Special When Lit is a documentary that showcases the forgotten world of pinball.
The basis of Special When Lit is to highlight the fact that during the 50s and 60s, the pinball industry made more money than Hollywood movies but now pinball is on its deathbed. Highlighting the history, the rise and fall, and the people that love, play, and collect pinball machines. Much of the history is given by collectors and fans of the machines through a series of interviews. The film ends with a modern-day pinball tournament.
I watched two quirky documentaries (the first was Make Believe) in one day and so by the time I made it to Special When Lit my attention span was waning. As a lifelong fan of pinball, I was really looking forward to what Special When Lit would bring to the table and was left with mixed feelings. The history of pinball I found fascinating. The people that collect the machines and have literally filled their houses with them were intriguing. There is one guy who literally has parts of pinball machines that don’t exist anywhere anymore. Much of Special When Lit that isn’t a history lesson by the fans is a love letter from the fans.
Therein also lies part of the problem I had with Special When Lit; It turns out the people that are still really into pinball are kind of weird and there were times when I thought the documentary was almost poking fun at their hobby (or hobby turned obsession). This is always part of the problem with showcasing the outliers of society, there is a fine line between giving them your attention and poking fun at them, even if unintentionally. By the end of the documentary, during the tournament, I thought much of the focus from pinball had been lost and the people who still cling to pinball were in the spotlight. Not the we are outwardly laughing at these people but there is a sense of that coming across in the way they are portrayed.
If I could rate Special When Lit in two parts, I would. The beginning of the film I loved, with the rich history of pinball and hearing about its glory days. The latter half of the film kind of just unwinds and focuses too much on people in a way that I simply didn’t find very interesting. Maybe I was just getting burned out on documentaries, but I still wanted more from the film. Pinball fans should still check Special When Lit, it will make you want to travel to the nearest arcade to play.
I give it 3 Twilight Zone pinball machines (my favorite one) out of 5.