Tag Archives: Paul Reubens

PEE WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY (2016)

Forget Batman, Pee-wee is back.

Exclusively for Netflix, Pee-wee Herman () returns with his first feature in 28 years. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016) could be (and has been in some quarters) dismissed as “Pee-wee’s Next Big Adventure.” Is it as original as that -helmed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)? No, but it’s a welcome return. Actually, Pee-wee has weathered pop culture better than Burton, who lost his mojo in the 90s.

There are a few pleasant surprises here, such as not-so-subtle homage to ‘s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Still, mostly Reubens plays it safe, giving us exactly what we expect of him.

Pee-wee Herman comes from a very small cinematic tradition of the “creepy man-child,” which introduced in the silent era. Primarily under the direction of and , Langdon initially kept his character’s more disturbingly childlike qualities in check. However, eager to expand that characterization, Langdon eventually let loose—which quickly destroyed his career, even if the results were artistically satisfying.

Stan Laurel, very much influenced by Langdon, learned from his mentor’s populist misstep and kept the baby-face half of Laurel and Hardy forever innocent. , also influenced by Langdon, had more freedom with a European audience. In 1979, Steve Martin introduced his take on the naughty child. However, after a few experiments that unfortunately failed at the American box office, Martin took the safer route of growing up, which eventually rendered his body of work both disappointing and inconsequential. Reuben’s Pee-wee Herman character first emerged around the same time as Martin’s. After Burton and Rubens produced the masterpiece Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, 1988’s Big Top Pee Wee  was a disaster. This flop hardly mattered due to Reuben’s award winning “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” TV show (which earned 15 Emmys in 5 years). Reubens was undoubtedly the most original small screen personality since Ernie Kovacs.

Of course, we all know about Pee-wee’s rapid rise and fall, and television has been all the more bankrupt since its departure in 1991. That is not to say there is not good or even imaginative TV programming, but there is little with the aesthetic quality of Reubens 1)2013-2105’s “Hannibal” was both aesthetically and dramatically superior to any of the Hannibal Lecter character’s films, including the overrated Silence Of The Lambs, but audiences, having understandably overdosed on wretched sequels and prequels, never gave this television exercise in noir surrealism a chance.

At 63 years old, Reubens had his face digitally enhanced for Big Holiday, in order to retain that child-like mask ( did not have 21st century technology and had to give up on her little girl lost act at the age of 34). Still, although treading narrative familiar ground, Reubens retains the character’s edge in this belated return. There is even a latent same-sex attraction undercurrent between Pee-wee and Joe Manganiello (it’s so latent, kids will not be privy to it).

Still from Pee Wee's Big Holiday (2016)Pee-Wee is still very much a fixture in a surreal suburbia—as usual, he is the only one who realizes just how off-kilter the ‘burbs are—when he meets Joe. Sharing a love for root beer barrel candy, Joe and Pee-wee hit it off. Joe, soon to have a birthday party in New York, invites Pee-wee, encouraging the suburban Peter Pan to step outside of his G.O.P. mecca of Fairville and “live a little.” Reubens is savvy enough to poke fun of the retreaded plot: “I don’t want to go anywhere or try anything new.” He could be Fairville’s poster child for Donald Trump’s desire to “Make ‘Murica Grate Again,”  (AKA, let’s return to the oppressive past), except that Pee-wee does have a tad bit of the eternal bad boy Reubens under his skin. Of course Pee-wee heads to the Big Apple, embarking on his next big adventure as if 1985 was just a few days ago.

Between a hexagon of biker outlaw udders (Alia Shawkat, as one of the trio, shines and has genuine chemistry with her co-star) and nine man-meat craving farm girls who have used a tad too much butter on the grits, Pee-wee makes it clear that he is not interested in the fairer sex “that way.” With all those pheromones, Pee-wee runs for New York cover and Joe’s ripped, saving arms. Of course, there are some mildly weird diversions along the way that never get quite phantasmagorical enough. A traveling snake oil salesman who literally takes hitchhiking Pee-Wee to a snake farm, a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flying car (occupied by Diane Sallinger 2)Sallinger is a veteran Reubens co-conspirator, having starred with him in both Batman Returns and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure), an Amish village of balloon deflators ( an amusingly extended gag), and an odd musical number all add up to subdued eccentricity, but never on the natural scales of or the late Tim Burton.

Still, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a charmer that may lead to Reuben’s reviving the character and taking him into more innovative terrain.

References   [ + ]

1. 2013-2105’s “Hannibal” was both aesthetically and dramatically superior to any of the Hannibal Lecter character’s films, including the overrated Silence Of The Lambs, but audiences, having understandably overdosed on wretched sequels and prequels, never gave this television exercise in noir surrealism a chance
2. Sallinger is a veteran Reubens co-conspirator, having starred with him in both Batman Returns and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE ON BLU-RAY

 was the most forcefully innovative and original television personality since Ernie Kovacs, period.

“Pee Wee’s Playhouse” lasted five seasons, ending in 1990.  It was a show created by artists, and television has not been as bright since. Of course, TV still has clever programs occasionally, but it lacks the pronounced aesthetic that Reubens and company brought to a medium, which  has traditionally been artistically undemanding .

A Wikipedia editor says:

The creative design of the show was concocted by a troupe of artists including Gary Panter (the art director), Craig Bartlett, Richard Goleszowski, Gregory Harrison, Ric Heitzman, Phil Trumbo, and Wayne White. The first day of production, right as Panter began reading the scripts to find out where everything would be situated, set workers hurriedly asked him, “Where’s the plans? All the carpenters are standing here ready to build everything.” Panter responded, “You just have to give us 15 minutes to design this thing!” When asked about the styles that went into the set design, Panter said, “This was like the hippie dream…It was a show made by artists … We put art history all over the show. It’s really like … I think Mike Kelly said, and it’s right, that it’s kind of like the Googie style – it’s like those LA types of coffee shops and stuff but kind of psychedelic, over-the-top.” Several artistic filmmaking techniques were featured on the program including chroma key, stop-motion animation, and clay animation.[1]

Still from Pee Wee's PlayhouseAn erroneous explanation for the show’s demise has entered the ranks of urban legend, as has Reuben’s fall from grace.  Feeling burnt-out, Reubens had declined the option to produce a sixth season and wanted to take a sabbatical. His arrest for indecent exposure in 1991 happened after “Playhouse” had already been canceled. [2]

Despite being tainted by a posthumous scandal, “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” became, and remains, a cult hit. DVD releases were best sellers. In 2004, Image Entertainment announced a special edition collection, which fell through once Shout! Factory picked up distribution. Ten years later, a “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” special edition has come to Blu-ray. A pristine video and audio transfer with extensive supplements justify the decade-long wait.

Accessible, educational and entertaining slapstick surrealism were the tenets of the Playhouse.  Mantling the man-child person originated by , Reubens, along with the cast (both human Continue reading PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE ON BLU-RAY

READER RECOMMENDATION: PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)

Reader recommendation by “Brad”

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mark Holton, Elizabeth Daily, Diane Salinger

PLOT: Pee-Wee Herman, the eccentric childlike persona of Paul Reubens, sest off on a strange and dreamy cross country search for his prized bicycle after local rich “kid” Francis (Holton) steals and the sells the bike.

BACKGROUND:

  • This was weird auteur Tim Burton’s first feature length film.
  • Burton was hired as director after Paul Reubens was impressed with his early short films “Frankenweenie” and “Vincent“.
  • Phil Hartman, the late great comedy performer/writer, contributed to the script, along with Reubens and screenwriter Michael Varhol.
  • Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was also Burton’s first collaboration with composer Danny Elfman, whom he’d work with frequently throughout his career.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There is a lot of visually weird eye candy here: for example, dead truck driver “Large Marge”‘s frighteningly cartoonish face as she describes her body being dragged out from her crashed truck in an iconic stop-motion scare.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: An eccentric lead, situated somewhere between child and grown man, who lives in a house of self-made gadgets and toys, cross-dressing with a convict, creepy clown nightmares, stop motion dinosaurs, and a meta-Hollywood ending: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure doesn’t let up on strange situations.

Pee Wee's Big AdventureCOMMENTS: I am sure this is usually passed off as some juvenile movie with quirky humor, but it truly is a great collaboration between two originally weird minds. This isn’t Tim Burtons’ film. This isn’t Paul Reuben’s film either. It’s a perfect merging of both. Coming off of his live performance show, the “Pee-Wee” character gained a cult following, allowing Reubens to get this film made. Lucky us. The film is quite warm, although there are plenty of bizarre and dark images throughout. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a labor of love. A definite “passion project.” We see some early Burton stop-motion experimentation, which he later used in many films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, etc. Of course this film also helped start Burton’s film career as a director, which led to some of America’s weirdest film projects. Reubens took the Pee-Wee character and created the equally bizarre children’s show “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…somewhere between a parody of kitsch and a celebration of it, and it has the bouncing-along inventiveness of a good cartoon… 26-year-old director Tim Burton shows his flair for the silly-surreal.”–Pauline Kael, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)