Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Following the success of "Valley of the Dolls", 20th Century Fox secured the naming rights to a sequel and hired successful sexploitation pioneer Russ Meyer to direct, who in turn hired Roger Ebert, a young Chicago critic who had defended his work, to write the screenplay. Deciding to go in the different direction of madcap horror and satire, Meyer and Ebert worked at a frenetic pace and completed the screenplay in about six weeks, which tells the story of a female rock band who set out for fame and fortune in L.A. but fall prey to the sex and drug crazed depravity of the time. Following Roger Ebert's passing earlier this month, I decided to finally check out "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", although I did not technically watch the film, opting to play it with Ebert's commentary track instead. This mode of viewing was engaging and informative, as Ebert describes the genesis of the film, speaks to the times and importance of the movie (which he may slightly oversell), and largely speaks of Meyer, who became a lifelong friend. There are many interesting tidbits to be found here which include how Meyer would boarded up windows on the living quarters of his films so the actors would save up their sexual energy for the camera or how a bizarre real life incident with footballer Jim Brown worked its way into the screenplay. Ebert also relays fantastic WWII stories Meyer would tell (including a failed attempt to capture Hitler with General Patton) and recalls how they were later hired to pen an ultimately unfilmed Sex Pistols movie and how Meyer berated a slightly taken aback Johnny Rotten during a meeting. "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is not a film I would typically seek out and probably would have viewed with cynicism. But like many films which he reviewed throughout his illustrious career, Roger has helped provide insight and appreciation I may not have found on my own.