Saturday, January 31, 2009

Van Nuys Blvd. (William Sachs, 1979)

On the surface, it looked like just another strip of nondescript asphalt baking in the midday sun. Yet to the sexy residents of Southern California circa 1979 (the last days of disco), it was the road to paradise. Piercing the darkness like an iridescent dashboard, the titular roadway in the righteous masterwork Van Nuys Blvd. (a.k.a. Kadun kulkurit), the crowning achievement in the cinematic realm of hot chicks and cool vans, represented a shining beacon to the countess number of disaffected and apathetic citizens that populated the tight-panted morass that was the known universe. Skillfully depicting the aimlessness of youth with an understated panache, writer-director William Sachs (Galaxina) has created not only an extremely playful film, but also a surprisingly insightful one. Letting us tag along with a casually assembled group of leggy van enthusiasts, over the hill hot rod junkies, svelte car-hops, and lustful half-Italians, the rambunctious film perfectly captures the flighty tone and attitude of the era. Teeming with a life affirming message and sporting a spontaneous outlook when it came to affairs of the heart, I couldn't help but be transfixed by these dopey characters and their staunchly anti-fascist views when it came to personal freedom.

The lure of the infamous boulevard literally pulls Bobby (Bill Adler from The Van and The Pom Pom Girls) off the glistening body of his perennially naked trailer park girlfriend (Susanne Severeid) and into warm embrace of the street that doesn't know the meaning of the expression "fuel efficient." A van lover, who dreams of souped-up engines and consensual intercourse, the wide-eyed Bobby arrives on Van Nuys with his head full of metaphysical vinegar (a pseudo substance that nourishes adolescent woolgathering).

After a food-based sexual encounter with Wanda (Tara Strohmeier), a lithesome waitress, Bobby meets Moon (Cynthia Wood from Apocalypse Now) and Camille (Melissa Prophet), a couple of fellow van drivers (sexy female van drivers) and challenges them to a drag race. (Every conversation, by the way, usually ends with a drag race challenge.)

Thrown in the slammer by the power-tripping Officer Zass (Dana Gladstone), Bobby and the girls meet the moustache-adorned Chooch (David Hayward), an aging rebel in a hot rod, and Dennis Bowen's adventurous Greg, a character who had already tried hitting on Camille earlier in the evening, so he sees this co-ed jail cell reunion as fate.

Anyway, Bobby and Moon start to make goo goo eyes with one another in-between their van-centric posturing; Greg's flirting with Camille intensifies; and the easy-going Chooch is, for now, just content with being Chooch. The unlikely fivesome eventually become a mirthful force of nature and embark on a freewheeling adventure that will change their lives forever.

The moment this freewheeling adventure is implemented is the moment when Van Nuys Blvd. really comes alive and breaks out of its shell. That's not to say that the film was tedious beforehand. I mean, I wouldn't call Greg's guileless sexual encounter with "Motorcycle Girl" (Di Anne Monaco) tedious, or the car smash up scene, for that matter. It's just that when we see these people riding roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, and winning stuffed animals, it brings a fair amount of perspective to the proceedings.

Amusement park rides as a metaphor for life's ups and downs are terrific, but it's when the foursome (Chooch is done for the day) enter the discotheque and we see The Kansas City Kings Glitter Girls hit the floor, that whimsy level goes through the roof. The film as a whole depicts disco music in a positive light, but once in the nightclub, the positivity is downright groovy, baby.

This sequence is brilliantly directed, as simple camera angles capture all the disco action. The fact that the strobe lights were allowed to blink unfettered was also a deft move on Mr. Sach's part. I'd definitely rank this as one of the finest portrayals of disco music and culture in a modern motion picture.

The rivalry between Bobby and Moon dominates the film, and rightly so, it's the film's emotional centrepiece. Coming in second in terms of importance is Camille's desire to fuck Greg in her parents' house (with them home of course). These story-based nuggets are well acted and contain enough romance and humour to fill up a smallish jar.

However, the character I enjoyed the most was Wanda. Played by the insanely gorgeous Tara Strohmeier (the angel in the gold lamé jacket from Malibu Beach), the character of Wanda may not have been in the original quintette that met in prison, but she is integral to the lives of the main participants during their night of fun.

Using her striking beauty and propensity for deviant sex, Wanda manipulates Bobby and Officer Zass to get what she wants. Yet, in the process, she causes them to evolve, to grow. Which, when you think about it, is what the film is all about.

Oh, and the relationship Wanda develops with Chooch was freaking adorable. I could watch them play air hockey and Super Bug together until the end of time.



  1. Was (The) Fast and Furious series inspired by this movie?

    So, since you saw LAGTFS on TCM (enough acronyms for you?), I'm assuming you also saw Eddie and the Cruisers? I've been curious to hear what you thought of it.

    So I don't know if you've heard about the controversy surrounding bong-smokin' Olympian Michael Phelps, but that now-infamous picture was taken at my alma mater. Our small little city is all abuzz thanks to Mr. Phelps and his weed.

  2. Without doing any research, I'm gonna go ahead say, maybe. I mean, the racing spirit of the two movies is similar. But the Fast and Furious movies seem more focused on grunting and homoeroticism than having fun 'n' stuff.

    I recorded EATC off TCM and will watch it ASAP. (There are never enough acronyms.)

    I just heard about Phelps' bong photo on BBC World News. The way the stuffy British guy said, "The swimmer was photographed inhaling marijuana smoke through a glass tube," had me close to making a laughing sound. Anyway, congrats on being all abuzz.