When does any party start? When you get there!
- Kelly MacNamara
You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!
- Ronnie (Z-Man) Barzell
Variously described as high-camp, violent exploitation, satire, serious melodrama, rock musical, comedy, skin flick or moralistic expose... Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (hereafter BVD) averages 5 out of 10 stars in most ratings guides. This is because half of the people who see it, love it, and give it 10 stars. The other half spend a good portion of the movie leaning on the fast-forward button or wondering if there might not be any Ron Popeil on.
As with everything in life, a lack of understanding is often the source for dismay, dislike or confusion. Knowing the background or the backstory on this movie makes it much easier to appreciate.
To quote the writer, Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert), "BVD was made at a time when the studio's (20th Century-Fox) own fortunes were so low that the movie was seen almost fatalistically, as a gamble that none of the studio executives really wanted to think about, so that there was a minimum of supervision (or even cognizance) from the Front Office."
Written in 1969, released in 1970, BVD was a collaboration between Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert as part of Russ Meyer's three picture deal with Fox. As the opening warns this movie is in no way a sequel to the camp classic Valley of the Dolls, the picture based on Jacqueline Susann's popular novel. Rather, it is far 'beyond'. Taking the same basic plotline, three young girls are corrupted by decadent Hollywood, Russ and Roger add so much more as to leave viewers and critics alike stunned. Whether in shocked disbelief or awe dependant upon the individual.
[A] psychedelic wow that serves up the free love, plunging necklines,
- Michael Musto
androgynous boys, and lusty lezzies of the era with a narcotized abandon.
Characteristic of Russ Meyer's films BVD is chock full of breathtaking beauties and enough busts to populate a gallery. There are so many Playboy Bunnies in this film that ole Hugh could be forgiven for mistaking the cast list for one of his own payroll reports. Other Russ Meyer devices include the fast-cut, over the top set making and a fine, and oft-time humorous, ear for music. At one point Meyer uses Fox's trademark music as background to a beheading. Not a specifically satirical move, he merely wanted to tone down the violence in hopes of avoiding the X rating he did eventually earn.
The movie was written in 6 weeks and rewritten on the fly during the filming. I suspected something of the sort when I noticed John Lazar's character had lines at the end of the movie that didn't seem to jibe with lines delivered earlier. The tiny incongruities aside, Lazar (also La Zar and La Zarre) probably delivered the best performance in the film. Sounding equal parts 60s icon, "It's my happening and it freaks me out!" and Shakespearean bard, "And you, the infamous Ashley St. Ives, high priestess of carnality, what thou think of our fair minstrels?" it is obvious he was the inspiration for Tim Curry's character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So much so that Tim O'Brien should probably be paying Russ Meyer royalties.
It's an anthology of stock situations, characters, dialogue,
- Roger Ebert
cliches and stereotypes, set to music and manipulated to work as exposition
and satire at the same time; it's cause and effect, a wind-up machine to
generate emotions, pure movie without message.
The plot itself sometimes seems secondary to the visual carnival one is enjoying. The first 20 minutes of the film establish most of the story. Three young girls in a rock band travel with their manager to Hollywood in order to hook up with the lead singer's Aunt and to make it big in music. Upon their arrival they are taken in and turned on by the 'Teen Tycoon' Z-Man Barzell. The rest of the movie follows their various corruptions, downfalls and in a few cases redemptions. As is noted earlier though, the film was often rewritten on the fly and the ending of the movie is a shocker that needs to be seen to be believed.
The story is such a labyrinthine juggling act that resolving it took a
- Roger Ebert
quadruple murder, a narrative summary, a triple wedding and an epilogue.
I watched this movie in the original wide screen, NC-17, format on IFC with no prior knowledge or idea as to what to expect. I started out intrigued and hopeful, passed through a very brief period of confusion and mild disappointment, and returned to appreciation and a desire to know more well before the movie was over. Learning the backstory in preparation for this write-up contributed several levels to the movie and I look forward to seeing it again.
Also Known As - Hollywood Vixens (1970)
Written by: Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer
Produced by: Russ Meyer
Directed by: Russ Meyer
Runtime: 109 min / Australia:111 min
Color: Color (DeLuxe)
Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Certification: Australia:R / Netherlands:16 / USA:NC-17 (re-rating) (1990) / USA:X
Released on DVD by Criterion
Dolly Read - Kelly McNamara
Cynthia Myers - Casey Anderson
Marcia McBroom - Petronella Danforth
John Lazar - Ronnie 'Z-Man' Barzell (as John LaZar)
Michael Blodgett - Lance Rocke
David Gurian - Harris Allsworth
Edy Williams - Ashley St. Ives
Erica Gavin - Roxanne
Phyllis Davis - Susan Lake
Harrison Page - Emerson Thorne
Duncan McLeod - Porter Hall
James Inglehart - Randy Black (as Jim Iglehart)
With a special musical appearance by The Strawberry Alarm Clock
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls