Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Much love for Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert’s deliriously libidinous all-girl rock band melodrama.
***** out of *****
‘This is my happening and it freaks me out,’ declares rock impresario Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John LaZar) during his berserker Hollywood party replete with live performances by The Strawberry Alarm Clark, a bevy of boobilicious babes, all manner of fornication and bucket-loads of booze/drug consumption.
Z-Man wasn’t the only one freaking out. When Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Motor Psycho), the king of big-boob cinema extravaganzas, unleashed his first major studio picture Beyond the Valley of the Dolls upon an unsuspecting public, audiences, critics and the film’s major backer, Twentieth Century Fox, were freaked out to the max.
For good reason.
The opening few minutes of Meyer’s Roger Ebert-scripted dive into L.A. sleaze pits proceed to bash us in the face with Z-Man and Martin Bormann (Henry Rowland), Z’s loyal bartender, right-hand man and resident Nazi (nom-de-plumed as ‘Otto’), whilst the nutty pair malevolently chase scantily clad babes within a seaside mansion estate. In a climactic moment to end all climactic moments, we cut to a Luger sensually stroking the supple lips of a beauteous-sleeping-big-bosomed-babe until the deadly firearm is inserted erect-penis-like into her mouth, the wet maw eagerly – nay, greedily – accepting the cold-steel schwance-of-death as our dozing dame proceeds to suck it dry.
Under the circumstances, who wouldn’t? (Be freaked out to the max, that is.) (Oh, okay, and suck it dry, too.)
When Meyer and young film critic Ebert were hired by Fox to concoct a vague semi-sequel reboot to Mark Robson’s through-the-roof sex-and-soap-suds adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling novel Valley of the Dolls, the artistic pursuits of these perfectly matched reprobates flew under the radar of studio executives during the delightful beginnings of the oft-envied, late lamented and much-revered ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ days of American Cinema. The film was so low-budget by studio standards, nobody in the front office paid it much mind, but for Meyer, the budget might as well have been as large as Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra.
He did not waste one cent.
Plot wise, things are relatively simple and perfectly in keeping with Susann’s moronically simplistic rags-to-riches-to-rags soap opera. However, the incorrigible lads dole out a cinematic masterpiece of flagrant filth that’s anything but moronic and in its own strangely perverse way is rooted (so to speak) in a queer miasma of morality. If anything the film celebrates perversion to such a deliciously over-the-top degree that the tale cannot help but become a morality play. (That said, the film brilliantly manages to make the morality seem as old-fashioned as it deserves to be – it’s even vaguely derisive.)
So, the film focuses on the buxom Carrie Nations, an all-girl rock band comprised of Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) and Petronella ‘Pet’ Danforth (Marcia McBroom). At first they’re infused with the down-home, corn-fed morals of the mid-western US of A, but in no time, they’re turfing their regular squeezes for a series of libidinous adventures with a variety of partners. One of the cuckolded beaus (David Gurian) even takes up with a porn starlet (Edy Williams) who drains him to such a degree that he eventually can’t even get it up.
Fun and games, for one and all – especially the audience – but as this epic of sin continues, the freedom of youth increasingly morphs beyond the ‘summer of love’ antics, and the evils of both L.A. and show business in general give way to an unholy Walpurgisnacht that unravels during the film’s deeply dark finale. (The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten proclaimed that the film was ‘true to life’. Who are we to argue with this?)
Ebert and Meyer created a work that’s drenched in lurid colour and the colours of sleaze, slime and scum, and we’re allowed to revel in the kaleidoscopic picture with all the giddy laughs it wrenches from us from beginning to end, along with the trademark Meyer montages of rapid-fire cuts – a chiaroscuro of madness and freakishness at its finest. This is sheer sex-drenched melodrama; as a director, Meyer might as well be Douglas Sirk on crack cocaine.
Besides, what other movie features (again, from the highly quotable Z-Man) one of the greatest lines of dialogue in movie history: ‘You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!’
Black sperm, indeed.
Years ago, I met Ebert as a young lad and proceeded to geek him out with my love for the film. He took me for donuts and we spent an hour together talking about it. His final words to me were thus: ‘Never, ever feel ashamed to admit how much you love Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.’
And if you’re listening up there, Mr Ebert, I am not ashamed.
I’m infused with pride to declare my utter, deep passion.