Reelin’ & Rockin’ – ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ Isn’t a Sequel, There’s NEVER Been Anything Like It

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The trailers and posters, as well as the opening title card, emphasized that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was not a sequel. “There has never been anything like it,” the posters read, and, boy, they weren’t lying. A sprawling musical satire told at breakneck speed, the film features, as said in one trailer, “love, rape, murder, dope, grass, abortion, suicide – something for everyone.” A film with an infamous reputation for being absolutely bonkers, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was directed by Russ Meyer, most famous for his sex comedies featuring buxom babes, and co-written by Meyer and famed film critic Roger Ebert. There’s no angle of the show business world that is impervious to the biting satire of Meyer and Ebert – fashion, music, and the film industries are all targeted.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls tells the story of an all-girl rock ‘n’ trio, The Kelly Affair. Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read) sings and plays guitar. Casey Anderson (Cynthia Meyers) sings backing vocals and plays bass. Petronella “Pet” Danforth (Marcia McBroom) is on the drums. Kelly has been dating the band’s manager, Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), and she decides it’s time for the band to spread their wings and travel out to Los Angeles for their shot at stardom. In L.A., Kelly tracks down her well-to-do Aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), who invites the group to a party at record producer, and tastemaker, Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell (John LaZar). At the party, there’s an assortment of eccentrics. There’s the greedy part-time actor and full-time gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett); the insatiable porn star Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams); boxing champion Randy Black (James Iglehart); Susan Lake’s sleazy attorney Porter Hal (Duncan McLeod); lesbian fashion designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin), and Pet’s future love, the law student/waiter Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page). Z-Man gives the trio an audition at the party and they’re a smashing success. Renaming the band The Carrie Nations, Z-Man takes them under his wing and into the stratosphere of stardom. As the group finds success, their worlds are slowly torn apart by excess and bad decisions.

As happens to some filmmakers, Russ Meyer’s reputation is almost based solely on his busty leading ladies. Sure, he was in your face with his fetishes, but people have seemed to only remember Meyer for sexual elements. Lost in it all is the fact that Meyer was a hell of a photographer. Meyer’s shot composition and editing are excellent, even going back to films like Mudhoney and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! It’s easy to mistake Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as pure melodrama, but, in fact, it’s a satire of manic melodrama – Meyer and Ebert were consciously aware of the film’s absurdity when making it. The reason the film works as well as it does is the fact that all the actors are playing it straight, right down the reveal of Z-Man’s true nature. The characters, the dialogue, the situations – everything in this movie is way over the top.

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A few of the characters in the film are drawn from real life inspirations. Z-Man was loosely based upon Phil Spector. In an awkward tale of life imitating art, Spector’s violent streak manifested itself in the murder of young starlet, somewhat similar to the manner that Z-Man goes on a murderous spree. The final violent ending was inspired by the Manson Family, but Spector ended up giving it a slightly prophetic aura. The boxing champion Randy Black is based upon Muhammad Ali, though he lacks the shit-talking eloquence of the real life champ. Even drawing upon real life as it does, the excess of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls seems quaint compared to the excess of rock bands in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The music of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was written by Stu Phillips and Bob Stone, with a few songs Phillips co-wrote with Lynn Carey, who also provided the singing voice for Kelly. While some of the songs are soft hippy crap, others are blistering rock ‘n’ roll numbers. Find It and Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man actually work as rock songs. The modern garage band The Woggles have released a cover of Find It. That’s not the extent of the influence of Beyond on the pop culture landscape. Sublime used an audio clip from the film before their cover of Smoke Two Joints. Mike Meyers used the line, “This is my happening and it freaks me out,” with Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints blasting in the background in almost the exact same way Z-Man utters the line in the first Austin Powers film.

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“There is no Z-Man, varlet.”

As is the case with other Russ Meyer flims, like Cherry, Harry, and Raquel!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls ends with an extended monologue explaining the moral of the story, even though there really isn’t one. It’s the melodramatic icing on the cake, an absurd attempt at providing context for each of the characters’ actions.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is one of the greatest cult movies ever. It’s an insane film with an unmatched manic energy. Members of The Sex Pistols loved the film so much that when they were preparing to make a movie about their exploits, they reached out to Ebert and Meyer to write and direct their movie. Though the project fell through due to Russ Meyer’s hatred of Johnny Rotten, Ebert did finish his screenplay for the unproduced Who Killed Bambi?, which would be somewhat crafted into The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. Ebert eventually posted the unproduced screenplay on his website a few years ago. Despite its cult audience, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was one of two studio films that Meyer made, both for 20th Century Fox, the other being The Seven Minutes. Meyer returned to his independent ways, producing, distributing, and owning all of his own work. Ebert would write under a pseudonym for his other collaborations with Meyer, co-writing Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens.

Sadly, the film appears to be out of print on DVD, however, it is available for streaming rental through Amazon. If you’ve never experience Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it is a must-see film that is unlike anything ever made. Watch it or prepare to taste the black sperm of my vengeance!

 

 

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