Brooklyn, New York, 6 August 1938.
Montclair High School, New Jersey; UCLA; Centre Sperimentale di
1969—wrote and directed first film, a short titled
The Secret Cinema
; 1972—directed first full-length film,
; 1975—directed first big-budget film,
Death Race 2000
; 1982—directed, co-wrote, and co-starred in black comedy cult hit
; 1989—wrote, directed and appeared in
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills
, another black comedy and his greatest commercial success.
13 May 2000.
The Secret Cinema (+pr, sc)
Death Race 2000
Eating Raoul (+sc)
Not for Publication (+sc)
Lust in the Dust
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (+sc)
Hi, Mom! ( Blue Manhattan; Confessions of a Peeping Tom; Son of Greetings ) (DePalma) (as Uncle Tom Wood)
Hollywood Boulevard (Arkush and Dante) (as Eich Von Leppe); Cannonball (+d); Eat My Dust (Griffith)
Grand Theft Auto (Howard) (as Groom); Mr. Billion (Kaplan)
Piranha (Dante) (as Dumont)
Rock 'n' Roll High School (Arkush) (as Mr. McGee)
Heartbeeps (Arkush) (as Party Guest)
Trick or Treats (Graver) (as Wino); Eating Raoul (+d) (as Paul Bland); White Dog (Fuller) (as Cameraman)
Flip Out ( Get Crazy ) (Arkush) (as Docter Carver); Heart like a Wheel (Kaplan) (as Chef Paul)
Frankenweenie (Burton) (as Mr. Walsh); Not for Publication (Bartel) (as TV Director)
National Lampoon's European Vacation (Heckerling) (as Mr. Froeger); Into the Night (Landis) (as Doorman); Sesame Street Presents "Follow That Bird" (Kwapis) (as Grouch Cook)
Chopping Mall ( Killbots ) (Wynorski) (as Paul Bland); Killer Party (Fruet) (as Professor Zito)
Amazon Women on the Moon ( Cheeseburger Film Sandwich ) (Dante and Gottlieb) (as Doctor); Munchies (Hirsch) (as Doctor Crowder)
Caddyshack II (Arkush) (as Jamieson); Mortuary Academy (Schroeder) (as Paul Truscott); Out of the Dark (Schroeder) (as Hotel Clerk); Shakedown (Glickenhaus) (as Night Court Judge)
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (Bartel) (as Docter Mo Van De Kamp)
Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective (Conner and Lewis—for TV) (as Larry Badger); Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Dante) (as Theatre Manager); Far out Man (Chong) (as Weebee Cool)
The Pope Must Die ( The Pope Must Diet ) (Richardson) (as Monsignor Fitchie)
Desire and Hell at Sunset Motel (Castle) (as The Manager); Liquid Dreams (Manos) (as Angel); The Living End (Araki) (Twister Master); Our Hollywood Education (Beltrami)
Acting on Impulse ( Eyes of a Stranger; Roses Are Dead; Secret Lies; Secret Lives ) (Irvin) (as Bruno); Posse (Van Peebles) (as Mayor Bigwood); Shelf Life (Bartel) (as Various Apparitions); Grief (Glatzer) (as Attorney)
Twin Sitters ( The Babysitters ) (Paragon) (as Linguini-Covered Man)
The Usual Suspects (Singer) (as Smuggler); The Jerky Boys (Melkonian) (as Host); Bucket of Blood ( Dark Secrets; The Death Artist; Roger Corman Presents Bucket of Blood ) (McDonald—for TV) (as Older Man); Love and Happiness (Alan) (as Sully the Short-Order Cook); Naomi & Wynonna: Love Can Build a Bridge ( Love Can Build a Bridge) (Roth—for TV) (as Ralph Emery); Not like Us (Payne) (as Mortician); Red Ribbon Blues (Winkler) (as Fred the Pharmacist); The Wacky Adventures of Dr. Boris and Nurse Shirley (Leder) (as Doctor Boris)
Basquiat (Schnabel) (as Henry Geldzahler); Escape from L.A. ( John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. ) (Carpenter) (as Congressman); Joe's Apartment (Payson) (as NEA Scout); Prey of the Jaguar (DeCoteau) (as Toymaker); Skeletons (DeCoteau) (as Mayor Dunbar)
Lewis & Clark & George (McCall) (as Cop); Inheritance ( Louisa May Alcott's The Inheritance ) (Roth—for TV)
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (O'Haver) (as Rex Webster)
Hard Time: The Premonition (Cass—for TV) (as Proprietor); Zoo (King) (as Dr. Rail St. Cloud)
Dinner and a Movie (as Lou Semelhack); Dreamers (Kors) (as Larry); Hamlet (Almereyda)
"Dialogue on Film: Paul Bartel, Interview," in American Film , April, 1985.
" The Secret Cinema —A Screenplay by Paul Bartel," in Scenario: The Magazine of Screenwriting Art (New York), Winter, 1998/99.
Jacobs, Diane, "Bartel's Parables," in The Washington Post , 4 January 1983.
Goldstein, Patrick, "Paul Bartel Sticks It to the Idle Rich," in The Los Angeles Times , 25 September, 1988.
* * *
Paul Bartel has acted in over sixty films, but he is best known for two, for which he was also writer and director: Eating Raoul (1982) and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989). These two black comedies amused, titillated, and shocked audiences by finding humor in such diverse subjects as cannibalism, kinky sex, serial murder, class resentment, and homosexuality.
The young Paul Bartel would have seemed an unlikely candidate for such scandalous and subversive filmmaking. Raised in a conventional middle-class New Jersey family, Bartel knew from an early age that he wanted to make movies. After high school, he enrolled in UCLA's prestigious film school. Upon graduating, he was awarded a Fulbright grant to study at the Center for Experimental Film in Rome.
Bartel's first directing work was on two low-budget shorts: Naughty Nurse and The Secret Cinema. These films came to the attention of MGM studio head James Aubrey, who bankrolled Bartel's next project, a bizarre sex comedy originally called Blood Relations. However, the studio marketed the film unwisely, changed the name to Private Parts (a more risque title that many "family newspapers" would not even print, which hindered advertising) and abandoned it soon thereafter.
But Bartel's work nonetheless brought him to the attention of Roger Corman, who specialized in producing low-budget action and horror films. Corman gave Bartel a job as Second Unit Director for the 1974 film Big Bad Momma , and was sufficiently impressed with the younger man's work so as to offer him the director's chair on Death Race 2000. However, professional disagreements between the two men marked both the filming and the post-production process. The final cut was a financial success, but at the cost of Corman and Bartel's working relationship.
Paul Bartel's first success on his own terms came with Eating Raoul (1982), which he directed, co-wrote (with Richard Blackburn), and starred in. The female lead was Mary Woronov, who has done most of her screen work in independent films, notably several directed by Andy Warhol. In Eating Raoul , Bartel and Woronov portray Paul and Mary Bland, a financially strapped married couple. They have never consummated their marriage, because both view sex as "dirty," and they are contemptuous of their neighbors, all of whom seem to be lust-crazed California "swingers." The Blands hit on the notion of murdering as many of these "perverts" as they can, and taking their money. Later, they take on a partner named Raoul, whose restaurant offers the perfect means of disposing of all of those bodies, thus giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "mystery meat."
Bartel's next major directing assignment was on Lust in the Dust (1985), starring former 1950s heartthrob Tab Hunter and transvestite actor Divine, the latter known for outrageous portrayals in several John Waters films. The film was a send-up of the "Spaghetti Westerns" that had been popular during the 1960s, but it was not a financial success.
In 1989, Paul Bartel went to work on the film that has proved his greatest commercial success to date. Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills was surely helped at the box office by the star power of Jacqueline Bisset, who played wealthy sitcom actress Claire Lipkin. Her neighbor and best friend, Lisabeth Hepburn-Saurian, was played by Mary Wornov. The two women become the subject of a wager between their respective housemen: the first one who beds his employer wins—and the stakes of the wager involve more than money. Bartel wrote, directed, and played a supporting role in this black comedy.
Before his death in 2000, Paul Bartel worked mostly as an actor. He appeared in more than sixty films, including made-for-TV movies. With occasional exceptions like his role in Eating Raoul , Bartel mostly played character parts in supporting roles. Clearly his first love was directing, and he viewed much of his acting work as a way to raise funds for his next stint behind the camera.