Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
|Beyond the Valley of the Dolls|
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Russ Meyer|
|Produced by||Russ Meyer|
|Screenplay by||Roger Ebert|
|Story by||Russ Meyer
|Music by||Stu Phillips|
|Cinematography||Fred J. Koenekamp|
|Edited by||Dann Cahn|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$40 million|
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a 1970 American satirical musical melodrama film starring Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John LaZar, Michael Blodgett and David Gurian. The cult classic was directed by Russ Meyer and co-written by Meyer and Roger Ebert.
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 (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella "Pet" Danforth (Marcia McBroom)—perform in a rock band, The Kelly Affair, managed by Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), Kelly's boyfriend. The four travel to Los Angeles to find Kelly's estranged aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), 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 (Duncan McLeod) discredits them as "hippies" in an attempt to embezzle her fortune himself. Undeterred, Susan introduces The Kelly Affair to a flamboyant, well-connected rock producer, Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell (John LaZar), 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-style 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 (Michael Blodgett), a high-priced gigolo who has designs on her inheritance. Harris at first fends off the sexually aggressive porn star Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams), 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 (Erica Gavin), who pressures her to have an abortion.
Petronella has a seemingly enchanted romance with law student Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page). 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 (James Iglehart), 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 (Charles Napier).
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 female breasts, meaning he has been a female in drag all this time.[N 1] Z-Man then goes on a murderous rampage: he beheads Lance with a sword, stabs his servant Otto (Henry Rowland) 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 wedding of three couples in a courthouse - Kelly and Harris, Pet and Emerson, and Susan and Baxter - with Porter observing from outside the courthouse window.
- Pam Grier has a bit part as a partygoer. She is credited by her full name.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was originally intended as a straightforward sequel to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls. Jacqueline Susann, author of the novel Valley of the Dolls, had been asked to write a screenplay but declined. Susann herself had come up with the title while she was writing her second novel The Love Machine. 20th Century Fox rejected two screenplay drafts, and the final version, written by director Russ Meyer and novice screenwriter Roger Ebert in six weeks, was not only a spoof of the original film, but, 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." 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.'"
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".
Upon its initial release, the film was given an X rating by the MPAA; in 1990, it was re-classified 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 wouldn't give him the time.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (sometimes referred to as BVD) is the first of two films produced by independent filmmaker Meyer for 20th Century Fox, and one of three movies that film critic Ebert co-wrote with Meyer. It was followed by the 1971 drama The Seven Minutes, although Meyer's original deal was for three films. Ebert said that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls seemed "like a movie that got made by accident when the lunatics took over the asylum."
Because the film was put together so quickly, some plot decisions, such as the character Z-Man being revealed as a transvestite woman, 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.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was made while Fox was being sued by Jacqueline Susann who contended that the film had damaged her reputation as a serious author. The suit did not go to trial until after Susann's death in September 1974. Her estate won a $2 million verdict against the studio in August 1975.
Music and soundtrack
Most of the film's music was written by Stu Phillips, whose composing credits include The Donna Reed Show, The Monkees, McCloud, and the original film and television versions of Battlestar Galactica. Phillips adapted Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice for the psychedelic scene at Z-Man's house near the film's end.
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", the earnest folk anthem "Come With the Gentle People", the raunchy R&B of "Sweet Talking Candyman", the lilting ballad "In the Long Run", and the soulful strut of "Look On Up At the Bottom". (A woman named Carrie Nation was an historic figure from the temperance movement.)
Strawberry Alarm Clock perform their 1967 hit "Incense and Peppermints", the mid-tempo rocker "Girl from the City", and the power pop anthem "I'm Comin' Home" 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 also 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 Amy Rushes' vocals for Lynn Carey's originals; it also 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.
Roger Ebert revealed that many of BVD'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 BVD 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.
Despite an X rating and a modest budget of $900,000, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls grossed ten 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.
According to Variety the film earned $6,800,000 in theatrical rentals in North America by 1976.
Since its release in 1970, BVD 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 BVD 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.
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 BVD on the second disc of the 4-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 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 verbally & repeatedly cited by Brix Smith of The Fall during the end of the song "L.A." from The Fall's 1985 album This Nation's Saving Grace.
- Quotes from the film were sampled on select tracks from Nature's self-titled album.
- Season Three, Episode Four of the Telltale Games series Sam & Max was titled "Beyond the Alley of the Dolls" after the film.
- To quote Roger Ebert: "Readers who have seen BVD will know that Z-Man is a rock Svengali who seems to be a gay man for most of the movie, but is finally revealed to be a woman in drag."
- 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, ed. (2008). The Shifting Definitions of Genre: Essays on Labeling Films, Television Shows and Media. McFarland. p. 100. ISBN 0-786-43430-9.
- Kendrick, James (2009). Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema. SIU Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-809-32888-7.
- Ebert, Roger. "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" on the Roger Ebert's Film Festival website, comments originally written for Film Comment in 1980.
- Haines, Richard W. (2003). The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001. McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 0-7864-1361-1.
- Crouse, Richard (2003). The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen. ECW Press. p. 23. ISBN 1-55022-590-1.
- 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.
- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: The Original Soundtrack. Liner notes from audio CD. Stu Phillips and Alex Patterson. Harkit: HRKCD 8032, 2003
- 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".[dead link]
- DCD Special Edition. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (Media notes) (20th Century Fox). 2007: 2.
- "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
- Best Films of the 1970s
- "100 Best Films - Village Voice". Filmsite.org. 2000-01-04. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
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