InsidePulse DVD Review – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls


image courtesy of Amazon.com

Director:
Russ Meyer

Cast:
Dolly Read….Kelly McNamara
Cynthia Myers….Casey Anderson
Marcia McBroom….Petronella Danforth
John LaZar….Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell
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
Jim Iglehart….Randy Black
Charles Napier….Baxter Wolfe
Henry Rowland….Otto

Fox Home Entertainment presents Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Screenplay by Roger Ebert. Running time: 109 minutes. NC-17. Theatrical release 1970. DVD released June 13, 2006.

The Movie
Imagine R. Crumb drawing Josie and the Pussycats as characters in Fritz the Cat. Do you have the image of three rockin’ girls that don’t mind getting laid? Now you have a clue about the Carrie Nations, a girl power trio that splits from Squaresville, America and arrives in happening Los Angeles to make the scene. Kelly, the leader of the band, meets up with her long aunt to get her share of the family fortune. Through the aunt, the girls hook up with Z-Man, a major music producer and host of the wildest parties in Southern California. He turns the trio into superstars. But the debauchery of Los Angeles catches up with these innocent girls and their manager. Tragedies strike as the hits roll out. It’s sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and decapitation on the big screen. As the Z-Man says, “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” And it gets freakier and better with every viewing.

Russ Meyer was one of the most profitable indie filmmakers with hits like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Vixen. Fox Studios wanted him to make a low budget flick that would make them a fat profit. Nowadays an indie director is dragged into a major studio to crank out a lame superhero flick. But Russ didn’t betray his style. Even though he was supposed to make a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, he didn’t create a safe film that flirted with danger. He pushed the Tinsel Town madness so it would scare the folks back on the farm in Iowa when their daughters got a hankering to go out to Cali for stardom. He showed a Los Angeles party filled with nudity, drugs and alternate lifestyles. He wasn’t going to show us people like us. He reminded us that the folks on the West coast are freaks.

The larger budget allowed Russ to have bigger sets and more time, but he didn’t load up on superstars. There would be no cameos from Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme. The Carrie Nations were made up of two Playboy Playmates (Read and Myers) and a fashion model (McBroom). For most of the actors and actresses, this movie would be the height of their careers. He might have made a film about Hollywood, but he didn’t go Hollywood on his viewing public. Even though the film was slapped with an X, there’s nothing hardcore porn about it. Don’t expect Deep Throat. As Roger Ebert points out on a bonus feature, there was no way the MPAA would give an “R” to Russ. Luckily it was during that period of time when major studios could put out X rated films. Russ wasn’t watered down for the masses. He stuck with his rapid editing structure and big bosoms.

While this is a showbiz farce that sends up the conventions in Valley of the Dolls, the actors play it on a serious level. Nobody is mugging to the camera during spoof moments. What tips us off that Meyers is having fun is the music cues. During hospital scenes, he has has the lame soap opera organ pumping away to cheese it up. The notes are his sly winks to the viewers that it’s OK to laugh. The songs of the Carrie Nations also makes this film worth the experience. “Find It” and “Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man” deserve space on K-Tel collections. Unlike so many faux movie bands, this film’s music deserves to exist outside the soundtrack.

For the longest time this film was considered one of the most embarrassing films ever made by a major studio. One of the easiest ways to slam Roger Ebert was to just say that when the movie critic finally had a chance to write a script instead of a review, he cranked out Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and not Citizen Kane Jr. But a funny thing happened to this mocked movie – it earned respect. Maybe respect is too lofty of a word. But it gained stature because it didn’t hold back on the outlandish debauchery. It has aged better than Valley of the Dolls and so many other flicks that promise an inside view of the evils of stardom.

I’m thrilled that Fox gave Beyond the Valley of the Dolls the full special edition treatment instead of dumping it out as a barebones edition. This is the best damn DVD release of the year. If Larry King buys only one DVD this summer, I hope he snaps his suspenders and picks up Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

STORY: 10/10
ACTING: 10/10
LOOK/FEEL: 10/10
ORIGINALITY: 10/10
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 10/10
TOTAL POINTS: 50/50
FINAL SCORE: 10/10

The DVD:
The Video:
The film is Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1. They’ve made a magnificent transfer to let the debauchery dazzle.

The Audio:
This film is presented in a stereo and mono tracks. There’s also a mono French mix if you’d like to imagine Jean-Luc Godard was the director. Roger Ebert has a commentary track where he reads from prepared statements about the making of the film. A second track features cast members Read, Myers, Page, La Zar and Gavin. This group seems to be having a fun time watching and talking about the film. The highlight is when Page begs Myers and Gavin to recreate their sex scenes since he wasn’t at the studio on that day of shooting. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Special Features:
Introduction by John La Zar (1:26): The Z-Man gives us a welcome to the wonderful bonus features on the second DVD. “BVD is on DVD,” he declares!

Above, Beneath, and Beyond the Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy (30:00): A glorious behind the scenes documentary about the movie. There’s a nice introduction to Meyer which does more than focus on his obsession with big breasts. Here’s a weird piece of trivia: during World War II, Russ Meyer was a cameraman assigned to General Patton. BVD‘s DP, Fred Koenekamp had just shot Patton before working with Meyer.
Look Up At The Bottom: The Music of the “Dolls” (10:58): Stu Phillips hips us to his creation of the Carrie Nations’ sound. Since none of the actresses performed musically, we get to meet Lynn Carey, the real singer of the band. While she would be the voice for a Playboy Playmate, Carey became a Penthouse Pet. The McDonald brothers from Redd Kross gush about their devotion to the soundtrack.
Best of the Beyond (12:21): A quasi-VH1 special where cast members and fans talks about their favorite moments in the film.
Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby! (7:34) A piece that tries to put BVD into the historical context of what was going on in Los Angeles in 1969. The cast and a few experts reflect on the period when the sex and drugs of the summer of love clashed with the Manson Family. This wouldn’t be worth your time except for Lynn Carey’s confession of how these events intersected through her.
Casey and Roxanne: The Love Scene (4:19) Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers recount their steamy girl-girl action. Mostly it’s about how Myers was very shy and Gavin lived up to her Vixen reputation. There’s a strange vibe that these two women might still try to hook up.
Z-Man’s Far Out Party Favors This section contains trailers and two screen tests. The best of the trailers doesn’t deal with the film. It features Russ taking still shots of the actresses on the round bed for the movie poster. It concludes with a dance party breaking out on the set featuring the cast. Who knew Charles Naiper knew how to shake his moneymaker? There are two screen tests. The first has Michael Blodgett & Cynthia Myers. The two were already dating so they are extra frisky. Cynthia is auditioning for the role of Kelly. The second is Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom also acting out the roles of Lance and Kelly.
There’s an overload of pics. This isn’t a rinky dink dozen stills that were salvaged from an old press kit. The most significant of all the photographs is visual proof that Pam Grier was really part of the film.
Mini-Lobby Cards: Four reproductions that capture my favorite moments from the film. Perfect for framing and hanging above you DVD rack.

Score: 9/10