Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Movie Review #951

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Nationwide release on June 17, 1970. Comedy/Music. This film is rated NC-17. Originally rated X. Runs 109 minutes. An American production. Directed by Russ Meyer. Screenplay by Roger Ebert. Story by Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer. Cast: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, and John LaZar.

“BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS” IS A REVOLUTIONARY FILM.  IT DOESN’T JUST EXEMPLIFY TRASH.  IT REDEFINES IT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Roger Ebert was never just a film critic. He was always something more, and in this case, he was screenwriter. Ebert collaborated with Russ Meyer on multiple occasions for his signature trash (a word we don’t even think to associate with Ebert, but god is it true).

“Beyond of the Valley Dolls” happens to be the first and the most famous of their collaborations. It’s also quite a revolutionary film, in that it doesn’t exemplify garbage; instead, it redefines it.

“Beyond” is neither a grindhouse flick nor an arthouse picture. It’s a surprisingly fit cross between the two ideals, and I think that’s what makes it such a classic. I don’t have any trouble agreeing to that descriptor, either. This is smut, it’s sleaze, it’s filth, it’s trash, and ironically, the fact that it lacks so much class–in a fashion that’s so damn self-aware–is just why it’s a classic.

“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is often better remembered than the 1967 film “Valley of the Dolls”. I have not seen that film, so I cannot attest to whether it has a thing to do with “Beyond”, but I will take Ebert and Meyer’s word for it: the two films are not related, “Beyond” is not a sequel by any means, and while both films deal with more corruption in the biggest city in San Fernando Valley, their points of view are entirely different. Though I’m sure they just put all that on a title card in the very beginning to avoid a lawsuit.

This film doesn’t deal with moral corruption so much as it simply deals it. “Beyond” maintains an NC-17 rating, and for good reason. Graphic–though unmistakably comical–sex scenes are thrown at us like tomatoes at a silver screen. And when it’s not full-fledged sex, there’s likely a party scene where the host goes around pointing out every topless woman to one his guests. In a word, the movie is crazy. Then there’s the substance aspect to it, and by substance, I don’t mean story. This here film was released in 1970, but it resembles 1960’s counterculture as well as the documentary “Gimme Shelter” that same year. If you spot somebody in this movie who isn’t tripping acid or smoking pot, you’ve probably spotted a crew member who’s accidentally stumbled in front of the camera. There’s a serious B-movie flavor to this one, and it’s not without the fact that everyone here is whacked out of their minds. The finale, which features clever garage-band versions of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and the 20th Century Fox fanfare, wasn’t scripted; the idea originated among Ebert and Meyer as a reference to the Manson Family’s murder of Sharon Tate. Except that “reference” is muddled, so much that you wonder if everyone was tripping on acid during this scene–most of all Meyer as he directed it.

“Beyond” is the kind of movie that might be associated with drive-in theaters, or perhaps drive-ins are too fashionable for a movie quite like it’s kind. No doubt about it, this film is a masterpiece. Not only has this one garnered a cult following, it’s also proved an influence to later cult films. Tim Curry’s character in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” clearly roots from Z-Man in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”. Granted, “Rocky Horror” is the more worthwhile film, but in truth the two don’t even deserve comparison. There’s really no reason to doubt “Beyond” as a cult classic. At its best/worst, it’s some pretty valuable garbage.

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