Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
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When three female rock'n'rollers travel to Hollywood to claim an inheritance, they meet up with a kinky music promoter who turns them on to a whole new scene. At first, all seems very exciting and the naïve trio becomes submerged in his dangerous tinseltown underworld-before they discover his true motives.
One never tires of watching Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a distant relative of Jaqueline Susann's bestselling novel, Valley of the Dolls, and its filmic counterpart, Valley of the Dolls. Kelly McNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroome), star as the hot female trio who clumsily navigate Hollywood during the Swingin' Sixties to promote their band, The Carrie Nations. Written by Rogert Ebert, Ebert calls the film the "first rock-horror exploitation musical," because BVD, as it's called by fans, encompasses all that was sexy, funny, hip, schlocky, stylish, and horrific about America's most interesting cultural period. BVD can be viewed as a Sixties' artifact, packed with consummate party scenes (and a cameo appearance by Strawberry Alarm Clock), as the original skin flick, as a proto-cult classic, or as a benchmark in American cinema, since it is actually well- written, artfully shot, and finely edited. This special edition re-release includes a second disc comprised of five featurettes, whose topics include Meyers' biography, the Carrie Nations music as soundtrack, Casey and Roxanne's titillating lesbian love scene, and the political climate during the Sixties. Revisiting Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, especially after Russ Meyer's recent death, reminds viewers to treasure his visionary obsession with female beauty. --Trinie Dalton
- Commentary by screenwriter and film critic Roger Ebert
- Commentary by cast members Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, John La Zar and Erica Gavin
- "Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy" documentary
- "Look on up at the Bottom: The Music of Dolls" featurette
- "The Best of Beyond" featurette
- "Sex, Drugs, Music and Murder: Signs of the Times, Baby!" featurette
- "Casey and Roxanne: The Love Scene" featurette
- Actor screen tests
- 6 photo galleries
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That's why Dr. Strangelove was a genuine satire because it poked fun at the widely accepted concept (especially among military officials) that continuing to acquire ever greater numbers of nuclear weapons would make a nation like America safer and more secure, even though the laws of statistical probability, as well as basic mathematics, definitely indicate, that if nuclear weapons are around long enough they will eventually be used in a war, which would likely devolve into a world war, which could end human civilization as we know it.
But in the case of BVOD the subjects and people which are supposedly the objects of satire were taken seriously by so few people, (even in 1970) that the tag of "camp", rather than satire, is the description that's more often applied to the film. My crowd of 9 friends and I saw Beyond the Valley of the Dolls during its summer release in 1970, when were were all about 19, or a few months younger than that. We were probably pretty typical of the college youth of that time, who smoked grass, had hair that went several inches below our shoulders, and boycotted some products made by companies that seemed to be profiteering off of the Vietnam War. And while a few of us used the expression "far out", not a one of us was ever heard using the ridiculous sounding descriptive word "groovy", and would have considered anyone who spoke in such a way as being thoroughly absurd, as well as certainly, being very phony sounding.
My first reaction to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970 was that it was a very bad take-off of soap operas and the so called "hippie/drug subculture. And when catching the flick again, sometime in the mid to late 1980s, well after midnight on a cable TV premium movie channel, the movie still seemed every bit as pathetically stupid, and as ludicrous a portrayal of a group of stereotyped cardboard characters as Hollywood has ever wasted film on displaying. IMO, to even classify the movie as "camp", which is hardly regarded as having much value as a creative form itself, is still much too kind of a category to put this execrable garbage into.
But, I must confess that, back in 1970, I originally wanted to see Beyond the Valley of the Dolls after reading that its cast included former Playboy Playmate, Dolly Read. Though I didn't see it until about 2 years after it came out, Ms Read's striking appearance in the May 1966 issue of Playboy magazine, as that month's centerfold, showed her looking so beautiful and appealing that I certainly became a believer in love at first sight. And really, I'd bet that the movie having included Ms Read, as well as a 2nd Playboy Playmate, Cynthia Myers, along with some nudity, and some pretty gory violence, really adds up to all of the elements that brought customers into theaters, making the movie a success. Most people, at least the ones I knew, weren't expecting, or even hoping for, any actual quality film making when they bought their tickets. And they didn't get it either. Also, the movie was promoted in a Playboy pictorial spread that made the film sound like it was much more of a sexual scorcher than it actually turned out to be. Personally, I was particularly disappointed that the lesbian scene, featuring the very buxom Playmate, Cynthia Myers, was a lot less explicit than the magazine had seemed to promise. I'm always ready for a good woman with woman scene.
Anyway, the late Roger Ebert, along with soft porn icon Russ Meyer, wrote a script for their little opus, that would insult the intelligence of most idiots, and certainly included some of the most inane dialogue ever spoken in any Hollywood production. However, those 2 gentlemen did end up being very fortunate, because as time went on, over the years their 6th grade level of creative writing (in its best passages) has become more and more mistaken as being a deliberate example of the camp genre. Although, being considered an example of that idiotic sub-category of semi-literary activity, hardly qualifies as a compliment. When Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was released in the summer of 1970, Roger Ebert had already been a movie reviewer for a newspaper for a couple of years. But the man was probably lucky that he had not made his contribution to the crappy script of this movie several years earlier, or prospective newspaper employers might have shied away from Mr Ebert, in horror, never agreeing to hire him. Such possible employers would have been pretty unlikely to have found themselves very impressed at such a pathetic seeming spoof of soap operas and drug addled rock musicians.
About a decade ago, one writer, while commenting about the reviewing style of Roger Ebert, pointed out that it was really incredible that Mr Ebert was routinely attacking many American movies for containing what he considered to be "gratuitous violence", if Ebert's readers, and the fans of his reviews on TV, had any idea of the onscreen action that transpires in the movie that he co-created, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Anyhow, if by some strange set of circumstances, some of the reviewers on Amazon who gave Beyond the Valley of the Dolls 5 stars, should be revealed to be airline pilots, I will definitely resort to traveling by car or train, rather than flying, for any more trips to the West Coast that we might take, even if that means being stuck behind the wheel of our old Toyota, for 4 days straight.
And I really hope that people who are bizarre enough to give Beyond the Valley of the Dolls 5 stars, and especially the sort of person who was driven enough to say that it's the best movie ever made, are among those Americans who don't possess firearms. We are certainly seeing too many people, already, who are becoming the victims of random, mass shootings by lunatics.
BTW, I'm now looking at Mick Martin and Marsha Porter's 2007 edition of their "DVD & Video Guide", which had movies rated from 5 Stars, indicating excellent, all the way down to the very lowest rating of "Turkey". I've heard and read many movie addicts saying that they felt that Martin and Porter's DVD & Video Guide (which is no longer published) used to often have more accurate assessments of the quality of various movies compared to a lot of those contained in Leonard Maltin's book, which has also had its publication halted. Anyway, Martin and Porter's book was extremely fair, IMO, in awarding that popular Thanksgiving bird to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. But the thing is, those 2 reviewers, and their staff, were sharp enough to discern the difference between something often promoted as being "camp" and something that is actually no more than pure crap, although often, there sure isn't much of a difference between the two.
Viewed today, it’s hard to pin a specific description on BVOD. It’s not so much a time capsule of a specific era or place—indeed, it feels outside of time and the place is strictly studio backlot—and it isn’t much of a satire, though there are some funny bits. It’s certainly NOT a sequel to Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls”, which had 1967 film critics scrambling for their dictionaries to locate new synonyms for “awful” (to be sure, after viewing BVOD, 1970 film critics were scrambling for superlatives that went beyond the merely awful). BVOD, really, almost defies description: it’s a goofy mishmash of parody, soap opera, horror show, cautionary lecture, rock video and enough libidinous horndogs, Playboy playmates, heaving bare bosoms and simulated sex to give the suggestion of a skinflick. And then some. It’s a hell of a ride, fast-paced, beautifully filmed and brightly colored, populated by gorgeous people spouting terrible, outrageous, often hilarious dialogue.
The tale of a small-time, all-girl rock band that comes to L.A., falls into the hands of a rock music impresario, hits the big time and ends up with “everything but the bloodhounds nipping at her rear end” (to quote Thelma Ritter in the superior “All About Eve”), BVOD is nothing if not entertaining. Far from cerebral, it’s a visual feast, (especially the Criterion Blu-Ray) and the hit-or-miss lines, especially from John LaZar’s Z-Man, are classic. Interspersing quasi-Shakespearean iambic (ish) pentameter with such howlers as “This is my happening and it freaks me out” and “ere this night does wane, you will drink the black sperm of my vengeance”, LaZar is like the Dr. Frankenfurter of BVOD, and the most interesting (and, ultimately, most frightening) character in the film. To be fair, I won’t bother criticizing the acting in the movie. It is what it is. Some performers are more competent than others but the acting is pretty much beside the point because, let’s face it, you’re not watching BVOD for the acting and it’s not “All About Eve”. The singers who make up the fictitious rock band, The Carrie Nations (what a god-awful name!) are played by Dolly Read, Cynthia Meyers and Marcia McBroom and they do exactly what they’re supposed to do: look good, take off their clothes and do an impressive job lip-synching, and fake guitar- and drum-playing a surprisingly good rock score. Credit for the vocals go to singer Lynn Carey, who has an amazing voice and really should have had a bigger career. (Sidenote: on one of the blu-ray extras, Carey recalls dating Jay Sebring and declining an invitation to accompany him to Sharon Tate’s home on the night he, Tate and three others were murdered). The rest of the cast includes Meyer’s girlfriend (later wife) Edy Williams, hamming it up as a fun-loving, sex-crazed starlet; “Vixen” star Erica Gavin, as a lesbian fashion designer in love with one of our girls; prettified muscle-boy Michael Blodgett playing a bed-hopping gigolo; with Harrison Page and David Gurion on hand to woo the band. Meyers regular (and noted character actor) Charles Napier also shows up, as does TV star, Phyllis Davis (in her pre-“Vega$” days).
The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray gives BVOD the usual, lavish update and makeover we’ve come to expect: the film looks flawless and the extras are fascinating to watch, particularly the commentary from the film’s stars, interviews with John Waters and the film’s cast and a Q&A from 1992 featuring Meyers and Ebert. There’s also a nifty booklet enclosed.
46 years after I first saw BVOD, I still like it (although the ending still grosses me out). It is one of the most WTF movies I’ve ever seen released by a major studio (20th Century Fox) and yet it is entertaining on an almost surreal level that ignores common notions of what constitutes a “good” movie