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Eating Raoul: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

A sleeper hit of the early 1980s, Eating Raoul is a bawdy, gleefully amoral tale of conspicuous consumption. Warhol superstar Mary Woronov and cult legend Paul Bartel (who also directed) portray a prudish married couple feeling put upon by the swingers who live in their apartment building; one night, by accident, they discover a way to simultaneously realize their dream of opening a little restaurant and rid themselves of the “perverts” down the hall. A mix of hilarious, anything-goes slapstick and biting satire of me-generation self-indulgence, Eating Raoul marks the end of the sexual revolution with a thwack.

 Film

Paul (Paul Bartel) and Mary Bland (Mary Woronov) are a somewhat happily married couple living in the decadent early 1980’s in the even more decadent part of Hollywood. They’re the perfect 1950’s couple living in the 1980’s – they even sleep in separate beds and lead a pretty sterile life. Paul works at a liquor store where he likes to introduce a bit of upper crust taste to the patrons that come in for their usual “gut rot” helpings and Mary is a nurse that has to deal with unruly patients at the hospital.

Their last names may be Bland and it’s not just a clever last name either. Paul hopes to one day open a gourmet restaurant with Mary, but they don’t make a lot of money, so that dream seems a bit far off. One day while Mary is attacked by one of her shady neighbors Paul accidentally kills him by smashing his head in with a frying pan and then rolling him for his money. They live in a building where most of their neighbors engage in the swinger lifestyle of sexual promiscuity. Let’s just say that they all line up for the frying pan one after the other before long The Blands have to shake the spot or get caught by the police.

The money coming in dries up a bit and they get another great idea in that they’ll run an ad in the local newspaper rag advertising their sexual dominatrix services. Business starts to boom and the Blands continue to kill and roll their victims. All is going well until would-be-burglar Raoul (Robert Beltran) stumbles in on what they’re doing and decides he wants in on the action, or he’ll go to the cops. It turns into a threesome of robbing and killing. Raoul gets to be the one in charge of disposing the bodies.

I knew nothing Eating Raoul only that the cover art was pretty cool. Once I popped in the Blu-ray it was smooth sailing thereafter. The film is hilarious and reminds me of films like Repo Man, Rocky Horror Picture, and Monthy Python. Oh, and certain elements of the film, mainly the morbid, yet funny way of killing folks, reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s films. Gilliam should remake Eating Raoul. I can dream, right?

With the opening credits the viewer is transported to a very real time that was a staple and way of life in early 1980’s Los Angeles, but the film makes fun of that all while being serious at the same time. I think that’s why it works. It’s silly and irreverent. Eating Raoul is independent cinema before there was such a thing. The film cost $500,000 and it earned 3-4 times that amount before it was over. It’s a cult film that really shines a light on some great dramatic and comedic performances all while playing it for laughs, with serious undertones underneath the surface.

It’s one of those films that would be great for a gathering of friends wanting to discover how they did black comedies back in the 80’s, with some subversive content on top. I am aware that plays and musicals have been spun-off of Eating Raouli, so it’s no surprise that the film continues to be relevant 30 years later. It’s awesome that Criterion has gone and given it the deluxe treatment on Blu-ray. It’s time to give the uninitiated a shot at Eating Raoul.

Video

Eating Raoul is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. On standard 4:3 televisions, the image will appear letteboxed. On widescreen televisions, the image should fill the screen. Supervised by director of photography Gary Thieltges, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DFT SCANITY film scanner from the original camera negative. Thousands of instance of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.

If the brightly colored cover artwork is any indicator of what’s to come, you’d be right. Shot in Hollywood and Los Angeles, certain interiors, along with some of the costumes lend themselves to the time period and to the high definition format. Primaries are bright and bold; flesh tones are natural and without flush. Black levels are stable and never crush, and contrast levels remain steady and never run hot. The film has a nice layer of grain throughout, with only minimal hints of distractions, but that may be due to how some of the scenes in the apartment were handled – you can see the occasional shadow creep in on the wall every now and then – it’s not like they can remove it with the computer. Some of those scenes due make it seem like there’s more grain, which may throw off certain viewers. It’s still a great presentation.

Audio 

The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Yeah, it may only be a 1-channel monaural but when it’s from Criterion, you know it’s a top shelf one. Dialogue is nicely centered, as is everything else, but there is no annoying comprehension issues to be found. All of what comes through the center channel happily co-exists with another. Music has a lively quality, as well. Eating Raoul on Blu-ray sounds pretty good for a 30-year old film.

Extras 

Criterion sought to load up on quality extras for this release of Eating Raoul that they brought screenwriter Rochard Blackburn, art director Robert Schulberg, and editor Alan Toomayan in to sit down and talk about the film. It’s a very lively commentary as the gentlemen talk, reminisce, and make anecdotal references about the film. It’s an entertaining track and they’re happy to be there. A really cool 2012 produced documentary about Eating Raoul has been included on the Blu-ray, with interviews with stars Mary Woronov and Robert Beltran. They talk about working with Paul Bartel and how they got the roles and what not. It’s a pretty good 24-minute documentary. A gag reel, trailer, and archive interview with Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel is also included. My favorite of the special features included, and what catapults the ‘extras’ rating way up, are the two short films by Paul Bartel from the 1960’s. We have The Secret Cinema (1966) and Naughty Nurse (1969). Bartel remade The Secret Cinema for an episode of Amazing Stories back in the mid-80’s.

  • Audio commentary featuring screenwriter Richard Blackburn, art director Robert Schulenberg, and editor Alan Toomayan
  • The Secret Cinema (1968) and Naughty Nurse (1969), two short films by director Paul Bartel
  • Cooking Up “Raoul,” a new documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews with stars Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg
  • Gag reel of outtakes from the film
  • Archival interview with Bartel and Woronov
  • Trailer
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Ehrenstein

Summary  

Eating Raoul is a very subversive film and a clear indicator of where we, as a society, were at (we’re still there) in the early 1980’s. It’s a funny, satirical look at consumerism, capitalism, with a dash of social and sexual (or lack thereof) consciousness thrown in. This is my first exposure to Paul Bartel’s work and I will see about tracking down more of his stuff. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray offers stellar video, above average audio, and excellent special features. Wait until you see the booklet included inside. It’s a nice touch.

 

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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