When I bought a DVD of Beach Blanket Bingo several years ago, I baffled friends who knew that teen exploitation is practically my definition of Death. I nonetheless have a weak spot for this AIP epic with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. I certainly make no claims for the film as anything more than a silly romp made by people smart enough to embellish junk with a lot of gratuitous action and technique. My “affection” for it, therefore, is loaded.
Certainly, it is inane. None of the actors are remotely convincing as teenagers. The various boy-girl “stories,” are a tower of contrivances waiting to collapse. The strained combination of skin flick, biker movies and silent comedy is an indiscriminate mess, and it is certainly not “innocent.” There is nothing innocent about this giddy, giggly, jiggly stroke fantasy of a movie. It is sheer exploitation.
BBB has no resemblance to life or to any of my own fantasies of teenage goings on, because I have none. (I would be perfectly happy if the subject and genre disappeared.) Nor do I think BBB expresses the desires of the All American jock and cheerleader set at whom it was no doubt aimed, because I don’t credit them with enough imagination to think of a mermaid, a Mouseketeer, and Buster Keaton in the same movie. Beach Blanket Bingo is, rather, a cloying Puritanical reduction of sex to “the birds and the bees” (yes, they actually use that phrase) between shots of gyrating rear-ends, heavy petting and a wiener roast. (Get it?) The fact that Frankie and Annette are the most sexless couple ever to feature in a movie only underlines the titillating hypocrisy of it all. This is a middle-aged lecher’s idea of “good clean fun” and is far more grotesquely pornographic than hard core, which at least is honest. The film is a testament to frustrated arousal as a good thing for people who cannot deal forthrightly with their own desires.
At the risk of giving it more credit than it warrants, BBB also makes a neat companion piece to something like Zabriskie Point. While the latter openly criticizes the worst of American culture, BBB is an example of it. The leering, salacious, nudging crassness of it is like the movie equivalent of a used car salesman’s greasy pitch. Which is appropriate. The audience for films like this no doubt “grows up” (in quotes, because most Americans remain proudly infantile) to become salesmen, nay saying bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, and alcoholic housewives, with no greater ambition than to produce more of themselves and continue the cycle of grinding, conformist mediocrity.
In short, Beach Blanket Bingo is corporate made, synthetic Americana, a kind of back seat, latex and lube folk art that reveals all that is repulsively puerile about the American psyche, grinning from ear to ear with perfect white teeth and a total absence of honesty.