Friday, July 10, 2009

van nuys blvd [1979]

the history of teenagers cruising in their souped-up vehicles is heavy with nostalgia even when cruising was at its zenith. nowadays kids don't get in their cars and drive up and down the main drag of their respective towns in order to hang out and show off. cruising was a veritable right of passage for the young.

not no more. i think. at least in my neck of california cruising died a long, long time ago. cops and the neighbors simply don't want to deal with the head-ache of a bunch of young'uns ripped and roaring in their cars, trucks, vans and cycles. plus the age of the cruise, its innocence, was a lost cause even when kids were in the midst of fixing up their cars to show them off on the main drag. a film like george lucas' second feature, american graffitti, was a bong-hit of nostalgia already at a time when the cruise was still in its ascendancy and was sold as nostalgia from its tagline that asked, 'where were you in '62'?

i recall cruising. j st was the main artery for cruising, a long stretch of road that connects downtown to fair oaks blvd. several miles of a single line tailor-made for going real slow, or dragging very fast. but it was shut down by the mid-80s and the kids transferred the cruise to the 'burbs which was shut down real quick. and then. . .no more cruising.

which makes this movie something of a blast to watch. not that this flick is any good. clunkily directed by william sachs, who made a handful of fun to watch drive-in swill, the story concerns young bobby who lives in a hick town and drives a bad-ass van. but this one traffic light sort of village lacks a certain gravitas and bobby longs for the fabled wednesday night cruise on van nuys blvd located in the san fernando valley, or val, and dumps his girl to drive toward his destiny.

a horrible disco soundtrack and editing that would shame a porno producer does not hinder the utter charisma of young people free of adult responsibilities and finding a good time during what i assume to be summertime. rather than feel eddie cochran's summertime blues bobby hooks up with two hot chicks, a goofball redhead, and a fonzie clone that goes by the name of chooch. if i'd claim that none can act worth a damn i'd be full of shit. chooch, played by david hayward, is clearly the older guy of the bunch who has made cruising van nuys blvd his life's mission. hayward is charismatic as hell and his character chooch is glue that holds this lightweight movie together. the rest of the cast are game and the girls are indeed very hot.

that's just it. there's plenty of gratuitous t&a but nary a cuss word or drug reference. except for one brief scene when one of the characters sparks up a splint on the revolution, a popular roller-coaster during the 1970s [it is the coaster that kills the bad guy in the george segal vehicle rollercoaster (1977)] at magic mountain, a theme park located on the outskirts of l.a., and then in the next frame the splint is gone, like smoke. i think that perhaps the producers were eyeballing the tv market and so wanted enough skin to keep the drive-in crowds happy but that the skin could easily be edited out with no harm to the story itself and perhaps by keeping drugs out of the movie would make it more palatable to a late-night tv screening.

the movie is a document of a time that was dead perhaps even at the moment it was made. i laughed aloud when i saw the bits of real cruisers on the blvd, not because it was funny on purpose but because i recall that era when souping up a van, putting mag wheels and painting it with signs that read -- and this van is indeed in the film -- ORIENT EXPRESS. what is the nostalgia of nostalgia, anyway? at the end bobby and chooch both grow up, the girls also grow up and the blvd remains as an artery in the middle of the valley.

a quintessential summer movie. watching this flick made me nostalgic for my other love, the drive-in theater, which is clearly the place to watch kids fucking, fighting and cruising. in fact, the drive-in is where i saw american graffiti, a film that so bored me to tears that in the middle of it i asked my parents if i could leave the car and go play at the playground. the swingsets and seesaw was located just under the screen so keeping an eye on me and my brothers would be easy. this was at the long, long dead mather auto movies, a place where i saw my first bruce lee flick and countless other movies. it was a place to remain seated and still get lost.


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