Paul Bartel was born in 1938 in New York City. By age 11, animation had captured his imagination and in 1951 he spent a summer
working as an assistant at New York's UPA animation studios. Following high school, he studied theater, film, and romantic
languages at UCLA. Upon graduating in 1960, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to study film in Italy at Centro Sperimental
di Cinematografica in Rome's Cinecitta Studios, where fellow filmmakers included Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio.
Bartel's graduation project, the 1962 semi-documentary short film PROGETTI was presented at the 1962 Venice Film Festival.
When Bartel completed his studies in Italy and returned to New York City in the mid-1960s, he found himself positioned to
join an explosion of cinematic creativity known as the New York underground, where filmmakers such as Andy Warhol, George
Kuchar, and Curtis Harrington were creating avant-garde cinema. During this time Bartel initially worked in the United States
Army Signal Corps Pictorial Center, first as a script clerk and then as an assistant director on training films and documentaries.
He also wrote and directed the theatrical short THE SECRET CINEMA (1968) and the follow-up short NAUGHTY NURSE (1969). Both
films were seen by Gene Corman, who hired Bartel to direct a low-budget horror feature called PRIVATE PARTS (1972). Roger
Corman, Gene's brother, next hired him as second unit director on BIG BAD MAMA (1974) and then as director on DEATH RACE 2000
(1975). He then wrote and directed CANNONBALL (1976), which included cameo appearances by Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese.
In 1982 he wrote, directed, and starred in the black comedy EATING RAOUL which garnered critical and commercial success and
was chosen for the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. Each of these early films became a cult classic and
subsequently solidified his reputation as an accomplished B-movie filmmaker. After the success of EATING RAOUL he continued
directing through the 1980s. Notable efforts from this time period include his satirical western comedy LUST IN THE DUST (1985)
and the sexually explicit comedy SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS (1989). He directed his last film SHELF LIFE
in 1993. Bartel may best be remembered as a director, but he also worked as an actor in small, memorable roles. His acting
debut came in Brian De Palma's HI MOM! (1970). He also appeared in Allan Arkush's cult classic ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL
(1979), Sam Fuller's controversial WHITE DOG (1982), Jonathan Demme's drama HEART LIKE A WHEEL (1983), Tim Burton's comedy
short FRANKENWEENIE (1984), and Bryan Singer's crime drama THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1996). He also appeared in numerous television
programs such as the miniseries MORE TALES OF THE CITY (1998). He continued to appear on screen until his death in 2000. Like
contemporary filmmakers Jonathan Demme, Brian De Palma, and Martin Scorsese, Bartel broke into features by way of exploitation
films, but unlike traditional cinema in this genre, his films were distinguished by their original voice and black humor.
As a "visual satirist" he directed a range of violent, sophisticated, and controversial films defined by subject matter rather
than style. Although he primarily worked with low budgets in disreputable genres, his work pushed the limits of convention
and challenged mainstream cinema's formulaic standards. Collectively, his films provide a greater commentary on society at
large, such as EATING RAOUL reaction to counterculture, and using gluttony as a metaphor for American consumerism in SCENES
FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS. His legacy as an independent and cult filmmaker remains a significant influence
in underground cinema.
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