Formative Freakdom

Pee-wee's Big Adventure Is the Greatest Movie of All Time. Period.

Formative Freakdom


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The genre-busting 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure is my first, second, 136th, 27th, and ninth favorite thing in the history of all things. This has been widely and publicly acknowledged. (Please refer to my extensive published works, available in fine dumpsters everywhere.) It not only introduced the world to the triumvirate of Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, and Paul Reubens, it introduced this strange and alienated little weirdo to himself.

PICTURE IT! Me: a mere child, tortured and prepubescent, in the wastes of Butte, Montana—pale, hyperactive, and skinny as a nail, weird inside and out. I was dressed, as always, in a relentlessly starched, mercilessly white button-up cotton shirt with gray (or dark gray, occasionally) JC Penney slacks, and (drumroll, please, Danny Elfman!) a slim red clip-on bow tie—my precious, indispensable tie. It was an accessory I cherished more than oxygen or food. I had a wonderful collection of plastic dinosaur models, too, and T-Rex and Bronto would often accompany me to lunch. Sitting at that lunch counter, my aesthetic and personal resemblance to Pee-wee Herman was so obvious that it bordered on the grotesque. The problem was, he didn't really exist quite yet. Not that I knew of.

I was all of 9 years old (roughly the same age as that little girl from Poltergeist who stopped pooping and exploded) when I began wearing my little red bow tie—booty inherited from my late and allegedly gay uncle Russell, a grade-school art teacher. He was allegedly the gayest dude ever. (I inherited the dinosaur set from him, too, by the way.) Even at that tender age, I was a loner, a rebel, and I entertained neither heroes nor idols. I barely understood what those words meant. That is, until he came along...

One night, Pee-wee Herman appeared on my parents' bootleg HBO like my own personal ADHD Jesus. He was jumping up and down and making a noise like a broken Teddy Ruxpin having the best orgasm of all time. It changed my life forever. Who was this intoxicating fool!? All pale and skinny and flipping out like his toes were on fire? With his just-like-mine bow tie! And his just-like-mine spastic weirdness! I was staring, wide-eyed and awestruck, at what seemed to be nothing less than the manic mirror of my own true, secret soul. I was overwhelmed with something I had never known before: the sense that I was seeing myself reflected in another human being. (Sorry, family!) It gave me hope.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure was shown on HBO twice a day that summer, and I watched it twice a day. From the first earnest "Tweedle-tweedle! Boom-bom!" of Danny Elfman's score (a signature noise that would augment and finally come to plague films for generations to come), I was enraptured with its circus world of Claymation dinosaurs and magic tricks and primary colors—a petulant child's toy-box world, where ingenious contraptions flipped the flapjacks and poured the morning cereal, where the furniture was alive sometimes and knew from a quip. Everything about it reflected the weird and secret world that lived inside me—the world I wanted to create for myself outside, too. Oh, to ride my magical bike through the Universal Studios lot, causing mayhem, reckless and free! To go on wild, cross-country goose chases, riding the rails hobo-style, tangling with bikers, cons, ghosts! King of the freaks! Forever young! ALIVE!

Pee-wee became my secret best friend and mentor. His adventures taught me many important things: that violence and intolerance could be bested with a great fucking pair of shoes and some smart dance moves; that putting on women's clothes can get you through some pretty sticky spots; that when you're faced with a burning pet shop, save the damn snakes, too. Important life stuff.

Pee-wee grew in me as I grew. Learning to drive at 14 merely afforded me the opportunity to perfect my unblinking impression of Large Marge's ghost. ("When they finally pulled the driver's body... from the TWISTED, BURNING wreck...") Pee-wee's eye-rolling rebuff of Dottie's awkward, misguided romantic attentions is another scene that played itself out again and again in my life. (He intimated some gleefully wicked secret: "Things you couldn't understand, Dottie. Things you SHOULDN'T understand..." Exactly!)

Pee-wee and his big adventure were the blueprints for the boy I was and the freaky man-boy I am. I have never tired of it. At this point, I don't think it's possible. And yes, I still have that damn red bow tie. A few, actually. recommended

Pee-wee's Big Adventure will be playing every night from May 31 to June 5 at Central Cinema. I'll be there every time. I invite you to love it with me again, for the millionth time.


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That was awesome
Posted by Field_Mice on May 30, 2013 at 12:23 PM · Report this
This is so cool! I grew up watching Pee Wee's Playhouse and always loved his bike. My brother developed the Penny cartoons on Paul Reubens' Saturday morning show.
Thanks for sharing, Adrian!! I'll have to check it out!

By the way, although I know this is a completely different couple of films,
what's your opinion on the upcoming documentary, "Room 237", about all the subliminal messages film director Stanley Kubrick allegedly put into his eerie 1980 screen adaptation of Stephen King's novel, "The Shining"? Pickford Cinemas in downtown Bellingham will be offering showings of both this same week.
Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's JOHNNY!
Posted by auntie grizelda on May 30, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Report this
p.s. I enjoyed Pee Wee's Big Adventure on the silver screen, too, when it first came out! Wow---that really takes me back.....good ol' days......

eeeeeeeYIKES!! THAT"S what crappened to little Heather O'Rourke?
The Poltergeists struck back with a cruel vengeance!
Posted by auntie grizelda on May 30, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 4
!!! So great..
Posted by ArtBasketSara on May 30, 2013 at 1:44 PM · Report this
What a great job of capturing what it was like to see Peewee Herman in action when he first hit it big. His Saturday morning TV show was so wholesome and subversive at the same time. Just brilliant.
Posted by NotYourStrawMan on May 30, 2013 at 1:51 PM · Report this
But have you driven in to the California desert to have your picture taken with the dinosaurs or gone to Pasadena to hunt down Pee Wee's house? Yea, I'm that lady....
Posted by kathrine on May 30, 2013 at 1:56 PM · Report this
little girl dying is funny. ha. ha.
Posted by cay1969 on May 30, 2013 at 5:44 PM · Report this
Fred Casely 8
I love that story.
Posted by Fred Casely on May 30, 2013 at 8:48 PM · Report this
Just a suggestion: correct the reference to Universal Studios and replace it with the Warner lot.
Posted by Rey Rey on May 31, 2013 at 8:53 AM · Report this
Please tell me you've seen the first HBO live special. That is still the best Pee-Wee of them all. But Big Adventure is definitely most awesome as well. I saw it at a sneak preview as a kid, and almost shat myself when Large Marge did her thing. I love Pee-Wee and can't wait for the new movie to get made.
Posted by paulus22 on May 31, 2013 at 10:07 AM · Report this
Ah.. But the sequel: Big Top pee wee was truly a masterpiece. "Look Vance: the calilillies are in bloom a-gain."
Posted by heidiho on May 31, 2013 at 2:14 PM · Report this
kai4562 12
Thank you for bringing back fantastic memories of Pee Wee. I still have my doll that my son broke after pulling the string too hard. PW is one of the better things that came out of the dark era that was the 90's.
Posted by kai4562 on May 31, 2013 at 4:14 PM · Report this

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