During the 50s/60s heyday of cheesecake porn, Russ Meyer was king. Between 1959 and 1980, Meyer produced an abundance of comical skin flicks, often featuring happy-go-lucky girls with bewildering endowments, and forceful psychedelia/rock n’ roll aesthetics. Some of his famed classics from this era include SuperVIXENS, Mondo Topless and, one of my favourite films of all time, Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill.
Despite the low-budget exploitative qualities and tissue-thin plots, entirely designed to get the leading ladies out of their clothes, Meyer had genuine talent behind the lens, and such was the case that, in 1969, 20th Century Fox came calling, asking him to film a sequel of sorts to the controversial and derided 1967 film Valley of the Dolls. Meyer agreed, and though his sequel would be disowned by the studio on release, it is now available for all and sundry thanks to the people at Arrow Video.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the morality play of an all-girl rock group, The Kelly Affair, who travel to into the mire of 1960’s Hollywood to find fame and recognition. However, after falling under the management of the mysterious “Z-Man” (John Lazar) their flower-child ideals soon degrade into scuzzy and dangerous situations, as the newly renamed “Carrie Nations” become tangled up in the sleazy, sex and drug-fuelled culture of underground scene, leading to mind-blowing events beyond anyone’s control.
It’s immediately apparent that the movie is for a particularly niche audience. The film maintains a consistent post-hippie mentality, all bright colours, slow-motion sequences and Strawberry Alarm Clock performances, which may be enough of a turnoff for some right out the door, but also bombards the audience with sex and nudity, getting as close to pornographic as a theatrically released movie can get. These scenes of trippy, psychedelic beauty and soft-filtered nudity are punctuated with stark, nasty violence, which would earn the film an “X” rating from the MPAA, alienating it from most theatres and thus infuriating FOX.
However, that does not necessarily mean Beyond.. is a bad movie, just that it has a specific audience. Clearly it’s an exploitation film through and through, and can be viewed as charmless, tacky porn or artistic, subversive sub-culture. I like Meyer’s films, and I prefer his down and dirty early flicks, but I think Beyond.. has a certain charm, appealing as a renegade movie that couldn’t even get greenlit today. Nihilistic and scuzzy it may be, but the film is symbolising the death of an era, when events such as the Vietnam War and the Manson Murders trampled all over the barefoot, free-loving dreams of the decade’s youth. This film is a funeral service for a time period, one last binge of sex and drugs, before the ugly realities of such hedonism takes hold and it’s time to comb your hair, put on your tie and get a job.
Arrow Video, on an absolute roll as of late, have put together a feature packed disc to accompany the beautiful HD transfer. The film features two commentaries (including one by screenwriter Roger Ebert) and a huge host of featurettes about the making of the film, 60’s culture, screen tests and interviews, alongside the obligatory haul of trailers, galleries and the trademark Arrow booklet. Also included is a DVD of an entire movie, The Seven Minutes, which was Meyer’s last release for FOX. Arrow pride themselves on their ability to compile extras from previous releases with all-new, exclusive features. I don’t know how they do it, but they’ve done it again.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t for everyone. Some may balk at its moral standards, others may question it on a technical level. It’s tonally wild, occasionally clumsy, and exceptionally vulgar in every sense of the word. It is also one hell of a trip, unashamed of its wild sights and sounds and ultimately a dizzying assault on the senses. This release is absolutely worth purchase for anyone interested in cinema off the beaten path. It represents a liberating time in film where subversion was high, rules were broken and, as long as the director was happy, the studio could go fuck itself.
I guess it just all hangs on how square you are, daddy.
Film 3/5 Package 5/5
Dir: Russ Meyer
Scr: Roger Ebert
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, John Lazar, Marcia McBroom, Erica Gavin
Prd: Russ Meyer
DOP: Fred J. Koenekamp
Music: Stu Phillips
Run time: 110 mins
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is available now on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.