Friday, March 11, 2016

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Director: Russ Meyer

Cast: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar

So wow, a film written by the late, great film critic Roger Ebert?! That’s not the strangest part about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; the strangest part is that it’s such a violent, sexual film! You’d never guess a film of this nature would come from the mind of the mild mannered Roger Ebert, a man of such quiet demeanor! Yet it did and it’s amazing in my book. I mean, sure it’s what many would call “schlock” or in other terms a “cheap and inferior” film, yet I wouldn’t exactly categorize it as such. I mean, sure it’s got cheesy as hell lines like “you shall taste the black sperm of my vengeance” but dammit, that’s exactly why it’s so watchable! Some probably categorize this one as b-movie schlock because it’s extremely violent and the nudity, I won’t lie, is gratuitous, but then again, the world the film explores was probably that crazy. People probably did dance around naked in parties while doing LSD. Sadly, those who lived through it probably don’t remember enough to confirm it. Still, the whole crazy shebang makes for one trippy movie experience! So, what exactly is so crazy about this movie? What’s it all about?

First off, there was a film called Valley of the Dolls (1967), which is the story about the “rise and fall of three young ladies in show business”. This film was based on a book by author Jacqueline Susann. I’ve never seen that film so I can’t compare the two, but based on the success of that film, the studio wanted to do a sequel. Jacqueline Susann wrote a script which was rejected by the studio, but the contract gave the studio the rights to do their own sequel, so they gave that task to Ebert and Myer who went on to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Problem is that the resulting film repulsed Jacqueline Susanne so much that she asked 20th Century Fox to market the film as not being a sequel to Valley of the Dolls. This is why Beyond the Valley of the Dolls opens up with a disclaimer saying that it’s not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, but that it deals with the same “often times nightmarish world of show business”. Nightmarish is the right term alright. Nightmarish indeed!

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, much like its predecessor also focuses on the rise to fame of three talented young ladies. The three start out like a small band, playing this trippy rock and roll, which to me sounded a lot like The Mommas and the Poppas. The girls end up exploding in the music scene and becoming ultra famous. They suddenly plunge head first into the crazy, drug fueled, sex crazed showbiz world of the sixties. While attending these crazy parties filled with famous stoned out of their minds people, they end up meeting this guy called Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell, a guy who knows everybody and loves the hippy scene. In fact, during a particularly trippy scene Ronnie says “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” which Mike Myers went on to quote in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Suddenly I knew where a lot of Austin Powers came from. Aha! Mike Myers saw this movie for sure! So anyways, Ronnie Barzell ends up making these girls famous. Will they survive the wild and dirty world of showbiz, or will it suck their souls into oblivion?

I was actually blown away by this movie, which I went to see at a public screening; totally unaware of what was awaiting me. I’d never seen a Russ Myer film, so yeah; I popped my Russ Myer cherry with this one. Now I need to see the rest of his repertoire, including one of his most famous films Faster Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill! (1965). I read up a bit on Myers career, and he was seen as a “pornographer” by his detractors, though I think they were merely referring to the sexual and violent nature of his films which were risqué and sexy, but not true blue porn. More accurately, his films are what are commonly known as ‘sexploitation films’, more in line with the types of films that Jean Rollin used to do. This type of films were often times sexy, violent and often times kind of cartoonish. Myers did shoot some centerfolds for Playboy though and he was notoriously fascinated by big breasted women, which would explain all the nudity on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.   

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is truly a film of its time. It captures that crazy, hippy, drug infused trip that most people were on during that decade. A film like this one cannot be made today, at least not in any sort of commercial way. Not that this movie got it easy when it was first released, actually it was lambasted by critics and slapped with an “X-rating” by the MPAA! It does get pretty violent and gory towards its finale; I was actually kind of shocked at just how violent it got. Also, it plays with the controversial themes of homosexuality, bisexuality and promiscuous sex (read: orgies).The films main character ends up being a frustrated homosexual, which is why the film brought to mind The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), a film that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has some similarities with. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls went on to become a success for 20th Century Fox; it made 9 million on a 900,000.00 dollar budget. So X-rating or no, this one actually managed to become a money maker, which is probably why Ebert and Myer reunited once again for Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979), which I will be reviewing soon. I’m extremely curious where they went with that one. But as far as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) goes, I thought it was extremely entertaining and shocking, it even surprised me with this brilliant thing it did by showing us the whole ending of the film during the films opening credits. The visuals mean nothing to us during the credits. They seem like a bunch of crazy images that aren’t connected to one another. It’s not until we’ve seen the whole film and reach the ending that it hits you like a ton of bricks and it all makes sense! Then it’s like “oh wow!” That bit was brilliant! Highly recommend it if you are in the need of a trippy, sexy, violent film.

Rating: 4 out of 5  



Sergei Kolobashkin said...

I've seen this flick when I was a kid. A traumatizing experience for a 12 year old. I watched it again a few years ago and I must say that the movie is perfectly written. I believe that the filmmakers deliberately wanted to make this film look like late 60s garbage.

Franco Macabro said...

They sure did, Ebert himself said it was a parody/satire of thrasy violent cinema.

Jennifer Croissant said...

"Yes Varlet, i am superwoman", i fall about laughing every time i hear that line.

Deborah Brunette said...

No matter how many times i watch this movie i can never believe the voice-over and montage at the end, its so gob-smacking and mind-boggling, that at the end of such a film there should suddenly be all this sermonising and preachy hogwash, and done totally straight-laced as well without even a hint of parody or comedy, it never fails to astonish me.

Deirdre O`Bannion said...

"The Gentle People", what a great song, you hear it once and then spend the rest of your life humming it.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, soundtrack is pretty awesome, very sixties trippy rock...the ending hits you like a tonn of bricks!


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