Today I’d like to give thanks for possibly the greatest movie ever made. No, scratch that; you can’t call Beyond the Valley of the Dolls great, or good; neither can you accurately call it bad or terrible; it is simply…beyond. Bourgeois categories such as good or bad, comedy or drama, legitimate cinema or exploitation, simply do not apply to Russ Meyer’s 1970 masterpiece.
Almost 40 years later, it is difficult to conceive of the circumstances that could have led to the existence of this movie. The story goes something like this: In 1967 20th Century Fox adapted Jacqueline Susann’s showbiz melodrama Valley of the Dolls into a successful movie starring Patty Duke and the soon-to-be-late Sharon Tate. This predictably led to a decision, more financial than artistic, to make a sequel. However, the studio had trouble finding an acceptable screenplay; Susann did not want to write it and two versions by other writers were rejected. Desperate for some kind of new wrinkle, they finally decided to turn the project over to the notorious Russ Meyer, a former Playboy photographer who had made a number of odd but profitable low-budget films filled with big-breasted women.
Meyer hired a young writer named Roger Ebert to work on the screenplay, and together the two concocted a tale of an all-girl rock band trying to make it big in turn-of-the-decade Los Angeles. And here we are entering a dangerous area, because any attempt to describe Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is doomed from the start. It is utterly ridiculous in every way, but executed with such wired, lunatic energy that it motors right over trivial concerns like taste, plausibility, and acting ability. If there is one word I would use to describe this film, it is “saturated”: saturated with color, with energy, with emotion, with sex and drugs and rock and roll. Meyer and Ebert have no fear of making their actors look foolish or of abrupt changes in tone; in fact they seem to revel in these things. If they have an idea, they throw it in there; so we get the aforementioned all-girl rock band, the Carrie Nations, along with a transgendered record producer, a Nazi butler, a porn star, a gigolo, and the heavyweight champion of the world mixed up together in a weird world where anything can happen at any moment. And of course, this being a Russ Meyer film, there are bodacious bosoms everywhere you turn.
But there I go, getting sucked into the trap of trying to describe Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in words. If you’ve already seen it, you know what I’m trying to say; if you haven’t, for the love of God, procure yourself a copy and watch it as soon as possible. It is entirely likely — nay, entirely certain — that you’ll never be the same again.