Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Reviews
Reportedly the story began as a sequel to Suzanne's novel, 'Valley of the Dolls,' it soon became obvious that the film required a significant rewrite as a parody of the original movie in hopes that a fašade could provide a shroud of semi-respectability. After re-watching the film after many years, I found myself obliged to experience the movie a few more times to attempt to understand the nuances which might lurk below the surface. Once again I was surprised that was able to find such subtleties. This film can faithfully represent the format movie's format which appealed to and encapsulated the zeitgeist of the generation. Motifs such as this been an accepted use of this genre for centuries particularly useful when the subject matter is considered somewhat controversial. The target demographic for this work film happens to be the work of people that are the most avid fans of grindhouse exportation. Disgusting this type of movie proved to be the most efficient way to achieve acceptance. Once I was able to apply this train of thought to my subsequent experiences with the movie, an entirely different perspective was revealed. There is a thin line between a bad example of the genre in a sharply honed satire of it. Ultimately, the film does fall short of its full potential but ultimately remains to deserve of its cult classic status. In acknowledgment of its ability to shine spotlights on the hedonistic excesses of grindhouse movies and has earned a place in the Criterion catalog.
The story followed an all-female rock band, 'Kelly Affair,' at a time when such a roster nothing but a novelty not a serious part of the prevailing rock scene. The lineup consisted of three young and exceptionally attractive women; Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella "Pet" Danforth (Marcia McBroom). Ms. McBroom was the requisite African- American establishing the filmmaker's liberal leanings. Including the other two band members was to create name recognition, at least within the high school/college aged males who were most likely to purchase a ticket; popular Playboy Playmates. A significant number this cadre of scantily attire pop icons have appeared in some movies of this ilk although few became involved with Oscar worthy productions. also ensuring willing compliance with the fundamental component considered mandatory for the genre, gratuitous nudity, and sensationalistic simulated sex acts. The reason for the inclusion in the Criterion is forthcoming, but some initial background is germane to the discussion. The group managed by Kelly's boyfriend, Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), who arranges for the group to travel to Los Angles. His hope is to reunite Kelly with her extremely, estranged yet incredibly wealthy aunt, Kelly's estranged aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), heiress to the family fortune. This scenario connects the counter culture with traditional Hollywood tropes. Which are reinforced by the distrust Aunt Susan's financial advisor, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), has for Hippies. The prevalent look dominating the fashion and interior design choices are overwhelming 'Mod' a term mostly applied to those outside its adherents. Porter despised the nice for a far more mundane and eternal reason; he was after Susan's money for himself. The first step in his plot involved discrediting Kelly.
Despite the fact that the trio possessed a penchant for pot and expressing their sexuality they were innocents, ill prepared for the schemes and predatory intentions of those posing as people looking out for them and helping their careers. When introduced to the famous music producer, "Z-Man" Barzell (John LaZar), he invites them to perform at one of his infamously wild parties. The enthusiastic reception prompts him to become their overly controlling manager whose first official action us to change the name of the group to the 'Carrie Nations.' The immediate result of this is a battle for control between Harris and Z-man. If you are inclined to apply traditional literary subtext to this, it represents the escalating battle between the girl's old life/personalities and the changes required to fit in as part of this fast paced world driving the 'big city.' The story introduces in quick succession the usual grindhouse players to provoke the required drama and fuel a string of scenes involving sex, drugs and rock and roll. Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett) is a high priced male escort who targets Kelly once he learns of her inheritance. After being deserted by Kelly, Harris is seduced by porn star, Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams). His continual over indulgence in hard drugs and alcohol frustratingly makes sexual activity impossible. Spurned by the porn star has a physical altercation with Lance after which in a drug fuel carnal encounter with Casey. She becomes pregnant, so much for his troublesome impotence. Swearing off men Casey becomes involved in a lesbian relationship with clothing designer, Roxanne (Erica Gavin). She convinces Casey to have an abortion.
Compounding the melodrama, Harris attempts suicide only to become paraplegic. Kelly has to turn away from her new found success to be his caregiver, and the band is ripped apart by excessive drug use. If Cinemax produced a story for a Lifetime movie it would look a lot like this, a very obvious morality play containing enough sex and drug use to demand an 'X' rating under the then recently instigated movie rating system devised by the MPAA. Once all the players are on the stage, and the myriad of machinations revealed I could begin to see a few hidden semi-precious gems contained in the movie. The story encapsulates the predominant themes popular in the seventies. Once again the understanding and ultimately appreciation of the movie is greatly dependent upon the age of the viewer. Those of use that sat in one of those dingy theaters will experience nostalgia while younger audience members will inevitably be confused with some details.
It is crucial to remain cognizant of the socio-political environment of that decade. The protests of the late sixties escalated as the War in Vietnam, experimentation with drugs had pervaded the generation and supplanting the old sexual mores with a liberated spirit of freedom. Abortion was illegal making what would be a moral dilemma into a criminal act. It was impossible for the parents of that generation to consider 'permissive' young women as victims of Machiavellian predators. A common story for Hollywood was the corruption of a talented young talent striving to follow her dream. This movie modernized the familiar tale adapting it for a new generation of cinephiles.
I haven't seen the original "The Valley of the Dolls," but it doesn't take a lot of research to come to the conclusion that those who like it only fondle it for its campy terribleness - the more serious minded brush it off as soap opera without the classy underlinings of 1957's "Peyton Place."
Its supposed successor, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," is much more renowned in terms of the schlock cycle. Those who dig the trash manifestations of exploitation, blaxploitation, and nudie-cuties know it as a classic waiting in the wings of rediscovery. It's no surprise that it's directed by Russ Meyer, a garbage king maybe only rivaled by Jack Hill; the bigger, more infamous surprise, though, is that the film is written by Roger Ebert, the film critic who helped define a generation and the film critic who currently serves as one of my two reviewing idols (the other being music's Robert Christgau).
What we have with "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is not a disaster (which most would expect) but rather a delightfully tawdry mess of schlock - when it isn't stooping to stock dialogue and scenes worse than anything you'd find on a particularly bad episode of "The Days of Our Lives," it confides in its old friends nudity and violence. It would cause Joan Crawford to foam at the mouth - so bless its heart for topping "Trog."
The story is mostly nonsensical and giddy, either because of its editing (fond of jump-cuts) or because Meyer and Ebert are less concerned with being coherent and more with figuring out which wacky scenario they can turn to next. It involves three sexy young women, Kelly (Dolly Read), Pet (Marcia McBroom), and Casey (Cynthia Myers), who, when not smoking pot and getting it on, are part of The Kelly Affair, a talented rock group managed by Kelly's boyfriend, Harris (David Gurian). With enough chops and good looks to propel them to potential superstardom, they travel down to Hollywood in hopes to find Kelly's Aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis), a millionairess whose endless show business connections could lead them to the fame and fortune they thirst for.
Things quickly pick up after Kelly comes in contact with erratic music producer Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell (John LaZar) at one of Susan's parties. With a mutual attraction between them, it doesn't take long before he replaces Harris and changes the group's name to The Carrie Nations. Their act spreads like wildfire throughout the United States and they become major performers - but the endless touring and endless bouts of drama can only lead to trouble.
I forgot to mention that side-plots involve a porn star's (Edy Williams) ambitious decision that she must seduce Harris, Pet's troubled affair with a foul-tempered fighter (James Iglehart) who irrationally runs her boyfriend over with his fancy pants convertible, Casey's one-night-stand that ends with an abortion and a lesbian sex scene, and Z-Man's desperate attempts to hook up with an expensive gigolo (Michael Blodgett).
I'm sure I'm forgetting things, but I want to establish that "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is wilder than most mainstream films that were released circa 1970; for being the product of a major Hollywood studio, it leaves class in shambles and ass on a pedestal. But it's all in fun, bad taste - and I had a blast watching it. Maybe it's Ebert's knack for writing dialogue that appears to be stocky and satirical all at once. Maybe it's the way Meyer directs the film, hoping to push the buttons of Jacqueline Susann and the public and succeeding rather tremendously. Or maybe it's the performances, which range from Bette Davis in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" camp (Z-Man, Ashley St. Ives) or paralyzingly stifled attempts at likability (every one of its leading characters). I can't say, but I'd take something as mind-boggling as "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" over "Switchblade Sisters" any day.
The film was rated X upon release and was reconfigured as an NC-17 product back in 1990. How curious. There is no genitalia, no boundary-pushing violence, or harshly graphic dialogue in sight - it's a game of generational match-up severely head-scratching, even frustrating, as it more than likely deters audiences wondering what a Roger Ebert written film would be like. Don't step back in fear: bask in the thunderous trash that is "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."
Has a little bit of everything you could want.