Beyond the Valley Of The Dolls

Beyond the Valley Of The Dolls

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Made in 1970 with sleaze king Russ Meyer at the helm and a script by Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert), Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls sums up the preceding decade like no other - or at least it gives viewers a heady dose of what the the Sixties were supposed to be about. It's also a deliciously spiteful look at Hollywood celebrity culture. With stunningly lurid visuals, it has high camp and sharp wit, strong performances and a stonking soundtrack. So why is it so little known today?

As anyone who's read Julia Phillipps' work will know, critiquing Hollywood isn't a great way to win friends and influence people or ensure the success of one's work. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Meyer's vivid and unmistakable style was never celebrated outside the counterculture. Of course, in the Sixties everybody liked to think hey were part of the counterculture, but that, too, is subject to challenge in this acerbic and unforgiving tale.

Copy picture

Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Petronella (Marcia McBroom) are three outspoken, ample-breasted women who head out on the road in search of fame and fortune. Driving to Hollywood in their multi-coloured van, they soon sweet-talk their way into celebrity circles, largely by making the acquaintance of the enigmatic Z-Man (John Lazar), who likes their style and re-Christens their band The Carrie Nations (in reference to the hatchet-wielding temperance campaigner). But with fame comes temptation. Pet finds romance only to be seduced by an egomaniac boxer. Casey embarks on a then-scandalous lesbian affair, and Kelly immerses herself in a sex, drugs and rock-n'-roll lifestyle, even seducing her beloved aunt's stuffy financial advisor in a deliberate move to discredit him.

A diverse selection of minor characters complicate the action, illustrating a selection of Hollywood neuroses from aggressive homophobia to obsession with image and a terrible fear of getting old. There are, of course, copious amounts of nudity throughout. Well established romantic imagery, from sex on the beach to running through the countryside in floaty dresses, is counterpointed by gradual social decay and the sense that events are inevitably spiralling toward a violent conclusion.

Despite its preachy moral voice-over at the end, a product of Meyer's sense of humour and perhaps a stab at Fox who wanted the film cut to get a lower rating, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was a fiercely challenging film for its time. Not only was it bold in its queer content and in giving its black female lead as much screen time as her white counterparts, it also broke new ground by pushing the concept of an all-female band who wrote their own songs, and it made sharp satirical comments on a number of Hollywood scandals and leading figures. If you're going to bite the hand that feeds, you might as well swallow the whole thing. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is uncompromising, visionary and enormously enjoyable to watch. Meyer's only regret was that the studio denied him the time to make it more offensive.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2010
Share this with others on...
Beyond the Valley Of The Dolls packshot
Three ambitious young women look for stardom in Hollywood but find sex, drugs and rock'roll instead.
Amazon link

Director: Russ Meyer

Writer: Roger Ebert

Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett, David Gurian, Edy Williams, Erica Gavin, Phyllis Davis, Harrison Page, Duncan McLeod

Year: 1970

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:


Search database:


If you like this, try:

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Viva