SXSW Film Review: Pez Outlaw [Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel]


Steve Glew has been waiting to tell his story for 20-odd years. It’s not because Johan Patek, his Viennese competitor, labeled him a loser not worthy of a documentary spotlight. To a large segment of the population, many of the people featured in Pez Outlaw are “losers”. The magnitude of this repulsion is in direct proportion to their nonsensical hobby, some would say addiction, of toy collecting, specifically Pez dispensers.

And that is where most people are sorely mistaken. Specialty collecting can be immensely lucrative – for a rarefied, elevated example of the same phenomenon, look no further than the fine art world. But one does not need to trade in 15th century masterpieces or 12 ft tall dog sausages. With the right reputation, provenance, and hype, even childish, mass produced plastic casings moulded by Soviet-era factories can become hot commodities. And those who traffic in hot commodities can get rich very quickly.

This is where a 60 year old mechanic, whose OCD manifests as a compulsive requirement to carry a paper towel at all time, comes into the picture. This is ultimately a film about how he floated to the top of the barrel, if you will. And the manner of his escape from that dead-end life in rural Michigan is decidedly simple, to the point of incredulity. Ponder it for a while, and you might agree that only a forthright, un-cynical mind can make it work.

Glew started as a cereal box collector who, at first, generated profit from premium redemption in cereal boxes by reselling the items. The newfound revenue fed his urge to go bigger, in order to lead he and his family out of the mindless motions called a living. With some luck and the help of his son, he made trips to Eastern European destinations such as the Kolinska factory in Slovenia, just after the Berlin Wall fell, to buy rare Pez dispensers that American fanatics have no access to. But since Pez America is an actual registered company with intellectual rights and trademarks separate from its European counterpart, these shady backdoor deals soon began to cross into corporate espionage territory.

This is a tale where roleplaying dumb-hillbilly has everyone underestimating his motives. Even in this documentary, the stories Glew tells seem designed to build an image of a wizened grey wizard – but a wizard, nonetheless. In fact, this fantasy led Glew to craft and inhabit a new persona as the namesake “Pez Outlaw” for which he suffered later. Truth be told, a lot of luck was involved. But the fact that he got away with it, even for just a little while, makes for a fascinating window into the collecting world and its mythologies.

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest

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