When the first shot in a movie is of a guy peeing on the side of a bus, I can draw two conclusions. Either the movie has already hit its peak (passed its water) and nothing else will measure up, or the next 90 minutes will pile on sheer randomness. In the case of Pick-up, I was not disappointed. It is randomness personified.
Two hippie chicks, Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood), crouched in the brush like sexy predators, watch the fellow take a leak from afar. They need a ride. Carol is quick to take the chance, but Maureen stops her: “Aries is in a time of turbulence!” she cries out. Carol drags her along anyway.
Both girls act as if they have consumed eleven too many edibles and are experiencing different reactions. Carol is bouncy, jiggly, and free-spirited, all too eager to flash or get poked by strangers in the name of maintaining her groove. By contrast, Maureen is stricken with acute stoicism, gazing at all of life’s fleshy and smoky offerings with an icy stare. She swears by astrology, tarot cards and energy from God, in that order.
Their driver, the fade-in pisser Chuck (Alan Long), is journeying across Florida in a concoction that’s part bus, mobile home and RV. He’s supposed to be delivering it for his cigar-chomping boss (Tom Quinn) but is preoccupied with enjoying the ride, his pot, and his newfound nubile company. A sudden hailstorm sends the trio detouring into the Everglades, where the bus gets stuck in a swamp.
The next 45 minutes are when the brown acid kicks in. Carol and Chuck decide to “go for a walk,” a pretext repeated twice during the movie’s runtime. The world outside the stranded bus is a trippy, supernaturally infused labyrinth, with ambient soundtrack noises reminiscent of someone playing Missile Command. After taking in the scenery, Carol and Chuck decide this is the perfect opportunity to take off their clothes.
Maureen wanders until she comes across a stone altar. That’s when a priestess of the Greek God Apollo appears, gives Maureen a magic scepter to combat a demon, and promptly vanishes. After accepting her newfound responsibility as Maureen: Warrior Princess, Maureen decides this is the perfect opportunity to take off her clothes. She writhes around on the slab in orgasmic ecstasy as she flashes back to being touched by her priest. Yes.
Oh, but the ride is just beginning. As Chuck and Carol continue enjoying their interlocking bodies, Maureen sinks deeper into a prolonged drug trip—or mental breakdown, whichever suits your interpretation. She is visited by people who may or may not be there, shouldn’t be there if this movie is to retain any sense. A flip-flopping Senator (Don Penny) drops by the bus to ensure the flower child has his reelection vote. Then Maureen is accosted by a clown (Penny) whose cheerful makeup hides a monster’s face. We are then treated to flashbacks that, for the sake of character development, show the winding roads that led to the trio becoming hippies in the first place.
It’s a strange anomaly for sure, yet the strangeness is what keeps bringing me back. Also, averting the concept of the hippie as grungy and unwashed, the girls are gorgeous in and out of their clothes, with breasts perky enough to rival Bambi Woods.
Long after Pick-up was over I spent a lot of time wondering what the hell I’d watched. Ambiguity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m not the type to dismiss a movie because I didn’t understand it. Besides, the insanity is a large part of the fun here, while also giving my over-analytical brain the opportunity to sort out the madness.
I’m still trying to figure it out, and so far I’ve come up with nothing that sticks. At times I wanted to call Pick-up a cross between The Blue Lagoon and a David Lynch film, laced with subtext that commentates on the Sexual Revolution. Is the molesting priest a play on religion’s role in the free love moment? Is the female orgasm God’s true form? Are old and new generations forever destined to clash, perpetuating rebellion and vengeful promiscuity? Does the Senator symbolize the shattered trust in our government resulting from Watergate? Maybe the clown is supposed to be the transition from naive childhood innocence into corrupted, demon-faced adulthood.
Then I remember that the characters are marooned in a swamp, which could represent a microcosm of life itself—clowns, politicians and all. “Bog” is also British slang for “toilet.” Are we trapped in this bloody mess together, forever wading in the shit?
Or I could throw all that out the window and say this is nothing more than a director’s pretentious art project. He lures audiences by promising general debauchery before pontificating on his central theme of God knows what. Pick-up screams “20-year-old know-it-all’s student film,” but with production values and willing naked friends elevating it a grade above.
Maybe I’m more on point than I think. A trip to IMDB reveals that not many people involved with Pick-up worked on anything else before or since. That includes director Bernard Hirschenson, whose odd jobs on movie sets faded out with the 1970’s.
I like to imagine that Alan Long or Jill Senter are alive somewhere, with average middle-class jobs and families, Pick-up but a blip in their youthful memories. I’d love to find one of them so I can solve the mystery of how such a strange movie came about. I should note that these discs have zilch bonus features; they barely even have menus. It’s a shame because someone could have provided a delightful commentary track.
Regardless, I had a lot more fun with Pick-up than I expected, even more than with the idea of Dennis the Menace bopping his married mistress. Hell, overlooking its weirdness and pretentious air, it’s not such a bad a movie, either.
I would recommend Pick-up as an oddity to bring out at parties, especially if there’s potent weed around. Especially.
NORMAL GRADE: B-
COLLECTION GRADE: A-