Cinema Fearité presents 'Pick-up'
Exploitation can be artistic. Case in point - 'Pick-up.'
Exploitation cinema as a genre is often seen as a disposable art form, if it’s even considered art at all. Usually, films like Cannibal Holocaust or Poor Pretty Eddie are looked at as just what the genre name implies; they exploits their subject(s) in an attempt to entice viewers and make money. But there are artistic merits to exploitation films, if viewers look in the right places. Even in movies like the 1975 road sex movie Pick-up.
Pick-up is about a hippie dude named Chuck (Alan Long) who is hired to drive an empty luxury charter bus from Miami to Tallahassee. Along the way, he comes across a pair of girls named Carol and Maureen (Jill Senter and Gini Eastwood) and offers them a ride. At first, things are going well, with Carol flirting seductively with Chuck in the front seats while Maureen hunkers down in the back of the bus playing with her deck of tarot cards. When a hurricane forces the bus to take a detour, the group gets lost and eventually winds up stuck in a swamp. While they wait for help (for which they called on an awesome seventies kitchen-style car phone), they go on a wacky, drug-fueled hallucinogenic trip that may drive all three of them crazy.
Pick-up was produced, directed, shot, edited, and cast by documentarian/advertising executive Bernie Hirschenson. The only thing Hirschenson apparently didn’t do was act and write. The screenplay, if you can call it that (it seems to be more of a loose outline than a strict story), was written by Jack Winter, who also plays a perverted priest in the movie. Pick-up is the very definition of independent film. It’s basically the only credit for just about all of its cast and crew, and it was made on a shoestring budget. The movie feels like Hirschenson drove his actors out to the woods in his charter bus and made a damn movie over a weekend. And then brought it home and found distribution through legendary indie production company Crown International Pictures.
Exploitation movies exploit different things. Some exploit violence, others exploit race. Pick-up exploits sex and, to a lesser extent, drugs. The whole movie feels like a feature length softcore kinetoscope loop that one might pay a nickel to peep in on. The acts depicted go everywhere from female masturbation on a stone alter to a couple getting down on a sex swing made out of vines. Although it’s got a stench of sleaze about it, it’s also surprisingly artistic, recalling the films of Alexandro Jodorowky, John Waters, and David Lynch. Weirdly artistic.
It also comes off as a drug induced, fever-dream nightmare. And it’s not subtle at all. Just about every phobia that someone might have is represented, from clowns to politicians, from priests to parents. Subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to the demon Pazuzu even creep in every once in a while. There’s actually very little (if any) real bloodshed or peril in the movie, it’s all just a terrifying theater of the mind kind of an experience. The real kicker is that the girl who didn’t do the drugs, Maureen, is the one who is having the bad trip.
Although Bernie Hirschenson shot his movie on 35mm film, it’s got a grindhouse, lo-fi aesthetic to it, like it was captured by a super 8 camera or something similar. In typical softcore fashion, everything is presented in a soft focus, Vaseline-on-the-lens or shot-through-gauze way. Hirschenson also acted as his own editor, and he cut the movie together in a confusing non-linear fashion that jumps between real life and dream sequence, memories and fantasies. As a result, the whole film is just a curious nightmare from which the viewer can’t look away, no matter how much they want to. It’s Eraserhead with naked hippies.
The music in Pick-up is credited to famed seventies disco producer Patrick Adams and saxophonist Michael Rod, although it seems as if there may be more artists contributing than just those two. The soundtrack slips between seventies period pop and groovy eastern sounding music, sometimes riding a mood-setting vamp while other times bursting into a wacky song. It’s a trippy score that goes well with the trippy movie.
Who knows what Bernie Hirschenson could have done had he made more movies? Maybe he would have become his generation’s Luis Buñuel. The world may never know, because all we have to go on is the messed-up, muddled-up, shook up Pick-up.