Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - THE PARTY and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM on Blu-ray ""

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - THE PARTY and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM on Blu-ray

THE PARTY (1968; Blake Edwards)
For a long time I used to say that THE PARTY was my favorite Blake Edwards film. Then I saw WILD ROVERS and that toppled it. SKIN DEEP really stuck with me too. That said, THE PARTY is still a remarkable comedy and a wonderful exhibition for Peter Sellers' remarkable comic genius.
Watching it again now, after having seen a lot of Jacques Tati films, I started to see THE PARTY as this delectable concoction of silent era slapstick and the observational and occasionally rhythmic and repetitive comedy of Tati. But then again that's all kind of Peter Seller's wheelhouse too. I kinda doubt that either Sellers or Blake Edwards were actually influenced by Tati, but I find it interesting that they seem to have made something that resembles a raunchier Mr. Hulot film. What is more likely the case (as Blake Edwards has more or less confirmed) is that THE PARTY was straight up inspired by the great American silent comedies and Tati (who was obviously also influenced by those films) had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Another thing I noticed was that the conceivably racist character that Sellers has created here bother me far less this time than in previous viewings. I am pretty sensitive to this sort of thing and it is because of this that I really can't watch BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS anymore (Mickey Rooney's portrayal is just too much for me). This seemed much gentler and more coming from a place of "isn't this situation funny" coupled with the fact that the character is Indian as opposed to the Rooney situation which seems like a much more careless, perhaps slightly mean-spirited racial stereotype. For me, the Rooney character is cringe-inducingly unfunny and that's certainly not his fault. He's been given a stereotype to play and he plays it. In THE PARTY, I really felt more how Sellers was bringing the comedy from this character he had come up with - a guy who feels like an oddball exaggerated real person, but a real person nonetheless.
It's a rare thing nowadays to see a film which plays out mostly throughout the course of one evening and in one location (albeit a large one). There's something hypnotic about just watching this soirée itself happen in quasi-comical real time as our main character weaves his way through the various partygoers and waitstaff. Sellers' character is one of those dynamic and irrepressable clutzes that absolutely can't help but entangle himself in one awkward situation after another. Each of his predicaments escalates and escalates in a hilarious way. Throughout it all, it's impossible not to be charmed and simultaneously blown away by Peter Sellers' fantastic physicality. He really was one of the greatest physical comedians in all of cinema. Up there with Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd for my money. In some ways he really builds upon what they were doing in the way that he and Blake Edwards have constructed jokes and comedic setpieces in this film. It is a delightfully awkward and hilarious sight to behold.
The transfer on this disc looks quite good (after some dusty opticals during the opening credits sequence). The film looks better and better as it goes. The production design is that lovely 60s deco with a bright color palette which is well suited to the Blu-ray format.
Special Features:
--"Inside The Party" (24 mins) includes interview excerpts with Blake Edwards, Walter Mirisch, Ken Wales, Denny Miller, Ed Sikov and Steve Franken.
Edwards talks about the great silent film comedians and how they were a great influence on THE PARTY. Apparently Edwards even pitched the film as a silent comedy with Peter Sellers. He also goes into some detail about his turbulent collaboration with Peter Sellers. Mirisch discuss the unorthodoxically short script (which was indicative of how much of the film was improvised).
--"The Party Revolution" (17 mins) Blake Edwards and Ken Wales talk about their process of developing and using a then new and advanced video assist system for use on THE PARTY. Jerry Lewis had done something like this, but Wales and his team took that idea one step further. Jerry hadn't had his assist set up to tape what the camera was more or less actually seeing what the camera was seeing. Edwards needed this kind of continuity to help keep track of things they were shooting as they went along (as so much of the film was improvised and developed throughout). 
--Blake Edwards Profile (6 mins) - short interview with Edwards in which he talks about his childhood life near the studios and how he found his way into radio and  eventually directing.
--Ken Wales Profile (7 mins) Wales talks about his youth and a formative experience he had with Walt Disney that led to him going to film school, being mentored by Glenn Ford and getting a job on EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (Blake Edwards' film). 
--Walter Mirisch Profile (5 mins) Mirisch talks about his roots with his independent production company, its alliance with United Artists and the company's initial connection with Billy Wilder.
Here's a slightly awkward 1978 Interview with Peter Sellers in which he's asked mostly about his Clouseau character , but he ends up talking about Blake Edwards and THE PARTY briefly as well:

From Kino's site:
"Something appealing. Something appalling. Something for everyone a comedy tonight! "One of the hottest burlesque shows that ever hit Broadway" (Time) comes to the screen showcasing the enormous talents of Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, Buster Keaton and Michael Crawford (Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera). Featuring keenly clever tunes like "Comedy Tonight" and "Lovely," this wild Stephen Sondheim musical about a raucous gaggle of ancient Romans is a "flip, glib and sophisticated, yet rump-slapping bawdy and fast-paced look at the seamy underside of classical Rome through hipster's shades" (Variety). When a wily, witty, lying, lazy, cheating slave discovers that his master's son is in love with the girl next door; a virgin courtesan, he promises to help win her heart in exchange for his freedom. But the road to romance is blocked with stunning surprises, cunning disguises and the wildest chariot race ever!"
What we have here is a whole lotta talented people! The cast (as mentioned above), Stephen Sondheim and Richard Lester. Though everyone here is quite remarkable, the main draw for me is Lester. I started to get into Richard Lester in college and just after and my appreciation for him began to elevate a more and more as I went. His other off the wall narratives like HOW I WON THE WAR, THE KNACK..AND HOW TO GET IT as well
As PETULIA were very interesting to me at that point. I think it was Steven Soderbergh who first turned me onto Lester and how his unorthodox, fractured narrative storytelling style was a very invigorating and memorable thing. Unlike Godard, he used some cinematic techniques in a bit of a deeper way and it ended up making his films more engaging. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM clearly has a good deal of Lester in it as far as the presentation goes. Lots of quick comic cutting and interestingly staged musical numbers make you feel the director behind the camera for sure. FORUM comes only two years after A HARD DAYS NIGHT and it seems an easy guess that one film got him the other (though he had made THE KNACK.. as his direct follow-up to A HARD DAYS NIGHT and that could have been attention-getting as well). Regardless of how he got the job, Lester adds some helpful energy to the proceedings and makes FORUM feel a bit less stagey and more fun overall. Here is a quote I found from Lester about the difficulty of translating farce to the screen:
"I think there is a simple rule of thumb: if you can avoid it, do! I love theatrical farce but think it is the hardest thing to work on screen because good farce relies on the audience understanding the geography. In film the minute you go to someone's close-up the geography is lost."

The cast here is quite enchanting. I am particularly fond of Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel as actors so it's great to see them working together. Also Michael Crawford who I first became familiar with through the Disney Superhero spoof CONDORMAN is always great with Lester (they worked together in THE KNACK and HOW I WON THE WAR as well). All in all a memorable musical comedy that flirts with the absurd but never goes into Mel Brooks territory (not that that is a bad thing, just different).
The transfer on this disc is pretty good and has nice detail. It's not as lively as THE PARTY, but then that is more due to the production design (more drab colors) than anything else.

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