Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert team up to make this unforgettably weird Hollywood cult classic
If any film deserves to be called a cult classic, it is the kitschy Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. Considered a tasteless mess in its day, the movie has grown to be appreciated for its eclectic cast of characters over the decades.
Given free rein by a major Hollywood studio for the first time, Twentieth-Century Fox, filmmaker Russ Meyer indulged his trademark style in this biting satire of the wild counter culture of L.A. circa the late 1960s. Before he would become known as a famous movie critic, Roger Ebert penned this ode to everything that was wrong with the Hollywood scene in the late Sixties laced with pitch-black humor. If the Sixties had violently thrown up, this over-the-top 1970 parody would be the product. It is a spectacular collision of Meyer’s tawdry tendencies and off-beat performances by the young cast, transforming it into something much more than was intended.
Despite its name, Russ Meyer’s film has absolutely nothing to do with the earlier film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s seminal 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls other than a shared spirit about young women attempting to make it in the world of show business. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls is about a young female Pop group that moves out to L.A. hoping to make the big time. Lead singer Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read) and friends Casey and ‘Pet’ Danforth (Marcia McBroom) form the Carrie Nations, a girl group dabbling in Rock and Pop. Casey is played by the always beautiful Cynthia Myers, a former Playboy Playmate that almost steals the show. The band is managed by Kelly’s boyfriend Harris (David Gurian).
Think of Kelly as a young Dusty Springfield by way of Janis Joplin. Her aunt in L.A. introduces Kelly and her friends to Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John LaZar), a trippy music executive. He’s one of the most distinctive and memorable film characters from this period, a spot-on parody of the exaggerated personalities found in the decadent L.A. scene. Often found speaking in Shakespearean verse and couplets, Ronnie introduces them to the wild lifestyle found in L.A. Marijuana, sex and a lot of hippy philosophy from the counter culture congeal into a chaotic mess at his private parties.
Russ Meyer indulges his every whim and desire in the script with kinetic direction…
Russ Meyer indulges his every whim and desire in the script with kinetic direction…
Ronnie quickly recognizes the Carrie Nations as the next big thing in music and starts making records with them, putting them in L.A.’s fast-lane to ruin. The group of friends quickly get pulled apart by the demands of their new lifestyles, sucked into the enticing world of drugs and wild sex happening all around them. Kelly drifts away from her boyfriend for a handsome gigolo, Lance Rocke. Frustrated by Kelly’s dalliance with Lance, Harris succumbs to the advances of an adult film star, Ashley. Everyone seemingly disappears into their own private worlds, only to cross at Ronnie’s crazy parties. The friends soon learn the downside to their charmed new lives in the empty party scene.
It’s difficult to say if this film deserved the poor response it received upon release, or if the movie was simply too far ahead of audiences in 1970. Russ Meyer indulges his every whim and desire in the script with kinetic direction, including graphic nudity and introducing topics that were practically taboo in 1970, from lesbianism to abortion. Coming only a few short years after Adam West’s campy Batman television show, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has two lesbians cross-dressing as Batman and Robin for the purpose of role-playing. The bisexual Ronnie demands his lovers call him ‘Superwoman’ in bed. The ending is a shocking, wild climax that perfectly encapsulates the madness that is this movie.
Everything about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is over the top, pushed to the limits of good taste. Somehow it works in spite of everything, a sum-greater-than-its-parts cinematic ride that should be seen at least once.
If Beyond The Valley of the Dolls gets one thing definitely right, it’s the music. Featuring an extended musical appearance by the actual Strawberry Alarm Clock and original songs by composer Stu Philips, it’s a dynamic Garage Rock sound that perfectly fits the movie’s atmosphere. The Strawberry Alarm Clock were a psychedelic rock band best known for their 1967 hit single “Incense and Peppermints.” Kelly lip-syncs several different original songs actually sung by singer Lynn Carey, covering everything from Folk to Soul. It’s a delightful nod to the Pop music scene of the time and the music is decent enough to stand on its own merit.
Arrow Video has done it again with some of their finest work yet on this disc. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls looks stunning, better than it ever has before on home video. Arrow Video licensed this movie for release from Twentieth-Century Fox in the UK, locking it to Region B. I’ve seen no indications Fox plans to do anything with this film in Region A. This is simply a magnificent film transfer oozing with perfect saturation and fine detail. Featuring a relatively new scan from the negative, the elements are in immaculate shape.
The 1970 film has wonderful depth in its razor-sharp presentation, some of the most consistent seen for this vintage on Blu-ray. I am shocked no one has tried to license this movie in North America considering the quality of this master. I would wager that Arrow Video did attempt to license it for an American version and were thwarted by Fox themselves.
Filmed with an eye on the Mod Scene and a delightfully rich color palette, the movie beams in 1080P resolution. This newer film transfer shines with a life and vitality rarely seen from 1970 film stock. This is an absolutely essential purchase for Blu-ray owners looking to see brilliant vintage cinematography at its intrinsic best.
Possibly even more perfect than the pristine video quality is this disc’s fantastic audio. The mono PCM soundtrack comes in a rich, dynamic flavor with sweet sound. This is easily one of the best audio mixes and recordings I’ve heard from this era’s cinema.
The fat mid-range and tight bass are practically audiophile in quality. Getting past the groovy tunes, the dialogue is impeccably crisp. For vintage audio, this is reference caliber sound that will please everyone. The Pop and Rock music work extremely well within the movie’s context.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in white within the scope aspect ratio at all times.
Arrow Video ports over the special features from Fox’s 2006 special edition DVD, including commentaries by Roger Ebert and another one by the cast. Ebert’s commentary is worth the price of admission by itself, his eloquent critique and discussion of his own script is a joy to hear.
In a curious move, Arrow includes the DVD version of Meyer’s only other Hollywood production, 1971’s The Seven Minutes. A remarkably restrained courtroom drama atypical of Meyer’s filmography, his normal fans will find it an odd inclusion in this set. His career after it would slow to a crawl after his enormous output in the 1960s.
This is a limited edition set of 3000 units locked to Region B. The special features are compelling in their own right and the featurettes were made with practically every living participant from the film at the time. A decent booklet features new writing on the film by critic Kat Ellinger.
Audio commentary by screenwriter Roger Ebert
Audio commentary by cast members Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Erica Gavin, Harrison Page and John LaZar
2.0 PCM Isolated Score
Introduction to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls by John LaZar (1:27 in SD)
“Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy” documentary (30:03 in SD)
“Look On Up at the Bottom” featurette (11:00 in SD)
“The Best of Beyond” featurette (12:23 in SD)
“Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby!” featurette (7:36 in SD)
“Casey & Roxanne: The Love Scene” featurette (4:21 in SD)
Screen tests for Michael Blodgett, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, Marcia McBroom (7:36 in SD)
Stills Galleries (HD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.