A lot has been said about Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer. Ebert has been called the most famous film critic this side of Pauline Kael (he certainly is the most informative one since I’ve started becoming a wee critic myself), and Meyer certainly found a niche audience directing and producing films with large-breasted women. So when Fox got the two of them together and had them come up with a script that would be a pseudo-followup to The Valley of the Dolls, one would be interested to see what became of it.
The big misconception about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is that it’s a sequel to the Sharon Tate film before it. It’s actually more of an homage to the first film (as the introductory title cards discuss), and goes in a different direction, rather than extending the current storylines. Pet (Marcia McBroom, Jesus Christ Superstar), Casey (Cynthia Myers, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) and Kelly (Dolly Read, That Tender Touch) comprise a band that comes to Los Angeles looking for stardom. They run into their fair share of unique California characters, including Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page, Lionheart), Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett, Catalina Caper) and perhaps most uniquely, Ronnie Barzell, a.k.a. the Z Man (John La Zar, Over the Wire).
Another misconception (or stereotyping, if you will) about Meyer’s films is that they were just tawdry sexploitation films designed to titillate and very little else. And sure, there are a lot more boobies than your average film, but to see the girls descend into a world of drugs, booze and more than a little bit of sex does make for an interesting trip, and it’s more of a “fallen angels” story than anything else. I don’t know whether or not Ebert had grand ideas that this would be an effective tale of someone’s fall from grace in the big city while their aspirations were simultaneously destroyed, but it sure makes for an interesting tale to say the least.
Wow, an anamorphic treatment to a cult film, go figure. But in all actuality, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation given to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is quite good. The print isn’t completely pristine after all these years which is no big surprise, but there’s a lot of bright colors that are reproduced well without any bleeding and it’s a pleasant experience.
Sadly, the 2 channel Dolby Digital experience is not as much of a surprise and is a noticeable disappointment. Maybe the production values would have something to do with this, but the sound is hollow and almost tinny, the music is empty and the dialogue is muted throughtout most of the film.
Giving credit where credit is due, Fox has loaded Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with two discs of love and attention. The first disc has two commentary tracks, the first with Ebert. Roger is always full of detail and information and this track is no different. He talks about how he worked with Meyer and provides some biographical information as well, along with noting some cast members and what they’re doing now (to the best of his recollection). While there’s still some dead air on the track, he also points out good scenes in the film, always the film critic. He knows just about everything you can think of about the film. The second disc features Page, La Zar, Read, Myers and Erica Gavin, who played Roxanne. It sounds like the track is recorded altogether with all of the participants, which is always a great thing when you have films from years ago where all of the participants can feed off one another’s recollections. They take turns remembering whether certain cast and crew members are still around and what they’re doing, and they all recall things about some of the scenes they were in along with their working relationship with Meyer. They all still get along with each other and the track is very jovial and fun to listen to.
Disc Two kicks off with an introduction by La Zar which is moderately in character as he talks about what to expect on the DVD. The making of look at the film has a lot of interview footage from cast members and Ebert on “the first rock/horror/exploitation/musical”. It starts with a focus on Meyer and an interesting look at the Russ Meyer visual style, which involved a lot of cuts. From there, the piece transitions to the film and the production from script to screen. The cast also comes back to share their thoughts on Meyer and the film and what makes it funny/good/memorable. It’s a nice retrospective on the film. From there, a look at the music in the film follows, which basically means a piece on the Carrie Nations band in the film and the composer Stu Phillips work with the girls. It’s not as long as the half hour retrospective, but it’s still about 20 minutes in length, so thereï¿½s a lot of gold to mine.
“The Best of Beyond” is a 12 minute look at the film’s lasting popularity, and the memorable lines and scenes, and the “signs of the time, baby!” featurette looks at the production of the film and what was going on outside the studio lot. It’s a quick 7 minute look at where things were at that point from social, musical and sexual circles, and the Tate murders are talked about as well. And of course, what everyone is waiting for, a look at the love scene between Casey and Roxanne follows, along with Gavin and Myers recollections of it. After the sapphic memories are shared, some stills galleries, screen test footage and trailers round things out.
Fans of the film finally get a treatment on DVD that they can be proud of. The commentary tracks are informative and entertaining, the separate supplements are good, the only thing holding this DVD back from being a virtual gush-fest is the crappy stereo track. Other than that, it’s an interesting look at a precise moment in time of American pop culture, kitschiness or not.