Apr 17, 2013

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Undoubtedly, probably the easiest way for one to discredit the late Roger Ebert’s competency as a critic of the movies is to point out the fact that he co-penned the script for the absolutely aesthetically appalling and socio-politically sickening piece of crappy celluloid counter-culture camp Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) – a pomo pseudo-homo ‘musical-horror-sex-comedy’ that epitomizes everything that is culturally corrosive about American pseudo-culture, while also reflecting the sort of hedonistic and materialistic liberal Weltanschauung the populist cinephile who wrote it was a part of. Directed by and co-written by sexploitation auteur and movie mazophiliac Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens) – a similarly rather rotund man co-scripter Roger Ebert was a faithful fanboy of – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a uniquely ugly X-rated window into all the soulless lust and lifestyles, vapid music and culture, degenerate politics, and delusional dreams that transformed the United States of America into the Philo-semitic, philistinic, technocratic quasi-Third World sewer it is today. Featuring porn stars, sentimental race-mixing, softcore Negrophilia, curiously cliche Teutonophobia (despite the fact that both Ebert and Meyer are apparently Amero-krauts), emotionally plastic psychedelic parties, trips to abortion clinics, hyper-hip hippie lingo, posh rebellion, feminist capitalism, retarded rock n roll, and just about every other anti-cultural ingredient that Hollywood thrives on and the American public mindlessly gets high on, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is America and camp filmmaking at its worse as a relentlessly wretched work that curiously wallows in the sort of social sewage it so haphazardly attempts to satire, yet is indubitably a part of. Originally intended as a sequel to the marvelously mundane melodrama Valley of the Dolls (1967) – a shallow movie about shallow babes who have too much fun with big boys and barbiturates – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls ultimately evolved into a somewhat superior, but equally shallow and senseless parody of the original film, with an equal dumb-downing dosage of tacked-on moralizing. After my second viewing of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls not long after Ebert kicked the big boy bucket, I decided enough was enough and I can safely say that I will never reduce myself to such asinine audio-visual rancidness again, though I would be lying if I did not admit that the final ten minutes or so of the film act as a sort of therapeutic cleansing of the soul in comparison to the rest of the work as a brutal scenario inspired by the mayhem of the Manson Family – the ‘acid fascists’, who if doing nothing else of value, helped to put the final nail in the coffin of the hippies and the 1960s, which was a great way to conclude a deplorable phenomenon that was rooted in the phony slave-morality-driven ideology of peace, love, and tolerance. 

 Three would-be-wild-and-wanton women – Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read; the first British Playboy Playmate of the Month), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers; Playmate of the Month for the December, 1968 issue of Playboy), and Petronella "Pet" Danforth (Marcia McBroom; a popular black fashion model of the 1970s) – make up a multicultural and quasi-feminist rock band called “The Kelly Affair” whose members wear a lot of unsightly make-up and have equally awful and artificial personalities. Kelly MacNamara is the unofficial leader of the group and her pouty pussy of a beta-male boyfriend Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) manages the group, but he is hardly the right man to keep both the band and his girlfriend satisfied. When Kelly drags the band and her beau to Los Angeles to track down her estranged aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis, who got her first big break playing minor roles in Elvis Presley movies) – the sole heiress of a one million dollar fortune, things begin to become a bit strange and hyper-hedonistic for the gullible glamour gals. Things seem to be looking up when Kelly’s aunt Susan proves to be a pleasant broad, who, quite absurdly, offers to give 1/3 of her inheritance to her niece upon first meeting her, but a stereotypically conservative yet corrupt financial advisor Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod) has different plans, as he does not want a half-baked hippie chick getting her pretty paws on the dough as he wants to keep it for himself. Meanwhile, The Kelly Affair plays a show at a faggy fuehrer freak named Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell's (John LaZar in his sole memorable acting role) 'happening crib,' which ultimately causes a number of radical changes for the band. Zany Z-Man – a clever, if not half-crazy, megalomaniac with a peculiarly gregarious god complex – becomes the manager of the band and forces them to change their name to “The Carrie Nations,” thus ushering a new beginning of sin, sex, success, and social stupidity for the awfully annoying all-girl group. On top of firing Harris, Kelly dumps the frail fellow for a blond bimbo beast and top-dollar gigolo named Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett, who scripted Turner & Hooch (1989)), who helps the girl to get in touch with her inner-greed and vaginal orgasms. Deeply hurt, Harris gets hooked on drugs and alcohol and begins dating a predatory porn star named Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams, who later married Russ Meyer and who the director, like a true cultural cuckold, later photographed for the March 1973 issue of Playboy), who ultimately insults the gentle gentleman’s complete and utter lack of sexual prowess, thus causing the bashful boy to think he may be a closet queer. Casey has a pathetic one-night stand with Harris that ends in pregnancy, but she later has an abortion after getting advice from a Sapphic fashion designer she has a brief lesbian affair with.  Ebony diva Petronella begins a steamy love affair with a black law student named Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page), but things go awfully awry when she cheats on her man with a barbaric black prize-fighter named Randy Black (James Iglehart), whose character was modeled after Muhammad Ali. Although Kelly dumps Lance after he beats Harris to a bloody pulp, the erratically emotional ex-manager/ex-boyfriend attempts suicide and fails, but manages to paralyze himself in the process, thus further stifling his already rather pathetic sexual potential. Although the band continues to get more popular by playing on popular TV shows, the members get further involved with too much sex, drugs, rock n roll, and abortions. All the counter-culture fun and games ends in a climax of campy carnage when Z-Man has a deadly Dionysian party at his mansion that begins with a relaxed cocktail of psychedelic drugs and sex, and concludes with the music producer revealing he has tits and that ‘he is a she’ and decides to murder everyone around him, including his own lapsed National Socialist butler/bartender who may or may not be Nazi heavyweight Martin Bormann. 

 Russ Meyer’s only major studio production and probably his most accessible work (the director himself regarded it as his "most important" film), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is, in my opinion, low camp done too polished and clean-cut, sort of like an early John Waters flick minus the charmingly trashy character, authentically eccentric actors, and grotesque gross-out imagery. Indeed, in terms of its overwhelming aesthetic repugnancy, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a work of cinematic grotesquery, but not the sort that, to quote the psychopathic messiah of perversion Z-Man, that makes me think,“This is my happening and it freaks me out!” Directed by a man who was a virgin until he was in his twenties and who, rather pathetically, lost his virginity to a big breasted prostitute during his military service in the Second World War, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, like all Russ Meyer films, has the essence of a man with a pair of permanent boob-goggles who was intimidated by and put pussy on a pedestal and watched one too many episodes of Hogan's Heroes. Indeed, what separates Meyer's films from the schlocky cinematic works of fellow American low-camp crusaders John Waters and Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul, Lust in the Dust) is that the "big tit man" lacked a queer sensibility because he was a "big tit man" and not a "big dick man" like the latter two directors. With its cast of highly untalented Playboy playmates with vapid personalities and even less acting abilities, and cardboard caricatures of figures like Phil Spector (who, like the Z-Man, would go on a deranged killing spree) and Muhammad Ali, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is too passively playful and artistically conservative to be regarded as a classic work of camp as it is more geared toward the bloated American booboisie – a classless class Russ Meyer certainly belonged to and Roger Ebert fed with his armchair liberal brand of film criticism.  Meyer and Ebert probably should have taken some lessons from Paul Morrissey (Flesh, Women in Revolt), who despite being an unrepentant right-wing Roman Catholic, created much more effective sardonic satires of libertine lunacy and the counter-culture movements because, unlike the flabby and flaccid liberal men behind Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, he was able to see the anti-cultural debauchery of the late-1960s/early-1970s for what it was (i.e. total garbage), from an insightful and idiosyncratic outsider's perspective.

 With vomit-inducing dialogue from glorified hookers like, “Hey man, I dig. You’re on an ego trip” and “Don’t Bogart the joint,” it is easy to see why Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the cinematic equivalent of genital warts as an ugly, highly infectious and seemingly incurable influence on American (non)culture that reminds one why the late-1960s/early-1970s make for the most repugnant, deleterious, and unflattering point in American history. If some day in the future, an advanced alien race comes to earth and attempts to find out why the West passively capitulated in an apocalyptic scenario, one would just have them watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – a film without a soul but steeped in superficial sin and salaciousness of the conspicuously contrived sort that could only appeal to the sort of guy that is better at sleazily staring at gorgeous women than he is at banging them – to see why the Occident died with a retarded whimper. A less than banging bacchanal in banality and anemic aesthetic barbarity, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is what I assume the movies might be like in hell and if Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert are in Hades, which one would naturally assume they are, I hope the devil himself is forcing them to watch the films of real cultivated camp auteur filmmakers like Werner Schroeter and Daniel Schmid while being whipped by Rainer Werner Fassbinder with a golden reel of Nazi-produced 35mm film.  Indeed, it is not a good sign when America's first double-bastard president – a man with the class of a preppy pimp – states, "Roger was the movies."  Undoubtedly, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was Roger Ebert's closet thing to his own 'auteur piece' and it concludes with a female-to-male transvestite slaughtering a group of pretty (vapid) people, but I guess that is what one expects from a man who looked like a middle-aged lesbian for most of his life. 

-Ty E

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ebert always struck as being at least marginally better than Siskel, who seem to instantly hate almost anything that wasn't screamingly obvious Oscar Bait.