Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Quintessential Hawaii film

The Quintessential Hawaii film: Blue Hawaii

Hawaii is widely seen as America's slice of exotic paradise. It's one of the nine states I haven't been to but my image of it is well-formed by the friends I have who take their once-in-a-lifetime vacations there and by all the sitcom specials (Saved by the Bell, My Wife and Kids, Step by Step, Full House) where the family or gang takes a trip to Hawaii.

A popular choice is Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity.

The 1953 Best Picture Oscar winner, set in a military barracks on the eve of Pearl Harbor, is famous for that makeout scene on the Beach, Montgomery Clift's broody performance, and Frank Sinatra winning an Oscar for a character dressed in tacky Hawaiian shirts. 

From Here to Eternity did lead to an increased resurgence in Hawaiian aloha shirts but the problem with the film is that Pearl Harbor doesn't define Hawaii. It's one of the two most disastrous homeland attacks ever to occur on American soil, but that's more of an anomaly and that anomaly is far overshadowed by the ensuing years of Polynesian-tinted sunniness.

Courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Another option is Alexander Payne's 2011 film The Descendants (an Oscar nominee and winner in the screenplay category) which (like Sunshine State) seeks to crack the facade of a tourism mecca and show struggling ordinary people underneath. The film delves into the social hierarchy between Hawaiian land owners, natives, and new blood in the real estate market, but this all falls into the B-story that's overshadowed by an A-plot about a disheveled middle-aged man struggling to cope with the pending loss of his unfaithful wife. In short, it's largely a film about a disheveled George Clooney in tacky Hawaiian wear. 

Descendants is a worthy runner-up, but my pick is going to be the 1961 film Blue Hawaii because it's pure kitschy, fun escapism. 

Elvis Presley stars as the quintessential all-American looking to have a good time after getting out of the Army. His father wants him to work at the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company but Chad decides to work at his girlfriend's tourist agency instead as a guide. 

It's not really about any sort of grand socio-economic conflict. The film's tag line was:
"Ecstatic romance...exotic dances...exciting music in the world's lushest paradise of song!"

Also of note: A lot of the glamour of Hawaii was first spread through military men stationed in Hawaii during the war reporting back to the homeland on how glamorous the islands were, so it's fitting that Presley plays an ex-GI, although his journey is in reverse. 

In short, the film features Elvis (an honorary Hawaiian) wearing an aloha shirt and playing a uke. What better image could Hawaii want than that?

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