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Beach Party Movies

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Here’s my latest Frame by Frame video episode, directed and edited by Curt Bright, on the AIP Beach Party films from the 1960s, just perfect for the current heat wave we’re having. Enjoy.

As William Asher, the director of most of the films in the series, told me during an interview in late 2004, “I got a call from my agent. He said, ‘AIP called, and they want to know if you want to do a beach picture.’ Well, that was a natural, because I was a surfer from way back. When I lived at the beach, I used to surf all the time, so I had a real connection to the whole thing. So I said, ‘sure,’ and I went over to AIP, knocked the script into shape, and shot it.

The first picture we did, Beach Party, was shot in 12 days, for about $350,000, in Panavision and Pathécolor, so it had a decent budget. And when we were shooting it, I knew it was gonna be huge. It was a teenage dream; the perfect world.

But working at AIP had problems. With Jim Nicholson, I got along great. Arkoff hated me; he didn’t like me. Nicholson was the creative one, and Arkoff was the businessman. Arkoff hated the idea of the beach pictures; he just didn’t think they would go. He came down, and watched the first day’s dailies, and just said, ‘this will never work.’ So Nicholson would baby me along, and tell me not to pay any attention to Arkoff, and that’s the way we worked.

We shot those films very quickly. Since the whole schedule was 12 days, we had no rehearsal time at all. Frankie Avalon was great to work with. I just got along great with them; Frankie, Annette, Harvey Lembeck, the whole cast. I don’t know why that was. I just had a quality that they liked.

We had a big hit with Beach Party, and then I shot Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. I loved making these films; it was the way that I wished that I’d lived my childhood. They’re really fantasy dreams of what it’s like to be young. Nobody ever got in trouble, no matter what they did. Nobody got pregnant, and there was no drinking, or cigarette smoking, or drugs. It was just a beautiful dream of what it was like to live in California at the time.

The scripts of were sheer nonsense, but they were fun, and positive. It was the life I wished I’d had growing up. When kids see the films now, they can get some idea of what the 60s were like. The whole thing was a dream, of course. But it was a nice dream.”

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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