(1985) dir. Tim Burton
viewed: 03/04/06 Found with some looking in an old box of videos was a copy of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure that I had found many years ago for $5 or something — an old video store copy sent for the glue factory. I have had a fondness for the film, as well as other Tim Burton works (mostly his earlier stuff). These were back in the days when I actually bought videos. I don’t do that anymore really. Very rarely, anyways. But I had been teasing my son that he danced like Pee-Wee Herman and I felt maybe it was about time to show him what that jibe meant.
The film still holds up for what it is. There is an incredibly low-budget quality to it that sort of redeems its “plot”. I mean, there is the plot that Pee-Wee’s bicycle is stolen and he has to find bike. This, of course, takes him on a road trip to the Alamo. I think it’s probably most fun to work with this film in genre, like that of the road movie.
This time, many years since I had last seen it, I was really struck by the sexual identity of Pee-Wee. I mean, I am assuming that most readers are familiar with the sexual indiscretions of Paul Ruebens, the real-life counterpart and his ultimate fall from fame to infamy that he took. Maybe that adds a layer of sexualization or intensifies that mode of viewing in this film, at least nowadays.
Pee-Wee reads as largely asexual. Dottie, his bike store friend, a cute young girl played by Elizabeth Daily (who I have always had a fond spot for), actively seeks a date with Pee-Wee. On more than one occasion he tells her that he is a “rebel” and a “loner” in a mock-serious way that ultimately gets him out of the situation. Another time, he fakes phone-static to pretend he can’t hear her asking him out. In the end, when he acquiesces to a date with her, they are both on their own bicycles, in a very platonic pose.
His appearance, as the classic 98 lbs. weakling is also heavily patted with make-up, both foundation and lipstick. While not feminized, per se, there is an effeminate quality to him.
In one scene, he disguises himself as a woman, with the escaped convict posing as his husband. Pulled over by a police officer, Pee-Wee is ogled and admired as a female. Upon returning to the car, Pee-Wee leans in flirtatiously with the convict, gleefully playing in his “role”.
I don’t know enough about the character or the man to posit exactly what is being intended, though I reckon it’s more playfully ambiguous that clearly codified.
As a film, I still enjoy it, though it’s in many ways a series of gags strung together over a thin plot. Lots of the gags are still funny. The dance sequence is pretty classic. I found myself recalling and waiting for certain moments to unfold as I remembered them and enjoying the punchlines when they came. It’s still pretty fun.