When he passed away at the age of 61 in 2000, filmmaker Paul Bartel was more widely known as a character actor than as a director. His role as Paul Bland in his own EATING RAOUL (1982) cast the mold for him as a character-type: the erudite, bow-tied figure of refinement and high culture against whom the young stars revolt. His Mr. McGree, the music teacher in Allan Arkush’s ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979), is a totemic example. It was a persona that was connected to Bartel’s own character, one that served him both as a director, writer, and actor throughout his career.
Organized in collaboration with independent programmer David Savage, and including two newly discovered short films, as well as the NYC premiere of the newly restored print of THE SECRET CINEMA, this first-ever retrospective aims to remind audiences that Bartel was first and foremost a writer-director with a wickedly comic take on American culture. Bartel explored subjects that both intrigued and disturbed audiences: violence as comedy, sexuality and perversity, race, greed, class-climbing, and conspiracy.
As a gay youth who grew up amidst the repressive social codes of post-war American suburbia, Bartel expressed his sexuality not through strident, post-Stonewall liberation but through subversion and parody. His repressed energy was transmuted into films of even darker comedy than American audiences were accustomed to seeing. As revealed in Stephen B. Armstrong’s new biography, “Paul Bartel: The Life and Films,” Bartel internalized his anger at being forced to hide himself from his family and from society: “I think I got involved making films about society and especially about problems in society because I used to be a pretty angry guy. […] I think that being gay has been the biggest source of conflict in my life.” It was a conflict that Bartel seemed to have resolved in his final films. Nevertheless, due to his early death, his career has the quality of an unfinished, necessary conversation.
We are thrilled to be joined by members of the Bartel family, his close friend and producer, the artist Bob Schulenberg, select cast and crew, and by Stephen B. Armstrong, all of whom will be present for post-screening discussions to share their memories of him and to explore Bartel’s continuing impact on American independent film.
In conjunction with the Paul Bartel retrospective, a gallery show of drawings and photography by Bartel’s close friend, celebrated illustrator Bob Schulenberg, will take place at the Patrick Parrish Gallery in Tribeca, opening with a VIP reception on October 12. Titled “Bob Schulenberg: The Secret Cinema Drawings,” the exhibit, curated and designed by Andrea Salvini, will showcase the drawings Schulenberg created during the production of Bartel’s THE SECRET CINEMA. Schulenberg will also be joining in post-screening discussions at Anthology! For more info, visit: www.patrickparrish.com.