DVD at last! DVD at last! Thank God almighty, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is available on DVD at last! This truly is the point where I exhale. I remember when my two most-wanted not-yet-on-DVD movies were this and Waiting for Guffman -- and that one was released in Aug. 2001. It's taken way too long (it's important not just because DVD has come to be so much more accessible than VHS, but because director Russ Meyer used every inch of the screen -- to watch it cropped was to literally miss half of it).
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is, simply, my favorite movie of all time. I love it like a person. It has helped me grow. It taught me that a film can be all things -- not just in a multi-genre sense (though writer Roger Ebert [for real!] was correct in describing it to Time as "a camp sexploitation horror musical that ends in a quadruple murder and a triple wedding"), but it showed me that a movie could at once be obnoxious and sly, profound and base, titillating and repellent, garbage and genius, the clueless butt of the joke and the best punchline ever. Sure, I'd learned the supreme entertainment in mockery growing up watching stuff like karaoke on Atlantic City public access (which sort of had the effect of the mesmerizing Stairway to Stardom clips on YouTube). And, yeah, I'd even fallen in love with Showgirls before I had the vaguest notion of the splendor of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. But Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (heretofore called BVD, because that's what those behind-the-scenes called it, and also: underwear, hee!) shoves a gun down the throat of the competition and blasts away.
BVD taught me to expect more from my movies. BVD taught me that recklessness is godliness. Maybe most importantly, BVD taught me the single greatest pick-up in the history of the English language: "You're a groovy boy, I'd like to strap you on some time." Words to live by, words to use.
To hear the cast and Ebert tell it (they all chime in on the 2 DVD set, which is basically my wettest dream pressed to discs), the whole thing is a giant put on -- indie sexploiter Meyer was drafted by 20th Century Fox to direct a sequel to the trashtastic 1967 melodrama Valley of the Dolls. He enlisted a budding film critic he'd befriended, Roger Ebert, to help him write it. When Jacqueline Susann, the author of the Valley novel, sued 20th Century Fox for debasing the image of her masterpiece with a pornographer, Meyer and Ebert shifted gears to create a parody, a send-up of not just Valley, not just L.A., but really, cinema in general. Out of Valley's skeleton (three girls get into showbiz, get fucked and fucked up to varying tragic results), they hatched the story of a three-girl band, eventually known as the Carrie Nations. The band sets out from, oh, somewhere to L.A. and makes it big...I guess? It's hard to tell. Anyway, the point is that neither Meyer nor Ebert knew a thing about the music industry (character Ronnie Z-Man Barzell is based not on Phil Spector, but how Phil Spector would act, according 100 percent to Ebert's fantasies), and so the movie is often clueless. Couple this tendency of not having an idea as to what it's talking about with the frantic writing pace (six weeks from blank page to shooting script) and the fact that there was no major story outline before writing. They made it up as they went along! It's brimming with insight, but it's also brimming with misused slang. Meyer told the actors to play it straight, despite the script's tendency toward the absurd, but Jesus, did he tell star Dolly Read ("Kelly MacNamara," frontwoman of the Carrie Nations) to act only with her eyes, too?
So, don't believe the hype. BVD is utter brilliance. BVD is utter crap. And the combination of those two things is the best thing anything could possibly be.
And so, I'm taking the opportunity of the DVD release to go through some of my favorite moments live-blogging style. Of course, it isn't actually a liveblog as this shit is 36 years old and I've seen it, you know, hundreds (yes!) of times. This is not a sequel, but it's totally premeditated.
The post you are about to read might not make sense now but that's OK, since it wouldn't even if you've watched the actual movie, like 10 times.
OK, so you got that? Everybody with me? No? Excellent! Proceed with confusion! It's in your best interest, really.
Gun blowjob. Move along. No sexism to see here.
After an incredibly disorienting three-minute intro (the climax of the film up front, as we'll find out -- Meyer's so generous that he gives us an orgasm during foreplay), we get a proper hello:
That's how you say hi in BVDese. Why not try it on a stranger today?
This is Kelly MacNamara, who fronts a three-girl band called the Kelly Affair (as the name soon changes, this is one of the most obscure yet tangible references the movie offers -- if a band in real life calls itself the Kelly Affair, it is undoubtedly made up of people worth knowing, loving and listening to).
This band, rounded out by Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) on bass and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) on drums, is pretty progressive for 1970, being racially mixed and with nary a penis between its members (well, not attached to them, at least). The band is often credited as predicting the Go-Go's, and while I can see parallels in the groups' images (wholesome up front, vaginally expressive behind-the-scenes), sonically, "Find It" is a Sleater-Kinney song, 20 odd years early. Corin Tucker's wail sounds like the baby of Lynn Carey (who provides Kelly's singing voice) and that lead guitar line is total Brownstein. Beyond the Valley of the Dllls?
First drug reference and it's a great one.
Pet: (sweetly) Hey, don't bogart the joint, friend.
Kelly: (fiendishly) Cool it, man, I need it more than you.
What a cunt! Because she's the lead singer, she needs it more? What if Pet's drumming has resulted in carpal tunnel and the only way she could soothe the pain is via reefer relief? Then what, MacNawhorea?
Maybe I spent too much time studying at the Vivian Ward School of Intimacy, but there's something really dirty about watching people's tongues spill out of each other's mouths. It's penetration, is what it is.
Kelly's making out with Harris, by the way. Manager of the Kelly Affair and all-around pussy.
A rare attempt at exposition in the form of a rhyming, call-and-response poem. Yes, you are supposed to glean information from this. It's a good thing they pretty much give up explaining what's going on after this, because really, it's not like it helps.
What is that? Tyra?
Kelly has dinner with her long-lost Aunt Susan. Kelly's eyes abandon their typical stoned half-slit poses. They also attempt to abandon her skull. It goes something like this:
I bet she can't keep a contact to save her life.
Also during dinner, in a so-bad-it's-bad moment, Kelly's accent goes from cockney to Cali in two seconds. It's like a 4-second, one-woman production of My Fair Lady set in L.A. And who wouldn't want to see that?
The first party at record producer Z-Man's (my single favorite scene in this or any movie) begins. (Music is provided by the Strawberry Alarm Clock.)
The scene lasts 16 minutes and 15 seconds and is the foremost example of a major key to BVD's thrill and what makes it so damn impenetrable. Those 16 odd minutes are diced into 373 shots (at least by my count, which is low, if anything) -- that's a cut every 2.6 seconds (the longest is held for 30 seconds, aka ETERNITY). To understand how disorienting this is, attempt to concentrate on something (reading, whatever) but blink every three seconds. Now, imagine attempting to absorb information when what you're staring at is not only moving, but changing with each of those blinks and practically screaming at you. Impossible!
Cynthia Myers talks about Meyer being smart for creating a movie that you have to see a few times to really understand. I don't think that Meyer ever really attempted to be obtuse, particularly on such a grand scale (the dude made skin flicks!), and to be sure, the editing style is said to be left over from Meyer's days of working with total amateurs (if you keep cutting, bad acting is more difficult to detect, or so goes the theory). But even if the delirious feeling is a mere side-effect, a high is a high.
Anyway, it's needless to say (but I will anyway) that those 373 shots are peppered with split-second nonsense. Here are five of my favorite WTF-inducing frames:
Wait, what was the band that's playing called? Oh right, the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I think it helps you remember if you repeat it, sounding more Irish each time.
0.16.26 & 0.16.33
The one-two punch of what are probably the movie's two best-known lines:
Yeah, yeah. They're cool and all, but I don't think they hold a candle to what Ashley St. Ives has to offer.
I mean, just look at her physical charms.
I love her perma-frown. I love her fictitious eyebrows. I love how, in this shot, it looks like her neck continues to the floor and spills out the door like she's some impossibly hideous python. I love her everything. If only someone had set her hay hair on fire, this movie would have it all.
But before we get to Ashley's immortal words, can we take some time out to appreciate Cynthia Myers' perfection?
Just once more, please.
Ashley reveals her genius.
I don't know if she has eight legs, but I'm pretty sure she has at least two penises.
And you can never get enough: "You're a groovy boy, I'd like to strap you on some time."
The imagery alone makes this so very special. Note that Harris all the while is resisting because Ahsley is fucking frightening. She's like vagina dentata in human form. She could turn straight boys gay and gay boys cross-eyed.
Russ Meyer, of course, ended up marrying her.
The Kelly Affair are rechristened as the Carrie Nations. They shoot to success in a montage featuring "In the Long Run." My heart breaks for the song's duration every time I hear it. I want this played at my wedding, funeral and at my first son's circumcision.
I mean, who can't relate to a line like, "You spend idle hours talking to flowers who won't even talk back to you"? Fucking stuck-up flowers. I hate that!
Also, it's a song so great, that the convention of singing the last line three times to conclude just wouldn't do. They had to sing, "Come a rainy day!" not three, not four, but five times. It's that deep.
But seriously, this song does make me cry. Well, it makes me consider crying. When I'm alone. Sometimes.
During this montage, by the way, Meyer layers on the subtext thick. Literally!
We have reel-to-reels superimposed on opposing forces Harris and Z-Man (representing the band's past and future, respectively), who themselves are superimposed on the band. Because instead of cutting a couple dozen times a minute to confuse people, why not just throw everything on top of everything to confuse people?
Also note that the Carrie Nations get their big break amongst chandeliers.
Pet helps Casey with her bra.
Biggest incentive in joining an all-girl rock group: you always have a bra buddy.
More fun with Dolly Read's accent (these clips all occur within seconds of each other).
And, while the fire in my loins cools (I just love the way she says "together!"), let's take an intermission to induct Dolly Read into the fourfour Hall of Fame. Congrats, Dolly -- for all of your expressive effort, you get immortalized Sears-portrait style.
And now we rejoin our scheduled programming.
Right where we left off!
Ashley teaches us all about vehicular sex.
Sorry, I should clarify that. Ashely scares us away from having sex in a car ever again. And sex in general. And cars. And wheels. And anything round.
Although I don't have a hard time believing that Harris could make her scream like that. He's kinda Rocky Dennis-esque in the face...
...you know he works hard to compensate for that in other areas.
While they're doing that, Meyer cuts to another hook-up to slip in one of his signatures -- fucking on not a bed, but a bed of springs.
It's art! It's trash! And that's the point.
Does she have a face for anime or what? (Note that this is her reaction to being called a "virgin-whore," so, uh, yeah. I answered my own question.)
You'd swear this shit were queer if it weren't so...straight.
Talk about answering your own question!
Ashley tells off Harris in another contender for BVD's best line.
"Harris, you're drunk and you're stoned, and the worst of it is, you're a lousy lay!"
I like to say this to the bf when he's none of the three. Just to keep him on his toes, see.
And with that, Ashley unfortunately signs off.
What a looker, though.
Years later, she blamed her less-than-smoking appearance in the movie on heavy downer usage during filming. I wish she never said that, though - it's far too rational of an explanation for her behavior and face.
Regardless: Edy Williams, I salute you the second-best way I know how:
Casey hits one home.
"And there are juice freaks and there are pill freaks...and everybody's a freak."
This is as succinct a description of this movie as you'll ever find. True story: this exact quote is written on the wall of the men's bathroom at Phoenix in New York (over the sink). Whomever wrote that can meet me at the gloryhole to claim your prize. You've earned it.
"Emerson, you were gonna study. But you said you were going to study!"
Yeah! It's his fault for coming home early and catching her. He deserves it for being such a tool.
Kelly sleeps in a full face of makeup.
Not that you'd expect less.
Not an overstatement: this is the single most bizarre exchange in the film. Of course, most of that has to do with the acapella squealing of "Find it!" twice. Just in case we forgot...or wanted to hear that thing of beauty without accompaniment? Yeah, I don't know. It's some fucked up shit.
Oh, and then they play and it's awesome.
You can really see how seasoned they've become, as performers.
So seasoned that the recipient of the thank you tries to kill himself by eating tempera paint.
From there, the movie becomes a soap opera...
...and then a horror flick...
...and then an episode of Scooby Doo...
...with, y'know, a twist.
Oh and all the while, of course, there are boobies...
(Is she lezzie or just concerned about lumps?)
...and (really fucking scary-ass) boobies!
Oh yeah, and I'd be so totally remiss if I didn't mention that before Z-Man shows us his tits (yeah!), he says...
I'm telling you: Phoenix gloryhole. Hook it up.
Then Kelly and Harris drive out of the storm in a Corvette that looks like it was designed by Mattell (get it? Dolls? Her her!) and you almost see Kelly's ass.
And then there are the morals. The long list that explains little and only serves for further confusion, as is de facto law in BVD.
Plus, none of them speak louder than one of the film's final images...
I think the moral here is, if you're good enough to walk, you're good enough to cross a stream via a mere branch and stop complaining you sissy!
See, this is why I love this movie like a person. It's so sensitive!