Arts & Entertainment » The Arts

Canonical camp

A crude compendium of campfire flicks



The Parent Trap, 1961 Oh, the things that can happen at camp! Finally, away from parents, a girl could find out she has a twin sister and a missing mother (or dad)! I mean, it could happen! The Parent Trap of 1961 starred Haley Mills on a roll after Pollyanna as twins Susan and Sharon. They start out enemies and end up sisters, their twinship at first obscured by haircuts. The Parent Trap is actually a poignant kids movie, as it expresses in such graphic terms the longing to reunite divorced parents. The film captures the important elements of camp, including pillow fights, social outcasting, homesick loneliness and clearly drawn conflicts between one cabin and another. Not to mention lots of mean tricks from the “Short-Sheeting Handbook” and a pretty fabulous food fight. (Susanna Sonnenberg)

Wet Hot American Summer, 2000 One of the greatest ’80s summer camp movies was filmed in the year 2000. The comedic masterpiece Wet Hot American Summer was the spawn of the creative minds behind MTV sketch program “The State.” That now-defunct show’s primary virtue was its mixture of the lowbrow and the highbrow, and Wet Hot American Summer rides that same asset throughout its 90 minutes. It’s almost a parody, but not quite, as co-writers David Wain and Michael Showalter clearly love the genre too much to bash the silliness of it without basking in all its lovable glory as well. The action takes place in 1981 on the last day of summer camp. Each counselor has his or her own set of issues to resolve, and, as the film’s Web site notes, “since this isn’t a foreign film, everyone will find their answers at the big talent show at the end of the day.” A taste of Wain and Showalter’s offbeat humor from the film: As counselor Kate walks away from the hopelessly infatuated counselor Coop, he offhandedly remarks, “I want you inside me.” “What?” she turns and asks. “Oh, nothing,” he replies, retreating. “That was just…you know…from before.” Summer camp movies aren’t known for earning laughs through intelligent humor, but W.H.A.S. breaks that tradition. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

Mask, 1994 Even when camp movies aren’t about stealing bras or sticking your sleeping cabin-mate’s hand in a bucket of warm water, they’re always burgeoning with first-kiss potential. In director Peter Bogdanovich’s 1985 film version of the true-life story of a teenager’s battle with a disfiguring bone disease, Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz) locks his first kiss with camper Diana (Laura Dern) when he works as a counselor’s aide at a summer camp for the blind. Diana can’t see Rocky’s cruelly distorted features but falls in love with his mind as he explains the colors “blue” and “red” to her by placing one freezing rock, then one heated rock, in her hands. Though they never get past first base, their camp kiss beats the exploits that Rocky’s Harley-riding, drug-abusing mom Rusty (Cher, who won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance) orders up for him before he takes the camp job. After stealing $40 from her impossibly cool Harley boyfriend Gar (Sam Elliott), Rusty scores some snort for herself and a hooker for Rocky. The odds of Rocky choosing to roll around with the hooker are as slim as those of his contracting craniodiaphyseal dysplasia: one in 22 million. Instead, he gives the girl a pep-talk about life, then packs his bags for the cleaner air and true-love promise of summer camp. (Robin Troy)

Meatballs, 1979 Like an undying archetype out of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Meatballs stands as the perfect adolescent-market film (not to mention a landmark in Canadian cinema). Fresh from Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray plays Tripper Harrison—the always cool, always juvenile head camp counselor—whose crude and rude exterior masks a heart of gold. All the then-yet-to-be-over-exploited teen stereotypes are present and accounted for. There’s the nerd who’s unlucky in love, the fat kid who wins the hot dog-eating contest and the depressed little loser turned hero under Tripper’s tutelage. The film culminates in Tripper leading the beloved misfits of Camp Northstar to victory over the rich brats so smug in their finery from neighboring Camp Mohawk during the camp summer games. Amid all the gross-outs and slapstick humor, the movie manages to squeeze in a romantic subplot centered on Tripper and Roxanne (Kate Lynch). (Jed Gottlieb)

Little Darlings, 1980 For those of us who got only our first kiss while away at camp (dry mouth, quick peck, cheers, Stephen Goldstein, wherever you may be), Little Darlings was scandalous. Angel tries to lose her virginity! Plus, there’s just so much other social intrigue going on, as well as a heated rivalry between Angel and Ferris. Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal were popular favorites of the day, child actors who were getting on. What to do with them? Since forestalling their development was not an option, Hollywood gave them teen roles, and teen roles meant sexual maturity. Still, there’s a smack of Disney to this movie, even though it talks on and on about sex with plenty of forbidden activities and innuendo. To the pre-teen observer, Little Darlings was a lesson in something that was never, ever going to happen.(Susanna Sonnenberg)

Add a comment