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Special When Lit (2009)

G  |   |  Documentary  |  17 April 2010 (USA)
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What made more money than the entire American movie industry through the 50s and 60s? Pinball. Special When Lit rediscovers the lure of a lost pop icon. A product of the mechanical and ... See full summary »


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Title: Special When Lit (2009)

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Credited cast:
Roger Sharpe ...
Rick Stetta ...
Sam Harvey ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Tim Arnold ...
John Broughton ...
Steve Epstein ...
Josh Pingeek Kaplan ...
Pat Lawlor ...
Lyman Sheats ...
Gary Stern ...


What made more money than the entire American movie industry through the 50s and 60s? Pinball. Special When Lit rediscovers the lure of a lost pop icon. A product of the mechanical and electrical age, the American invention swept the world and defined cool. Now it is relegated to a nostalgic footnote deserving a better fate. Joining the fans, collectors, designers and champion players from across the globe who share a world many of us didn't know still existed. Written by BSullivan

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

pinball | icon | flipper | See All (3) »


Rediscover a lost icon








Release Date:

17 April 2010 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:


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$150,000 (estimated)

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Did You Know?


Koi Morris can be seen briefly in Ecstacy of Order: The Tetris Masters, at the 5:00 mark, standing next to Ben Mullen. See more »


References Jaws (1975) See more »

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6 December 2010 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I've never been into pinball and I'm still not.

For me they're just the Jurassic Park machine in some grey shopping mall arcade that no one could be bothered to master. They're the grease-covered Adam's Family machine we hammered and screamed at in an all-night burger bar on the outskirts of our neighbourhood, back when my friends were just learning to drive.

For me, they were a passing amusement, archaic and somewhat ridiculous, impossible to play and far too eager to swallow what little money you had in your pocket.

What has changed however, after watching Special When Lit, is the level of respect I have for the culture.

Like many other great documentaries, what SWL offers you is an insight into something that is present in your life, but never fully appreciated, in an entertaining and lightly informative manner.

Apart from tugging on the obvious nostalgia heart-strings, the film places pinball as an icon - a monolithic machine for disseminating American pop culture to adolescent males all over the world - embracing the design, art and spectacle of the medium from head to toe.

It's a gem of a film, well executed and beautifully illustrated, and I agree that it could have looked at the concept being enjoyed in other formats, such as digital versions of the game, but I think it would've probably been quite unnecessary.

Afterall, the physicality of pinball is what it's all about. A pinball machine has a presence. It's a dominating piece of furniture; it's big and brash, screaming out to you in blasts of colour, light and sound - pretty much everything American in a box. Arcades, although undeniably odd and misanthropic, were interesting social hubs, the machines being something that you, your friends and rivals could crowd around and enjoy together. It's not quite the same playing alone on your mobile phone.

The game itself is something that can never truly be replicated in another form. It's largely unpredictable, being little more than controlled chaos (much like making a documentary). It's kinetic. It's satisfying. Just ask yourself why people still visit casinos instead of everyone throwing it all away online. Or any of us leave the house anymore. It's just not the same.

Love or hate pinball, SWL certainly does its subject justice: it's respectful of its subjects, celebrating (and chuckling) at their quirks, passions and eccentricities. And, most importantly, it's entertaining! Pinball, like many wonderful things, might not be as popular as it once was, but it's films like this that educate, inspire and ensure they live on in the hearts of others. So it still might not be a niche or cult that I'm a member of but I'm glad they're out there.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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