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Cult Vault #1: Bernard Rose on The Party

British veteran director Bernard Rose recommends a non-pc party

Taken from the April 2010 issue of Dazed & Confused:

Rose is the highly acclaimed director of Ivansxtc, the cult indie tale tracing the last day in the life of an LA agent, and The Kreutzer Sonata, which stars Danny and Anjelica Huston in a dark glimpse into the Beverly Hills underworld. He has also just wrapped Mr Nice, starring Rhys Ifans in the role of infamous drug baron Howard Marks. For the first of a new monthly series in which cult directors choose their favourite cult film, Rose has decided to shine the spotlight on Blake Edwards’s The Party. 

“In 1968 Blake Edwards improvised a film with his longtime collaborator Peter Sellers called The Party. Sellers, made-up with a staggeringly non-PC blackface, plays Hrundi Bakshi – an Indian actor brought to Hollywood to play in some lousy Gunga Din remake who is blacklisted for accidentally setting off pyrotechnics and destroying the set before the cameras are rolling. But the blacklist his name is inscribed upon turns out to be the list of invitees to a party held at the home of the head of the studio. Sellers 

 attends the snobbish stilted party full of Hollywood suck-ups, drunks, abusive agents, abused starlets and a band led by Henry Mancini and proceeds to wreak havoc. It’s a performance of staggering sustained slapstick and understatement by Sellers and consequently, the film is among the funniest ever made.

There is a standout sequence involving Sellers in a bathroom with an uncooperative toilet that creates a series of escalating gags that payoff in a final scrabble off a roof and fall into the pool that has to rank right up there with anything achieved by Keaton or Chaplin. Those are Sellers’s obvious antecedents but the film is also very influenced by Jacques Tati, especially when it comes to the wonderful mid-century set, a perfect example of a Hollywood Hills modernist house. In my opinion Sellers outshines anything by Tati, the gags feel far less contrived. Edwards is a very underrated director – in The Party he shows a tremendous flair for complex staging within sustained shots. Edwards made some great movies, (Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther films) but always gets left out of the pantheon. I think that’s wrong and I think his work has really lasted and The Party shows him at his most experimental and accomplished.”