Saturday, July 14, 2012

#625: Eating Raoul

(Paul Bartel, 1982)

Providing you have a healthy dark side to your sense of humor, Eating Raoul is one of the most enjoyably entertaining films to enter the collection in recent years. In fact, for a film about two people who pose as sex workers in order to murder depraved people and take their money, Eating Raoul is as light as can be. Think of it as the counterpoint to Onibaba.

Set in Los Angeles in the early 80s, Eating Raoul focuses on the decadence both moral and commercial that is degrading society - a thesis made clear in the over-the-top intro that borders on Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker territory. We're then introduced to Paul and Mary Bland, an innocent couple saving up to open their dream restaurant. What makes Eating Raoul so successful is its tone, which draws on John Waters and Andy Warhol camp but has a naivete that multiple filmmakers would draw on in their future social satire. I see David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands somewhere in here, but smaller films like Bob Balaban's Parents and even Joe Dante's The Burbs come to mind.

Although Criterion has a number of Lubitsch and Sturges comedies in their catalog, modern American comedy until recently was extremely rare. Eating Raoul joins recent additions like Something Wild, Being John Malkovich, and Broadcast News that have helped round out a collection that - like similar groupings of works in the "canon" - is overly weighted towards serious dramatic fare. In the case of Criterion, this is (as with TV series) most likely primarily a consequence of financial considerations: comedies simply have a better shelf life on DVD, where people are less likely to come back to serious (read:depressing) movies when they stay in for the night. It's therefore a lot harder for them to license recent titles that studios believe they can make money from. But too often truly great comedies are dismissed as being lesser works when compared to "distinguished" films. Only a handful of comedies have won Best Picture, while Sight and Sound's famed poll has featured just one comedy (the much-deserving Rules of the Game) in its last three lists (although Singing in the Rain is kind of a comedy). Eating Raoul isn't that good, of course - I wouldn't even call it a five star film. But it's an important film in underground 80s cinema, and it's well-deserving of its soon-to-be place in the Collection. I'd love to see more comedies follow suit.

No comments:

Post a Comment