Film Review: Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills

There was a time, around the age of twenty, when I saw some pretty weird movies. First I lived a short bike ride from the Swedish Film Institute, where I caught Kenneth Anger and Luis Buñuel (neither of whom I liked much -- I walked out on Anger's shorts). Then I moved to a place with a TV set just as Swedish commercial television took off. The stations didn't have much money yet and would broadcast the weirdest, cheapest feature films on weekend afternoons. Two stuck in my mind: one a low-budget Italian Conan rip-off whose title eludes me, the other an American picture from 1989 named Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.

I only saw about the last third of Scenes at the time, and it really amazed me. It was this completely dream-like ironic bedroom farce where everybody got it on in random combinations. I never forgot it, and so I recently bought it used on video tape (there's a 2005 DVD edition as well) and had a good look.

I wasn't disappointed. Scenes is just as weird as it seemed when I stumbled into it. Stylised yet silly, comedic yet with a strange sense of unreality.

The story is simple: a wealthy Beverly Hills divorcee has to find accommodation over a weekend while a bug extermination company wraps her house in orange plastic (cue Christo joke) and gasses it. With her teenage son and chauffeur, she moves in with her equally affluent neighbour, a recently widowed ex-movie-star. A number of other people come to visit, and everybody starts fucking everyone.

There's a lot of meta-stuff going on. The film helps itself to the good bits out of Buñuel and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the latter providing a template for a lot of purposely hammy acting and dialogue. Reading up, I learn that the whole thing is loosely based on the 1939 French feature La Règle du Jeu and that the title parodies the 1977 US documentary Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal. Only mentioning stuff I've seen myself, Scenes shares cast members with The Princess Bride, Six Feet Under and Nip/Tuck.

Scenes is a playful, ironic, surreal comedy. It'll make you laugh, it's got some righteously soft-porn moments, and after you've watched it you'll feel like your worldview is slightly askew for a while.

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The italian movie you saw is probably "Thor the conquer", a magnificent masterpiece of italian cinema. It is the definite movie in the Sword and Sorcery genre. Especially the omniprecent monolog of the narrator contains many real gems. Example:

"Many years from now, this creature will be called a horse." (presenting Thor with a horse)

As an historian I also appreciate the movies convincing picture of life in a very, very, very primitive society...

By Vidugavia (not verified) on 23 Apr 2008 #permalink

Thor il conquistatore (1983) seems a little too action-packed to be the one. I remember endless long shots of the dour lead guy hiking around in random scenic locations accompanied by a woman in a flimsy red dress. Now and then she'd get her dress wet and demonstrate the fact that she had breasts.

It sounds like one of the Ator movies, possibly Iron Warrior.


By Björn Y (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

Bah! Sellouts! Unlike Thor, Iron Warrior seems to have a budget, and buildings...

By Vidugavia (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

Another Paul Bartel film you might enjoy is "Eating Raoul" (1982), featuring some of the same actors, and employing the same kind of gentle humour.