Monday, April 28, 2014

Ghost Town Frolics (1938, Dir. Lester Kline)

FILM: Ghost Town Frolics
YEAR: 1938
DIRECTOR: Lester Kline
N/A (animated)
haunted tavern / flop-house

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mikey and Nicky (1976, Dir. Elaine May)

FILM: Mikey and Nicky
YEAR: 1976
DIRECTOR: Elaine May

Egg Head (1961, Gottlieb)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thieves' Highway (1949, Dir. Jules Dassin)

FILM: Thieves' Highway
YEAR: 1949
DIRECTOR: Jules Dassin

Smarty (1946, Williams)

Super Score (1946, Chicago Coin)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Lady from Shanghai (1947, Dir. Orson Welles)

FILM: The Lady from Shanghai
YEAR: 1947
Orson Welles

Stars (1941, Exhibit Supply Co.)
GAME LOCATION(S): Restaurant
NOTES: Though the appearance of this pin is brief and seemingly inconsequential, I'm not bold enough to apply that designation to anything that the genius Welles decided to include in-frame.  The oblique perspective of the pin/wall/phone set at-angle against the hard profile of Welles' face accomplishes a kind of deepening of the frame, despite the rather tight field of the shot.

Monday, January 27, 2014

À Toute Vitesse (1996, Dir. Gaël Morel)

FILM: À Toute Vitesse
YEAR: 1996
Gaël Morel

Baywatch (1995, Sega)
Maverick (1994, DataEast)
Indiana Jones: the Pinball Adventure (1993, Williams)
Batman Forever (1995, Sega)
NOTES: I've discussed the significance of pinball as a component of French youth culture in previous posts, but this particular scene reveals perhaps the most widely recognizable connection between pinball and cinema: licensing.

Game design has long established itself as a useful vehicle for promoting various products during pinball's long history, but tables that bear a movie theme have proven to be a more reliable strategy in ensuring unit sales as pinball has struggled to remain a marketable entertainment commodity during the past two decades. The arcade featured here in Morel's film is a useful example of this narrowing of potential design themes in favor popular cultural properties (movies, tv, bands) over more original/abstract ones, whilst also alluding to the ongoing ability of Hollywood to maintain its pop-culture dominance on a global scale.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Electra Glide in Blue (1973, Dir. James William Guercio)

FILM: Electra Glide in Blue
YEAR: 1973
DIRECTOR: James William Guercio
Sing Along (1967, Gottlieb)

NOTES: What we have here is a fairly run-of-the-mill sighting of a pin-table in a small town Arizona saloon.  But maybe the presence of this pin is not so banal when one considers the importance of spatial dynamics to the film as a whole.  The immensity of the deflated, barren filmic space in which Electra Glide in Blue takes place is extraordinarily well rendered, but so too does this lead to an interesting effect when the film moves into more domestic, enclosed areas.  These scenes feel claustrophobic and cluttered in contrast to the larger stage of expansive horizons and roads to nowhere that define the American southwest.  The inclusion of a pin-table resonates a familiar semblance of Americana iconography, but also graphically fills the frame space, increasing its visual pressure.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guerillere Talks (1978, Dir. Vivienne Dick)

FILM: Guerillere Talks
YEAR: 1978
DIRECTOR: Vivienne Dick
Space Odyssey (1976, Williams)
Eight Ball (1977, Bally)
Big Hit (1977, Gottlieb)
Evel Knievel (1977, Bally)

NOTES: The 'No Wave' creative movement of the late 1970s in New York was earmarked by a breakdown and outright rejection of aesthetic boundaries.  Films such as this segment from Vivienne Dick's debut filmmaking effort, demanded not only a new way of engaging with art, but new ways of talking about it as well.

On one hand, 3.5 minutes of anti-narrative footage featuring a pinball player and a mostly-unintelligible soundtrack would seem to align this segment with the 'actuality' shorts of early cinema.  However, this kind of realism was not incidental, but rather took on a new kind of meaning in its outright resistance and rejection of cultural and commercial aesthetic normalcy. 

Pinball, with its historical reputation as being an entertainment outlet of marginalized youth, takes on a somewhat ironic quality here, as the camera visually resists the anarchic essence of an aggressive and frantic counterculture. Instead, the soundtrack alone imbues this essence, while the lens surveils the relative calm surrounding the space of the pin-table and its player.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thelma and Louise (1991, Dir. Ridley Scott)

FILM: Thelma and Louise
YEAR: 1991
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
PINBALL MODEL(S): The machine inside the home is a non-commercial Fireball model (1976, Bally).  The cafe machine is more difficult to identify, but I believe it is a Meteor model (1979, Stern).
GAME LOCATION(S): residence, cafe
NOTES: Since the earliest days of narrative cinema, filmmakers have been toying with various ways by which shots can connect two (or more) separate locations. Cinema language taps into the functional essence of the telephoneand its particular identity as a bellwether of modernityas an effective and readily familiar method in bridging these gaps of distance (Tucker's 1913 A Traffic in Souls is an early example of this).  But a cleverly designed mise-en-scene will sometimes also feature additional visual cues to establish a linkage between filmic spaces.  In the case of this scene from Thelma and Louise, pinball machines are present at both locations in which the phone conversation is taking place, thereby providing such a link in the mind of the viewer; even if only on a subconscious level.

Pinball itselfwith its nature as a game of counterforce and barely-controllable actioncan be read as a metaphorical reflection of the conflict in which the titular heroines are engaged; while both the game and the film conclude in a similar "over the edge" death motif.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Superman IV (1987, Dir. Sidney J. Furie)

FILM: Superman IV
YEAR: 1987
DIRECTOR: Sidney J. Furie
PINBALL MODEL(S): Black Knight (1980, Williams), Vector (1981, Bally)
GAME LOCATION(S): penthouse apartment
NOTES: As mentioned in our previous discussion of Penny Marshall's Big, 1980s America was marked by an imperative to acquire wealth and goods; especially those related to leisure and entertainment.  In this way, items such as pin-tables become part of the iconography of the rich, while somewhat paradoxically communicating a notion of the idleness of wealthy youth.  The passive leisure enabled by the ownership of such devices stands in direct opposition to the degree of ambition needed to acquire them, and thus imparts a degree of irony to pinball-ownership as a token of economic status.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Deprisa, Deprisa (1981, Dir. Carlos Saura)

FILM: Deprisa, Deprisa
YEAR: 1981
DIRECTOR: Carlos Saura
PINBALL MODEL(S): Black & Reed (1975, Industria de Recreativos S.A. of Madrid)
NOTES: Here we have another instance of a pinball machine installed at an establishment frequented by young people, though this one is somewhat different in that the pin manufacturer is European, thus giving us a chance to briefly discuss pinball and economics.  

Of course, the "big 3" pin makers (Bally, Gottlieb, & Williams) maintained sizeable market prevalence throughout Europe, especially in the countries that experienced the swiftest economic recovery after WWII.  Countries that were receptive to American cultural influence and/or were engaged in a stable relationship of commodity exchange with the United States tend to feature American-made pins in their films; revealing something of the reality of the market dominance of these stateside pinball manufacturers.

However, pin-tables were being manufactured by non-North American companies as well (most notably in Italy, Germany, and Spain).  Much like the national cinema industries that resisted the cultural and industry pressures emitted by Hollywood, these non-American pinball makers were caught up in a similar battle of market penetration.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Dir. Robert Zemeckis)

FILM: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
YEAR: 1988
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
PINBALL MODEL(S): The model nearest the exit on the right is a Hurdy Gurdy machine (1966, Gottlieb). I am still working on identifying the other two pins in the scene.
NOTES: In this still-satisfying pastiche of classical Hollywood noir and investigative films, America's cultural history is visually resurrected via mise-en-scene; including the ever-familiar pairing of pinball and the tavern.  Though the historicity of the film's visual elements and street-car sub-plot becomes a bit muddled, it is nonetheless successful in its ambitions as a period piece (albeit an inexact one).

The set design discloses a historical context by appealing to our familiarity with the images it projects.  In this way, it hardly matters that the Hurdy Gurdy pin was manufactured after the time period in which the film's events are likely taking place.  What is more important is the presence of the pin within the specific environment of the tavernalongside other genre tropes such as fedoras and trench-coatswhich ultimately informs the viewer as to how to make sense of the imagined time and space of the film.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Elevator to the Gallows (1958, Dir. Louis Malle)

FILM: Elevator to the Gallows
YEAR: 1958
DIRECTOR: Louis Malle
PINBALL MODEL(S): Flag-Ship (1958, Gottlieb), Shindig (1953, Gottlieb), Cover Girl (1947, J.H. Keeney & Co.)
NOTES: Though Malle himself decried the critical chatter that sought to place him among the ranks of the nouvelle vague corps of filmmakers, his choice to jettison the camera from the confines of the studio did open the way for certain congruities to arise between his early work and the then-forthcoming films of his peers.

If a kind of "realism" is the result of this anti-studio strategy, then these shots of bustling cafe-barsall aglow in fluorescent and neon, and each marked by the presence of a pin-table—speak to the cultural landscape of Paris at the time.  In this way, pinball is modernity itself, and its filmic presence can be interpreted as being emblematic of the anti-classical ethos of France's young post-war filmmakers.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bolivia (2001, Dir. Adrián Caetano)

FILM: Bolivia
YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Adrian Caetano
PINBALL MODEL(S): The Addams Family (1992, Midway)
NOTES: For most people, playing pinball is an exercise in futility.  Efforts to control the game are always
—sometimes quite swiftlynegated by the countervailing forces of chance and gravity.  And then there are those occasions when even the coin slot seems bent on asserting the dominance of the machine over its operator.

The righteous frustration we feel at such moments usually fades quickly, but for the hero of Bolivia, it's a poignant iteration of the harsh difficulties faced by the immigrant class.  His daily wage of 15 pesos makes this a relatively costly reminder; one which ultimately tips the narrative toward its tragic conclusion.

Monday, September 9, 2013

La Balance (1982, Dir. Bob Swaim)

FILM: La Balance
YEAR: 1982
PINBALL MODEL(S): Devil's Dare (1982, Gottlieb), 
Black Hole (1981, Gottlieb), 
Mars: God of War (1981, Gottlieb), 
Spectrum (1981, Bally), 
Rocky (1982, Gottlieb), 
Haunted House (1982, Gottlieb)
GAME LOCATION(S): Cafe-bar (1st screencap), Arcade
NOTES: Despite critical acclaim, an American director, and its role in revitalizing the legitimacy of the French "policier," La Balance is a truly wonderful film that (sadly) continues to fly under the radar of a wider international audience.

The 'Devil's Dare' pin shows up twice in the film (in two separate Parisian locations), which might be interpreted as merely incidental if the machine's name wasn't such an appropriate descriptor of the hero's dilemma.  As such, I'd be shocked if this repetition wasn't on purpose.

Much like the scene in the Jean-Jacques Beineix thriller Diva (released just a year prior to La Balance) the pinball arcade is framed as an environment of audio-visual pandemonium in which anomalous behavior might go unnoticed.  Here, the police engage in the forceful intimidation of a would-be informant and are finally successful in breaking him after previous efforts throughout the film have failed.  The overwhelming aural din of the arcade serves to pressurize not only the filmic space, but the psychic resolve of the hero as well; ultimately resulting in a breakdown of his will.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Harold and Maude (1971, Dir. Hal Ashby)

FILM: Harold and Maude
YEAR: 1971
PINBALL MODEL(S): The backglass of the foremost machine in shot 2 indicates that this is an 'Official Baseball' or 'Deluxe Official Baseball' model (Williams, 1960), but I can find no record of Williams releasing this model with this cabinet art. The other pin (behind Maude) is another baseball-themed machine: Short-Stop (1958, Williams).
NOTES: Today I'm taking a different approach to our discussion of pinball in cinema.  Though neither of the titular characters actually plays pinball in this scene, the location of the green-sided pin exposes a continuity error in the film's editing.

SHOT 1: Harold plays a penny slot with a row of pin-tables to his right (note the green sided pin to the far right of the frame). The girl playing the pin walks away.
SHOT 2: Harold looks to his left, implying that he is watching the Maude and the group of people play a table game in that direction.  However, the same green-sided pin can be seen in this shot as well.  Are we to assume that this arcade has two instances of the same pin? Doubtful.
SHOT 3: Another shot of Harold playing the slot and collecting his winnings.  The girl who previously walked away from the green-sided pin is back again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Big (1988, Dir. Penny Marshall)

YEAR: 1988
DIRECTOR: Penny Marshall
PINBALL MODEL(S): Pin·Bot (1986, Williams)
GAME LOCATION: Loft apartment
NOTES: In this urban fantasy, set in the waning years of Reagan's presidency, Tom Hanks plays a boy living the life of an adult.  Upon taking a loft-style apartment in NY, he proceeds to fill it with the paraphernalia of youth; none of which was available to him during his modest suburban upbringing.

The pinball machine is, of course, framed as an object of youthful lust, but more intriguingly it takes on a slightly political tone when one considers the consumption-drunk spirit of Reagan-era America.  The acquisition of goodsespecially those related to entertainment and lifestyleis one of the defining attributes of this era, and its not surprising that the first impulse of Hanks' character is to (literally) fill the space of his empty new loft/life with material goods.  It's an interesting, if not light-hearted, articulation of the prevailing cultural logic of 1980's America.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

36 Fillette (1988, Dir. Catherine Breillat)

FILM: 36 Fillette
YEAR: 1988
DIRECTOR: Catherine Breillat
PINBALL MODEL(S): From what I can see of the cabinet art, this looks to be a 'Jacks to Open' model from Gottlieb (1984).
NOTES: Cafes and pinball have been bound up with cinematic representations of youth culture in France since the early stages of the Nouvelle Vague.  Given the sexually-charged nature of these places (filmic or otherwise), the nearly ubiquitous presence of pin-tables within them marks the game as an experientially unifying component of the social maturation and sexual awakening that unfolds there.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, Dir. John Sturges)

FILM: Bad Day at Black Rock
YEAR: 1955
DIRECTOR: John Sturges
PINBALL MODEL(S): 'Follies of 1940' (1939, Genco)
NOTES: Once again we have a Robert Ryan/Pinball connection in a film!  This Sturges classic is essential viewing for any fan of investigative cinema, but the presence of this pin-table makes it essential viewing for the pinball junkie as well.

In this film, Black Rock is a town torn between two eras: one marked by the self-policing, pre-war, pre-modern anonymity afforded by living in the American west, and a new era in which the encroachment of modernity is unavoidable.  Here, the personal and cultural scars of United States involvement in WWII are hiding in plain sight (vertical surfaces are adorned by remembrances of wartime), and even the pin-table model name serves to call-to-attention the world events that derailed America's isolationist mentality.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August (2008, Dir. Austin Chick)

FILM: August
YEAR: 2008
DIRECTOR: Austin Chick
PINBALL MODEL(S): High Roller Casino (2001, Stern)
NOTES: Going beyond the familiar visual presence of a "pinball table at the pub," production designers occasionally take care in aligning the theme of the pin model to the central theme of the film itself.  This moviewhich deals with the the uncertain and fleeting nature of success within the internet startup industryfinds an ideal thematic parallel in this casino-themed pin.  If pinball and gambling are matters governed more by chance than by control, then the appearance of this particular pin can be read as a passive, non-verbal manifestation of the film's attitudes toward the nature of the startup industry.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Winter's Bone (2010, Dir. Debra Granik)

FILM: Winter's Bone
YEAR: 2010
DIRECTOR: Debra Granik
NOTES: Winter's Bone offers a (fictionalized) glimpse into an otherwise impermeable subculture; one marked by its fierce defense of the liberties of isolation.  If home and family provide the framework for this ideal, then this tavern setting is a more neutrally coded (certainly non-domestic) space.  As part of the mise-en-scene, the pinball machine we see here acts as visual cue in establishing the setting, but it is also a culturally-charged object; never fully disengaged from its historical role as an object of both vice and criminality.