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20th Century Fox presents
"You're a groovy boy."
DVD Review"This is my 'happening' and it freaks me out!" - Ronnie 'Z-Man' Barzell
With a taste for well-endowed women, Russ Meyer, a former army combat cameraman, would become one of the first photographers for Playboy before beginning his career as an independent filmmaker. In 1959, his second feature, The Immoral Mr. Teas, ushered in a new genre as the first commercial "skin flick," and the 1960s saw many more of the director's works find commercial success, among them the black-and-white Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the first installment in his Vixen trilogy.
By the late 1960s, the major studios were in trouble, and Fox in particular was looking for something fresh to bring in the box office after a string of big-budget failures. Meyer's track record for making serious money off modest investments looked like just what they needed, so he was offered a two-picture deal beginning with what was supposed to have been a sequel to the hit 1967 film, Valley of the Dolls, based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling novel about a trio of young women corrupted by the Hollywood lifestyle.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls would be Meyer's first film for a major studio, but his vision was vastly divergent with that of the studio. He brought in his friend, Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert, to write the screenplay, which would parody the original film as a genre-crossing send up, chock full of intentionally cheesy dialogue, violence, nudity, and music. While there are broad similarities between the two films, Meyer never intended his to be a sequel—a fact stated in the opening at the studio's insistence—but even that did not stop Susann, whose own screenplay had been rejected, from launching a lawsuit over the film that was not resolved until after her death.
Eschewing the stable of Fox contract players, Meyer wanted to cast unknowns that fit his aesthetic, placing two Playboy playmates, Dolly Read (who would go on to marry comedian Dick Martin) and Cynthia Myers (still one of the most popular playmates of all time) as band members Kelly and Casey, along with New York fashion model Marcia McBroom as "Pet." Phyllis Davis, who would go on to a recurring role in Vega$, plays Kelly's Aunt Susan, while Edy Williams would claim the role of the man-eating Ashley St. Ives. John Lazar (credited as John La Zar) makes his big-screen debut as the enigmatic 'Z-Man' Barzell; David Gurian appears as sulking former band manager Harris; and pretty boy Michael Blodgett dons a loin cloth as the fortune-seeking Lance Rocke.
Familiar Meyer faces return in the form of Erica Gavin as the predatory lesbian Roxanne, Charles Napier as Aunt Susan's long lost love, Duncan McLeod as Susan's lecherous attorney, Harrison Page as Emerson, and future Meyer regular Henry Rowland (Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens) as Oto the butler. Meyers even makes a cameo as a TV cameraman, as does Faster, Pussycat! star Haji (in feathers or body paint) and Gordon Westcourt playing a TV announcer.
"Let the ritual begin!" - Z-Man
After a montage of cryptic images that open the film, we meet The Kelly Affair, a three-piece all-girl band playing to a high school audience. Upon learning of a family inheritance, lead singer Kelly packs up the band and heads for L.A. with manager/boyfriend Harris in tow to see her aunt Susan, a fashion editor, who Kelly hopes can help her group make the big time. No sooner have they arrived than they are invited to a party thrown by Ronnie 'Z-Man' Barzell, the prime mover in the music world (whose character was inspired by Phil Spector), who demands an impromptu live performance from the trio, dubbing them The Carrie Nations, and seizing the reins as their musical director.
The girls are a hit, and are soon making their rise to stardom, but as is the case in tinsel town, fame is not without its casualties, the first being the estrangement of manager Harris, who is immediately set upon by the sexually voracious starlet, Ashley St. Ives. Kelly hooks up with the smooth-talking Lance Rocke, gigolo supreme, who wants nothing more than to get a piece of Kelly's inheritance. Pet becomes involved with Emerson, a law student part-timing as a waiter at Z-Man's parties, while Casey shies from the men, hits the pills ("dolls") and booze, and eventually pairs off with Roxanne. Against a backdrop of parties and celebrities things go from bad to worse as the film winds its way to a shocking conclusion foreshadowed in the opening montage, as the fallout from debauchery and decadence take their toll on the young stars.
"In a scene like this you get a contact high!" - Kelly McNamara
Meyer's style is direct, and there is no time wasted building back stories or developing characters: they burst onto the screen in full form. Everything is exaggerated, from the '60s stylings to the over-the-top and graphically brutal finale. The acting is suitably campy, supported by the purposefully cliché-laden script that dishes out line after line of deliciously pseudo-hip dialogue, and the story takes on a soap opera atmosphere as the characters are placed in ever more bizarre and incredible situations. Despite his reputation as an exploitation king, Meyer is often credited as one the most feminist directors in the field, and liked his women dominant and independent, not defined by their men, and here is no exception. The girls each give respectable performances, handling the lip-synced sequences convincingly, but it is the combination of Lazar's outrageously Shakesperian influenced Z-Man, and William's scene stealing Ashley that really stand out.
Although quite at home handling the bulk of the shooting, editing and writing, the big studio budget allowed Meyer a more impressive presentation, including the lens work of cinematographer Fred Koenekamp (Patton), and the director has noted Dolls as his most accomplished work. His trademark rapid-fire editing takes full advantage of the exquisite set design, vivid costuming, and a host of big bosomed ladies, and like many of Meyer's pictures, a narrator adds commentary to the final reel, laying out the moral lessons learned in the picture. The film was shot for an R rating, but was slapped with an X instead, which did not thrill the studio nor the director—Meyer because he would have preferred even more nudity than made his final cut, the studio because of the stigma attached. It was released to mixed reviews but a receptive audience who appreciated its camp value, and became an instant classic with enduring appeal.
"There's nothing like a Rolls—not even a Bentley!" - Ashley St. Ives
For a film that has just about everything, the music is not to be overlooked. Stu Phillips was brought in to handle this aspect, turning in a number of memorable songs including In the Long Run, Look Up at the Bottom, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the decidedly hippy Come With the Gentle People, Sweet Talkin' Candy Man, Find It and Once I Had You. The film also includes a cameo by '60s pop group, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, whose performances include their hit Incense and Peppermints along with A Girl From the City and I'm Comin' Home. The score is peppered with jazz, classical, and even cartoonish elements (including a well-timed refrain of the Fox fanfare), perfectly accentuating the on-screen action.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls will forever be Meyer's masterwork. Everything just works in this film, and while it won't be to everyone's taste, the original promo tag sums things up perfectly: This is not a sequel. There has never been anything like it!
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The transfer here is nothing short of spectacular, doing justice to the film's wonderful cinematography. Crisp and detailed, colors pop off the screen, black levels are solid and there is not a trace of edge enhancement to be found. The restored image is nearly spotless—trying to find defects will be a challenge. The appearance is filmlike, with a fine grain that never looks unnatural.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Two English soundtracks are available, mono and stereo. Both are clean and full, with no technical defiencies. The stereo mix adds a little more width in places. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, while the musical numbers sound great. A French mono track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Roger Ebert / Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, John Lazar and Erica Gavin
Packaging: unknown double keepcase
The first disc contains two audio commentaries over the feature. The first is with screenwriter Roger Ebert, who lends a superb detailing of how the project came into being, adding plenty of background about the studio, the shooting, and about his friend Russ Meyer. This is highly informative and a pleasure to listen to.
The second commentary is a collaborative effort from cast members Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, John Lazar and Erica Gavin. In this group setting, there is plenty of reminiscing going on, from the girls learning to fake playing to Meyer's to-the-point directorial style. There is little dead air and plenty of trivia on the production.
The second disc contains the bulk of the extras. There is a brief introduction by John Lazar, in character, heralding the arrival of "BVD on DVD."
Five featurettes are included, running just over an hour in total. The first, Above, Beneath, and Beyond The Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy (30m:00s) features actors John Lazar, Erica Gavin, Dolly Read Martin, Harrison Page, Cynthia Myers, Michael Blodgett, and Marcia McBroom; Meyer's assistants Stan Berkowitz and Manny Diez; screenwriter Ebert, biographer Jimmy McDonaugh, editor Dann Cahn, cinematographer Fred Koenekamp; critics David Ansen (Newsweek) and critic Michael Musto (The Village Voice) and writer Nathan Rabin of The Onion. This feature gives a comprehensive look at Meyer and the film, from the director's work as both an Army cameraman assigned to Patton during World War II (under the leadership of Ernest Hemmingway no less), to the irony of two outsiders basically resurrecting Fox from the throes of bankruptcy with an X-rated picture. There is a wealth of information to be found here.
Look on Up at the Bottom: The Music of the Dolls (10m:58s) discusses the musical aspect of the film, with Roger Ebert explaining the (then unheard of) all-girl band and the influence The Carrie Nations would have on future girl groups. Music director Stu Phillips joins the discussion explaining how he rehearsed the girls on how to play their instruments, and Read, Myers and McBroom all add their comments on performing as The Carrie Nations. Singer Lynn Carey, who did vocals for the film versions, also appears, as does Paul Marshall of The Strawberry Alarm Clock along with members of Red Cross and The Pansie Division, who note their influence by the soundtrack.
With many of the same participants as the making-of documentary, a variety of subjects are covered in The Best of Beyond (12m:21s), from breasts to deaths to kisses. This is a fun feature which delves into deeper discussion of many of the pivotal scenes.
Sex, Drugs, Music and Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby! (07m:34s) helps put the film into the context of the late 1960s drug culture, culminating with the gruesome death of original Valley of the Dolls star Sharon Tate in 1969.
Myers and Gavin are reunited for a discussion of their sequence in Casey and Roxanne: The Love Scene (4m:19s). Intercut with footage from this scene, the pair reminisce about how it was shot, their feelings before during and after, and how their director handled the shooting.
Z-Man's Far-Out Party Favors: A Collection of Dolls Treats is where you'll find a teaser trailer, two feature trailers and a pair screen tests with actors Michael Blodgett and Cynthia Meyers, and Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom performing the same scene as Lance and Kelly.
Last, but certainly not least, is a collection of six stills galleries comprising well over 300 shots in total. Swingers, Freaks, Sexpots and Studs contains 26 publicity shots of the cast; The Chesty Chartbusters focuses on performance shots of The Carrie Nations including some behind-the-scenes pics of Meyer directing them. Flings That Go Bump in the Night features 145 images from the steamier segments of the film, which also includes more behind-the-scenes shots of the director. It's My Party and I'll Kill If I Want To comprises 66 shots of the final leg of the movie. Forty-two shots from the premiere and a collection of posed photos make up Russ' Relics and Rarities with Dolls and Walls featuring a dozen images from the promotional campaign including one sheets and lobby cards.
The set is housed in a translucent blue keepcase, which is itself boxed. The packaging contains three pages of liner notes along with chapter and credit listings, plus an envelope containing four postcard-sized lobby card reproductions.
All in all, a fantastic set of extras that fans are sure to enjoy.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsVisually stunning, excessive in every regard, drenched in dark humor and expertly executed, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has rightfully earned its place as one of the best films of the 1970s, and a unique creation that could only come from the mind of Russ Meyer. Fox has afforded this camp masterpiece the release it deserves with a gorgeous transfer and a wealth of supplements. For those who can appreciate it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls comes highly recommended.
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