Monday, May 9, 2011

The Pick-Up (1975)

Wow, that was not what I was expecting! If you’ve ever caught the trailer for this Crown International drive-in flick, you know that it makes the film look like a hippie sexploitation romp that ends violently. It sort of is that too; however, almost everything in the trailer comes from the first ten minutes or last ten minutes of the movie. What’s in between is a weird, semi-surrealist story about spiritual awakening and Edenic sexual bliss. There’s also a latex-faced clown in a swamp. Wow, man.

The film starts with two female friends sitting in a field together by the road, when they’re picked up by a kid named Chuck (Alan Long) who is delivering a mobile home to Tallahassee. The more sombre and spiritually-inclined of the two, Maureen (Gini Eastwood) is apprehensive about going with the boy because he’s an Aries and Aries is in a period of turbulence. Her friend Carol (Jill Senter) just wants to smoke pot and screw. The recent DVD box claims incorrectly that the movie was made in 1980, but movies like this were not made after 1976.

Maureen’s apprehensions die down after Chuck plays some Bach and Carol has a ball on the ride, doing a sort of interpretive sexy dance for a pickup full of young boys. Sure enough though, the weather starts getting rough and the road takes a detour; soon the mobile home is stuck in the mud of the Everglades.

This is where the film switches gears as Chuck and Carol return to a state of nature and Maureen regresses into memories of her childhood. Soon, the soundtrack is overpowered by trippy outer space sounds and Maureen is visited by Pithia, priestess of Apollo, receives a sacred dagger, and rolls around nude on a white stone altar in the middle of the swamp, while Carol and Chuck run around naked in the swamp. Did I mention this movie’s weird? If you saw it in the theatres during its original run, you were high.

Making the film even more mysterious, both Senter and Eastwood are gorgeous and neither ever did another film. The focus for the next hour is on two stories: Carol and Chuck’s burgeoning love and sexual liberation, and Maureen’s psychological breakthroughs. Maureen was molested by a Priest (they were into girls back then) and has frequent flashbacks to the incident. She is also visited by a two-faced politician who may or may not be the Devil (at one point, he voices support for abortion legalization, but she is ‘against all forms of killing’!) and an evil, latex-masked clown (in the middle of the swamp). While she’s the less-interesting of the two girls, clearly the story is focused on her inner life, something that makes sense with the twist-ending.

Meanwhile, Carol’s mother never understood her free and open sexuality and Chuck is just learning to be free” and “live in the here and now”, which requires him to hunt a wild boar with a bow and arrow- as with some other exploitation films, this one needlessly shows the animal being killed. The girls are freaked out by the killing, but the three roast the pig and Maureen finally burns a hole in her hand with a coal from the fire, so Chuck decides to seduce her. The two leave the bus and screw on the altar with the clown, politician, priest, and priestess watching. Incidentally, if you made this movie, you were also high.

Still, you have to admire the narrative daring of this movie. Combining Fellini and the drive-in aesthetic and going to all sorts of weird places, The Pick-Up takes more chances than most exploitation movies.

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