Reviews - Pee-Wee/Back to School

Review by the Groovy Yak

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
Well, if I've learned anything from my college experience thus far, it would be this one thing. No, it's not "Don't cram the night before a midterm," or "Don't eat pizza after midnight." Nope, I'd have to say that the one thing I learned up at college is that Peewee's Big Adventure is an excellent film.
Ok, well maybe that's not the only thing I've learned from my college experiences thus far, but let me explain how I made this startling discovery of the Tim Burton masterpiece. You see, I watched Peewee's Big Adventure when I was about 8 or so. I thought it was a humorous film and then occasionally watched an episode of Peewee's Playhouse. My favorite Pee-Wee feature was the HBO Special which my uncle taped for us. Sure, I didn't get about half of the jokes, but I liked it nonetheless.
Well, then I started to become a teenager. I didn't watch Saturday morning cartoons anymore, and I didn't care too much for Peewee Herman either. The sequel to Peewee's Big Adventure, Bigtop Peewee, was generally unfunny to me. Plus, this is around the time that Paul Reubens' career took a nose-dive because of a little "incident" that occurred. (You know what I'm talking about...)
So, I didn't like Peewee Herman too much and I didn't even think Peewee's Big Adventure was all that humorous anymore.
Well, then I went to college. Keep in mind that at my home we didn't have cable. (GASP!!) Well, when I moved up to college, I was exposed to Comedy Central, among other channels, and began to watch Peewee's Big Adventure again. (Comedy Central plays PWBA about every other day!) At this time, I was a strict Elfman fan, and simply wanted to see the film again for the music.
Well, needless to say, I was impressed. I always was a big Tim Burton fan because of the Batman films and Edward Scissorhands, but PWBA was the film that really started it all for Burton and his warped sense of humor. Sure, there were other talents working on the film, of course Paul Reubens came up with parts and the late and genuinely funny Phil Hartman worked on the script. But, it was the Burton/Elfman relationship that made this film so clever, fun, and timeless.
I'm sure you all know the back-story of the Burton/Elfman collaboration. Burton was a fan of Oingo Boingo, he knew of Elfman's fascination with movie music and he asked Elfman to score his first BIG feature, Peewee's Big Adventure. Elfman, of course, accepted, and thus began one of best collaborations in Hollywood, along with Spielberg/Williams and Hitchcock/Herrmann.
What makes Peewee's Big Adventure so much fun is how everything is overblown. The actors overact- Francis, is overly-spoiled, Simone is overly-caring, Dottie is overly-infatuated, the Bikers are overly-macho, the hobo on the train is overly-poor, and Peewee goes through the largest array of emotions I've ever seen in a movie with each emotion being large and blatant. We see his excitement as he unveils his bike in the morning, or his rage when he confronts Francis at his home, or his confusion and embarrassment when he finds out that the Alamo really doesn't have a basement. Along with the big emotions are the big sets and outrageous gags. Why are there large model dinosaurs at a truck-stop diner? Why does Peewee have dreams of evil clowns operating on him and melting his bike? Why does Large Marge's face become outrageously disfigured? It all adds to the fun and zaniness of Tim Burton's style.
Well, if everything else in the film is big, why should the music be anything but? Elfman adds another dimension to the sheer wackiness of the film by adding a truly fun score. However, he wrote the music for this film differently than he did for Beetlejuice or Batman. In those films, he was writing music for the audience. The music served as guide for the audience to understand the tone. This isn't so in Peewee's Big Adventure. The entire film isn't supposed to be taken seriously by the audience, but the music is quite serious. You see, Elfman scored the film through the eyes of Peewee Herman. The music dictates every emotion that Peewee is feeling. "Breakfast Machine" shows us Peewee's excitement and carefree attitude toward waking up and getting around in the morning. Other cues, like the cue (Sadly, not contained on the album) where Peewee confronts Francis at his mansion is absolutely ferocious. (This cue, is one of my favorite Elfman cues. Pay close attention to the part where Peewee knocks on the door. I laugh at that part every time. Elfman scores each knock at the door.) There's also the cue where Peewee's bike gets stolen. (Track 4 on the album.) This track pays homage in a rather obvious way to Herrmann's shower room cue in Psycho. The cue, like Herrmann's, is all strings with piercing glissandos. The Psycho motif has been called by Herrmann as a cue for terror. Well, that's what Elfman uses it for. (Keep in mind this ISN'T the Psycho cue, but it does sound a bit like it.) Peewee is filled with terror when he finds his heavily chained bike to be stolen. (The audience, on the other hand, isn't exactly as terror-stricken as Peewee) The cue, then adds to the humor as Peewee notices that everyone around him- and I mean EVERYONE, is enjoying their bikes.
There's a wide variety of different material in this score, too. (Even though the Varese Sarabande release is quite short. Surprise!) Peewee Herman's theme, which is quite quick, carefree, and simple- much like Peewee himself, is integrated nicely. There's some neat variations that Elfman adds into the score- i.e. - one track features a harmonica rendition of Peewee's theme as Peewee is hitchhiking. Also, one of Peewee's friends that he meets on his adventure, Simone, has her own theme. It's the only part of the score that isn't that big. Perhaps that's because Simone is the only character in the movie that is halfway normal. What makes her theme fun, though, is the inclusion of accordions. While, I'll admit that accordions aren't usually associated with the word "fun" in today's culture, what makes the accordions so clever and interesting is the fact that Simone's dream is to go to Paris! Paris and accordions go together in the same way that hitchhiking and harmonicas go together! Yes, Elfman is using clichés, but he's using them in a movie that makes them fun, colorful, and clever.
Well, it seems that Danny did alright for his first film. In fact, it was the first step upwards in what is now a truly spectacular career. Peewee's Big Adventure is a film and score that will always stay close to Elfman and Elfman's fan's hearts. I can't say enough good things about this score, and yet I don't seem to own my own copy of the score- I only have my friends version. Perhaps we need to talk about my "Big But..."
Rating: * * * *
Back to School
Generally not as good as Peewee's Big Adventure, Back to School is a nice effort by Elfman. It helped him make a name for himself as comedy film scorer. In Back to School, Elfman nails the tone of the film perfectly. There's a certain amount of excitement one feels when stepping on a large college campus and the grandeur and prestige is nicely portrayed through the music. Most of the film is scored from the old-time marching band perspective, very strict tempo and bass drum quarter note beats.
Like in Peewee, Elfman's score is just as cartoonish as its main character. Dangerfield has that blatant, in-your-face persona and Elfman matches his motions with a wild score. Everything is quite overscored, but in a comedy that's a good thing. The cue Triple Lindy makes the scene seem like Dangerfield has saved the world, instead of something as insignificant as a diving tournament. There's also a nice love theme and the cue "Study Montage" has been used in about 1.5 million trailers.
Overall, Back to School is quite listenable and there's NEVER a point where the score becomes boring. (This is also attributed to the abnormally short running time for this score.) I recommend this album for Peewee's Big Adventure, but please, by all means, keep your player running after track 11.
Rating: * * *

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