Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rocktober: 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' (1970)

According to screenwriter Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is meant to be a satire, but it seems like not everyone involved in the production was in on that intention. Originally conceived as a sequel to infamous 1967 stinker Valley of the Dolls, the movie was eventually reimagined to stand on its own, so definitively not a sequel that a disclaimer at the beginning asserts that it has no connection to the original movie. That's a good thing for me, since I've never seen the original (which, not being about a rock band, doesn't fit within the parameters of this project). Whether it's serious or satirical, though, Beyond is a total camp train wreck, filled with memorably awful lines ("This is my happening, and it freaks me out!"; "I'd like to strap you on sometime"; "I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn that all four of them habitually smoked marijuana cigarettes"; "Up yours, ratso!"; etc.), overheated characters, storylines that make no sense and so much psychedelic excess that it must have been Austin Powers' favorite movie.

The plot, such as it is, involves a trio of young women who move to Los Angeles to pursue their rock n' roll dreams, accompanied by their manager, who's also the lead singer's boyfriend. Dubbed the Carrie Nations, they achieve instant success and are drawn into a hilariously seedy showbiz underbelly of drugs, promiscuous sex and, um, occult violence, featured in the out-of-nowhere climax that was apparently conceived at the last minute as a response to the Manson Family murders (Sharon Tate was in the original Valley of the Dolls). The loose story is mostly an excuse for director Russ Meyer to show as much naked flesh as possible, and this movie is definitely in the running for the most naked breasts ever featured in a major studio release.

Some of the scenes are clever in the way they send up the culture of free love and drug-fueled indulgence, and there is a level of excitement to Meyer's envelope-pushing, which is pretty risque even by today's standards (he manages to get in a lesbian love scene as well as a male-on-male kiss -- sort of). But it's such a jumble of hippie parody and straightforward rock musical (the Carrie Nations play a number of songs in their entirety) and violent fever dream and sexploitation movie and hypocritical morality play (the ending features a somber voice-of-God narration about all the mistakes the various characters have made) that it ends up completely at odds with itself. If Ebert and Meyer were actually making a satire, the only thing they really succeed at satirizing is their own movie.

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