The Pirate Movie

A pumpin' and a blowin'
★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1982
Director: 
Ken Annakin
Starring: 
Kristy McNichol, Christopher Atkins, Ted Hamilton
The Setup: 
Appealingly silly musical marrying Gilbert and Sullivan with cheesy 70s teen pop.
Discussion: 

My recent viewing of A Night in Heaven and anticipated rental of The Blue Lagoon made me interested in further exploring the ouevre of Christopher Atkins [and after this and Blue Lagoon, I’ll be pretty much done]. And since this one also stars 70s teen icon Kristy McNichol, I thought “How can I go wrong?”

The movie opens with us watching an old pirate movie as this astonishingly cheesy disco song about pirates plays. This features “yo-ho-ho, pirates are we” type all-male singing making it sound like a renegade Village People song. The minute you hear this you start to think “What the hell am I in for?” Which turns out to be a very pertinent question.

So it seems that Kristy McNichol wears these hideously oversized flannel shirts [many do not acknowledge the seminal influence this film had on the emerging grunge scene] and these bizarrely huge glasses. This outfit, I think, is to remind us of her established image so far, from the TV show “Family” and such, setting us up for the attempted transition into adult vixen to occur later.

Anyway, she’s after Christopher Atkins, who is a fake pirate on an old tall ship docked down at the pier. All the other, bikini-clad girls, are also after Christopher, big time. They cruelly leave Kristy on a dock [after taking the fast food she’s brought] and take off with Chris in a boat. Kristy, in a move of utter desperation that turned me off to her right away, goes pathetically after Chris and the girls in a little sailboat. She is swamped and washes ashore, and she has a dream which comprises the rest of the movie.

In the dream we’re back in the 1880s and Kristy is the rich daughter of the major general. The pirates lurk just offshore, a dancin’ and a singin’ like pirates apparently do. This movie was shot at the time, 1982, where if you needed pirates for your movie you just put a flyer up at the local gym, which turns out to yield unexpected benefits for viewers of my persuasion. Yes, the pirates are all muscle guys with mustaches and developed arms and chests, wearing shirts open to their waists, if they wear a shirt at all. This led to a great deal of pause-button use on my DVD remote, all of which was amply rewarded. This is all accompanied by a mildly homo vibe [pirates, hello], and lots of attention to male crotches, noticeable in the bejeweled codpiece of the pirate king. But it had a dark side: note that at one point a Chinese man has his testicles cut off and it’s supposed to be funny.

So anyway, a bunch of maidens on a beach sing a Gilbert and Sullivan song—I mean straight Gilbert and Sullivan—the first moment of which gives the viewer another “HUH?” moment. The pirates come in to rape and pillage, and the women run off. By the way, also in here Christopher decides he no longer wants to be a pirate. There’s a LOT of story, most of which I’m going to skip as it is hardly the point of the movie anyway.

By this time one has noted the abundance of FILTHY double entendres. For example, Christopher picks up a maiden’s flowery crown and she runs off. He says: “I didn’t mean to deflower you!” There are many more along those lines, and many of them are a little shockingly ribald.

So Kristy meets Christopher, and they sing a number of delightfully cheesy teen ballads while one or the other of them is superimposed in the sky looking down. I think Kristy and Chris are doing their singing themselves [at least I hope those weren’t professionals], which also adds a nice touch. During this time Kristy also makes a few fourth-wall shattering quips directly to the camera. So avant-garde.

So it goes on, there’s some story or other, there’s a musical scene where animated fish sing “Pumpin’ and Blowin’,” and it builds toward a climax. Only now the whole thing has been on eleven for so long that the viewer is starting to get a little weary.

Blah de Blah, until it ends. Kristy turns out to be very charming and spunky, very different from her first scenes. Christopher is charming as well, but one feels bad for the way he is obviously only a sex object. I mean, so is Kristy, but that offers more career options to a woman, right or wrong.

It’s cute, it’s got hunks, and cheesy music. That’s awesome, but in the absence of a story can be a somewhat wearying thing.

Should you watch it: 

It can’t hurt. It’s kind of cute, loopy, and fun, but definitely not essential cinema.

Comments

I was packed off to a Matinee of this as a kid during a school excursion, and thought it was one of the worst movies I'd ever seen, (though, obviously, I loved the bodybuilders). Watching it now, I'd surprised they thought the general air of smuttiness was kid-friendly.

This is actually an Australian movie: the majority of the cast is Australian, and it was shot around Melbourne and on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. The 'castle' is Werribee Mansion, near Melbourne. The Pirate King was famous for being the tough-guy star of a gritty 70's Aussie cop show, so to discover he actually seems to be a flaming theatre queen was amusing.

Watching this was probably my first experience with what the Australian Intelligentsia had dubbed 'The Cultural Cringe': the idea that the local population wasn't attracted to supporting Australian art and saw it as inferior to the rest of the world and that this was somehow was a false sense of inferiority.

My problem with this whole concept is, well, I don't think the sense of inferiority is false or unwarranted. This was the most expensive Australian movie ever made at the time, with a $9 Million budget. The whole thing feels like a school play, and I remember being embarrassed that foreigners would think this is all we were capable of, or that we thought this was actually good, and not broad, embarrassingly-stupid and acted at the level of a high school production.

This still happens. My sister and I both cringed watching 'Moulin Rouge', sliding down in our seats. We cringed during 'Starstruck', the new wave musicial. I cringed during 'BMX Bandits'. I cringed during 'Wyrmwood'. I cringed enough during 'Welcome To Woop Woop' that I wanted to abandon my nationality entirely, since it's still the worst Australian Movie I've ever endured, (and you really need to see it for this site).

We're basically a nation of trashy women and macho thugs - the bodybuilders in question probably were just guys off the street - and our art truly is inferior to the rest of the world, because intelligence is treated with an great air of suspicion and contempt down here because if you want to do anything more than drink beer or play rugby you're an inner city wine drinking Poofta, and don't you dare think you're better than us, even for a second, or we'll cut you down to size - known locally as the 'Tall Poppy Syndrome'.

The problem is, even the Pooftas down here produce sub-standard art: the queer vibe here is obvious.

To sum up: a terrible movie that made me embarrassed to be Australian, but that at least gave me some freeze frame fun over older musclemen as a teen.

It moves from the personal to the society-wide, and contains some pretty strong emotions!

I had no idea of the history of this film, thanks for the context, very enlightening.

I am SO GLAD that someone else cringed through MOULIN ROUGE, as far as I knew, everyone in the States thought it was utterly fabulous. I thought it was an abomination.

I have never consciously thought that all Austrialian movies are awful, but I have to say I've never really thought about Austrialian movies as a whole... wait, what about The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock and Walkabout? You've got a lot to be proud of with those.

I found your analysis of the low-educated society cutting down anyone intelligent and being anti-art fascinating...

How do you then account for what [from the US, at least] seems to be the LARGE number of 1) great Austrialian musicians/bands and 2) Great Austrialian actors?

Want to know something completely unrelated but might amuse you? I'm 47 now, right, and the Little River Band were HUGE here in the early 80s [I love cheesy music as well as cheesy movies]. At one place I worked I managed an Austrialian, and I would end up mentioning anything Austrialia-related to him and see what he thought about it. One day I mentioned Little River Band and he said "Oh yeah, my best friend's dad was the guitarist for them," and I was like ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!?!?!? Like, how could he NOT have mentioned that, but to him... it was nothing. He had no clue [he was 21] that they were even popular in the States.

Thanks for your comment, I found it very interesting.

Yeah, sorry the message came out so epic. A bit of a contrast to me going on about the Wrestling Hunk in ‘Scarecrows’. The movie just brought back a lot of memories and made me think about the lack of Australian quality growing up.

My sister, whispering to me during Moulin Rouge: “Oh god, they’re going to think Australians think this is intelligent.”

Basically, there were two tiers of Australian films during the 70’s and 80’s.

- You had the critically-adored ‘New Wave’ filmmakers like Bruce Beresford Peter Weir, (with movies like ‘The Cars That Ate Paris’, ‘Puberty Blues’ and ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’), but usually the critically-acclaimed local films were made by overseas directors, (such as ‘Walkabout’ or ‘Wake In Fright’) because there was the Cultural Cringe belief that that foreign directors were superior.

Australian audiences largely ignored these arty movies for overseas fare, and this is where the concept of ‘The Cultural Cringe’ originates: audiences were thought to be rejecting these films because of a perceived sense of cultural inferiority. You still see this during television commercials: they’ll hype up shows from America.

- The lower tier was the exploitation side of things, which is where ‘The Pirate Movie’ fits in. These are more populist films, which, in Australia, translates into really broad, bawdy humour that always seems thirty years behind the times. These often starred foreign actors, (such as MacNichol and Atkins), due to the Cultural Cringe belief that foreign actors were superior and had more appeal.

Netflix is trying to critically-rehabilitate these low budget, broad movies like ‘Alvin Purple’, ‘The Adventures Of Barrie Mackenzie’, ‘Turkey Shoot’, ‘Starstruck’ and ‘Sir Les Patterson Saves The World’ by rebranding them ‘Ozploitation’ and harping on about how much Quentin Tarantino likes them. This is the Cultural Cringe yet again – the concept that these movies are now only validated because a famous American likes them.

Don’t be fooled. These are awful movies, and the average Australian has terrible taste. The two most common vinyl records I turn up at garage sales are the soundtracks to ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ and ‘Xanadu’. Neither of them damaged careers in Australia. I keep buying them to see how many copies I can end up with.

As for Australian actors and artists, one thing I always found strange growing up was how the Australians who had success overseas were never born in Australia. Olivia Newton John was born in Cambridge, England. Mel Gibson was born in New York. Russell Crow is from New Zealand, as were Tim and Neil Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House and Director Jane Campion. The Bee Gees were born on the Isle of Mann.

Most of the current Australian actors might seem exciting to foreign eyes, but it’s hard for me to take them seriously when most of them have passed through Australian Soap Operas, and I think they’re being seen as better than they are due to the lack of intensity or masculinity from young American actors. I read Michael Douglas complaining about this recently. I suspect this is why American guys always think I’m straight: your gay guys are really, really feminine because your straight guys seem already feminised.

Ha, the Little River Band! I’m 44, slightly-younger, and they were sort of finishing up as I started paying attention to music, but they were considered to be chasing an American sound rather than an Australian one: there’s a long tradition of Australian Artists trying to be Abba or Spandau Ballet or David Bowie or New Order, so you get these hilarious soundalike songs that were like a Supermarket Brand imitation of the real thing.

Where England has a long tradition of Art School Rockers from the 60’s to the 90’s – everyone from OMD to the Kinks to The Beatles to Pulp – that academic side was entirely absent in Australian music, bar The Go-Betweens and The Triffids in the 80’s. If you wanted popular success down here, you had to play loud and heavy and not sing about anything too complex - anti-intellectualism is the order of the day. This is where ‘Pub Rock’ came from in Australia, and why I always looked like an Outlaw Biker to avoid being bottled on stage.

I’ve always wondered though, where is Australia’s undeniable musical genius, like our Brian Wilson, or Bob Dylan, our Paul McCartney, or Paul Simon. Why is the art side always lacking, and why does it usually favour overseas trends? Is this why the English would always put our music down until recently - some kind of perception that we're upstart Convict Scum. Maybe they're right - I suspect we’re just not an intelligent enough country to either produce such an artist or recognise and cultivate them if they did. The result is a movie like "Welcome To Woop Woop", which I think of as *the* ultimate embarrassing Australian Movie.

Saying all that, I’ve had ‘Pumping and Blowing’ stuck in my head for a couple of days now and I’m guilty of trying to see if there was a single of it on Discogs.Org. (No luck, only ‘First Love’).

I'm finding your comments comletely fascinating, and a whole different perspective on Austrialian culture that I hadn't any insight into...

In contrast to your sister's comment, I was appalled to find people in the States DID find Moulin Rouge absolutely brilliant. Many, many supposedly "smart" people absolutely loved it... so that's a little bit of my horror and alienation at living in the States--especially when I was in NYC--of just feeling like I have to smile and stay reallllly still to as to pass within these people who think something like that is GENIUS. There's a thing here [witness Twitter] in which the shallow and superficial is celebrated, because any intellectualism is just "bullshit," and a belief that complexity and ambiguity are just total claptrap... Which passes as "intellectual" because of a Warholian belief that the superficial is actually all there is.

I hadn't thought that many of the actors and musicians that here get lumped as "Australian" are in fact from places elsewhere, or born elsewhere [I think to many Americans, including myself until recently, New Zealand and the Isle of Mann are "Australia" ... sad, but true].

Is "Can't Stop the Music" somehow Australian? I have to say that Glenn Hughes, the leatherman, was one of those people [like wrestler dude for you] who plays a crucial role in my even REALIZING that I was gay... I saw a poster in a record store and was like "WHAT is THAT!?!?!? I had no idea that THAT existed!"

Well, I would say that Neill Finn and Barry Gibb are musical geniuses, but... as you pointed out...

Welcome to Woop Woop is on youtube and I'm gonna WATCH IT!!! Never heard of it before. And "Pumpin and Blowin" IS incredibly catchy.

Alright, buddy, thanks again for your fascinating perspective! Don't forget that you can always write me directly at cinemademerde@gmail.com...

Sorry for the delay, been on the road for a few days.

I was trying to think of the best way to explain The Cultural Cringe to a non-Australian, and how desperate Australian art is to be validated by a Foreign Authority – preferably American, though England will do for your Kylie’s and Soap Operas - and I can best sum it up as this:
Think of Australia as the Gay Community in the 80’s and 90’s, then imagine the Foreign Authority as being the Celebrity acknowledging Gays exist, (say a Madonna or a Roseanne): the resulting brain-dead adoration and puffed up validation from the Gays to counteract the sensation that they’re somehow inferior by nature is how Australian’s react to when Americans decide they like something Australian.
The critics will rip on a Savage Garden or a Natalie Imbruglia when they first emerge, until they suddenly realise the Americans are buying it, then the nasty, dismissive one star Australian Rolling Stone reviews are forgotten about a month later for a sycophantic cover story.

Hopefully that makes more sense.

As for superficiality: in 2015, mainstream society has trained the majority of straight people to function as Narcissists, which means their concerns are naturally superficial, since if it doesn’t directly relate to them it’s uninteresting, and potentially-threatening if it forces them to question their beliefs in a way that might shatter their narcissistic construct. This generates a tendency to viciously snark at anything that might threaten them with complexity: it’s safer to just pretend you’re ‘above’ it, and anyone who doesn’t think the same as them is obviously intellectually and socially inferior.

Never being challenged leads to a low-resilient mindset, where every little thing becomes a massive drama to overact to; a tendency towards parallel conversations where people are talking AT each other, not TO each other; and human interaction being reduced to the transactional: what *use* is this person to me? Does this potential sexual partner meet the standards I believe my imagined construct *deserves*?

Pre-social media, you’d generally only see this behaviour in very young children who haven’t yet learned to compromise, and adult gay men. Seinfeld broke down the doors here – it’s full of parallel conversations – and somewhere along the timeline people forgot the cast were originally supposed to be horrible people. This is why I've been re-investigating 70's and 80's movies - the people act like recognisable humans and seem so, so alive, compared to the seemingly-Walking Dead inhabiting movie screens today.

All this narcissism means the average middle and upper class heterosexual Millennial in 2015 basically acts like *a massive Faggot*, (in the old school ‘Boys in the Band’ sense). I have a parade of straight guys on my Facebook feed who are constantly Virtue Signalling for Social Climbing purposes, or being *complete bitches*, to the degree where I think, “You know, it’d feel a lot more honest if you just committed to the role and sucked cock already.” Not that I want to them too – they’re far too feminine, and I imprinted on Sean Connery and Sam Elliott types. I feel sorry for the younger women of today.

It’s a weird time to live in.

‘Can’t Stop The Music’ isn’t Australian, but didn’t negatively-impact their career one bit here, so we obviously didn’t judge is as lacking in quality. The Australian music show ‘Countdown’ devoted an entire episode to them a few months after the movie debuted as special guests so the stigma wasn’t there, (and, yeah, I noticed Hughes the same way, but was still a couple of years too young to realise what I was feeling though I rediscovered him during puberty. Admittedly, I grew up in Biker Culture, so can’t say he was *the* reason I look the way I do).

Actually, I do remember what killed their career here: that New Romantic album. That image change was deadly in a macho country like Australia.

I’m a huge fan of the Bee Gees and Split Enz / Crowded House / Neil Finn and agree with your assessment, but, yeah, they’re not Australian. I wonder if we have a generally lower IQ due to the convict stock? I’m an intelligent bloke, sure, but I’m half-Scottish, so…

'Pumping and Blowing' isn't a great song by any means, but the dated sound takes me back to a particular time and place in my life, and the concept of a closeted lesbian singing a song about being tired of giving handjobs (Pumping) or Blowjobs (Blowing) and wanting to be eaten out instead ('swallow your something more than water') is highly-amusing. I wish the whole soundtrack had been cheesy new wave, but then it would just be 'Starstruck', (which features a chorus line of Speedo Wearing lifesavers on a Sydney rooftop).

I’ve rambled on enough, so I’ll email you some movie tips.