Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a 1970 American satirical musical melodrama film starring Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, Phyllis Davis, John LaZar, Michael Blodgett, and David Gurian. The film was directed by Russ Meyer and co-written by Meyer and Roger Ebert.
|Beyond the Valley of the Dolls|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Russ Meyer|
|Produced by||Russ Meyer|
|Screenplay by||Roger Ebert|
|Story by||Roger Ebert|
|Music by||Stu Phillips|
William Loose (additional music)
|Cinematography||Fred J. Koenekamp|
|Edited by||Dann Cahn|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$40 million|
Originally intended as a sequel to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls—"dolls" being a slang term for depressant pills or "downers"—Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was instead revised as a parody of the commercially successful but critically reviled original.
Three young women—Kelly MacNamara, Casey Anderson, and Petronella "Pet" Danforth—perform in a rock band, The Kelly Affair, managed by Harris Allsworth, Kelly's boyfriend. The four travel to Los Angeles to find Kelly's estranged aunt, Susan Lake, heiress to a family fortune.
Susan welcomes Kelly and her friends, even promising a third of her inheritance to her niece, but Susan's sleazy financial advisor, Porter Hall, discredits them as "hippies" in an attempt to embezzle her fortune. Undeterred, Susan introduces The Kelly Affair to a flamboyant, well-connected rock producer, Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell, who coaxes them into an impromptu performance at one of his outrageous parties (after a set by real-life band Strawberry Alarm Clock). The band is so well-received that Z-Man becomes their svengali manager, changing their name to The Carrie Nations and starting a long-simmering feud with Harris.
Kelly drifts away from Harris and takes up with Lance Rocke, a high-priced gigolo, who has designs on her inheritance. At first, Harris fends off the sexually aggressive porn star Ashley St. Ives, but after losing Kelly, he allows Ashley to seduce him. Ashley soon tires of his conventional nature and inability to perform sexually due to increasing drug and alcohol intake. Harris descends further into heavy drug and alcohol use, leading to a fistfight with Lance and a drug-addled one-night stand with Casey which results in pregnancy. Kelly ends her affair with Lance after he severely beats Harris. Casey, distraught at getting pregnant and wary of men's foibles, has a lesbian affair with clothes designer Roxanne, who pressures her to have an abortion.
Petronella has a seemingly enchanted romance with law student Emerson Thorne. After a meet cute at Z-Man's party, they are shown running slow-motion through golden fields and frolicking in a haystack. Their fairy-tale romance frays when Pet sleeps with Randy Black, a violent prize fighter who beats up Emerson and tries to run him down with a car.
Susan Lake is reunited with her former fiancé Baxter Wolfe. The Carrie Nations release records and continue to perform successfully, despite constant touring and drug use. Upset at being pushed to the sidelines, Harris attempts suicide by leaping from the rafters of a sound stage during a television appearance by the band. Harris survives the fall, but becomes paraplegic from his injuries.
Kelly devotes herself to caring for Harris. Emerson forgives Petronella for her infidelity. Casey and Roxanne have a steamy, intimate romance, but this idyllic existence ends when Z-Man invites Casey, Roxanne, and Lance to a psychedelic-fueled party at his house. After Z-Man tries to seduce Lance, who spurns him, he reveals that he has breasts, meaning he has been a female in drag all this time. Z-Man then goes on a murderous rampage: he beheads Lance with a sword, stabs his servant Otto to death, and shoots Roxanne and Casey, killing them.
Responding to a desperate phone call Casey made shortly before her death, Kelly, Harris, Pet, and Emerson arrive at Z-Man's house and try to subdue him. Petronella is wounded in the melee, which ends in Z-Man's death. Harris is able to move his feet, the start of his recovery from paralysis.
An epilogue follows, with a preachy, satirical, voice-over monologue and scenes of Kelly and Harris (now in crutches) hiking on a log over a creek, and a final scene with the courthouse wedding of three couples—Kelly and Harris, Pet and Emerson, and Susan and Baxter—with Porter observing from outside the courthouse window.
Jacqueline Susann, author of the novel Valley of the Dolls, had come up with the title while she was writing her second novel The Love Machine. She wrote a treatment and in June 1968 it was reported Fox wanted Dorothy Kingsley to write a screenplay but she was busy on Bracken's World. In November, it was reported that Barbara Parkins would return in the film, but Patty Duke and Sharon Tate would not.
In August 1969 Fox announced that the film would no longer be made by Irving Mansfield. Instead they had hired Russ Meyer, whose recent movie Vixen had been a massive commercial success. Holloway's script was discarded and the film critic Roger Ebert took a five week leave of absence to write a script. Parkins was no longer attached to the film.
Meyer said Richard Zanuck, head of Fox, gave him a weekend to come up with an idea of how it could be done "stressing budget strongly in line with the whole ideas of making movies more cheaply" and encouraging him to "make an R film smashing against an X rating."
Meyer wanted to use his own writer, the critic Roger Ebert.
Meyer says he and Ebert wrote a 127 page treatment in 10 days and the script in three weeks. Neither of them had read the novel but they watched the 1967 film and used the same formula: Three young girls come to Hollywood, find fame and fortune, are threatened by sex, violence, and drugs, and either do or do not win redemption," according to Ebert. He later added "We would include some of the sensational elements of the original story- homosexuality, crippling diseases, characters based on "real" people, events out of recent headlines- but, again, with flat-out exaggeration."
The script was not only a spoof of the original film, but also, in Ebert's words, "a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations, dialogue, characters, and success formulas, heavily overlaid with such shocking violence that some critics didn't know whether the movie 'knew' it was a comedy".
Ebert said the plot was derived in collaboration "by creating characters and then working out situations to cover the range of exploitable content we wanted in the film. Meyer wanted the film to appeal, in some way, to almost anyone who was under thirty and went to the movies. There had to be music, mod clothes, black characters, violence, romantic love, soap opera situations, behind-the-scenes intrigue, fantastic sets, lesbians, orgies, drugs and (eventually) an ending that tied everything together."
Meyer's intention was for the film to "simultaneously be a satire, a serious melodrama, a rock musical, a comedy, a violent exploitation picture, a skin flick, and a moralistic expose (so soon after the Sharon Tate murders) of what the opening crawl called 'the oft-times nightmarish world of Show Business'".
Ebert later recalled:
At the time we were working on BVD I didn't really understand how unusual the project was. But in hindsight I can recognize that the conditions of its making were almost miraculous. An independent X-rated filmmaker and an inexperienced screenwriter were brought into a major studio and given carte blanche to turn out a satire of one of the studio's own hits. And BVD was made at a time when the studio's own fortunes were so low that the movie was seen almost fatalistically, as a gamble that none of the more respectable studio executives really wanted to think about, so that there was a minimum of supervision (or even congnizance) from the Front Office.
Roger Ebert revealed that many of the film's themes and characters were based upon real people and events, but because neither Ebert nor Russ Meyer actually met these people, their characterizations were based on pure speculation.
- Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell – The fictional eccentric rock producer turned Carrie Nations manager was loosely based on real-life producer Phil Spector. More than three decades later, Spector was convicted of murder after the body of Lana Clarkson was found at his mansion, which is somewhat reminiscent of the events of the film's climax.
- Randy Black – The heavyweight champ character was loosely based on the real World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali.
- The climactic, violent ending, which was not in the original script, was inspired by the real-life Tate-LaBianca murders perpetrated by the Manson family. The film began production on December 2, 1969, shortly after the murders, which were covered heavily by the media. Valley of the Dolls star Sharon Tate was among the murder victims, as was Jay Sebring. Vocalist Lynn Carey, who was dating Sebring and had been invited to join him the night of the Tate-LaBianca murders, refused his invitation, according to her comments on the DVD extras.
- Porter Hall – This scheming lawyer shares the name of a character actor who often played movie villains.
- Susan Lake and Baxter Wolfe were, in an original draft script, Anne Welles and Lyon Burke from Valley of the Dolls. Their back-story stated in BVD ("He proposed to her but it was the wrong time", "It's been three years ..."), matches the ending of the original. Following Jacqueline Susann's legal-action proceedings against 20th Century Fox, the characters were renamed and recast. Barbara Parkins, who played Anne, was originally under contract to appear in BVD and was disappointed when she was abruptly removed from the project. The special edition DVD features a screen test with Michael Blodgett and Cynthia Myers enacting the bedroom scene between Lance and Kelly. Obviously based on an early script, the dialogue has them make reference to Anne Welles, not Susan Lake, as Kelly's Aunt.
Cynthia Myers was a playboy playmate hired to play one of the girls who realizes she's a lesbian. "It's a loving and tender thing," Myers said of the film's depiction of her sexuality. "It's not The Killing of Sister George."
Pam Grier made her film debut as an extra in a party scene.
"It was the first time I've made a movie with more than a five man crew," said Meyer.
Ebert says Meyer "directed his actors with a poker face, solemnly discussing the motivations behind each scene. Some of the actors asked me whether their dialogue wasn't supposed to be humorous, but Meyer discussed it so seriously with them that they hesitated to risk offending him by voicing such a suggestion. The result is that BVD has a curious tone all of its own... from actors directed at right angles to the material."
Because the film was put together so quickly, some plot decisions, such as the character Z-Man being revealed as a woman in drag, were made on the spot, without the chance to bring previous already-shot scenes into alignment with the new development. As they were shooting, the cast was uncertain whether the dialogue was intended to be comic or not, which would alter their approach to acting it. Because Meyer always discussed their roles and the film so seriously, they did not want to unintentionally insult him by asking, so they broached the question to Ebert, instead. Meyer's intention was to have the actors perform the material in a straightforward manner, saying "If the actors perform as if they know they have funny lines, it won't work." Ebert described the resulting tone as "curious".
In 1980, Ebert looked back on the film and said of it:
I think of it as an essay on our generic expectations. It's an anthology of stock situations, characters, dialogue, clichés and stereotypes, set to music and manipulated to work as exposition and satire at the same time; it's cause and effect, a wind-up machine to generate emotions, pure movie without message.
Upon its initial release, the film was given an X rating by the MPAA; in 1990, it was reclassified as NC-17. Meyer's response to the original X rating was to attempt to re-edit the film to insert more nudity and sex, but Fox wanted to get the movie released quickly and would not give him the time.
Music and soundtrack
Members of the fictitious Carrie Nations neither sing nor play their own instruments in the film. Vocals for the lip-synced songs were performed by Lynn Carey, a blue-eyed soul singer based in Los Angeles. Carey's voice is showcased on the apocalyptic rocker "Find It" (by Stu Phillips and Carey), the earnest folk anthem "Come With the Gentle People" (by Stu Phillips and Bob Stone), the raunchy R&B of "Sweet Talking Candyman" (by Phillips and Stone), the lilting ballad "In the Long Run" (by Phillips and Stone), and the soulful strut of "Look On Up At the Bottom" (also by Phillips and Stone). She also sings "Once I had Love", written by Stu Phillips and herself.
Strawberry Alarm Clock performed their 1967 hit "Incense and Peppermints", the mid-tempo rocker "Girl from the City" (written by Paul Marshall), and the power pop anthem "I'm Comin' Home" (also by Marshall) during the first party scene at Z-Man's house. The film's title song was performed by A&M artists The Sandpipers and is heard twice near the end of the movie. The group released the song as a single and on their 1970 Come Saturday Morning LP.
Different versions of the soundtrack album exist because of disputes over royalties. The original vinyl soundtrack, reissued in the early 2000s, substitutes Ami Rushes' vocals for Lynn Carey's originals, and includes one song, "Once I Had Love", not on the 2003 CD reissue. However, the CD edition of the soundtrack contains 25 songs compared to the 12 songs on the vinyl version. "Incense and Peppermints", some incidental music, and the Strawberry Alarm Clock's Hammond organ instrumental "Toy Boy" are missing from all soundtrack releases.
Despite an X rating and a modest budget of $900,000, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls grossed 10 times that amount in the U.S. market, qualifying it as a hit for Fox. It has since grossed more than $40 million from theatrical revivals and video sales, according to Roger Ebert.
Critical reception and legacy
Upon release, Ebert's future TV co-host Gene Siskel gave the film zero stars out of four, writing in the Chicago Tribune that the film "unfolds with all of the humor and excitement of a padded bra ... Boredom aplenty is provided by a screenplay which for some reason has been turned over to a screenwriting neophyte." He later put it on his list of the 20 worst films of the year.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "comes off with a slightly higher rating" than the original Valley of the Dolls book and movie, but thought that by "quite consciously attempting to parody his earlier movies" Meyer had "become patronizing."
Variety wrote that it was "not much of a film. Producer-director Russ Meyer, who once made low-budget sex pix which had a crude and innocuous charm but not much of a story, this time around spent between 20 and 30 times the money he used to have, and got less for it."
Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times panned the film as a "a treat for the emotionally retarded, sexually inadequate and dimwitted. It is a grievously sick melange of hypermammalian girls, obvious double-entendres and sadistic violence."
Gary Arnold of The Washington Post declared it "a mess, a disaster, a stinkeroo, the most wretched of wretched movies," adding, "Disregard anything you hear in the so-bad-it's-good or it's-all-a-put-on veins. It's a depressing picture — witless, hysterical, gratuitous, technically inept, needlessly brutal." Mike Wallington of The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "corny, moralising, guileless, and visually about as appealing as a Christmas wrapper. It is also perversely enjoyable if one is prepared to laugh at it as well as with it."
Since its release in 1970, the film has acquired a cult following and has even been included in various "best of" lists by movie critics. In 2000, Canadian magazine Take One included it in their "Best Films of the 1970s" critics poll. In 2001, the Village Voice named the film #87 on its list of the 100 Greatest Films of the Century.
Lawsuit from Jacqueline Susann
Jacqueline Susan, author of the unconnected book Valley Of The Dolls, later sued Fox for $10 million for damaging her reputation by making the film, saying it was "sex exploitation film, employs total nudity and is scandalous of content."
As a result, the studio placed a disclaimer at the beginning of the film informing the audience that the two films were not intended to be connected. Posters for the movie read, "This is not a sequel—there has never been anything like it".
The production of the film, along with Myra Breckinridge, helped lead to the ousting of Richard Zanuck from Fox.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was released as a two-disc, special-edition DVD set on June 13, 2006, which is now out of print.
However, 20th Century Fox re-released it on the second disc of the four-disc variety feature pack, Studio Classics: Set 9, which also includes All About Eve, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, and Valley of the Dolls, on May 4, 2010.
In the UK, Arrow Video released the film on Blu-ray on January 18, 2016, in a special edition with The Seven Minutes.
In the US, The Criterion Collection released the film on DVD and Blu-ray on September 27, 2016 along with Valley of the Dolls.
Despite YouTube's policy of not carrying NC-17 movies, the film is available to rent and purchase on YouTube, although the rating isn't mentioned.
In popular culture
- A monologue from the film is quoted at the beginning of Sublime's cover of the song "Smoke Two Joints".
- Elements of the soundtrack were used on the track "Valley of the Dolls"' by Scottish electronic musician Mylo.
- The lyrics to the song "The Kelly Affair" by alternative rock band Be Your Own Pet are based on the events of the movie.
- "Look On Up At The Bottom" was covered by Redd Kross on their first full-length album, Born Innocent.
- Z-Man's quote, "This is my happening, and it freaks me out!", is repeatedly cited by Brix Smith of The Fall during the end of the song "L.A." from the 1985 album This Nation's Saving Grace. It is also said by Mike Myers as Austin Powers when he enters the nightclub at the start of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
- Quotes from the film were sampled on select tracks from Nature's self-titled album, including "Z-Man's Party."
- Season Three, Episode Four of the Telltale Games series Sam & Max was titled "Beyond the Alley of the Dolls" after the film.
- Pre-programmed names in the high score table of the computer game Wetrix are characters from the film, such as Z-Man and a misspelled "Lance Rock".
- The title of The Residents' groundbreaking 1976 satirical sound collage of The Beatles is "Beyond the Valley of A Day in the Life."
- A British girl group, The Pipettes, filmed a shot-for-shot remake of the party at Z-Man's house for the 2006 music video of their song, Pull Shapes.
- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at the American Film Institute Catalog
- King of the Funny Skin Flicks by Roger Ebert. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p256
- Geraghty, Lincoln; Jancovich, Mark, eds. (2008). The Shifting Definitions of Genre: Essays on Labeling Films, Television Shows and Media. McFarland. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-786-43430-5.
- Kendrick, James (2009). Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema. SIU Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-809-32888-8.
- "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
- Ebert, Roger. "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" Archived 2010-09-26 at the Wayback Machine on the Roger Ebert's Film Festival website, comments originally written for Film Comment in 1980.
- Channing 'Frizzy' in Next Opus Chicago Tribune 24 June 1968: b10.
- Smog Gets the Blame Again NORMA LEE BROWNING. Chicago Tribune 20 Nov 1968: b1.
- 20 FILMS SCHEDULED FOR SHOOTING AT FOX Los Angeles Times 23 June 1969: c18.
- Some New Faces in Crowd at Warner's Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times 20 Aug 1969: e17.
- MOVE CALL SHEET: Director for 'Dolls' Sequel Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 26 Aug 1969: d17.
- King of the Nudies on Biggest Film Caper Yet Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 30 Nov 1969: s18.
- Russ Meyer: Ten Years After the 'Beyond' Ebert, Roger. Film Comment; New York Vol. 16, Iss. 4, (Jul/Aug 1980): 43-48,80.
- RUSS MEYER: King of the Nudies Ebert, Roger. Film Comment; New York Vol. 9, Iss. 1, (Jan/Feb 1973): 35-46.
- Character Actor to Star Los Angeles Times 13 Sep 1969: a9.
- Ebert, Roger (2003). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2004. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 820. ISBN 0-7407-3834-8.
- McDonough, Jimmy (2006). Big Bosoms & Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film. Vintage. p. 258. ISBN 0-09-946464-0.
- McDonough 2006 pp.257, 262
- McDonough 2006 p.271
- "Mondo Culto: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls". Archived from the original on December 7, 2008.
- DCD Special Edition. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (Media notes). 20th Century Fox. 2007. p. 2.
- Oh, Those Beautiful Dolls! By ALJEAN HARMETZHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times 21 Dec 1969: D17.
- Cynthia's Fate: Poster A Commentary By Nicholas von Hoffman. The Washington Post, Times Herald 06 Nov 1969: D1.
- PAM GRIER IS SHEDDING HER REDUNDANT IMAGE Hunt, Dennis. Los Angeles Times 12 Mar 1981: h1.
- Dirty Movies Are His Bag: Poster The King of the Dirty Movies Gets Respectability A Commentary By Nicholas von Hoffman. The Washington Post, Times Herald 5 Nov 1969: C1.
- Crouse, Richard (2003). The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen. ECW Press. p. 23. ISBN 1-55022-590-1.
- Ebert, Roger. "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Movie Review (1980) | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
- Haines, Richard W. (2003). The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001. McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 0-7864-1361-1.
- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: The Original Soundtrack. Liner notes from audio CD. Stu Phillips and Alex Patterson. Harkit: HRKCD 8032, 2003
- "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
- Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 329.
- Siskel, Gene (July 14, 1970). "Beyond the Valley". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 3.
- Siskel, Gene (January 10, 1971). "And Now—the 20 Worst Films of 1970". Chicago Tribune. Section 5, p. 1.
- Canby, Vincent (June 27, 1970). "Screen: 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls'". The New York Times: 19.
- "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls". Variety: 20. June 24, 1970.
- Champlin, Charles (June 18, 1970). "Sexploiteer Hitchhikes on 'Dolls' Title". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
- Arnold, Gary (July 11, 1970). "'Beyond Dolls' Beyond Worst". The Washington Post: C1.
- Wallington, Mike (March 1971). "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (446): 45.
- Best Films of the 1970s Archived May 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- "100 Best Films - Village Voice". Filmsite.org. 2000-01-04. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Susann Suing. The Washington Post, Times Herald 28 Apr 1970: B16.
- Frasier, David K. (1997). Russ Meyer--The Life and Films: A Biography and a Comprehensive, Illustrated and Annotated Filmography and Bibliography. McFarland. p. 132. ISBN 0-786-48063-7.
- Dissidents Plan Proxy Battle for Fox Control: Lawyer, N.Y. Broker Vow to Alter 'Flight to Financial Ruin' Dissidents Plan Fight for Fox Wood, Robert E. Los Angeles Times 10 Mar 1971: c7.
- Criterion Announces September Titles Blu-ray.com 16 June 2016
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- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: “My Happening” an essay by Glenn Kenny at the Criterion Collection