Eating Raoul [Blu-Ray]
Director : Paul Bartel
Screenplay : Richard Blackburn & Paul Bartle
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1982
Stars : Paul Bartel (Paul Bland), Mary Woronov (Mary Bland), Robert Beltran (Raoul Mendoza), Susan Saiger (Doris the Dominatrix / Nurse Sally Cummings), Richard Paul (Mr. Cray), John Shearin (Mr. Baker), Darcy Pulliam (Nurse Sheila), Ben Haller (Dewey), Buck Henry (Mr. Leech), Beans Morocco (Bobby R.), Allan Rich (Nazi), Ed Begley Jr. (Hippie), John Paragon (Sex Shop Salesman), Don Steele (Howard Swine), Edie McClurg (Susan)
In Paul Bartel’s deadpan cult comedy Eating Raoul, he and Mary Woronov, a former member of Warhol’s Factory, play Paul and Mary Bland, a perfectly manicured, extremely uptight married couple (their last name is all too descriptive) who dream of opening a country restaurant, but lack the funds to do so. Paul is a fastidious wine salesman who is fired from his job because his snobbish tastes don’t fit with the lowbrow clientele, while Mary is a nurse who is constantly being sexually harassed by her patients. The film’s central gag is Paul and Mary’s uneasy existence in early ’80s Los Angeles, which Bartel paints as a seething den of sexual licentiousness; it’s not the air pollution that’s the problem, but rather the moral pollution, which is most clearly embodied in the caricatured swingers who populate the Blands’ apartment building. While the rest of the tenants make out in the hallways and head to various orgies upstairs, the Blands return to their retro apartment (the décor is 1950s, thus matching their attitudes and hang-ups) and retire to separate beds.
Sex may be disgusting to the Blands, but murder is not, which they discover quite by accident when one of the more aggressive swingers in their building tries to force himself on Mary and Paul clunks him on the head with a cast iron frying pan and kills him. When they discover that the man’s pockets are filled with cash, they hatch a brilliant scheme: Mary and Paul take out an ad in a Hollywood magazine advertising themselves as “Cruel Carla and Naughty Nancy,” which lures all manner of sexual perverts to their apartment who may be similarly dispatched via frying pan, robbed of their cash, and dumped down the apartment building’s garbage compactor.
It’s an effective scam, one that nets them lots of money and gives Bartel and co-screenwriter Richard Blackburn (best known as the writer/director of the cultish and little-seen 1972 horror fantasy Lemora, A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural) an easy opportunity to play up the inherent silliness of sexual fetishism, whether it be a Nazi fantasy involving swastikas and Mary tied up in lederhosen, a man who insists on being treated like a naughty toddler, or an inexplicable mix of marauding pirate and Minnie Mouse. Things get complicated with the involvement of the titular Raoul (Robert Beltran), a con man and thief who stumbles on Paul and Mary’s scheme and wants in on the action. They form an uneasy trio, as Paul distrusts Raoul and his intentions (not to mention questions where he is taking the victims’ bodies after assuring them that he can make hundreds of dollars from each one) and Raoul sets his sights on Mary, who is all the more desirable because her obvious sexual allure contrasts so sharply with her prudish demeanor.
A long-time cult favorite that achieved surprising press and attention at film festivals in the early 1980s, thus upending expectations for a movie shot independently with a $500,000 budget completely outside the studio system (Bartel couldn’t even get his mentor, Drive-In King Roger Corman, to pony up any funds), Eating Raoul is essentially a raucous idea purposefully tamped down into the realm of the droll and the witty. While it shares many ideas and themes in common with the films of John Waters—the hypocrisy of “polite society,” the inanity of the puritanical disgust with sex and acceptance of violence, the absurdity of sexual abandon taken to its logical extremes—Bartel’s true influences lie in the realm of European art cinema, particularly the darkest of the Ealing Studio murder comedies such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Lady Killers (1955), and the surrealist social satire of Luis Buñuel, particularly The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). Bartel’s thematic aspirations are high, even though his production values are somewhere in line with sitcoms (it was a film destined to play on the small screen).
Bartel initially trained as a playwright but achieved cult notoriety in the 1970s working as an actor, writer, and director for Corman; his biggest achievement was the satirical road-rage thriller Death Race 2000 (1975). He has a deliciously deadpan wit and a subversive sensibility, and Eating Raoul is replete with darkly humorous quips, many of which emerge from the film’s sustained tension between what transpires on screen and how the characters react. Both Bartel and Woronov play their characters as insistently above it all, which renders their attitudes toward the messiness of murder and corpse disposal something akin to the annoyance most of us associate with doing the dishes. Raoul introduces the idea of emotion and intensity (“I’m a hot-blooded, emotional, crazy Chicano!” he declares at one point when Mary rebukes his advances), which only emphasizes how strangely repressed the Blands are.
On paper, at least, Eating Raoul is a fantastic satire of the hypocrisies of the upwardly mobile and the moral failures of consumer culture, but in practice it doesn’t quite work. Part of the problem is purely aesthetic in that Bartel is fundamentally disinterested in staging and camerawork; his attention clearly lies in the performances and the ideas, and it is almost as if he is afraid that any sense of style might distract us. Granted, the film was a low-budget independent effort shot in starts and stops over a lengthy period of time, but so was David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). And, while John Waters’ early films are just as aesthetically deprived, they generate energy through the outlandishness of the characters and what can only be termed their visual atrocities. Despite the consistency of Eating Raoul’s droll take on murder and mayhem, it still feels oddly uneven and skimpy, as if there just isn’t quite enough meat on its narrative bones.
|Eating Raoul Criterion Collection Blu-Ray|
|Eating Raoul is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||September 25, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|As a low-budget independent film shot on scraps of film stock over nearly a year, Eating Raoul is never going to look “great,” but Criterion’s 1080p high-definition transfer on this Blu-Ray has it looking about as good as it ever will. The film was transferred in 2K from the original camera negative under the supervision of cinematographer Gary Thieltges and digitally cleaned up. Colors are sharp and consistent, and detail is quite good throughout, with just a hint of film grain. The film has a fairly bland, flat look to it, which the transfer ably represents. The original monaural soundtrack, also digitally restored, was remastered from the original 35mm magnetic tracks and sounds clean and clear in its Linear PCM presentation, albeit understandably limited in terms of scope and depth.|
|Sadly, Paul Bartel passed away in 2000, but Criterion has successfully rounded up a number of the film’s other participants to contribute to the supplements. On the audio commentary we get screenwriter Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg, and editor Alan Toomayan talking about the film’s genesis and production, while the new 26-minute retrospective featurette “Cooking Up Raoul” features interviews with stars Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg. Bartel does appear in a four-minute gag reel of outtakes Toomayan assembled for his birthday, as well as a 21-minute archival interview with Woronov that was conducted during the film’s initial theatrical release. And, most importantly, the disc includes two of Bartel’s early short films: The Secret Cinema (1966), which he remade 20 years later as an episode of Steven Spielberg’s TV series Amazing Stories, and Naughty Nurse (1969).|
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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