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DVD Review: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls

One of the things that I’m hoping to do with these reviews for The Fanboy Smackdown, is basically talk about some movies that don’t generally get a lot of conversation about them, some of the more cult-y type of stuff, some foreign way out there things (like movies from Takashi Miike or Peter Greenaway), some horror talk, and films that could be considered of the sort that would’ve been seen in Grindhouse… and not to worry, I’ll be doing reviews of some new movies as well… but for my first DVD review, I decided to go both Cult-y and sort of Grindhouse with the Russ Meyer classic, Beyond The Valley of The Dolls.

“This is my happening and it’s freaking me out!” – Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell

This 2-Disk DVD collection came out last year and let me say right off the bat that this is, so far, one of my very favorite DVD sets released last year… it’s obvious from watching this set that someone at Fox put a whole lot of love into making this set a standout from everything with the presentation of the film to the terrific set of extras that go with it, there’s been a lot of care thrown into this special edition package.

I first saw BVD about 15 years ago and it was my first Russ Meyer film, and at the time, I was a lot dumber about movies than I am now- I remember from my first viewing that movie turned me off especially by the time it got to it’s shock ending, but I just didn’t think it made sense. At the time, I see that I definitely wasn’t as open to as many different types of movie experiences as I am now.

A few years later, I got my next exposure to Russ Meyer with a trio of films in one night: Vixen, Super-Vixens and Beneath The Valley of The Ultra-Vixens and after that- I was a fan of Russ Meyer’s forever more. Those movies, I really got, and sure they’re all loaded with Meyer’s penchant for making movies about dominant huge-breasted women, but there’s so much more there too…I mean as I’m watching these, I can’t help but notice just how good a filmmaker Russ Meyer was, and how much more was put into these stories than just the obvious, and one thought that went through my head was that I couldn’t help but think someone like David Lynch had had to seen a Russ Meyer movie or two in his day (and sure enough I found out later that Lynch was indeed a Meyer fan)..

Throughout that time, I’d only seen little bits and pieces of BVD, never sitting through the whole thing again, so when I sat down with this DVD (for the first viewing- I watched it two more times immediately the next day), I watched it with new eyes and I gotta say, this just entertained me tremendously, and I knew it would…

“Up yours, Ratso!!”– Kelly MacNamara

BVD has nothing to do with the movie adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls other than just in some surface parts of the story and the title. BVD is the story of three young girls, Kelly, Pet and Casey who’ve formed a rock band called The Kelly Affair. The three girls and their manager, Harris, find themselves traveling to Hollywood for Kelly to meet her Aunt Susan and collect a huge sum of money from her from an inheritance. While there, Aunt Susan invites the girls to a party thrown by uber-agent/producer Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell, and the girls are sort of “discovered” on the spot- the Z-Man takes them under his wing and renames the band The Carrie Nations and from there, the girls live the fast life, each encountering something different that attempts to take them all down until the film’s final, almost horror film-like shock ending…

…there is even way more that I’m not telling, but really, I don’t want to blow anything if you’ve not seen BVD before.

BVD was co-written by Meyer and future Chicago Sun-Times uber-critic Roger Ebert, and it was Meyer’s first foray in working with one of the major studios, and as such, it also became the first film from a major studio to receive an X rating, and while Meyer was shooting for a hard R, there was no way at the time that the MPAA was going to give him anything short of an X (although watching it now- it would definitely be an R rated film or at worse, NC-17). Ebert and Meyer were friends in the day and when Meyer was given his shot from Fox, Meyer didn’t want to work with any of the screenwriters from there because they just wouldn’t “get” him, but Ebert did “get” him, so Meyer brought Ebert with him when he started making the movie- and it’s certainly been an experience that to this day he still glows about– and well he should, there had never been anything made like BVD back at the time… this movie truly does deserve a spot in film history…

Meyer and Ebert’s film is pure satire all the way, and now, it’s really easy to see. It’s a commentary on the 60s from two guys who were definitely outside of the Hollywood system and it culminated to a punctuation marked by the Manson family murders… yes, there are things that happen here purely to service what the film needs to have happen and as such, some characters (like Kelly) might seem to turn their attitudes around on a dime, but because this is satire, it really doesn’t matter and in truth there are things in the characters that you could just as easily turn around and say that some of these switches were true to form.

Meyer’s cast is, in my opinion, truly fantastic in this film- The Carrie Nations are played by former Playmates Dolly Read Martin (Kelly) and Cynthia Myers (Casey- good lord was this woman gorgeous) and model Marcia McBroom (Pet). Their manager Harris, was played by an earnest young actor named David Gurian (who I almost thought might’ve actually been the model for the lead puppet in Team America World Police). John LaZar though has the best part in the film as Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell and he truly chews scenery in a grand fashion here, he’s to this movie as Tim Curry is to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The cast is filled out by Michael Blodgett (as Lance Rock- the gigolo who has his own plans for Kelly’s money), Harrison Page (Emerson Thorne- the well-meaning law student who becomes the object of Pet’s desires), the incredible Edy Williams (as porn star Ashley St. Ives- and she’d go on to become Mrs. Russ Meyer after this film), and Erica Gavin (as Roxanne, the designer who leads Casey down a different path- Gavin is best known as the fantastic star of Meyer’s legendary film Vixen). I remember when I first saw this being really struck by Edy Williams at the time- she’s an unusual beauty for the time, but oh man she struck a chord with me. And honestly, Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers deliver one of the hottest scenes in the film near it’s end (something that gave Hollywood something to shoot for in a classy portrayal of a lesbian love scene- the only times this has been equalled in my eyes has been by the Wachowski Brothers with what they did with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound and David Lynch with what he did with Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in Mulholland Dr.)– and there’s even more too, the casting on the film is terrific and everyone gives Russ Meyer their best here.

BVD is beautiful to look at, and no doubt there’s been a lot of care given to cleaning this movie up for it’s DVD presentation. The colors are vibrant and the detail in every scene is just incredibly sharp. The film is presented in a 1:2.35 aspect ratio and it really deserves to be seen as a widescreen movie.

The sound is presented in both Mono and Stereo, with no Dolby enhancement, and yet in stereo, it still sounds great, and the movie does have an excellent soundtrack whether it’s in it’s orchestrated score from Stu Phillips or the songs of The Strawberry Alarm Clock or the music of The Carrie Nations (all the actress lip-syncing of course).

Your first time watching this, yeah it might underwhelm, I could see that happening, but this is truly a movie that delivers more on repeated viewings (much like all of Meyer’s movies) and as such, even after you see it once, I’d almost implore you to give it another shot later on. If you have seen it before, then definitely seek out the DVD, because this package is superior to any other way it’s been presented, and the package has some winning extras…

“You’re a groovy boy- I’d like to strap you on!”– Ashley St. Ives

I said at the start of this that I’ve seen this three times now since Sunday night, well my other two viewings have been with the DVD’s two commentary tracks- one from Roger Ebert and the other from cast members John LaZar, Dolly Read Martin, Cynthia Myers, Erica Gavin, and Harrison Page. Ebert’s commentary is absolutely terrific and frankly I think if he had a second commentary on the disk, he’d probably tell you even more cool stuff. His commentary is definitely a love letter to his pal, Russ Meyer and it’s an education on film as well- hell, this package was worth it just for this commentary alone, but like I said, someone at Fox put a lot of love into this one. The cast commentary is fun- very casual stuff, with lots of laughs from all involved with a bit of a turn of the bitchy side by John LaZar, but still that’s sort of entertaining in itself- and near the film’s ending, the commentary really starts to have fun, in particular with Harrison page lamenting the fact that he wasn’t on the set during Gavin and Myer’s big love scene.

Disk Two has all the other extras on this set and all totaled, there’s about 90 minutes worth of stuff here- starting with a trippy introduction from John LaZar in true Z-Man manner (and man, earlier I mentioned Tim Curry in comparison to LaZar and when you see LaZar today, that comparison I think is right on the money)- the main featurette is a documentary piece on the making of the film, and everybody here has something to say- you’ve got Ebert, you’ve got the girls, you’ve got other long-time Russ Meyer associates, you’ve got critics, you’ve got LaZar, Page and Blodgett… the only thing that you don’t get, and I am very curious why is Edy Williams. Now please if someone knows different please correct me, but I do believe she’s still alive, and being a former Mrs. Russ Meyer, she could’ve had a ton of stuff to contribute to this package and yet her absence is to me anyway, notable. The other featurettes are all shorter, but all very cool including one about five minutes long with both Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers together talking about their famous love scene 36 years after the fact and while both women have definitely aged, you can certainly tell this was really special to both of them.

You’ve also got trailers here, including one of the original trailers that featured a lot of behind the scenes stuff in prepping for publicity for the film and that’s very cool to see, and there’s also screen tests scenes as well (I haven’t watched those yet though).

In the end, this, even with Edy Williams’ absence is still one hell of a package, and honestly, I’d recommend this movie to everyone to see at least once in their lives anyway- let’s put it this way, if you’ve ever watched any of Mike Myers Austin Powers movies and you’ve liked what you’ve seen, then you owe it to yourself to see the movies that inspired that, and at the top of that list is Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley of The Dolls.

Highly, highly recommended- easily one of the best DVD packages I saw last year…

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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