Sunday, January 18, 2009

Getting It On! (1983)

AKA American Voyeur
Directed by William Olsen
Starring Martin Yost, Heather Kennedy, Jeff Edmond
Rated R

"Alex, why are we driving to the woods?"

We live in a much different world than we did in 1983. One of the most dramatic changes we've gone through in the past two decades is the intrusion of surveillance into our daily lives. I read this book on the subject a couple years ago - it might even have been called "Surveillance" - that pointed out a pretty astounding fact. In the US, you are under surveillance about 70% of the time you're outside. Whether it's the security cameras at a store or an office or a parking lot, or the traffic cameras on the streetlights, there are very few places to hide anymore. It's no wonder that voyeurism has become a national obsession, whether it's the alarming proliferation of 'webcam girls', the seemingly endless confessional video-blogs that clog up Youtube, or the general public's unquenchable thirst for celebrity dirty laundry, we just can't seem to mind our own business anymore. And not only are we being watched, but we're doing a lot of watching, as well. In 1983, not so much. Sure, there were security cameras here and there, but for the most part, people generally trusted one another not to piss in their soup or to snatch their underwear from the dryer at the Laundromat. Which brings us to our feature.

Getting It On! is about a voyeuristic teenage zero who turns his creepy hobby of spying on neighbor girls with binoculars into a thriving home surveillance business by renting out equipment to people who want to bust someone they know doing something weird. A far-fetched comedic conceit for 1983, but a clear harbinger of things to come. So, did director William Olsen have some sort of fever-driven vision of a Dystopian future that somehow came true? Did he know that we would someday live in a constant state of heightened paranoia, ducking and running from all-knowing electric eyes that clock our every move, just waiting for us to steal a cookie or fuck a whore? Or was he just looking to exploit the then-burgeoning home video business for a few cheap yucks and bucks?

Let us explore the evidence, and then come up with a crackpot theory sometime shortly after. Our hero is one Alex Carson (Martin Yost), who we are introduced to as he creeps around his new neighbor's backyard with a pair of binoculars. It's quite dark out, so he slips and falls, hurting his ankle and alerting the object of his desire, new girl in town Kelly (Heather Kennedy). Perky, cornfed Kelly comes outside to help Alex home, and doesn't even seem all that upset that she's being peeped, chalking it up to the generic immaturity of boys.
"Girls just mature faster," she tells Alex, who answers her by staring at the tiny bumps under her t-shirt.
"Maturity isn't just physical, dumbass," she says.
Good one.
It's clear that Alex has a serious developmental problem. Guys wandering around with binoculars usually require some sort of counseling. Instead, when he shows interest in starting up some sort of vague surveillance company to his all-business father, dad brokers a profit-sharing deal with him right there at the breakfast table (while mom sucks down a cigarette over her plate of eggs) and gives his weirdo kid $4,000 seed money.
Confident that his wacked-out scheme will work, Alex takes the dough and splits, looking for his best bud Nick.

Nick (Jeff Edmond) is a goofy, thick-lipped sleazebag, a sort of Mick Jagger/Vinnie Barbarino-esque clod who gets busted for passing out Polarioids of his balls to the girls in his typing class. Narrowly escaping expulsion, he bolts out of the principal's office and meets up with Alex. They go on a spending spree, buying up piles of high-end video equipment while a truly awful song by The Brains about...well, watching video tapes ("Video, I'm watching my video/ It sure looks good to me!") plays in the background.

This is the conversation the two have, while driving home in Nick's beat-up Plymouth Horizon.
Nick: "So, you gonna start videotaping now? You giving up the 'nocs?"
Alex: "Yeah. Binoculars get old after awhile."
Nick: "Who you gonna start with first, Sally?"
Alex: "Probably, yeah."

Isn't this the same sort of conversation that Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole used to have? Anyway, that's exactly what Alex does. He sets up a video camera outside and sits there, monitoring his neighbor as she walks around her room, wrapped in a towel.
"C'mon, Sally, dump the towel," grunts our slobbering voyeur, huddled behind his monitor. "Please dump the towel!"
So, that was creepy.

As with all great 80's teen movies, there's a gratuitous video arcade scene. Nick is playing Robby Roto, but when Alex ambles up, he says,
"Hey Alex, can you lend me a quarter so I can play another game of Nuclear Madness?"
Nuclear Madness? Sounds intense.

So anyway, Alex continues to shoot women undressing without their knowledge. Jeff gets in on the action and tapes his brother and his brother's girlfriend having sex (ick), and through the usual mix-ups, the tape ends up being broadcast to an auditorium full of students, including one dude who rocks the ruling combo of wraparound new wave shades and a red bandanna.

Also, I'm not sure how this happened, but they taped a bunch of girls having a pillow fight, and if you look really close, you'll notice that one of the girls is completely naked. That bit seems random, but why question full-frontal? If you really start to add these sort of scenes up, there's at least half an hour's worth of movie here that has nothing to do with the plot. Stuff just happens. Like when Nick gets busted for stealing a skin mag at the convenience store, and suddenly this little black kid saunters through the door with an oversized boombox on his shoulder. He walks up to the camera, looks it in the eye, and says, "Wanna see my radio?" And then he splits. This kind of thing happens a lot in Getting It On!.

Eventually, Alex asks Sally out on a date. Initially, his plan is to film it for whatever fucked up movie he's supposed to be making, but he decides to just play it straight instead. Then he gets whacked out of his gourd on booze and ruins the evening. I should admit at this point that, although I have watched this film three times, I still don't know what it's about. I do not understand what these two screwballs are doing with these cameras and how it can possibly make them any money. All I know is that the next day, Sally is going to some charity costume party, and Alex thinks it's going to solve his and Nick's problems. Whatever their problems are.

Col Hampton and the Late Bronze Age play a horrible redneck-Zappa song at the costume party. Obviously, the host agrees, because she calls the guy who booked them and says:
"I guess the band you sent doesn't play jazz. They play shit."
Nick wears a ghost costume, which looks alot like a Klan outfit. Uncle Sam and George Washington do coke.

The DVD version of Getting In On! has a director's commentary track, and during all this bugfuck madness at the costume party, Olsen says, "I'd like to think we stayed one step ahead of the audience." Try three blocks, sir. Some plot-congealing does occur during the course of the evening, however, which helps to explain at least half of the story. And it's got tits, which is nice.

By the way, this film features some of the itty-bittiest boobs I think I've seen in a movie that is, after all, about topless chicks. As such, it should serve as some sort of cinematic nirvana for tiny-tits lovers. Regular sleaze-beasts, however, may be wondering where all the silicone has gone. Anyway, there's some final moments where everybody works their shit out, and then it's over. The credits list Amrita Bost as "Nude Girl With Flamethrower", but I did not see any nude girls with flamethrowers. If I did, I'm sure I would have remembered. I suppose it is possible that I blacked out somewhere during this film's excessive 96 minute running time, so if you spot her, please drop me a line. Thank you in advance.

In summation: Well, who knows? Filmed on a shoestring budget ($200,000) in a small North Carolina town, Getting It On! is a weird bit of southern-fried teensploitation that makes very little sense but ambles on good-naturedly enough. The videotape angle would seem sorta ominous if you could place the story and the characters in some sort of recognizable reality, but reality is out the window five minutes in, and it does not return. William Olsen returned to the teen-com well several times, following this one up with the equally incomprehensible but decent-enough Rockin' Road Trip (1985) and After School (1988). He also acted in the classic hicksploitation saga Hot Summer in Barefoot County (1974), so no matter what, the man deserves a round of applause. Most of the cast did this one on a goof and never acted again, although lead-girl Kennedy had a small part in Leprechaun (1993) and something called Raw Adventures at Bikini Point (1995), which sounds incredible. Getting In On! did pretty well, given it's paltry budget and non-actors, and still has a small-but-loyal cult following. The VHS release also had one of the greatest covers I have personally ever seen (the same image was also the theatrical poster), which made it a huge hit on the rental shelves.

Honestly, though....what nude girl with a flamethrower?

Availability: Getting It On! is available on DVD from VCI. Get it at Amazon.

Clip: Getting It On! Trailer:

-Ken McIntyre

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