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.
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.