Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
There’s a great scene is Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) where Pee Wee is impatiently waiting to see the basement of the Alamo in hopes of reclaiming his bike. Pee Wee rolls his eyes while surrounded by men exhibiting traditional american masculinity. It’s a synecdoche of Raul Reuben’s character as a whole, a person who knowingly sticks out from others, and is perfectly content with this.
There is definitely a queer element to Reuben’s creation, and I wonder if there’s scholarship on the intersection of queer theory and Pee Wee Herman. There is fertile ground here. Pee Wee’s aesthetic reminds me much of the Emcee of Cabaret, with makeup present but toned down by comparison. He crosses dresses to avoid a confrontation, flirtatiously showing off his clothes to an infatuated police officer. Gender swapping appears near the end of the film, as traditional male and female movie extras have untraditional gendered voices. Pee Wee’s refusal to be paired with Dottie, the female token love interest of sorts, peppered throughout the movie.
The movie’s ending complicates this a bit, but I believe Pee Wee’s character wins out in the end. Fulfilling Dottie’s request to go on a date to the drive-in, Pee-wee and Dottie attend the premiere of the action B-movie adaptation of his adventure. Pee-wee leaves and rides away with Dottie partway through the film, as he states he already lived the real story. They leave when the film itself shows the main leads, a heterosexual couple, kissing, while the shadows of Pee wee and Dottie bike below. Pee Wee rides away on a symbol of his Puer Aeternus, rejecting the played out story for something different.
The key word for the film, and Pee Wee, is MANIC, making the first couple of minutes a turn off for some people. Danny Elfman’s score, with its own manic intensity, has found a great match with this film. Tim Burton has as well, eager to play with the kitsch of Pee Wee’s home and town. Noel Murray said in his examination of Burton’s career that he only ever made two perfect films, and that Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is one of them. While I believe Burton has done more substantial work that just that, I agree that Burton is at some of his strongest here, communicating ideas visually with nary a frame wasted. Humor exudes from the film more than just the dialogue, such as visual gags, lighting, and of course, Reuben’s performance. This condensed cut of the film illustrates this eloquently, and helps illustrate the inventiveness and downright fun that is Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.