Jul 23, 2014
It might seem unlikely that a stupid American would direct a campy and sometimes racially insensitive remake of the French classic ‘comedy of manners’ The Rules of the Game (1939) aka La Règle du Jeu, but character actor/sometimes-auteur Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul, Death Race 2000) did such a bold and wonderfully cinematically sacrilegious thing for his almost criminally underrated mutation of Renoir's masterpiece, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989). While I have yet to get around to seeing The Rules of the Game, I have seen enough of Renoir's films to know that his anti-boobeoise comedy of manners probably did not feature a dog performing cunnilingus on an ‘Uncle Tom’ negress or an East Asian gangster stating in broken English, “rabbits and Mexicans brains ain’t too big,” to a Mexican servant with an unhealthy gambling addiction. Indeed, like any cultivated celluloid comedy, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills is equal demented doses of the radically raunchy and wonderfully witty, as a superlatively sardonic work of the decidedly darkly comedic sort that makes a major mockery of the now-old school Beverly Hills bourgeoisie. Although I had seen the film before, I recently decided to re-watch Bartel's unsung masterpiece of merry misanthropy (indeed, after watching most of his films, I am convinced that the director absolutely hates everyone) after realizing it was co-penned by Bruce Wagner (who has a small cameo at the beginning), whose 5-hour-long brainchild Wild Palms (1993) I recently developed a rather strange addiction to. Of course, both Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills and Wild Palms do a rather relentless job reaming the stinking rich rectum of Los Angeles’ uniquely unlovable upper-class. On top of being a rare cultured American comedy featuring an all-star cast (including Bartel playing his typically effortlessly effete self), the film is also notable in that young star Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered just six weeks after the film was released by a crazed ½ Korean fan who had been stalking her for 3 years (indeed, had she pursued her original aspirations of being a rabbi, she might not be dead today). Indeed, practically specially tailored to be an instant cult classic, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills is arguably Bartel’s most belligerently immoral and subtly sophisticated work to date, hence why it is probably less well known when compared to the director’s previous celluloid efforts of excess and eccentricity like Death Race 2000 (1975) and Eating Raoul (1982), as it seems most American filmgoers prefer low-camp over wicked yet refined wit. A fiercely fucked farce that has a number of subplots, but mainly revolves around two males servants—a mestizo addicted to gambling and a bisexual hustler that has the words “Your Name” tastelessly tattooed to his assumedly diseased ass—who make a truly low-class wager as to who will be the first to sexually seduce the other’s employer, Bartel’s work is probably the only film that can boast such an eclectically bonkers and stupidly salacious cast of characters, including a goofy fat ghost who died of autoerotic asphyxiation and has come back to haunt his horny wife, a male whore who gambles $5,000 just so he can get into a romantic Chicano’s pants, a gold-digging jigaboo who moonlights as an S&M porn star, and a divorced housewife who lusts after Mexicans because she has read one too many D.H. Lawrence novels, among countless other human creatures with an unquenchable hunger for humping anyone and everyone despite class differences (indeed, if the film demonstrates anything, it is that there is no such thing as discrimination in the bedroom, so long as one has a craving for the other person), so long as they do it in a super sleazy and secret way so as to not potentially hurt their loved ones.
Rich bitch Clare Lipkin (played by Jacqueline Bisset in a rather against-type role) gets so enraged with her chipmunk-mouthed Mexican maid Rosa (Edith Diaz) for breaking some sort of worthless porcelain knickknack in her home during a big fancy dinner feast that she throws boiling water in the poor over-the-hill Latina’s rather bloated face. On top of that, a pathetically pretentious and ambiguously gay pansy who describes himself as “Beverly Hill’s foremost thinologist” (aka diet doctor) named Dr. Mo Van De Kamp (Paul Bartel) decides to finish the mestizo maid off with an Abercrombie & Fitch brand handgun, so naturally the Hispanic houseboy Juan (played by Robert Beltran, who was previously in Eating Raoul) decides to honor his racial sister by throwing a boiling pot of water on his bossy boss Clare, but just before he does, it is revealed it was all a joke in celebration of the young servant’s birthday. Unfortunately for Juan, his life is not exactly that interesting, as it is revealed that everything that he has just experienced was just a dream. On top of that, Juan owes an East Asian gangster named June-Bug (Jerry Tondo), who uses a muscular negro as his muscle, a long unpaid $3,700 gambling debt. Luckily, a bisexual servant named Frank (played by Ray Sharkey, who died of AIDS in 1993 but not before giving it to a couple of his girlfriends) that works for his boss Clare’s friend Lisabeth Hepburn-Saravian (played by lapsed Warhol superstar turned Roger Corman superstar Mary Woronov) makes a $5,000 bet with him regarding who can seduce and sexually savage the other's employer first. Since Juan has no cash, he has agreed to give his anal virginity (and, in turn, his rampant heterosexuality) to Frank if he loses the wager. Of course, being a Paul Bartel film, it is somewhat easy to guess what happens to Juan's twink-taco.
Juan’s boss Clare’s husband Sidney (Paul Mazursky) has just died in a freak autoerotic asphyxiation accident and now his pathetic ghost is haunting her. Somewhat melancholy, as well as horny (her husband’s ghost confesses to her that he became sexually disinterested with her after their daughter was born), due to the death of her hubby, Clare has some friend and family members over for the weekend, included her hack playwright brother Peter (Ed Begley Jr.), who has written works with titillating titles like “Little Shylock,” and his new negress wife ‘To-Bel’ (Arnetia Walker), who married the preppie would-be-tortured-artist on a whim after only knowing him for a couple of days because she assumes he is ridiculously wealthy (of course, as Dr. Mo Van De Kamp later reveals to her, Peter is on the, “last scraps of niggardly inheritance”). Needless to say, Clare is somewhat disturbed by her brother's rather dark romantic acquisition, though the family dog ‘Bojangles’ takes a special liking to To-Bel and maws at her afro-puff-covered pink-eye as if it is a raw steak. A shameless Uncle Tom that knows how to play pussy white men with her man-eating pussy, To-Bel absurdly states upon being absurdly asked if she has any relatives in Africa, “Isn’t that interesting…but I have no desire to go to Africa. None whatsoever. Israel, yes,” as if she assumes that Hebrews are where the real 'bucks' are. While Juan and Frank plot to get in the pussies of the posh hags, rich bitches Clare and Lisabeth do the same, with the latter stating regarding her unquenchable thirst for prole poles, “we're soft, they're hard…they work, they eat, they fuck.” Divorced from her bald philandering gynecologist husband Howard (Wallace Shawn), Lisabeth is especially hungry for Hispanic flesh, stating regarding the Mexican servant, “There is something very D.H. Lawrence about Juan…something dark and something Aztec…that one could never know.”
Feeling sorry for a hyper horny young teen in need of temporary sexual release, Juan gives Lisabeth’s sensitive pianist son Willie (Barret Oliver of The NeverEnding Story fame) “righteous videotapes” (aka porn videos) and the young lad soon discovers that To-Bel is a porn star while watching a lurid Sapphic S&M blue movie where the ebony hoe cracks a female cracker with a whip. On top of that, it is also soon revealed that Lisabeth’s husband Howard was in a steamy love affair with To-Bel, who wants to take revenge against her bastard of an ex-beau, which she does by boning his much more handsome and more well hung son Willie. Indeed, Willie later brags in front of his mother and all the other house guests that, “Aunt To-Bel told me that compared to my dad I was hung like a rhino.” Indeed, Willie must have developed an instant mania for miscegenation, as he also screws fat Mexican maid Rosa. Of course, Willie is not the only one who gets lucky during the wanton weekend in the seemingly banal Beverly Hills suburb, as virtually everybody literally and figuratively screws everyone in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, though Frank, being a homo who pretends he’s half-hetero, opts for drugging Clare instead of actually greasing her weasel, as Juan walks in on his passed out boss in bed with his friend and assumes the worst. While Juan actually manages to seal the salacious deal in terms of buggering hyper horny divorcee Lisabeth, he lies to Frank and pretends to lose the wager, thus absurdly resulting in the loss of his rampant heterosexuality (Frank fucks him from behind like he's a woman). Of course, in what seems to be a mockery of virtually every single Hollywood film ever made, everything works out in the end, with Juan beginning a relationship with old sugarmomma Lisabeth, Clare’s daughter Zandra (Rebecca Schaeffer) hooking up with dirty old man Dr. Mo Van De Kamp, and Clare finally getting over her husband’s ghost, who is left with the ghost of the family dog (indeed, the poor doggy, like Sidney, also perished in a freak accident). In the end, the dead dog has the last word by telling ghost Sidney, “You’re so full of shit.”
A film with an intentionally pretentiously long title that sounds like the name of some sort of forgotten European neo-Marxist film from the late-1960s/1970s (actually, a Jewish documentarian directed a film in 1977 entitled Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal), Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989) ultimately rips both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie a new asshole, which is certainly something any self-respecting person can appreciate. Indeed, while the film is a major mess in terms of narrative structure as a wayward work where the main ‘plot’ falls to the wayside almost immediately, it is also a mischievously mirthful orgy of ludicrous laughs that reminds one that there has indeed been a couple of masterful comedies made in Hollywood, though they certainly were not directed by Mel Brooks. Undoubtedly, had director Paul Bartel been Hebraic and not made jokes at the expense of Israel (as he does in the film), Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills would probably be revered as one of the greatest celluloid comedies of its rather unfunny era. Indeed, forget Das Kapital, Bartel's filmic farce features more cultivated hate and contempt for the upper-classes than failed bourgeois bum Marx could have ever dreamt of. Assuredly, one of the things that makes the film, like most of Bartel’s work, so brilliant is that it is nearly impossible to tell what the director’s political persuasion is, as he spares no one from his deliciously venomous scorn, including meek Mexican maids, virginal teenage piano prodigies, female Uncle Toms, the sort of annoying and spastic yappity little white dogs that old women like to spoil (Bartel actually had the gall to have the dog, Bo-Jangles, killed off), effeminate gynecologists, and various other beings that I typically find myself quite repelled by. Like the anti-liberal/anti-counter-culture cinematic works of Paul Morrissey, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills also dares to make sex seem rather ridiculous, as a work that wallows in perversity but is, at best, rather anti-erotic, despite featuring nudity and whatnot (undoubtedly, I must admit that the sight of Mary Woronov's unclad body made for an unsettling experience). Ultimately, one of the main messages of the film is that everyone is a whore, but it is only the working-class who consciously realizes this, as they have to constantly prostitute themselves just to survive and thrive. Of course, the title of the film is quite tongue-in-cheek, as the real struggle that occurs in the film is between two lowly servants from the same class who are competing from poorly aged rich bitch gash. While I do not doubt that Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is an unmitigated masterpiece, I have a feeling that Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills offers more wicked laughs, as a bodacious black comedy that is darker than Al Jolson in blackface and wittier than Oscar Wilde on crack.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 5:02 AM
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