zweigenboim), an outraged pacifist who makes pronouncements about how there are no just wars and plans to refuse the draft as a political act. As sophisticated as he is when expounding on politics, Arele strikes out with a new girl he meets, and is as upset over this as he is about the political situation. The scene where Arele, angry that his friend has called him a coward, climbs onto a precarious post above a huge drainpipe pouring water into the sea, and screams, “I’m a coward? Me?” remains one of the film’s high points.

Schorr said, “I’ve heard from people who have seen the words, ‘Arele was right’ written as graffiti all over the world.”

There is another scene that illuminates the complex reality of life in Israel with particular clarity. Arele and his friends, Mosi (Yoav Tzafir), and Margo are clowning around the in the headmistress’ office just before the graduation ceremony begins. They overhear the headmistress (Edna Fliedel) get a telephone call telling her that another one of the recent graduates has been killed. She chooses not to announce this death before the ceremony, so that the students and the staff can have one night of fun before hearing this devastating news. But the teens call her out on this decision in front of the entire school and her speech as she tries to explain her actions seems to capture the essence of the dilemma facing Israeli parents about the sacrifices this culture demands of its young people.

But in spite of the current of sadness running through the story, the film is full of joy. Its musical score, which combines original and very clever songs – including an angry musical rendition of Joseph Trumpeldor’s words, “It is good to die for our country” – with classics such as “Eli, Eli and Yossi,” “My Successful Son,” is one of the best ever.

Schorr closed the evening’s presentation with an anecdote about his doctor, a Brazilian immigrant, who told Schorr that he saw the movie as a teen. “He went home and told his family he was moving to Israel,” said Schorr. The man then took his own son to the restored version of the movie, which moved the director. “When you make a movie, you can’t know the influence it will have.”

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