The Turner Classic Movie channel recently ran three of the 1960s era Beach Blanket movies from back when I was a kid. God, I loved them movies back then, and I think I saw most of them because I had a this huge crush on Annette Funicello which began when she was on the Mickey Mouse Club.
Looking back, I can't even see what I thought was so cute about her. I mean her hairdo looked about as soft and appealing as a plastic football helmet. She was supposedly out in the sun and sand all day, but that one bottom curl on her left side never moved from the first scenes of Beach Party to the ending scene of How to Stuff a Wild Bikini the last film to feature the romantic duo of Frankie and Annette.
The genre was supposedly apolitical and many people have said that American International Pictures, the studio who invented the genre, wanted to keep things light because of the general unrest that was keeping much of the nation sleepless during the 60s. In actually, the movies are anything but mindless, I mean they are mindless, but they also contained hidden political agendas.
In the first place, the movies were known for their lack of adult authority figures. Placing the setting in the surf culture of Southern California gave the producers license to leave the parents of these kids back home in the Suburbs mowing their yards and hosting bridge parties. These movies fed into the fledgling youth culture that was emerging after World War Two. Some of the characters, especially the antagonists, were comic caricatures of groups and individuals who would later morph into the dirty, disenfranchised and drug addled denizens of Southern California hippy culture of the late Sixties.
I believe it's possible to see the comic North Dakota Pete character in How To Stuff A Wild Bikini as the fictional progenitor of the living king of nightmares, Charles Manson. The movies, in general, seem to have many parallels with Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As I watched these movies, I was totally amazed at just how banal and stupid they were, and I couldn't believe that I actually watched two such movies every Saturday during my early adolescence.
The second way that they projected a political agenda was in the unbridled Hedonism which seemed to be the theme of the entire beach movie catalogue: don't think, party all the time, and think about sex 24/7. And that pretty much describes the 60s as I remember them. I don't think it was much of an accident that these films mirrored the same message that we were being forced fed by the media and popular culture of the day.
There was an article in Life Magazine about Hippies and how cool and colorful they were. There was also an article and iconic cover featuring four psychedelic images of the Beatles. Manson gave the Beatles credit for being the influence of his lunatic ravings and as crazy as it sounds, he had a point. My transition from a baseball playing, book reading, clean cut kid into a pot smoking wannabe hippy, was largely engendered by those magazine covers and articles in Life Magazine.
In one of the articles, the authors talked about how the Hippies would smoke baked banana peels and sniff powdered nutmeg in order to get high. My mom came into the kitchen one day and saw me baking banana peels in the oven. When she asked why I was doing it, I naively told her the truth, "To get high!" She hit me on the head with a wooden spoon. I don't know if it was the blow to the head, or the content of those articles that started the change, but it wasn't long before I quit playing wiffle ball in my front yard and listening to every game Willie Mays played on the radio and began to openly seek out more covert ways to get high and listening to Mick Jagger sing about painting red doors black and trying to get me to sympathize with the devil.
I know that were some natural juices and bodily changes that played a big role in my metamorphosis, but no other generation in American History before us had been so seduced by the Song of the Sirens, obsessed with sex, and lured away from our parents' homes by not one Pied Piper but literally hundreds of them, each attired in the clothes of clowns and jesters, leading us on with songs about sex, drugs and freedom while holding long poles with burning joints hanging at the ends of a string out in front of us.
It was during this time, that the producers of popular culture were constantly defending their product as saying that it only mirrored what was happening in our society, and that is still what they are saying today. Today, they might actually be right, but it is only because of the years and years that they have been pushing this lowest common denominator shit onto the airwaves, the press, and the movie theaters. In other words, it is not much of a leap to say that they made the culture what is was, and not the other way around.
There is one thing I didn't notice when I originally watched Beach Party, the first movie of the series, and it was the looks on the faces of the characters as they were dancing and even on the face of the legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale; they all looked constipated. I thought they were all about having fun, but apparently they were not getting enough fiber to go along with their beer.
The other thing I failed to notice back then, was just how fake everything was. Frankie, Deadhead, John, and the boys looked nothing like the people who really running the surfing scene back then, and most of the actors playing kids weren't even kids; John Ashley and Joel MaCrae, two of the mainstays, were only two years older than my mom.
And if all of this isn't enough of an argument to justify charging the producers with the crime of corrupting the morals of millions of America's minors, they did something unforgivable in four of these movies, and that was in casting Buster Keaton in them.
Keaton probably needed the money at the time, but the sumbitches should have just gave him the money rather than to try and gain some degree of respectability for his presence in what can only be truly be described as a celluloid version of feces. Using the comedic genius, one of the truly great geniuses of early film, in these movies can only be compared to getting getting Picasso drunk enough to puke on a table and then recreating and packaging the results as plastic vomit.
I know that some people who read this are going to roll their eyes and mumble to themself, "What he's getting all worked up about? Those movies were just harmless bits of fun." All I can say in response is that if I had just kept playing wiffle ball and listening to Giant games when I had the choice, then maybe I wouldn't be living in world where it is almost impossible to escape the immature mindlessness that passes for culture these days, maybe Miley Cyrus would be in a television show where she would be playing the matronly version of Hannah Montana instead of acting(?) like she lost her damn mind, there could be Broadway versions of Peter, Paul, and Mary's song catalogue, Andy Griffith could have been president, and Fred MacMurray could have been our ambassador to the UN.
Nah, screw that! I'm just glad that we weren't subjected to the sight of Annette wearing her mouse ears on the center pages of Playboy Magazine.