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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

dvds that turn up the temperature

Hot Enough for Ya?

How ’bout this heat, huh? What? Yeah, I guess the weather has turned kinda bearable for August, hasn’t it? Well, if you wanna recapture some of that real summer atmosphere — you know, disgusting levels of oven-hot heat and sticky humidity that make you feel like you’re swimming through the day — then there’s always the magic of movies to sweep you away. There’s something for everyone in a little heat-wave DVD festival, so gather the family and set some popcorn on the hood of the car to pop (be sure the vehicle has been parked in the sun, preferably in the middle of an asphalt-covered mall parking lot, for eight hours for best results).

For the little ‘uns:
• Prepare kids for back-to-school time with a history lesson in 1972’s 1776 (buy at Amazon), the enlightening — and musical! — tale of the forging of this great nation of ours at the Continental Congress that took place in the sweltering summer of the titular year. Watch as the sweaty delegates berate founding father John Adams, in song, no less, for being such a pain in the ass with all his objections and tangential arguments:

It’s ninety degrees! Have mercy, John, please
It’s hot as hell in Philadephia!

Also features some more metaphoric hot-and-botheredness concerning the sexual proclivities of Thomas and Martha Jefferson, but that’ll go right over the heads of the kiddies.

For the geeky teens:

• Cautionary science fiction takes on inhuman levels of heat — caused by inhuman human behavior, natch — in 1973’s Soylent Green (buy at Amazon), in which the number of times Charlton Heston mops his brow is, I believe, a cinematic record; and he also has an orgasm over ice cubes (metaphoric, metaphoric), hard to come by in the overcrowded New York City of 2020 in which water and power are severely rationed. (No word on whether Soylent Green biscuits are better toasted, but I bet some creative future New Yorker has experimented by leaving some on the hood of the abandoned automobile serving as her home.) Also unmissable — and even better for making you feel the awful heat — is the 1961 British flick The Day the Earth Caught Fire (buy at Amazon), a Hammer Horror production in which nuclear testing throws the planet off its orbit and sends it hurtling toward the sun. The wild teenagers going nuts with the last of the water is pretty darn horrifying, in an end-of-the-world-and-I-feel-fine-ha-ha-not-really kinda way. (By weird coincidence, almost simultaneously with Fire’s British theatrical release, The Twilight Zone aired “The Midnight Sun,” a similar and perhaps even spookier look at the very same issue — it’s available on the Season 3 box set (buy at Amazon). Were people anxious about the fragility of the Earth’s orbit in the early 60s? Weird…)

For Mom and Dad, while the kids might still wander through the living room:

• Spike Lee uses the prickly discomfort of baking in the summer city heat to bring to a boil long-simmering racial tensions in his 1989 film Do the Right Thing (buy at Amazon). Strung out over the course of one hot day, the disparate threads of this brilliantly woven tale come together in an explosion of bitter rage in a Brooklyn neighborhood integrated only, it seems, on the surface. (Sorry, I got no snark for this one: it’s pure genius.)

For Mom and Dad, after the kids have gone to bed:

• William Hurt and Kathleen Turner get it on in 1981’s Body Heat (buy at Amazon), a noir thriller set during a Florida heat wave. Though how they can bear to touch each other when it’s that muggy I’ll never understand. Denzel Washington and Sanaa Lathan do the same thing, and pretty much for the reasons (I mean reasons related to crime, not the usual ones that drive us to have sex with pretty people) in 2003’s Out of Time (buy at Amazon). Also set during a Florida heat wave, also mysterious for the lack of a line of dialogue like, “Oh, God, I can’t even move in this weather, and you want me to do what?”

It’s also possible to build a functional campstove from DVDs if you aim all the shiny sides so the light bounces around in just the right way, but that’s a DVD discussion for another day.

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