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Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills
Within the first few minutes of Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, Dr. Mo Van De Kamp, the character played by director Paul Bartel hears a scathing one-liner and says, "What a horrid, fabulous thing to say!" That statement sums up Struggle's philosophy in a nutshell, a free-wheeling, unusually charming, consistently absurd sex comedy conceived by Bartel and Bruce Wagner, the latter of whom would go on to write the final screenplay. Despite the title, the film isn't a political commentary on the class divide itself, but rather the fact that whether one is serving or being served, the same basic desire for sex and human connection drives almost everyone.
The film concerns two rich and newly-single women, the recently-widowed Claire Lipkin (Jacqueline Bisset), and the recently-divorced Lisabeth Hepburn-Saravian (Mary Woronov), and their respective servants, Juan (Robert Beltran) and Frank (Ray Sharkey). Claire, a former TV star, is thinking about returning to her old career, and Lisabeth is somewhat adrift, having temporarily moved in with Claire while her house is fumigated. Frank is a former hustler and sexually liberated, having accidentally given Claire's late husband Sidney (Paul Mazursky) the autoerotic asphyxiation tip that led to his unfortunate demise. When Juan seems perplexed by Frank's freewheeling attitude, Frank devises a bet. Juan will try and sleep with Lisabeth, and Frank will try and sleep with Claire. If Juan succeeds first, Frank will pay off Juan's $5,000 gambling debt, and if Frank is faster, then Juan will sleep with Frank. If both or neither succeed, it's a draw.
Wagner's screenplay, or perhaps Bartel's execution of it, is not really plot-driven -- the movie takes its time arriving at the bet and then even more time paying it off -- but that's just fine. Struggle is focused more on the character dynamics, which are complicated by the appearance of Lisabeth's corny playwright brother Peter (Ed Begley Jr.) and his very new bride To-Bel (Arnetia Walker), and Lisabeth's ex-husband Howard (Wallace Shawn), as well as the presence of their young son Willie (Barret Oliver), Claire's daughter Zandra (Rebecca Schaeffer), and Claire's other maid Rosa (Edith Diaz)...as well as, for good measure, Sidney's ghost, who appears to Claire and tries to pitch her on getting back together in the afterlife, telling her he's picked out a spot in Hell that looks just like their mansion.
Given this lengthy list of characters, Bartel's greatest asset here is the fact that his entire cast seems completely game to give themselves over to the insanity. The film opens with a dream sequence that comes close to the "haves versus the have-nots" that the title seems to suggest, and slowly starts to spin a web of sexual attractions and desires that crosses as many characters with one another as possible. To-bel has a few secrets (and entertaining comic skills with a knife)! Willie has an unrequited crush! Peter has ulterior motives (and a secret new play that several people end up borrowing their one-liners from)! Howard has some hope that he can repair his relationship with Lisabeth! And something vaguely supernatural seems to be going on with Rosa! Other than Oliver and Schaffer, whose parts are pretty minimal, everyone makes a great impression, especially the women, with Walker's cartoon energy lifting her to the top of the pack.
As Struggle doesn't endeavor to a serious comment on society or the class divide, it could be argued that the film feels a little insubstantial, but given all the ways this subject matter could have turned out more gross than goofy, that's an achievement in and of itself. Bartel juggles each of the character arcs with a deft hand and an endearing sweetness (one scene near the end plays practically like a screwball silent film), and the film's progressive view of sexual liberation has aged pretty well (the one odd, awkward note in the movie is when Bartel uses an accurate but obscure word for "stingy" when talking to Walker). Struggle is an idiosyncratic but bubbly glass of champagne -- and like Juan himself discovers, some things can't hurt to try.
As is Kino's usual MO, Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills has had its original poster art reformatted for the Blu-ray cover, which looks nice if distinctly "of its era." The back cover follows Kino Studio Classic's usual template, and there is no insert inside the Viva Elite Blu-ray case.
The Video and Audio
Similar to Not For Publication, there was a change between what Kino announced and what actually arrived on disc. What was advertised in the announcement as a 4K remaster is noted on the Blu-ray packaging as a 2K master, offered as a 1.85:1 1080p AVC presentation. Thankfully, while the results aren't quite as good as Not For Publication, this is an excellent presentation, offering almost the same qualities: impressive detail, rejuvenated colors, and nice filmic grain structure. There are a couple of minor flaws, however, and one of them will be a "mileage may vary" issue." On a general level, having been captured at 2K instead of 4K (and perhaps off of something other than the original negative -- there are no details on the source used on the packaging), the image is slightly softer and offers less depth than Publication. The more persistent issue is a set of very fine vertical lines just to the left of the center of the screen. They are subtle enough that they're easy to ignore, but they are also noticeable if one is looking for them, and the intensity of their appearance can vary slightly (for example, they're more noticeable on a static shot in a white room than a panning shot through a more busy backdrop). Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which sounds very nice, with dialogue and music nicely balanced. English subtitles are also provided (and appear to be properly formatted, unlike those for Publication, although there are three or so lines, mostly in Spanish, that are transcribed as "unintelligible").
There is one extra on the disc, "Life is a Bullfight": Interview with Actor Robert Beltran (6:19). This is, to be honest, not a particularly enlightening interview, with Beltran basically complimenting the whole cast, telling a short story about a scene with Wallace Shawn, and offering his hope that the film will find its audience. It's a little disappointing that Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremer weren't asked to do a second commentary for this disc, although that's less of an actual complaint about this disc and more because their track for Not For Publication was so delightful.
An original theatrical trailer for Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills is also included (as well as bonus trailers for Not For Publication and The Mephisto Waltz.
Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills isn't a very deep film, but it is a consistently entertaining oddball little movie, as flirty and funny as the relationships the characters are pursuing with one another. Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray comes up short in the extras department, but the presentation is pretty great. Recommended.
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