Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

In the beginning of the movie, there's a scene where a man is going on a killing spree. At one point he discovers a naked woman, and steadily teases her mouth with a gun, eventually getting her to open her mouth enough to put it in. "Aha!" I said. "The gun is traditionally used in film to be a substitute for a penis. This is very cleverly making a point of that."

This is, in effect, the cleverest movie about boobs that I have ever seen.

That's not really a surprised, considering who was behind it. It was directed by Russ Meyer, who has become known for making movies about boobs. It was written by everyone's favorite film critic Roger Ebert, who knows a lot about film, a lot of which shows up on the screen. The movie that resulted is inevitably very clever and has more breasts in it than the National Breast Convention held in Breastville, Tennessee.

Attempting to summarize this movie is an exercise in futility. The plot has so many complications, and so many characters weaving in and out of the storyline that any attempt to even mention it all would lead to a novel length tome. So instead, I'll just mention the very basics, the underlying reasons behind all of the events in the film taking place. Kelly (played with almost unsettling wide-eyed innocence by Dolly Reed) and her band go to California to make it big. They meet a hot shot record producer who is kinda like Phil Spector (in numerous, slightly prophetic ways!) known as Z-Man who always talks in a slightly Shakespearean way. Following this, the shit hits the fan, getting all over everyone's clothes so they have to take them off and show off their boobs.

The beauty of the film is that it doesn't really waste any time with vagueness. People pretty much come out and say all of their motivations, relationships are created and tossed aside rapidly but somewhat sensibly, and the whole thing moves so quickly you don't really have time to worry about how ridiculously jam-packed the narrative is. Of extra special note is the editing, since I love films with really good editing. There are often sequences and montages which manage to tell huge chunks of the story and set the stage remarkably well just by including a few reaction shots and some well chosen insert footage. The editing is snappy and clever, often covering holes and providing much of the story. Also, at one point there is an insert of an ample bosom, just in case you hadn't seen one in a while. That's considerate.

The movie is also bloody hilarious. Everything Z-Man says is pure gold, and the situations are often amusingly absurd and ridiculous. Like the scene which declares it's always better to make love in a Rolls, and not even a Bentley is as good. While I imagine a Rolls is a fantastic place to make love - look at those sexy seats! - it's just such a goofy scene.

Strangely, for a movie where sweater puppies are pretty much the main character, there's a strange moral undercurrent beneath it all. The conduct of the characters over the course of the movie is reflected in their ultimate fate at the end, with the happy ending being shared by the characters who were either basically good or realized early enough how they should treat each other. It's actually fairly old fashioned in its approach, but when combined with the very modern (well, when the film was made, anyway) approach to filmmaking, it helps them go down easier. Imagine if Frank Capra were to direct a movie like this, to take the most old fashioned moral filmmaker I can think of. It would be absolutely unbearable and extremely cheesy (which is why I actually have a fair bit of difficulty sitting through Capra movies). But because Meyer and Ebert were all about the swingin' 60s and clever movies, they make a story which would be cheesy on its own into something interesting and fascinating.

I just can't get over how clever Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is. You can tell everyone involved, well, everyone involved in production (some of the actors were obviously quite dumb), was smart and up on what was happening in the world, and in film. And I've got to admit, it's completely impossible to really do justice to it in a short little review like this. It's almost completely impossible to really get to why it's good because there are so many little parts that are contributing to the massive, heaving whole. And frankly, right now, I can't quite do it. God, I feel like such a boob.


  1. If you see this movie for nothing else, you have to see the ending. Holy crap, best plot-twist/ ending in cinema history (ok maybe not the BEST but it made me want to watch it twice).

    I have seen only one other Russ Meyer film and it's nowhere near as hilarious. The spastic cuts and that old cowboy guy seem to be a consistency in the films though.

    Also of note, the movie features the band Strawberry Alarm Clock (at Z-man's party), who wrote the song I consider the national anthem of the 60's: "Incense And Peppermints".

  2. I was going to bring up the ending, but then I figured maybe people would want to be surprised by it because it's so awesome and ridiculous and amazing.