BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jun 13th, 2006 •

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20th Century Fox, 1969
109 Minutes / 1:2.35 AR / Rated NC-17

In a recent performance of ‘This Filthy World”, a one-man-show by John Waters, I asked him to talk about Russ Meyer. In response, he mentioned a few of Meyer’s films. Reaching BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, he exclaimed it was “Either the best film ever made, or the worst”. While I’m sure that deep in his heart, Waters knows the former is closer to reality, the idea that a film such as BTVOTD is bad exists only because common film standards predetermine for us that exploitation and camp are of a lesser nature and that loving and learning from such films should always be under a humorous or apologetic guise. Russ Meyer never apologized, and neither should you when you purchase this DVD.

Consider the following concept: A big Hollywood studio commissions an independent, exploitation film director and a first-time screenwriter to make the sequel to one of their big hits, with a free hand to do whatever they want! Unbelievable scenario? Well, in 1969, after a string of big-budget flops, 20th Century Fox was in deep trouble. They were looking anywhere for salvation, which is where they found Russ Meyer.

Meyer has been directing, producing, editing, shooting, co-writing, distributing and promoting his own films since 1959. He was a true independent and a cinematic innovator, but Hollywood only took notice when his 1968 film, VIXEN!, became a huge hit, earning over $6,000,000. Seeing how he could produce great quality (and profit) for a small budget, Fox signed Meyer for a 3-picture deal, starting with a sequel to their 1967 hit VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Meyer brought in young film critic, Roger Ebert, to pen the screenplay. After throwing the idea of a literal sequel out the window, they created a film like no other.

“You’ll meet three girls, young, beautiful, talented, a tight trio that was the heart and soul of a rock group. Life was sweet, man, but not enough. The whole world was out there waiting and the beat inside pushed them to where it’s happening: Hollywood, USA.” – From the trailer.

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is a classic Hollywood soap a la PEYTON PLACE, and it’s a campy sex film and a sharp satire, all at the same time. Influenced by army propaganda films (from his background as an army photographer in WWII), Meyer films from every possible angle and cuts as if he’s shooting a machine gun. Some scenes never even get establishing shots, continuity is of no importance and camera placement need make no sense. What Meyer creates is a giant montage, so full of images, characters and ideas that the film bears endless repeated viewings – there is something new to discover each time. In fact, this is hardly a film — It’s an experience.

It is a wonder that this film ever got made in a studio (look for the 20th Century Fox theme music in the background of an especially violent scene). Although Meyer worked hard to get an R-Rating, the MPAA slapped the film with an X, and while it was a big success at the box-office, a few other surprising hits released by Fox (MASH, PATTON and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) helped bury the shame of their X-Rated film.

Now, after years of waiting, and a failed attempt by Criterion to release it, Fox finally decided to acknowledge this should-be-classic and release a 2-Disc special edition DVD. Re-mastered from a new print, the film looks and sounds better than any of its previous releases.

We start off the first disc with two audio commentaries. The first, by Roger Ebert, was originally recorded for the Criterion disc and is everything an audio commentary should be. Ebert is sharp and entertaining, he offers great anecdotes and serious analysis of some of Meyer’s techniques (including an interesting analogy to Eisenstein). Ebert went on to write Meyer’s BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, and to judge by their collaborations, maybe he should take some time off writing film reviews and pen another screenplay.

The cast commentary, with Dolly Reed, Cynthia Meyers, Harrison Page, Erica Gavin and John LaZar is in desperate need of a moderator as it is unfocused and repeats itself too often. The interesting thing about it is the tension between LaZar and Page, who don’t try to hide their hostility towards each other. When LaZar compliments Page on his acting, the latter responds with a yawn. It’s so brutal; at time it becomes uncomfortable listening to it (For further stories about LaZar [Z-Man], check out David del Valle’s April 2006 Camp David column on FIR’s website). How unfortunate that most of them didn’t follow DOLLS to pursue a prosperous acting career, they are all truly gifted and talented actors. A large part of the success of this film is their honest portrayal of these outrageous characters.

The second disc includes 6 photo galleries with great photographs from the set of the film, and a few screen tests and trailers. Also on disc 2 are 6 featurettes, each focusing on a different aspect of the film. There is a feeling of these just being thrown together but it’s better, much better, than nothing.

Note that this release is probably the only reasonably priced and best looking DVD of a Russ Meyer film available today in the U.S. Until someone is able to salvage the original prints of his films from the controlling parties at the Russ Meyer Company, we may never be able to witness these provocatively influential and innovative films in their full glory.

Try as I might to sum this film up, I find the final words from its theatrical trailer the most appropriate as they are still, 36 years later, relevant “If you have been waiting for something new, waiting for a film to shake you into the freaked-out mind-blowing scene of right now, than come see it, man, and find out why it’s called BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS!”

2-disc set includes audio commentaries by Roger Ebert and cast, trailers, screen tests, photo galleries and 6 featurettes.

Crew: Produced and Directed by Russ Meyer
Written by Roger Ebert
Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp
Editing: Dann Cahn & Dick Wormell
Original Music: Stu Phillips

Cast: Dolly Reed as Kelly McNamara
Cynthia Meyers as Casey Anderson
Marcia McBroom as Petronella Danforth
John LaZar as Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell
Michael Blodgett as Lance Rock
David Gurian as Harris Allsworth
Edy Williams as Ashley St. Ives
Erica Gavin as Roxanne
Harrison Page as Emerson Thorn
Charles Napier as Baxter Wolfe
Duncen McLeod as Porter Hall
Phyllis Davis as Susan Lake

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