Friday, July 3, 2009

Joysticks / Joy Sticks (1983, Greydon Clark)



In a blaze of grungy 80s excess, Joy Sticks takes the dubious honor of the greatest movie ever made to do with videogames. All they had to do was throw a lot of half naked women around an arcade and add the other basic comedy ingredients of nerds, fat guys and an older authority figure who wants the teenage hangout of sin and depravity shut down. The offhanded regard this film bears for the boilerplate setting makes the place equivalent to the raunchiest of cheesy comedies set in frat houses, private schools, dance halls, drive-ins, or anyplace where sexy girls go topless in the movies. Thus do tits meet videogames and this film stands high atop all childish attempts in the years to come. Uwe Boll can't or won't show enough skin in a body of work completely aimed at video game fans, let alone construct a sentence. The key may be the period; while the fine documentary King Of Kong hampered itself with dully ironic Karate Kid music, Joy Sticks is musically and all else a product of the time. Made when arcades were still popular with the kids and not a niche, everyone involved is shamelessly eager to please with earnestly bad jokes and hot bodies, tucked into the kind of sexy/tacky clothes American Apparel can only hope to imitate 25 years later.

This is not a good movie by any stretch, yet it triumphs as entertainment through breathless self indulgence. The great thing about director-producers like Greydon Clark is their mercenary attitude towards filmmaking. Rather than stray one step away from the cliches of the trash they're making, they include everything the audience wants and expects to see and in lieu of anything new to do, amplify their intensity as much as possible to giddy results. I haven't seen Clark's catalogue of 70s exploitation titles - Satan's Cheerleaders, Black Shampoo, Dracula Vs Frankenstein, Skinheads - but the versatile swagger speaks for itself. You can even order signed stills and check on upcoming personal appearances at from Greydonclark.com! What a great capitalist.

Before all the corporate cross media promotional kid flicks of the 90s and emotionally stunted video game movies for "adults" like Doom, this bold opportunist producer dared to cash in on the last days of the video arcade as a cultural phenomenon and make an R rated comedy for teens in a trendy place. Probably chosen between this and an aerobics studio, Greydon Clark made a raunchy comedy which dared intercut Pac-Man with tits and an original title song about playing video games. Everyone who even kinda likes video games, and loves stupid comedies with nudity owes themselves this incredible work of bad taste. In the days before Super Mario Brothers, videogames had a social rep somewhere near drug addiction. Playing Atari at home with grandma could be one thing, but arcades were inhabited by sweaty strangers and besides, you were throwing your money away. Joy Sticks validates those concerns first after the opening titles, when two teenage girls in a convertible strip for access to the newest games at the arcade. Later we see comical ethnic stereotypes flicking switchblades near Q-Bert so we know the manager isn't keeping out the riffraff.

If this film were made today, the manager or proprietor of such a zany establishment would be a Hollywood nerd, as in whomever they'll cast for the dramatic version of King of Kong. In 1983 Scott McGinnis plays Jefferson Bailey, a strapping preppy whose minimal duties include organizing "strip video" with the local valley bimbos. Even back in the early 80s, Clark must've realized the arcades of America not populated by children were occupied mainly by dorks. That just didn't matter, this was wish fulfillment comedy! The twangiest of the valley gals is the lovely Corinne Bohrer, who must've been changing bikinis on the highway going back and forth between this and Surf II (1984). She's squeaktastic. Rounding out Bailey's crew are a nerd - seemingly the only nerd in a whole arcade! - named Eugene whom everyone torments, including our hero, and a requisite William Paul animal comedy fat guy named Dorfus (door-fuss.) Real life fat guy and "Fat Boy #2" in Surf II Jim Greenleaf embodies the bigger-is-funnier ethos of the movie perfectly. He farts, belches, and in the film's most shining moment of politically incorrect humor, encourages nerd Eugene to take a housewife in her sleep.

The villains are even better. First we have Joe Don Baker as Corinne Bohrer's daddy, who adds his own sweat and gristle to the movie's sheen. He's far better playing fat cranky dads than hard boiled tough guys in the ludicrous Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic films Mitchell or Final Justice, the latter of which sadly was directed by Clark. Blustering and swinging his arms about in the best chicken fried slapstick mode he knows, Joe Don makes everything gel just by quivering his jowls in rage. The other bad guy is played by character actor Jonathan Gries, the only other actor you'll see whose career had gone or was going somewhere. "King Vidiot" is the centerpiece of the film in many ways; in a movie full of no-budget overacting his satellites somewhere in the region of Troma. Decked out in candy colored "punk" clothes and makeup while flanked by poodle haired punkettes who imitate Pac-Man ghosts, Gries enters every scene screaming, acts like a spaz, and exits like a maniac. He's awesome.

Pac-Man references aside, there are perhaps only three or four video games seen in Joysticks, out of dozens, that even video game historians would recognize. Aside from a few big titles like that and Donkey Kong whatever cabinets were at your local arcade varied entirely on your sales region across the country. Clark seems to have picked up whatever the cheapest were, as an early video game playoff between King Vidiot and Dorfus (with gigantic man sized joysticks, natch) over the obscure shooter Satan's Hollow features minutes of game playing intercut with shrieking video groupies. This is a far cry from Todd Holland's disinterested use of officially licensed Nintendo footage in The Wizard a movie for children and presumably fans of Nintendo, but that's because Holland wanted to be classy. Clark uses what he paid for liberally, also heavily featuring an unknown Pac-Man knockoff and the newest official Pac-Man sequel, Super-Pac, which bears little resemblance to the original. Namco also apparently OK'd the use of Pac-Man gobbling the screen itself to show the passage of time. Pac-Man was a bona fide American cultural phenomenon in his day, from joke books to cartoons and Buckner and Garcia novelty songs, but how many American film producers were looking to literally put him in the movies? Did Namco know there would be nudity? Todd Holland might have put more effort into making people playing video games exciting on film for his climactic Super Mario Brothers 3 battle, but Clark just said fuck it and threw some nudity in to keep things compelling.

The original soundtrack gives the film an insular bad movie a world onto itself, almost as much as the specifics of the arcade. Like many other low budget comedies, original songs were recorded for Joysticks and in the style of the times, there's a cheesy titular song in addition to incidental songs about being "video vidiots." The lyrics of the title song are as follows, and to be fully enjoyed needs to be heard during the film's credits sequence of a hot girl playing various video games:

Keen eyes/Quick hands
Energize/My soul again
Gonna See/My name in lights

PLAYING WITH MY JOYSTICK

Wiggle left/Jerk it right
Zappin' every/thing in sight
Shoot fast/Shoot straight
Video to the maaax!

One down/Two to go
Can't stop/on a roll

Videooooo! (JOYSTICKS)
I need another quarter!
Videooooo! (JOYSTICKS)
Please let me have a quarter!
Videooooo! (JOYSTICKS)
I got to have a quarter!

Totally awesome videogaaames!

Here they come/There they go
Humanoids/UFOs
All day/All night
Video to the maaax!

One down/Two to go
Can't stop/I'm on a roll

Videooooo! (JOYSTICKS)
I need another quarter!
Videooooo! (JOYSTICKS)
Please let me have a quarter!
Videooooo! (JOYSTICKS)
I got to have a quarter!

Totally awesome videogaaames!


This song is repeated during the epic final battle between King Vidiot and Bailey over a game of Super-Pac, at which times there are naked breasts intercut from the hanky panky happening elsewhere in the arcade. My brain nearly exploded with joy.

Joysticks is filthy fever dream for fans of 80s pop culture trash, which from what I hear is bigger than ever. This is the video game movie every game player wishes could be made today. A must watch.

1 comment:

Steely Dave said...

A special film, and a special moment in all of our lives. I can say with total honesty that I love "Joysticks", despite the fact that it is pure, depraved idiocy - it is like the distilled essence of the early 1980's. Furthermore, it contains high levels of totally awesome videogames.