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Private Parts

Private Parts(1972)

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teaser Private Parts (1972)

Private Parts (1972) was written by Philip Kearney and Les Rendelstein, and was based on real-life oddballs that they had met in the underground world of Los Angeles during the 1960s. The film, which was director Paul Bartel's first feature, was an offbeat horror tale that revolved around a teenaged voyeur named Cheryl Stratton. After being kicked out of her beach apartment for watching her roommate have sex, Cheryl moves into her Aunt Martha's dilapidated King Edward Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Despite its highly creepy atmosphere, Cheryl is determined to explore the hotel, where the guests seem to be disappearing and her strange fashion photographer cousin George is not all that he appears to be. Ayn Ruymen was cast as Cheryl, Lucille Benson played Aunt Martha (a role intended for Hollywood legend Mary Astor), and John Ventantonio was George. Also in the cast were My Three Sons star Stanley Livingston, Laurie Main, Ann Gibbs, Dorothy Neumann, and Charles Woolf.

Produced for Penelope Productions by Gene Corman (brother of Roger) and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Private Parts was shot by cinematographer Andrew Davis, who was originally slated to direct but was replaced with Bartel. Davis would go on to direct big budget films like The Fugitive (1993). Filming took place on location at various sites in Los Angeles, including The King Edward Hotel in the city's downtown area, which is currently in the middle of a revitalization effort, but in the 1970s more closely resembled Skid Row.

The script for Private Parts came to Bartel's attention through his friend Chuck Hirsch. Rendelstein and Kearney had known Bartel at UCLA while he was studying drama, but they had not been in contact for nearly a decade. Once Bartel secured a deal for the script, he began a rewrite himself, unaware that his agent was shopping it around without Bartel's knowledge. The project was eventually brought to Gene Corman's attention. Corman was looking for low-budget projects for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and liked what he read. Within six weeks, he had met with Paul Bartel in New York, made a deal for the picture, and production began.

MGM had agreed to distribute the film but company president James Aubrey demanded a change of title from Blood Relations to Private Parts, a title Bartel complained was "unprintable in major newspapers" at the time. Some regions, like Chicago, actually advertised the film under the title Private Arts. Bartel had hoped to find another distributor in Roger Corman, who he had met during production as Gene Corman had his offices in Roger's New World company's building. "[F]or the first few months [Roger] looked right through me as if I were invisible, but gradually we got to know each other and he was rather interested in Private Parts. In fact when it was finished, the guy who was his sales manager then suggested to Roger that since MGM didn't seem to know what to do with Private Parts that he, Roger, buy it away from them and distribute it." MGM wouldn't sell the film, despite the lack of interest, which Bartel would later say was due to his having made the film "so kinky and offbeat, MGM didn't know what to do with it and it wasn't worth marketing."

On Private Parts' release, New York Times film critic Roger Greenspun was lukewarm in his review, writing that Bartel "succeeds in some details and fails in others. But the attempt, even when it isn't quite working, is a good deal more interesting than most. [...] Private Parts is at least a hopeful occasion for those of us who love intellectual cinema and at the same time care for the menacing staircase, for the ominous shadow, for empty rooms shuttered against the light of the afternoon." In one respect, Greenspun's review proved to be prophetic. He wrote, "Bartel is a young director whose previous short films have shown a genius of title (Secret Cinema, Naughty Nurse) not entirely matched by their content. Private Parts is no triumph, but it does mark a giant step forward toward the successful blending of precocious perversity and satiric good sense that seems the fated direction of his career."

Private Parts' failure at the box office would not be the end of Paul Bartel's career by any means. He bounced back in 1975 with Death Race 2000 and would continue to make dark, quirky films as both an actor and a director until his death in 2000, the most famous being the black comedy Eating Raoul (1982).

SOURCES:

Armstrong, Stephen B. Paul Bartel: The Life and Films
Greenspun, Roger "'Private Parts,' Film by Bartel, Arrives" The New York Times 2 Feb 73
Hogan, David Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film
Lukeman, Adam Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen: A Celebration of the World's Most Unheralded Fright Flicks
Yoram Allon, Del Cullen, Hannah Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide

By Lorraine LoBianco

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