August 22, 2006

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****½

I find it hard to believe that any movie buff out there has not yet seen Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, the late Russ Meyer's jaw-dropping non-sequel to the equally jaw-dropping (for different reasons) Valley of the Dolls, Mark Robson's "go" at the Jacqueline Susann novel. Erin Donovan's review captures the camp of the earlier film, but Meyer's movie (made three years later) is camp of a very different order. Although classy dames like Dorothy Kingsley and Helen Deutsch did the screenplay for the original Valley (hoping somehow to have their cake and eat it, too), the Beyond script comes from Roger Ebert (yes, him), and he wants to stuff the entire meal down our throat. This was his first attempt at a screenplay and, though by decade's close he'd written two more for Meyer, nothing - from him or anybody else, before or since - has ever come close to the entertaining lunacy of this wild film. Here is the world of 1970 in all its garish colors, costumes, hairstyles and expanding sexual habits plus "Gee, kids, let's put on a rock band," transgender, decapitation, lesbian allure, crossing the color barrier and finally - I kid you not - a denouement in which Ebert and Meyer try to take us all to church.

The movie manages to exist both inside and outside of its own reality. If you say, "Please, nobody ever looked liked that," if you're old enough, just dust off the photo album and - uh-oh: you did. Granted you may not have been as busty as Edy Williams (Meyer's main squeeze), nor as doe-eyed-pretty as romantic lead David Gurian (who never made another movie, under that name at least), nor have the sculpted body of Michael Blodgett. Yet Ebert and Meyer capture something so bizarre, so simultaneously on- and off-target, that they delight and shock us in equal measure. When I bought my first DVD player, the only film I wanted to own was this one, and it wasn't available. Now, it is, and I do. And whenever I want to really go nuts, I stick this in the player and fast-forward to The Carrie Nations song, "Come a Rainy Day." It's a perfect period piece: great music and lyrics so ditzy and of their time that they drift me back there quickly. (By the way, if you think you've seen this film in the shamefully bowdlerized version shown by the despicable American Movie Classics, you have not come close.) If ever a film deserved its "X" rating and a "G" rating at the same time, itís this one.

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Posted by cphillips at August 22, 2006 3:04 PM | TrackBack
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