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 who feel put upon by the swingers living in their apartment building. One night, by accident, they discover a way to simultaneously rid themselves of the “perverts” down the hall and realize their dream of opening a restaurant. A mix of hilarious, anything-goes slapstick and biting satire of me-generation self-indulgence, Eating Raoul marked the end of the sexual revolution with a thwack.
Criterion presents Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 this dual-layer disc. The film has received a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer.
Criterion’s Blu-ray looks astonishing, far exceeding whatever I was expecting. I had only caught the film on cable what feels like somewhere between one and two decades ago so my memory of it is based on whatever crummy tape they used to televise it, and that memory recalls a faded, incredibly washed out look. The picture here is vibrant and lively, with excellent depth and an incredible level of detail, stunning colours and rich blacks, a far cry from that presentation. Edges are cleanly defined and everything about it just looks crisp and wonderful. Film grain remains, getting a little heavy in places but not distracting, and other than a couple of moments in some darker scenes it looks natural. The print has some damage present but it’s limited to a few minor specs and some faint if noticeable vertical scratches. Otherwise it looks absolutely stunning.
I have never seen the previous DVD edition released by Sony but I doubt it could have come anywhere near what we get here. Despite the apparent use of multiple film stocks (according to the commentary it’s whatever they could get their hands on) it’s consistently great and should please all fans.
We get a lossless linear PCM mono track with this edition and it serves the film well enough. There’s some decent range and volume levels are good, but voices are fairly flat and one note. Still, it’s easy to hear, presents no distortion or background noise and fits the film.
Criterion loads this special edition up decently enough, starting with an audio commentary featuring screenwriter Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg, and editor Alan Toomayan. It’s a typical production team group commentary but it’s still an entertaining and breezy one to get through. The team has been recorded together with Blackburn mostly leading the charge. They cover all areas of the production, with Blackburn talking a little about how he and Bartel came to do the project, covering the casting (they joke how most of the supporting cast is made up of people far more famous than the leads,) the title that sounds like one for a porn film, Bartel as an actor and director, and the technical difficulties brought on by the limited budget. There’s also mention of some deleted sequences and some interesting little trivia bits (the ad that appears in the film for the main characters’ “services” was actually a real one they placed in the paper because it was cheaper to place a read ad than print up a fake paper.) There’s a lot of time spent to pointing out people in the film and there’s a few dead spots but as a whole it’s a fun track with a few good laughs, making it worthwhile for fans.
Criterion also includes two early short films by Bartel: The Secret Cinema from 1968 and Naughty Nurse from 1969. The 27-minute Secret Cinema (which Bartel would remake for an episode of Steven Spielberg’s television series Amazing Stories) features a Twilight Zone like premise where a woman begins to fear that a movie is being made of her life and that all of her friends may be going to see it behind her back. It’s a rather a delightful, ingenious little film, quite funny and professionally done and impressive for an early film. Naughty Nurse runs a brief 9-minutes but it’s a rather fun 9-minutes. This film, maybe resembling the humour of Eating Raoul a little more, focuses on a nurse who goes out during her lunch break for a quickie that involves role-playing.
I’m also happy to say that both are presented in 1080p/24hz and look pretty good. Each presents some damage and marks but they’re not intrusive and the transfers themselves are clean and sharp.
The Secret Cinema also includes a brief 9-minute audio interview with production designer Robert Schulenberg, who simply talks about how the film came to be and offers some amusing anecdotes, particularly one that involves Timothy Leary. Nice little add-on to the film.
Moving on we next get a 24-minute documentary called Cooking Up “Raoul”, which features interviews with Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg. McClurg only shows up briefly to talk about her quick scene at the swinger party near the end of the film (she didn’t realize there were naked people behind her until she saw the film) while the remainder of the documentary is held together by Woronov and Beltran. Woronov talks about doing work for Andy Warhol and then how she came to meet Bartel and work on Roger Corman’s films (she got a part in Death Race 2000 because of her legs) and then talks about working on Eating Raoul with Bartel. Beltran talks about getting his part and the bizarre situation he found himself in. He also talks about Bartel’s influences, which included Ealing comedies like Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lady Killers, along with films by Luis Buñuel, and he also talks about what it’s like being a Latino actor and the type casting that can occur. There’s some great stuff in here, as well as plenty of surprises (Woronov admits she wasn’t fond of the film initially though it’s grown on her over time) and it concludes nicely with the two recalling the last few years of Bartel’s life. Excellent addition and worth viewing.
A 6-minute gag reel is next, put together for Bartel’s 60th birthday. It’s made up primarily of bloopers but has a couple of laughs. We then get a 21-minute archival interview recorded in 1982, featuring Bartel and Woronov, occasionally annoyed by the interviewer it appears, talking about the film. Bartel primarily has the show, talking about the themes in the film and his influences. The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer.
The rather clever insert, made up to look like a diner menu, features a great essay on the film by David Ehrenstein.
The trailer shows a couple of brief bits not in the finished film and the commentary mentions some deleted sequences so it’s disappointing no deleted scenes have made it here, though I’ll take a guess they may be lost. And other than Ehrenstein’s essay there aren’t any other critical pieces or a look at the cult popularity of the film. Still, what we get is very entertaining, the two short films probably being my favourite inclusion.
A solid set of supplements will make fans of the film happy but it’s the presentation that may be the biggest draw. It comes with a high recommendation.