Thursday, June 22, 2006

This Is My Happening, and It Freaks Me Out!

James Wolcott confesses that he has never seen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

It is one of the mysterious lacunae in my film education that I have never seen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the legendary collaboration between critic Roger Ebert and exploitation auteur Russ Meyer, boob men with a mission.


In a tour de force appreciation, Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule pays homage to the film's bravura palette and neo-Eisensteinian editing:

"The transfer rendered for this release by Fox Home Video is superlative—the colors pop off the screen and overwhelm you with their audacity just the way they’re supposed to, courtesy of cinematography by the usually workmanlike and stodgy Fred Koenekamp, fresh off of Patton ( !!! ), with an occasional assist from former wartime photographer Meyer himself. And if you watch any part of the movie, or all of it, with the sound off—either to listen to one of the two commentary tracks included on the main feature, or to watch the French subtitles or English SDH titles—Meyer’s fairly radical editing techniques become more apparent and appreciable. For instance, during the movie’s first big Hollywood party set piece (the one in which Z-Man delightedly exclaims, to no one in particular, 'This is my scene, and it’s freaking me out!'), you might not notice, underneath the mad cacophony of squealing, shouting partygoers, the only slightly exaggerated fashions, and the driving beat of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the razor-sharp, insistent, almost metronomic montage that Meyer uses to carve the scene up into strobe-light flashes of overwhelming experience, mirroring the disorientation that the Carrie Nations are themselves experiencing as they jump into the Hollywood scene for the first time. The whole movie is edited in a similar fashion, and although Meyer necessarily alternates the rhythms for different scenes, no one scene is ever edited in a precisely classical manner—shots never last too long, but they sometimes don’t last as long as we expect they might, and the Panavision frame is always subject to the intrusion of an unexpected flurry of evocative, and sometimes not entirely thematically connected imagery which keeps us laughing, but also serves to keep us slightly on edge. Perversely, however, when the movie takes us up to and over that edge during the bizarre horror-film denouement staged at Z-Man’s isolated estate, Meyer shifts into a much more rhythmically smooth and familiar style of editing, as if to say the sudden assurances of his style are no assurances at all up against the lurid, unmoored and genuinely shocking horrors that lie in wait for the characters, and for us."

From Wolcott's source, the fabulous Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule:

But when the movie was released in the summer of 1970, though it ultimately made back its $900,000 budget ten times, audiences, who might have been expecting a more straightforward follow-up to the creaky, self-serious 1967 original, seemed confused and put off by Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. (Imagine the level of their confusion when the movie started out with a title card that spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that what they were about to see was emphatically not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, but instead an original work connected to the first film in name only.) And though the movie did receive the occasional favorable review, the mainstream press was largely dismissive. In fact, one of the most caustic reviews Beyond the Valley of the Dolls received came from none other than Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, who made a point of roasting the work of the movie’s neophyte screenwriter. In the late ‘70s and mid ‘80s, Siskel would even, on occasion, use the film’s supposed substandard quality as a club with which to bludgeon his colleague’s taste on their televised movie review program.

I have to confess, I really sort of like this movie, though obviously it's Rocky Horror-level bad, just objectively. There's no real point in unpacking what's ridiculous and improbable about it (though beginning with the fact that the lead singer seems to have an English accent though she's repeatedly represented as being from the uber-pure midwest is one place to start....). It's more of a go-with-the-trashy-flow sort of thing. Definitely worth a good night at home with friends. Chemical assistance may be required.

Did I mention that it's rated X? Or that Redd Kross does a great cover of the Carrie Nations' "Look On Up from the Bottom"?

And, just because I can....

h/t to olvlzl.


Eli said...

I really do need to watch this again. It's a kitsch/camp masterpiece.

Have you seen Myra Breckinridge, perchance? It's not quite as in-your-face, but it's very similarly so-luridly-bad-it's-good.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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