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.