No, it’s not that smug middle-class wankery that is out in cinemas now by Sally Potter. This is the bonafide absurdist cult classic comedy, starring Peter Sellers at the peak of his genius. It’s one of Blake Edwards’ finest comedies, and it boggles the mind that Eureka didn’t include it in its Masters of Cinema range.
Sellers stars in deeply politically incorrect brownface as the good-natured but clumsy Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi. Bakshi is invited to a big Hollywood party after a gigantic cock-up on a film set where Bakshi has had a small role. He is completely ignorant of the ways things are done in the west, so events quickly escalate, and the party falls completely apart in spectacular fashion.
Sellers and Edwards were heavily influenced by the work of French comic auteur Jacques Tati, and this film certainly takes the concept of silent cinema within a talkie format and runs with it. Sellers is at his absolute slapstick best here, with such an endless supply of comedic set-pieces that it’s almost hard to keep up with them because they come that fast. This is similar to what people say about the overrated Airplane!, but in this case it’s the truth.
It won’t come as a surprise to anybody who has seen the film to find out that it was largely improvised, and that they actually filmed it largely in sequence. The “script” by Edwards, Blake Tom and Frank Waldman was a 56-page treatment. The cast and filmmakers had an early version of video assist on set, so they could review what they just came up with and roll with it if the scene worked.
However, there is no escaping the problematic brownface that Sellers performs in. The cultural values in 1968 were not the same as today: Sellers actually performed in brownface previously in 1960’s The Millionairess, and it was still commonplace in ’60s films (just rewatch Lawrence of Arabia.) However, it says a lot about Sellers that he is completely believable in the role and thanks to his sheer comedic genius you completely forget the dodgy makeup and Asian stereotypes.
The Party remains one of the great ’60s comedies, and is way more radical in style and tone than many films of its era. It’s also one of the great “swinging ’60s” films: the longer the party goes on, the more psychedelic and anarchic it becomes. The film’s final moments are just chaos in the most magnificent way, with everything from an actual elephant to foam flowing everywhere.
The disc includes all the special features, including a set of solid featurettes from the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray that came out a couple years ago as well as the audio in 5.1, which the previous Blu-Ray lacked.