Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Private School (Noel Black, 1983)

When it comes to cinematic trash, occasionally we all need to take the time and reassess the things we once deemed lame and objectionable. And one of those things in desperate need of being reassessed is the totally awesome Private School, a film I loved as a Betsy Russell-obsessed adolescent, yet recently dismissed as a pompous adult. Well, unfortunately, I'm still an adult. But I like to think I'm a little less pompous. And the moment I realized I was less pompous than I used to be was when I decided to give this unfairly maligned masterpiece a second look. It should also be noted that I had previously never seen this film, directed by Noel Black (Pretty Poison) and written by Dan Greenburg (Private Lessons) and Suzanne O'Malley, in its correct aspect ratio. Now, I'm not one who usually cares about such technical nonsense, but seeing the film for the very first time in "anamorphic widescreen" was a real eye-opener. Of course, we're not talking about Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago, where every inch of sand and snow needs to be seen in order to obtain maximum enjoyment. However, many subtle nuances are revealed in this restored version. Most importantly, the shower scene seems more, oh, how should I put this? Okay, I got it. The infamous shower scene seemed more robust this time around. Yeah, robust. I like that. Let's be blunt, you get more tits and ass in the widescreen version. Anyway, using my newfound, less pompous perspective, I jumped head first into this film's juvenile morass with a more pronounced vigor. Grabbing it by the haunches with the fullness of my grasp, I put aside my nonexistent inhibitions and prepared to revel in the underage hijinks of the graduating class of Cherryvale Academy for Women with a lustful brand of enthusiasm. Alright, we get it. You sound like you're ready for some early '80s-style debauchery.
Some people say that the film opens with the principal characters sitting up straight in class as their teacher comes in, but it actually begins with four students in white knee socks and grey skirts smoking outside. What's weird is that I've seen Private School dozens of times, and this was the first instance I'm aware of that I noticed the girls smoking in their school uniforms.
Nonetheless, the opening credits are set to a song that features the straightforward lyrics, "You're breakin' my heart / You're tearing it apart, so fuck you." No matter how many times I hear this song, "You're Breakin' My Heart" by Harry Nilsson, open the movie, I'm always taken aback. Not by the song's saucy language, but the fact that a Hollywood movie would allow such a cynical ditty to kick start a major motion picture.
The film's bold, okay, maybe it's not "bold," but it is on the cusp of being interesting, use of music continues onto the next scene as we watch Jim Green (Matthew Modine), Bubba Beauregard (Michael Zorek), and Roy (Jonathan Prince) hop the fence that surrounds the main sorority house at Cherryvale Academy for Women set to the strains of "Rock This Town" by The Stray Cats. At first, I thought all the young ladies were getting ready for bed. But then it dawned on me, women don't usually put on stockings or apply eye makeup before going to bed. No, what these women are doing is preparing to go out for the evening. And Jim, Bubba, Roy have shown up to watch them. Or, more specifically, watch a goddess named Jordan Leigh-Jenson (Betsy Russell) take a shower.
Since they didn't bring a ladder, the boys improvise by standing on each other's shoulders. This technique, while ingenious, only allows for one voyeur to peep at a time. I thought it was strange that Bubba, the heaviest one in the group, got to stand on top. But then I realized that that's what made the situation so humourous.
Noticing Bubba in the mirror, Jordan decides to have a little fun with the boys at the expense of Christine Ramsey (Phoebe Cates), who is reading aloud from an erotic paperback ("Stories of Passion") to her roommate Betsy (Kathleen Wilhoite) in the next room. Pretending to borrow some gaudy nail polish ("naked pink") from Chris and Betsy, Jordan purposefully stands near the window so that Bubba could remove her towel. Now, how did Jordan know Bubba would try to remove her towel? Are you serious? As we will soon find out, it doesn't take much for Bubba to tap into his inner-pervert. And besides, if Betsy Russell is wearing a towel in the vicinity of just about anyone, the urge to remove said towel will be intense no matter what your genitals look like.   
In order to get back at Jordan for the towel incident, Chris and Betsy leave a flaming bag of horseshit outside Jordan's door. And guess who steps in it? No, not Rita (Kari Lizer), the stepee's blonde roommate, but Jordan herself.
She better hurry up and clean all the molten poop off her shoes, 'cause it's dance time. It would be seem that Roy is the only one from the trio of guys who  peeped on Jordan who doesn't have a steady girlfriend. Though, he does ask an attractive tall woman to dance. What makes this situation so comical is that Roy isn't tall. At any rate, the other guys from Freemount Academy, a nearby school for men, quickly meet up with their girlfriends. Who, of course, are Chris and Betsy.
Wait, if Jim and Bubba have girlfriends, why were trying so hard to see Jordan without any clothes on? Man, I can't believe you just asked that question. It's Betsy Russell they were trying to see naked. Girlfriend or no girlfriend, the desire to see Betsy Russell in any capacity, whether she be clothed or not clothed, is something that lies within each and everyone of us.
Despite the fact that I'm the one who put that way, I have to say, I couldn't have put it better myself. The desire to see Betsy Russell naked is something were all born with. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, gay or straight, Latvian or Estonian, the sight of Betsy Russell without clothes on is what we all long for. You could say, Betsy Russell brings us all together. But I won't say that, even though I sort of just did. No, you know what? I will say that. You want to know why? It's because Betsy Russell is more than just an actress. She's a beacon of truth. Soothing the troubles of humanity for most of her adult life, Betsy Russell's innate gorgeousness has the power to mend fences. And that's not just some crude way of saying that she gives us guys boners. I'm convinced that if you let your child watch any of the handful movies Betsy made during the 1980s, they will grow up to be special.
While I would love to pontificate about the rejuvenating powers of Betsy Russell, I think I should get back to the movie for a second. At the dance, Jordan, who is wearing a blue blouse with a black collar, and her friend Rita notice Jim and Chris slow dancing together. After making an offhand comment about how she could easily sway Jim to dump Chris, Rita challenges Jordan to do exactly that. And when she says, "Let the games begin," Jordan has officially started her campaign to lure Jim away from Chris. Little does she know, but Jim and Chris have just agreed to have sexual intercourse for the very first time while slow dancing to Bill Wray's "Just One Touch."  
I know, you're thinking to yourself, this should be no trouble at all. I mean, all Jordan has to do is look in Jim's general direction, and he'll be hers for the taking. Yeah, but, don't underestimate the power of love. Fuck that noise. This Betsy Russell were talking about.
Quirk fun-fact: Students at both Cherryvale and Freemount affectionately call Miss Dutchbok (Fran Ryan), the former's principal, "Miss Douchbag."
After a Paula Abdul-choreographed aerobics montage, set to the hokey strains of "The American Girl" by Rick Springfield, has finished doing its crotch compromising thing and the sex-ed class being taught by Ms. Regina Copoletta (Sylvia Kristel) has ended, it's time for the games to begin.
The opening move is actually performed by Chris, who doesn't even know she's playing a game. She starts things off by making a reservation at the D'Amour Hotel (it's where Chris and Jim plan on having sex). However, the real first move is implemented by Jordan, who flashes one of her tits at Jim while participating at some sort of horse jumping class. Realizing what she's up to, Betsy, not Betsy Russell, but Kathleen Wilhoite's character, rips Jordan's top off. As expected, Betsy's plan to humiliate Jordan backfires, as the sight of Betsy Russell riding topless atop a mighty steed is the stuff of perversion legend.
Ask people what they remember most about Private School, and I guarantee that the majority of them won't say the scene where Matthew Modine and Phoebe Cates try to buy condoms from Martin Mull. No, what they will say is, the scene where Betsy Russell rides a horse topless to the sound of "How Do I Let You Know," which is, ironically, sung by Phoebe Cates.
How is that ironic? Thinks about it. Phoebe Cates gets top billing, is featured prominently on the film's poster, and sings on two songs on the film's soundtrack. Yet, the thing we remember most about the film is a topless Betsy Russell riding a horse. And that particular scene just happens to feature one of Phoebe's songs. The other Phoebe song, "Just One Touch," a duet with Bill Wray, can be heard later in the film during a sad montage.
What would have to happen for there to be a "sad montage" in a movie like this? It's somewhat complicated. But let's just say, it involves Jim, Bubba and Roy storming the Cherryvale dorm in drag. In drag, you say? Tell me more. My pleasure, as the so-called drag sequence features two of my favourite moments from the entire film. And that is, Bestsy Russell's playful attempt to seduce Matthew Modine in drag, and Michael Zorek's foray into the women's shower.  
The scene where Betsy Russell rides a horse without a top might be the most memorable, but the scene where Betsy Russell shows off her cellulite-free thighs is the sexiest. Turning up the heat, and I mean, literally (she turns up the thermostat in her dorm room), Betsy toys with the sweaty mound that is Matthew Modine in drag. Asking him, "Why wouldn't men like my legs?" Betsy proceeds to instruct Matthew to feel her calves, which, according to her, are as "tight as a drum." And you know what? I believe her. Oh, and if things couldn't get any hotter, "Nasty Girl" by Vanity 6 is playing on the soundtrack.
During the previous eight or so times I watched this film, the women in the shower scene (set to "I Want Candy" by Bow Wow Wow) were just faceless extras. Well, now that I have a little more experience under my belt when it comes to exploitation cinema, the women in the shower scene are more than merely extras. In fact, one of them, the one with the amazing ass, is none other than Lynda Wiesmeier (Malibu Express). And if you look even closer, and believe me I have, you'll notice the gorgeous Brinke Stevens is in the shower scene as well.  
Will Chris and Jim's relationship be able to recover from the thermostat/calve inspection debacle? Honestly, I couldn't careless. There's just too much going on to worry about those bland fucks. I mean, when a scene-stealing Richard Stahl shows up as Rita's perpetually intoxicated dad, you'll be saying Chris and Jim who? It doesn't help Chris and Jim's cause when Julie Payne (she plays a gym coach) decides to get drunk. Other actors like, Ray Walston (he plays a chauffeur), Karen Chase, Frances Bay, Steve Levitt, and Frank Aletter all give stellar supporting performances, leaving Chris and Jim by the side of the road wondering, who's movie is this?
Even the producers probably thought that Chris and Jim's relationship wasn't that interesting. How else can you explain the fact that they edited Chris and Jim's hotel tryst together with a scene involving Bubba trying to get Jordan out of that blue jumpsuit and into nothing but a pair of zebra-print panties? In other words, to answer Chris and Jim's roadside question, this is Betsy Russell's movie, and don't you forget it.

video uploaded by oldhollywoodtrailers


  1. Phoebe Cates was suppose to be the star (I think), but Betsy Russell was so fucking hot I couldn't take my eyes off her. Goddamn!

  2. I know of at least one more mainstream movie Kristel did; a flick from 1980 called Private Lessons. It wasn't a completely non-nude role, her breasts did put in a few appearences. Actually, I remember Private Lessons being in a very similar vein to Private School, and just as much a mixed bag. It did have some interesting ideas, shame they weren't developed as well as they could be.

  3. Betsy Russell was the saving grace of this movie, period. Other than that, the film comes off looking more like a cheap attempt at sexploitation and teen rebellion to the point where the screenwriter(s) can't even get the final scene right. It's as if they couldn't agree on how a group of schoolgirls should expose their bums when mooning the faculty during the graduating ceremony. Even Gloria Steinem would've winced at the apparent indecisiveness regarding this half - assed (no pun intended) attempt at showing female rebellious expression...

    Maybe they should've burned their bras instead in front of the faculty instead.

  4. I have 2 follow - up comments to add...

    First, the obvious: I used the word "instead" twice in one sentence at the end of my last posting (I was just waking up at the time).

    Second, if anyone should ever decide to produce and/or direct a remake of "Private School" (and that's a big "if"), I have just 2 words for the recreation of the last scene: Thong Underwear.

  5. I'll have to take another look at the mooning scene, because, well, I'm curious to see how badly they (the filmmakers) bundled it. (I've haven't seen the film in quite some time.)