Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

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*. Valley of the Dolls was itself such a terrible piece of camp trash that another turn of the screw, or another roll downhill, hardly seemed necessary.
*. It’s also, at least to some extent, self-defeating. In my notes on Valley of the Dolls I talked a bit about camp, and how an essential requirement is that it doesn’t set out to be camp, that it takes itself seriously. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls doesn’t, so it’s not camp but a satire of camp, which is something that’s actually very difficult to pull off.
*. On the DVD commentary, screenwriter Roger Ebert says there were no specific satiric targets like the fashion or music biz. Instead, they were “dealing more in generic satire.” In other words, movie conventions. But they were really just sending up Valley of the Dolls, a movie that was itself self-satirizing.
*. This may sound like I’m spinning my wheels here, and I probably am, but there’s a point to be made. It’s made most directly by Danny Peary, where he says that “BVD is really a terrible movie” and that the satire is only used to conceal that fact. This is what I’ve sometimes called the “irony defence”: that when a movie is really bad, the director (or screenwriter) can say that that’s the way he intended it to be and that his critics are missing the joke. Which is fine, except for the fact that at the end of the day you’re still left with a bad movie.
*. I don’t think Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is all bad, but I agree with Peary that Meyer’s work from the 1960s is better, and that this movie is less original, daring, personal, and inventive. That Meyer thought this was his best work is troubling, undercutting his auteur status. It suggests that what he really wanted to do was make a commercial studio film but he just couldn’t.

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*. It has, however, achieved a cult status and people still enjoy it, which is saying a lot. So we have to ask ourselves why.
*. There are some genuinely interesting flourishes. I like how the opening credits play over what is in fact the end of the movie, a sort of prolepsis reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard. It’s something that we get again in the road montage, which provides flash-forwards to everything that’s going to happen. I’m not sure there’s any point to this, but it is different.
*. Another part that stands out are the two musical pieces where we have shots of Harris and Z-Man gazing at each other, their faces superimposed over the band performing. This is weird, but effective
*. Technically, what stands out for me is how jarring, and I mean that in a bad way, the editing is. According to Ebert this was deliberate, as Meyer couldn’t afford to shoot a lot of coverage and so adopted a disjunctive approach of juxtaposing different angle shots that didn’t match or that make no sense (for example, shooting a love scene through bed springs). But I’m not sure this explanation makes sense. At times it seems as though there’s too much coverage, with several cuts even in dialogue scenes where only one or two would do. I think Meyer might have just thought of editing as a way of keeping an audience on its toes.
*. I actually do like the music. At least more than I liked the music in Valley of the Dolls. Though none of it really stuck with me.

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*. Some of the dialogue is very funny in a camp way. One of the most famous lines, Z-Man’s “This is my happening, and it freaks me out!” was even cut and paste into one of the Austin Powers movies. That said, I didn’t think all of it worked. Ebert has said that he was laughing hysterically while writing the script, but I think he might have been enjoying it a bit more than the rest of us. He specifically mentions the sex scene in the car (“There’s nothing like a Rolls, unless it’s a Bentley”) as one of the funniest in the movie, but I can’t see anything funny in it at all.
*. Another odd point Ebert makes is that the scene where Harris is discovered in the rafters above where the band is performing on live TV was supposedly based on a scene from Citizen Kane. On the commentary he wonders how many people get this. Well, I sure didn’t. And even after he pointed it out, I still didn’t. They’re very different shots with different meanings.
*. It’s not as explicit a movie as some of Meyer’s earlier work, and not as sexy either. A lot of people roll around in bed (or in the hay, or in the bath), but the only coupling that’s erotic is the lesbian relationship between Casey and Roxanne (Erica Gavin). Meyer’s men, as has often been observed, just aren’t on the same level as his women.

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*. The characters are only types, and sometimes less than that. Of course you wouldn’t expect much from a slab of beefcake with a name like Lance Rocke, but even the lead character of Kelly makes no sense from scene to scene, and Ebert admits how she’s just “jerked around” to fulfill the requirements of the plot. I must say that I like how the Heavyweight Champ is allergic to wearing a shirt, however.
*. It seems fitting that we end up at a party with all the characters dressed like comic-book figures, because in a way that’s all they’ve ever been. Finally we see everything reduced to this level.
*. It’s a movie that doesn’t hold anything sacred, or take anything seriously (despite the portentous narrative voice, written by Meyer, pronouncing his moral judgments on everyone at the end). But given the kind of movie it is, there are limits to this kind of criticism. Then again, there are limits to satire too.
*. I wouldn’t call it, to borrow Peary’s judgment, a “really terrible movie,” but at the same time it’s not as special or even as odd as it’s often made out to be. I think Meyer was held back by having a studio behind him. Are we really going that far beyond anything here? The violence at the end is jarring, but aside from that I think we’re still stuck in the valley.

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