Monday, June 8, 2009

The Van (Sam Grossman, 1977)

Sporting no gimmicks whatsoever, The Van is about a van and that's that. However, it would be foolhardy to think that this van-centric story is solely about a van, even though I just said that it's about a van. Confused? Well, hop in the back of the van I'm figuratively sitting in right this second and I'll do my best to convince you as to why this particular van tale is not only one of the best van movies ever made, but simply the finest piece of cinema this planet has ever created. A groovy product of its time, the film, directed by Sam Grossman and written by the duo that brought us the totally awesome Malibu Beach, may seem old fashioned by today's excessively strident standards (the more shrill you are, the more successful you seem to become), but there's a liberating purity at work here that transcends style and fashion. Implying that hard work and a profound sense of purpose are worthwhile enterprises, this film is a stark reminder to those who expect everything for nothing. Sure, the aspiration to own a van might sound a tad wonky, but that's beauty of living in an anarchical society; you can blow your wad on anything you see fit, because you've earned it. Now the mythic allure of the four wheeled vehicle known in most cultures as "the van" has been studied by anthropologists for centuries, yet it still manages to baffle and amaze those who seek to unlock its many secrets. It's essentially a giant metal box on wheels propelled by fossil fuels and a whole lot of gumption. That is, of course, the conclusion you'll come to if you look at the van from the point of view of a child or someone who just doesn't know a lot of stuff.

Looking at it from a deeper, more philosophical angle, you'll no doubt see the potential the van possess as humanities principal tool for propagating itself in the apocalyptic future of tomorrow.

The lack of shelter and the scarcity of food and water in this future will require that people remain mobile at all times, and the van is the perfect vehicle for this upcoming bleak period of time.

The happy-go-lucky Bobby (Stuart Goetz), a recent high school graduate and car wash attendant, is obviously totally in tune with this desolation to come. In that, he hopes that his acquisition of a van will improve his standing with the ladies that populate his spiritual orbit. And in doing so, spreading his seed and prolonging humanities existence for a little while longer.

Equivalent to a male peacocks feathers, or the massive bulge in and around a ballet dancer's crotch (fives cups of penis with a dash of hubris), the fact that Bobby's van is not only tricked-out to an insane level (water bed, refrigerator, toaster, and an 8-track player), but painted bright yellow with arrows running along the sides is quite telling. For instance, Bobby's mother literally spews a knee-deep deluge of female ejaculate all over driveway when she lays eyes on the gaudy splendour that is the van (she even envisions herself having a romantic evening in its cozy confines).

On the other hand, Bobby's father calls it "obscene" and looks at it with a disdainful glare.

Once the van is obtained, the shy Bobby finds no trouble finding woman to fornicate with in the back of his van. An armada of brunettes with big butts (Lillian McBride, I think) and blondes with big boobs (Connie Hoffman) jump at the chance to press their naked flesh up against the bashful Bobby. As you would expect, this newfound studliness saturates the young van enthusiast with a renewed sense of self.

Only problem is that Tina (Deborah White), the woman he actually loves, doesn't want to fornicate in the back of his van. Every time he tries to paw at her with his hands (the same hands he drives his beloved van with) or invade her personal space with his puckered lips (the same lips he kisses his beloved van with), the self-assertive Tina would gently coat his ego with a slight spurning sensation.

This refusal to engage him on any sort of romantic level confounds the fledgling sex fiend like you wouldn't believe. The very thought of the van's vagina humidifying prowess not working on her causes Bobby to reevaluate his opinion of the boxy behemoth.

This thoughtful period is when The Van breaks free from its seemingly unenlightening trajectory, and steers toward a realm full of subtle nuances. In fact, it starts to boast actual moments of graceful refinement.

The unsophisticated Bobby learns that van ownership alone can't solve all of life's problem, and that conversing with someone, not molesting them before you even say hello, is the best way to get to know a person. It's true, I knew all these things beforehand, but I couldn't help but nod along as the film's succinct message oozed from my viewing screen.

The sight of pre-Taxi era Danny DeVito playing Andy, the owner of the car wash where Bobby works, was a bit of a weirdly distracting thrill. However, his role basically takes a backseat to the grinning mug of Stuart Goetz' Bobby, who does a first-rate job channeling the intensity of a young man who desperately wants to own a van. Also, he excelled during his scenes with the lovely Deborah White, especially the one where they are seen inspecting vans at some kind of van exhibit to the strains of Sammy Jones' "Chevy Van."

Rounding out the cast: The musclebound Steve Oliver plays Dugan Hicks (a role he would reprise in the equally brilliant Malibu Beach), the main antagonist of piece (remember kids, don't ever call Dugan a turd); the Reed Diamond-esque Bill Adler (Bobby from the equally awesome Van Nuys Blvd.) shows up as one of Bobby's dickish co-workers; and Marcie Barkin, who plays Sue, a woman who, unlike the choosy Tina, will pretty much have sex with anyone.

video uploaded by sideshowcarny


  1. Clearly, The Van is a telling though gentle satire on Cold War paranoia and nuclear nightmares, in that the man must learn finally to abandon his survivalist seed-dispensing imperative in favor of living for today and its modest pleasures of sociability. In other words, yours is one of the most hilariously brilliant reviews I've read in a fair while.

  2. Oh, I thought this was going to be the Stephen Frears movie. If it were, I doubt the review would be so freaking entertaining. Your van analysis? So awesome.

    I'll never forget when I drove up to my parents' house and discovered a van in the driveway. Assuming someone was visiting, I was surprised to only find my parents at home. "We bought a van!" they said. Of course, I asked why, and they replied, "It will be easier to go grocery shopping!" Uh...okay. So their van was used for much more mundane purposes than the protagonist of this film.

    Hubris is a great word. And Reed Diamondesque? Awesome.

    By the way, Morgan Fairchild ate in a restaurant at which I work. My lesbian co-worker just about blew her wad, well, you know what I mean.

  3. Thanks, Samuel Wilson. I'm happy to know that there are others who view The Van the same way I do.

    Karim Amir: I remember that Van movie; Colm Meany was in it. Anyway, I'm glad you likey.

    I recall being driven around in a boxy van without seats on numerous occasions back in the day; I felt as if I was riding in a giant metal deathtrap.

    The van exchange with your parents sounds hilarious. I hope used a mildly sarcastic tone when you asked why.

    Bill Adler and Reed Diamond have similar cheekbones. I should post more pictures of Bill... I mean, he's basically in every other movie I watch. (The Van, Pom Pom Girls, Malibu Beach, Switchblade Sisters, Van Nuys Blvd., etc.)

    Funny, "hubris" was thrown in there at the last minute.

    I realize that not all lesbians have the same taste in women, but I do take comfort in the fact that there's at least one who digs Morgan enough to part with a smattering of her precious wad.

  4. I had never even heard of this movie before. Great review. It was very interesting. We had a van when I was growing up. I drove it a lot when I got my license. I had some great times with that van.

  5. Thanks, Keith. The Van is a love letter to van owners and drivers. At the same time, it's a cautionary tale that warns against becoming too attached your van.