14 October 2009

Private Parts (+/-).

Private Parts (Blood Relations, the alternate USA title according to IMDb, is a much better title for the film) shares characteristics with the three previously discussed films. Obviously Eating Raoul, as this is another Paul Bartel film, and Peeping Tom, because it's a thriller with themes of obsession, and Shaun of the Dead, owing to the filmic depth of its characters and the unraveling of the narrative. Not Quite Hollywood too, because Private Parts is a personal take on a type of genre.

The film is typical for the period, especially as the name Corman is attached to the production. It's a genre film that faintly exhibits personal traits of the filmmaker, but is geared toward commercial success and exploitative reactions. Following Eating Raoul with Private Parts, traveling in reverse order, illustrates the way filmmaker's interests can break through the surface of a genre narrative without finding full expression. Private Parts is a diluted combination of Bartel's impulses, several previous films (most obviously Blow-Up and Psycho), and genre intrepidity. In Not Quite Hollywood QT talks about the one scene everyone talks about in a good genre film, the scene that's complete 'what the fuck' and 'did they just do that' material. Private Parts has that scene, which Quint of AICN also mentioned in his recent write-up of the film.

I'd like to think that Bartel was inspired by Bava at the time. I know he was around Joe Dante, and I know Dante was into Bava. Regardless, the film plays out like an Italian genre film. There's murder, sexual perversion, mystery, suspense, drama - there are all the qualities that make a film exciting and interesting. This is how it fails: it doesn't wholly commit itself to one idea. It shares qualities with many films but fails to become its own. Development of story and plot is the primary concern, and all peripheral components of filmmaking, including characters, are driven toward a final revelation, or simple audience titillation. Not that Bava had fully realized characters, but he had fully realized films, movies that were cinematically excessive. Bartel totters between character-driven and genre-driven, and wedges these two on his filmmaking inclinations.

It works to the extent that Bartel is an interesting person, a competent filmmaker, and has a bizarre script to draw from. A tapestry of peculiar Los Angeles eccentrics is the direct link between this and Eating Raoul. I love the way Bartel views LA in both films. The problem is in Private Parts the characters, the unusual LA personalities, aren't allowed to steer the film. They're pushed into the background, and to describe them is to simply reduce them to their exploitative and attractive features: a man-loving priest, a sexually oppressed photographer, a time trapped old woman, an alcoholic, an innocent midwestern girl. The tone of Eating Raoul is determined by its characters' mindset. When that happens it makes every shift in the narrative feel like a furthering of character development. That's the difference between a good genre film and a great genre film, generally speaking.

Private Parts is exciting and easy to watch and not a bad film: there is one scene in particular I rewatched about twenty times. But the difference between it and Eating Raoul is significant. Eating Raoul feels like a film made by a man, and Private Parts feel like a movie produced through a system.

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