Director David Lean declared he’d put more of himself into 1955 picture Summertime, the cinematic love letter to Venice he filmed and edited entirely on technicolour film, than into any other film he’d ever made – high praise indeed coming from the director who produced epics like Lawrence of Arabia and the iconic Brief Encounter. A glorious Katharine Hepburn leads the cast as fancy secretary Jane Hudson from Akron Ohio, an older, single protagonist who has saved up for the trip of a lifetime. She’s looking for adventure rather than love, but finds both when she collides with Renato Di Rossi (played by Rossano Brazzi). Travelling alone is not always easy, however, and even in beautiful, sun-drenched Venice, Jane discovers that it is still possible to feel deeply and painfully alone. With this in mind, Lean manages to artfully explore the delicate fragility of travelling solo; the immense freedom, but also the pitfalls of being by oneself in unfamiliar territory. Lone travellers take note.
1. Less is more
The film opens with Jane Hudson’s transition from Orient Express to hotel – a difficult one, given that she is overladen with olive green suitcases. A courier instantly relieves her of her physical load, but the mental strain of keeping up with that much luggage is a burden she soon learns it’s best not to bear. It’s well known that too many bags can ruin a trip; better to lighten the load and simply pack hand luggage.
2. Don’t be afraid of colour
As with all early technicolour films, the emphasis on red in Summertime looms large, but the colour also serves to symbolise the vibrancy that gradually enters Jane’s life. She starts the film in beige and white, indulging increasingly in colour as the film progresses, whether by pairing bright red lipstick with a violet polka-dot dress, tying a red ribbon in her hair, buying an ornate Murano glass or swapping her white peep-toe heels for a pair of rich red mules. This particular pair of shoes, which she buys specifically for her first proper evening out dancing in Venice, became so iconic that Giuseppe Zanotti famously reworked the design for one of his collections, dubbing the shoes the ‘Summertimes Mules’.
3. Learn to enjoy your own company
Despite her efforts to be independent, Jane initially spends the film attempting to tag along with the other guests, lingering on the beautiful sun-drenched hotel terrace and writing postcards to people who are absent. It is only when she finally goes out to wander the streets of Venice that she begins to enjoy her own company, and thus to truly embrace the world around her. Rule number one of solo travel? Learn to love being at ease with yourself.
4. Be brave
At first Jane hides behind her camera, as though Italy is a spectacle before her to observe, and not a world with which to become actively involved. She’s quick to shut herself off from those around her; in the Piazza San Marco she even turns the spare chair away from the table so that no one can sit beside her. Yet, after her first kiss with Renato she forgets her camera, refusing to observe the stories of those around her and instead focusing on being actively involved with her own. The modern equivalent? Rather than religiously documenting what you do on social media, Lean suggests that travellers spend some time living. In the words of Renato: “It’s not very much to have coffee with me is it? What happens after that? Happiness?”
5. People-watching is a fine way to pass the time
One of the advantages of Jane’s love of photography is that she spends a lot of time watching other people. She films women walking arm in arm; a small wicker basket as it dangles from someone’s hand; flowing floral skirts and shawls teamed with embroidered fascinators and pearl-drop earrings. Through observing, Jane assimilates, and soon she too begins to take pride in the details of her wardrobe: she ties a silk square around her hair, a chain of pearls around her wrist, dons cat-eye tortoiseshell sunglasses. By observing and eventually befriending the Italians around her, Jane is able to experience a both a different side of Italy, and of herself.