Thursday, April 10, 2008

Paul Bartel, "Private Parts" (1972).

This past Sunday night I got a chance to get together with a fellow 'new father' to watch a movie. I knew his older kid would be in bed by the time we got started, and so we were free to watch whatever twisted fare I brought over. I'd actually been carrying around a copy of Paul Bartel's Private Parts in my car for a few weeks, as I had originally intended to show it to some other friends. But I figured B. would appreciate it, given the fact that he is mostly living in 'kid world' nowadays. I watched him and his wife struggle to put together a double decker baby stroller, and helpfully attempted to keep my ideas about its assembly to myself. It had been received secondhand, so naturally there was no manual to use as guidance. In the end there were some crucial parts missing. I only mention this because of the shift in tone that would occur when we finally sat down to enjoy the movie.

Actor and director Paul Bartel should still be alive. He died relatively young at the age of 61. He was a theater arts student at UCLA, and got his 'big break' when Roger Corman's brother (Gene) hired him to direct the low budget Private Parts. Later on, the legendary producer Corman would use Bartel to direct Death Race 2000. Bartel's directorial career eventually encompassed ten feature films, including Naughty Nurse (1969), Cannonball! (1976), and Scenes from the Class Struggle of Beverly Hills (1989). He may be best known for making the black comedy cannibal classic, Eating Raoul (1982). But you could be forgiven for associating him with his acting work, which included parts in Corman favorites like Eat My Dust, Grand Theft Auto, Rock n' Roll High School, and Piranha. He even played Henry Geldzahler in Julian Schnabel's Basquiat.

Frankly I've only seen a handful of films that Bartel has been involved with. However, if Private Parts is an accurate representation of what can be expected from his projects, then I'll probably make an effort to check out more of them. First of all a disclaimer- with the amount of money that Bartel had to spend, there is no way that he could have hired professionally successful actors. The performances in Private Parts are hammy and wooden. They deliver often absurd lines in melodramatic tones. Yet somehow this works perfectly. Much like in a John Waters flick, overacting is completely appropriate here. In fact this particular movie wouldn't be nearly as weird or fun if it was delivered seriously. This isn't supposed to reflect ordinary life.

The premise of the story is pretty simple- a young runaway (Cheryl- played by Ayn Ruymen) gets in a fight with her roommate, and she makes her way to her Aunt Martha's rundown hotel. She convinces this middle-aged widow (Lucille Benson) to let her have a room until she gets back on her feet. Martha is not happy about the presence of a 'painted whore' within her domain, but apparently family obligations weigh heavily on her. She is very explicit that Cheryl not bother the other tenants, nor wander around the hotel on her own. We learn quickly just how bad an end the wayward traveler can face. Someone inside is completely willing to draw blood (literally and figuratively).

The characters in Private Parts are strange in a mostly unaffected way. They spout one-liners that are at once strange and scabrously funny. There is just enough attention paid to cinematography to ensure that the soon-to-be downtrodden hotel building provides an eerie and intriguing setting for the mysteries at its core. And there are no doubt things in this movie that you have never seen before, and probably haven't even imagined. I don't want to spill the beans about specific scenes... but rest assured that there are images here that will be impossible to cleanse from your mind. If you are a randy guy, then there is another compelling reason to watch- Ayn Ruymen is extraordinarily pleasing to watch. She appeared exclusively in television after this role, but not in anything that I would have made a point of seeing. We have Paul Bartel (an openly gay man) to thank for this visual record of her in her 'prime'.

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Anonymous Conte Nebbia said...

a real Psychotronic movie and a personal cult!

10:06 AM  

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