Hi, it’s Burl, here to review another 1970s teensploitation picture! I myself lived through the 1970s as a very young lad, but I had a only vague appreciation of the decade’s trappings – shag rugs and boogie vans particularly – and only ever managed to attend one classic late-Seventies swinging-hedonist pool party, which was held by the recently-divorced father of a childhood friend! He’d rented a palatial riverside house in which to sow his post-marital oats, all wood panelling and modernist angles, with a cavernous, two-story pyramidal living room, an adjacent glassed-in area with ferns and kidney-shaped pool, and a long interior balcony on the second level, each door leading to a bedroom furnished with mirror walls and waterbeds! Ha ha! The partiers were very groovy, sporting feathered hair and devil-may-care attitudes, and the air was thick with something I now well recognize as pot smoke! It was just one night of my young life; one social event of which I was not really even a part, but it affected me deeply!
And here is where the Proustian trigger effects of the best Crown International films kick in! My own thimbleful of the Seventies lifestyle was nothing like the sun-bleached, van-driving beach fun depicted in these films, but the attitude was the same, and it was easy to recognize when I finally saw the movies! For me, then, these fun-loving belles lettres are rich with reminiscence and longing, and their insipidity floats on the surface like a gasoline rainbow! As with memories absent analysis, they’re about nothing but themselves! Malibu Beach is probably the best example!
The Van is another good example: not a movie about a van, but a movie about everything about a van, like buying it, owning it, driving it around, and trying to tempt girls into having sexual intercourse in it! Really The Van isn’t about anything at all – it’s a Crown International Picture, after all – but the elements listed above describe it pretty well nonetheless!
Ultimately, for the viewer (and who else is there?), The Van is about wishing you owned a van like that! It’s about envy, and about feeling better about it by feeling superior to those you envy! If you owned such a van, you wouldn’t be such a doorknob all the time like the guy in the movie; you wouldn’t smile constantly and smack the steering wheel, shaking your tousled head in wonderment at your good fortune! You’d be a lot smoother with the ladies: you wouldn’t, for example, let the car wash pull your overalls off while the girl you liked was watching, as happens to the main character in this movie, and which misfortune causes only the briefest fluctuation in his ever-present simper!
Bobby is this young fellow’s name, of course, and the movie begins with him driving not a van but his convertible down the street, already shaking his head and dashing his palm off the top of his steering wheel, grinning like a skull! His head is a kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of reverie and fantasy – he’s thinking about his graduation ceremony: remembering his fantasy of seeing the valedictorian’s robe dissolve during her speech, and recalling the collapsing-dais stunt he pulled with his buddy Jack! Bobby can’t stop smiling through this opening scene: a red-feathered Sardonicus cruising the PCH to the gentle strums of a neo-folk ode celebrating the magic of Chevy Vans!
Bobby’s been saving his money for years to buy a van of his own, but before he gets to that, we see him going through his daily routine. He manages to get on the bad side of the local van-driving bully, Dugan, by relentlessly ogling his girlfriend! Yes, it’s the same Dugan from Malibu Beach!
Finally Bobby is able to go pick up his beloved new conveyance! This is truly a golden moment, and for once we forgive Bobby the face-splitting grin he sports as the customizer gives him the grand tour! Eight track player! Tuck and roll upholstery – foam rubber! A toaster! Mirrors on the ceiling! A captain’s chair, fog lights, a refrigerator and, hardly least, a waterbed! Ha ha! Bobby shakes his head in disbelief at each new wonder displayed for him, then peels out for a ride in his new machine – a yellow Dodge with big round windows and “Straight Arrow” splashed across the side – and a little more grinning and head-shaking! His mission now: to have sexual intercourse! The rest of the movie details that quest and its triumphant conclusion!
What wisdom does The Van offer its audience? The message is one of hope: you can be hopelessly uncool, socially paleolithic and dumber than a box of dead crabs, but if you can get your hands on a big yellow boogie van, ha ha, you’ve got a chance! It is of course another movie chronicling first love and first sex, but is also peerless in trapping that peculiarly 70s fascination with custom vehicles, in particular vans! George Barris, the most famous car customizer of them all, was not just the Kustomizer King: he was and is a towering figure of 70s mythology, worthy of inclusion on a Mount Rushmore of pop culture figures from that decade along with Evel Knievel, Joe Montana and the Crying Indian! The Van serves well as a glowing tribute to the glitter-glitz mentality of the day: it's a big rainbow iron-on thumbs-up of a movie, complete with a role for Danny DeVito of Wise Guys fame, and I give it two and a half bottles of castor oil-infused beer!