Monday, June 7, 2010

Pinball Summer (George Mihalka, 1980)

The sight of a haphazardly placed American flag languishing in the corner of a beaten-up gymnasium was the exact moment I knew this film was germinated on Canadian soil. Of course, I was already keenly aware in advance that is was a purely Canuck venture. I mean, really? Would the insanely adorable, Albuquerque born Hélène Udy (One Night Only) ever appear in a motion picture that takes place in the United States of America? I don't think so. But nonetheless, the manner in which Old Glory was thrown in a corner immediately clued me in as to what Pinball Summer (a.k.a. Pick-up Summer and Pinball Pick-up) was trying convey. And that is that nationalism, and all that nonsense that goes along with it, is unimportant when attempting to outsmart an unruly gang of bikers, sustain and employ a multitude of ambidextrous hard-ons, win a prestigious trophy that signifies greatness in the field of pinball, and badger a blithering git who owns an Excalibur (the car Linda Blair drives in Roller Boogie) all during the course of a single summer. Utilizing the well-worn, pop music accentuated driving montage followed by some plot massaging dialogue with a dash of conflict credo, the essence of this George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine) directed venture resembles almost every other aimless movie made during this righteous era (the film definitely has a lot in common with its American cousins: The Van, Van Nuys Blvd., The Pom Pom Girls, and Malibu Beach). Except, this particular enterprise seemed extra determined to celebrate the wonders of nothingness.

If you think I'm kidding, the actual plot involves a pinball trophy. One that a biker named Bert (Thomas Kovacs) desperately wants to own. So much so, that he spends most of the movie trying to steal it. In hindsight, Bert probably could have won it legitimately–you know, had he spent a little more time practicing and a little less time scheming.

The main target of Bert's scheming seemed to centre around manipulation a pathetic figure named Whimpy (Joey McNamara), a tubby outsider who is in love with Bert's girlfriend Sally (Joy Boushel). Promising to except him as a member of his gang after the completion of certain tasks, the nefariousness biker uses Whimpy's innate vulnerability to get what he wants. Which, as I've already stated, revolves chiefly around the winning of a pinball trophy.

Unwilling to allow Wimpy to defile Sally's wonderfully freckled physique, Bert sets up an unsavoury rendezvous with Tracy (Eve Robin), a genial demimondaine.

Maybe it's a classic example of Canadians trying to overcompensate, but in terms of promoting nihilism, I don't think I've seen a film so hellbent on destroying the very fabric of society. The main characters don't just belittle those who have goals and aspirations, they even openly mock the so-called rebellious citizens who inhabit their pathetically assembled excuse for a universe.

A prime example of this wanton belittlement is when we see van enthusiasts (i.e. exalted trailblazers when it comes to staying mobile during the fiery afterglow of the atomic hereafter), Greg (Michael Zelniker) and Steve (Carl Marotte), the supposed champions of the piece, take an unhealthy glee in tormenting Rod (Matthew Stevens) and Pam (Sue Ronne). Whether parked outside the diner, the arcade, or at the drive-in, Rod is bullied without mercy.

Sure, he's an uppity pratt, but there's no way he deserved the kind of harassment he endures in this film. It's true, I have no idea what transpired during the school year–Rod could have been a mammoth nozzle containing many douche-like properties in class. Either way, getting your tailpipe stuffed with three hot dogs, one hamburger, an entire pizza, and a loose smattering of popcorn is pretty harsh punishment for being a pompous ass.

The tactile nature of pinball and the lived in quality of the flesh the characters wear throughout this cinematic composition gave the proceedings a strong physical temperament; a disposition that I find to be severely lacking in the modern day aesthetical spectrum. The pelvic relationship one has while playing pinball communicates such a distinctly copulatory aura, that even the most shiftless of viewer could have picked it up without expelling much mental exertion. Each frustrated hump you hurl towards the flickering wood and glass case is tantamount to witnessing a psychosexual maelstrom. The thrusting represents fertilization and the racking up of points symbolizes the increase in population. As in, every point earned is a sentient being that you and the game have sired.

One's desire to see unclothed bodies (specifically female breasts, genitals, the subtle fracture of a backside) cavort in a shameless display of nakedness is repeatedly rendered obsolete. Which begs the question: Is the sight of an uncovered human female breast still important? I guess. Yet, it's that doubt that makes the film so successful as a flavourful slice of frivolity; one that just happens to celebrate spiritual autonomy and use arcade gaming as a metaphor for procreation.

Unequivocally proving that you don't need nude torsos engaging in acts of dehumanizing debasement to make something sexy, Pinball Summer (a.k.a. L'Arcade des cinglés) brilliantly teases the dampish reproductive organs of its sophisticated audience by aggressively employing the fabric-depleted clothing of the period.

You see, by leaving certain areas covered with small bits of denim and polyester, our interest in the regions that are uncovered only manages to increase in size.

I guarantee that all your crotch-based inclinations will be so fixated on Joy Boushel's exquisite thighs and freckled arms, that you will be letting out exaggerated yawns by the time she rips off her leopard print bikini top during an impromptu game of strip pinball at a backyard pool party.

Okay, maybe that's a little far-fetched–her boobs are quite resilient. However, that doesn't mean Karen Stephen and Hélène Udy don't shine bright in the scantily clad department as Donna and Suzy, the lovely gal pals of Greg and Steve. Always informally dressed, yet never undignified, Karen and Hélène make terrific use of their legs in series of lackadaisical montages that exemplify the importance of adhering to the leisurely values that make this nation soar upwards.

I also liked the way Donna and Suzy were constantly being thrown around by Greg and Steve. Not in a violent way, but in a playful, let's toss these petite women around like half-inflated sex dolls, kinda way.

However, the cushy, toss-friendly nature of their relationship is severely tested when Donna and Suzy are driven home by a suave fella in a white Corvette Stingray Coupe after a night of hot disco dancing at the Oz Club. It's too bad Greg and Steve are a part of that whole misguided disco sucks movement, because instead of harassing their nemesis (parthenogenesis) in the Excalibur at O.J.'s Drive-In, their lame asses should have been at the disco with their girlfriends.

Meanwhile, over at Pete's Arcade, the competition is heating up, as Joan (Joan Garnett), Lynn (Dawn Dowling), Brenda (Brenda Claire Hall), Kathy (Kathy Pedersen), Sally (Joy Boushel), Suzy (Hélène Udy), and Donna (Karen Stephen) all vie for the title of "Pinball Queen."

Judging the ladies via a device called the "clap-o-meter," my heart sank when Joan's beautiful body seemed to barely register on it. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I think the contest was rigged. Either that or the unwashed rabble assembled at Pete's have no idea how to properly appreciate a delicious set of calves.

The fact that a television set is clearly shown in the "off" position (in other words, there was no picture being transmitted) and the drive-in movie the characters go to see was basically ignored signified to me that these people are not spectators, but fully integrated members of society. Sure, they're slowly sowing its downfall, but they're having an absolute blast doing so. A sobering message, if you ask me. But please don't, my brain is 93% belly button lint.

video uploaded by hotchickfan


  1. Another awe-inspiring review. It sounds like the kind of movie that causes internal rioting in 12 year old I'm dying to see it.

  2. I think I'm going to try to use "psychosexual maelstorm" in a conversation. ®Yum-Yum. :)

    Great review.

    By the way, I shuddered in horror when I saw Bigas Lunas, or whatever the hell his name is. Ham Ham was one of the worst films I have ever seen. I can't believe that film stars two future Oscar winners.

    That one-hit wonder on Jeopardy!--the guy who got really really lucky with his Daily Doubles--reminded me so much of someone. Glen Hansard?

  3. Jerry: Thanks, Jerry.

    Oh, and I like the expression, "internal rioting."

    Karim Amir: My I recommend using it the next time you're at Pawleys. "Excuse me, waitress. Yeah, this burger has caused my taste buds to swirl haplessly into a psychosexual maelstrom. And in light of this sticky situation, I was wondering, could I get some extra napkins?"

    You no likey the Ham Ham? I haven't seen it, but I did see bits of his Golden Balls; Spanish trash.

    Speaking of not seeing things, I haven't seen Jeopardy all week. Me sad. :(

    So... who do you like in the World Cup?

    Go Slovakia!

  4. Go North Korea! Too bad there's no Canada team.

    I'm actually playing in a fantasy World Cup league. LOL, as the kids on the interwebz say.

    I picked England over the US.

  5. Go North Korea, indeed. I would love it if they went all the way.

  6. This is another cool review. You always post about such interesting movies. Many of them I've never heard of before.

  7. I wasn't sure if it did, either. But the fact I've been mindlessly sitting in a jury waiting room for the past four days proves that Canada does indeed have jury duty.

    Not only is it a huge waste of time, it saps you of your strength and slowly destroys your will to live. ;)

    Anyway, I've got one day to go.

  8. One of the all time greatest Canadian flicks...with a nearly imposssible to find rocking soundtrack!

  9. I recently interviewed Michael Zelniker for my webzine. I'll lwet you know when it posts.