Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
July 6, 2006
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) is one of those classic examples of a “how in the hell did this get made by a major studio?” kind of movie. 20th Century Fox wanted to make a sequel to their very successful 1967 film The Valley of the Dolls, a bubblegum pop movie about the music industry. Why they picked softcore filmmaker Russ Meyer (who brought us drive-in classics like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Vixen) is a bit of a head-scratcher. But in retrospect, one can see a method to their madness. At the time, the studio was hurting financially and the box office success of Easy Rider (1969) brought the Hippie culture to the mainstream. Meyer had a reputation for making films cheaply and turning in a significant profit.
But had they actually seen any of his movies?! They were twisted morality plays with plenty of nudity (courtesy of big breasted women – a hallmark of Meyer’s style) and violence captured by Meyer’s solid, workman-like direction and razor-sharp, rapid-fire editing. With then fledgling film critic Roger Ebert along for the ride, Meyer crafted an insane homage and parody of the times that has become, over the years, a camp classic.
Kelly (Read), Casey (Myers) and Pet (McBroom) are members of The Carrie Nations, an all-girl band trying to make it so, they decide to drive to Los Angeles with their manager (and Kelly’s boyfriend) Harris (Gurian). Meyer summarizes the city in a crazy, nonsensical montage of quickly edited images: a deserted shack, an egg being crushed by a shoe, a daisy, busy traffic on the interstate, a shot of the run-down Hollywood sign, a naked couple making love, shots of various buildings and other weird and wonderful images all tied together with a hilarious voiceover.
It seems that Kelly is due for a possible inheritance from her deceased mother – one third of a million dollars. She and her bandmates soon immerse themselves in L.A.’s swinging scene filled with all kinds of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Their manager is seduced by an aggressive porn star (Williams, Meyer’s soon-to-be wife) with the not-too subtle come-on, “You’re a groovy boy. I’d like to strap you on some time.” The Carrie Nations soon become the toast of the town thanks to the fast-talking, Shakespeare quoting promoter Z Man (LaZar) who usurps Harris’ role. Inevitably, things start to turn sour for Kelly as she loses touch with who she is; Casey becomes an alcoholic and addicted to pills while Pet meets a nice guy (Page) studying to be a lawyer and ends up cheating on him with a boxer.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is an all-out assault on the senses with eye-popping imagery (and not just Meyer’s voluptuous women) and very funny hipster dialogue (one character exclaims at a party, “This is my Happening and it freaks me out!”). Meyer’s film simultaneously celebrates and parodies the decadence of the times – the closet example we have in recent years is Showgirls (1995). Dolls follows its own twisted logic and pursues it with wild abandon.
By today’s standards, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is somewhat tame, although the Gonzo ending has to be seen to be truly believed as the film loses its mind during the bloody climax involving Z Man’s murderous rampage. The film’s breakneck pace and willingness to push the narrative to extreme lengths is only part of what makes Dolls watchable after all these years. The film really feels like it was made on another planet or dimension. Ultimately, in its own goofy way, this film is a cautionary tale as the effects of too much alcohol, drugs and casual sex takes its toll on the film’s protagonists. Dolls caused a minor scandal in its day, earning the dreaded X rating and ending Meyer’s brief career in mainstream cinema.
The first disc features an audio commentary with the film’s screenwriter Roger Ebert. He gives us a brief history of how he discovered Russ Meyer’s films and how he eventually met the man. Ebert screened The Valley of the Dolls with Meyer and they decided to take its elements and satirize them. He talks about working with the larger-than-life director and their creative process. Ebert also analyzes Meyer’s film techniques with excellent insight and dead-on observations. He also tells all kinds of anecdotes about the man in this solid track.
There is also a rowdy commentary with cast members Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, John LaZar and Erica Gavin. This is a wild track as they goad each other on laughing and generally enjoying themselves watching the movie. They talk about their experiences working on Dolls and with Meyer, telling refreshingly candid stories in a very funny way that makes this a very enjoyable track to listen to.
The second disc kicks off with a wonderfully eccentric “Introduction by John LaZar” that has nothing to do with the movie.
“Above, Beneath, and Beyond the Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy” is a playful, retrospective documentary that traces Meyer’s early beginnings up to Dolls and how it all came together. Ebert points out that the film wasn’t about the actual L.A. scene but one in their imagination. Most of the principle actors, including Read, Myers, McBroom and LaZar are back for brand new interviews. This doc also examines the film’s critical and commercial reaction, which, not surprisingly, was not all that good but the film has endured.
“Look On Up at the Bottom: The Music of Dolls” takes a look at the music written for the film’s all-girl group, The Carrie Nations. The actresses were taught how to move and play like actual musicians. Members from contemporary alternative music groups like Pansy Division and Red Kross sing the praises of this fictitious band and its music.
“The Best of Beyond” features some of the best moments from the film, including most quotable lines and most memorable scenes as picked by the cast members and admirers in this amusing extra.
“Sex, Drugs, Music and Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby!” examines the popular culture and history at the time that the film was made. Dolls was influenced by the psychedelic music scene with a lot of the cast members part of the Hippie movement that was popular at the time. This featurette also briefly takes a look at how the Manson murders signaled the end of this subculture on a mainstream level.
“Casey and Roxanne: The Love Scene” takes a look at this erotic scene and reunites the two actresses, Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers. They talk about what it was like for each other and how proud they are of it.
“Z-Man’s Far Out Party Favors” features a teaser trailer, two trailers and screen tests for four of the cast members including Cynthia Myers and Harrison Page.
Finally, there are six still galleries featuring all kinds of photos from the movie with behind-the-scenes pics, movie posters and promotional stills.