Monday, January 20, 2014

Pick-Up (1975)

          First off, ignore the hilariously deceptive poster provided by the schlock merchants at Crown International Pictures. Far from being a typical sexy-hitchhiker flick, Pick-Up is a deeply strange film—part experimental cinema, part exploitation movie, part softcore porn, part surrealistic freakout. The movie includes astrology, creepy clowns, gentle folk songs, an effeminate senator inexplicably campaigning in the middle of a swamp, metaphorical balloons, a priest molesting a young woman, redneck rapists, Satan worship, and, of course, beautiful hippies having sex. And yet the most amazing part of Pick-Up is that director Bernie Hirschenson somehow manages to make all of this boring until the final half-hour, when Hirschenson jams together so many random signifiers that Pick-Up attains the weird quality of a fever dream.
          Adding to the picture’s unique flavor is the fact that Hirschenson, who also served as cinematographer, is actually quite talented at composition and lighting; although he’s hopeless as a director of actors and as a storyteller, he’s a natural at capturing dreamy, gauzy shots of attractive people. One might even say that Pick-Up transposes the vibe of a ’70s Playboy layout into moving pictures. Thus, long stretches of Pick-Up will be pure ambrosia for viewers who groove on arty nude scenes. For others, however, Pick-Up is a truly perplexing cinematic experience.
          The story—which is really just a premise—begins when Chuck (Alan Long) stops his bus on the side of a Florida highway to take a leak. He spies gorgeous hippie chicks Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood) lurking in a nearby field, so he offers them a ride. Carol, the dim-witted free spirit of the pair, is all for hitting the road with hunky Chuck, but witchy woman Maureen gets a bad premonition. Nonetheless, she takes Carol’s lead. Soon, the trio gets stuck in a swamp when bad weather forces a detour, so Carol and Chuck pass the time by screwing—in an endless sequence that climaxes with slow-motion shots of the lovers standing together, naked, on a swing as it floats through the air. Later, Maureen deals Tarot cards, flashes back to molestation by a priest, and answers the supernatural summons to an altar in a swamp, where she gains carnal knowledge of some demonic spirit. Then, as the song says, send in the clowns. Literally. A clown shows up to watch Maureen writhe orgasmically while receiving the supplications of her unseen demon lover. Eventually, Maureen gets with Chuck, too, while Carol does interpretive dance until rednecks show up to rape her. Then the clowns show up again, this time with balloons.
          Rest assured the movie is exactly as discombobulated as the preceding description suggests—Pick-Up delivers 80 minutes of elegantly photographed nonsense, edited together in a way that ensures maximum confusion. (It doesn’t help that the movie’s sound recording is awful, so much of the dialogue is inaudible.) Having said all that, the women in the movie (neither of whom is depicted on the poster) are lovely. The petite Senter has a girl-next-door quality and a seeming allergy to clothing, while Eastwood is a raven-haired beauty with mesmerizing brown eyes; although it’s hard to tell if either woman can act, given the context, both are so sexy that it’s surprising neither did more films. Still, it’s probably just as well that the starlets only exist, cinematically speaking, in this one bizarre movie—like everything else in Pick-Up, the actresses appear from nowhere, scramble viewers’ brains, and then disappear.



rob! said...

The posters to Pick-Up and Trip with the Teacher are very similar stylistically, I wonder if they were done by the same guy?

By Peter Hanson said...

Very likely -- both are from Crown International Pictures, which apparently felt bad ideas were worth repeating!