I loved the movie Gidget. In my teens, living at the beach, swept up in Frances’ naïve, tomboyish, coming of age angst. The swooning over Moondoggie, the dreamy ideal of being a surfer, of belonging to the waves, surrounded by men unto themselves, oh-so-cool, seemingly free from the worries and fears plaguing the rest of us. TCM is hosting a two-week beach movie marathon in honor of Spring Break, movies like Where the Boys Are, Beach Blanket Bingo, Beach Party, Ride the Wild Surf, Palm Springs Weekend, Girl Happy, Bikini Beach, Pajama Party…
I grew up in a beach town. Huntington Beach High School, where I spent four years of my life with twenty-five hundred other horny teenagers, sits exactly 1.2 miles, four minutes by car, from the best surfing beach in the country (Surf City, the inspiration for Hollister clothing). So along with all the geeks, freaks, jocks, cheerleaders, and brains, our school had one additional click: surfers. Not the squarish, Moondoggie types, but the raw, Jan-Michael Vincents who starred in real surf films like Big Wednesday (my all time favorite). I recall the movie playing in the background at many high school parties I didn’t belong at. Instead of snacking in the quad at lunch, kids went surfing. The coolest parties weren’t at houses but down by the waves with bonfires, marshmallows and other substances I wasn’t privy to. Few people I knew from high school left for college, for why would you leave a place where the first question you asked upon waking each morning was, “Is it a beach day?”
I tried surfing once, and still have the scar on my ankle to prove it. But I love watching the guys on their boards gliding in and out of the smooth arching swells. I could sit with my ass on the sand and watch them for hours. Even now it beckons me, all the way back from New York.
But as far as Gidget is concerned, I was saddened to find myself cringing two minutes into the film, imagining what my sixteen-year-old niece might say, the look of disdain I would face from her the first time Sandra Dee gushed one of her “Gee, golly isn’t surfing just the absolute best…” The ups and downs of Sandra’s pouty exuberance are hard to endure, though I did manage to fall for Moondoggie all over again (until he started singing and I had to mute the TV).
There are some movies that transcend time, we call them Classics; films like To Kill A Mockingbird and Casablanca I’ll be watching well into my eighties. But these bingo beach blanket bikini films (aside from Big Wednesday and Endless Summer) represent a fabric of society so far removed from our reality, so singular in time, that’s where they should stay, in our past.