Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Was Roger Ebert A Big Boob or Just Into Them?



BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls.  It did make my watching Valley of the Dolls a waste of time.  I imagine that film critic Roger Ebert (who wrote the screenplay) and director Russ Meyer (whom Ebert had a great deal of respect for...I can't figure it out either) must have decided to make a deliberate spoof of all the things they saw wrong with Hollywood films.  So often BVD plays as parody only because no one could possibly take what is on the screen seriously.  It is all so wildly over-acted, over-written, over-done that those behind the camera must have in some way congratulated themselves on how clever they were all being. 

I could go with that up to a point, up until we get to the climatic scene, where the laughter and mocking I could participate in turned to disgust at a shocking level of insensitivity for which Ebert in particular should be held to account for.

As I've stated, BVD is not a sequel or follow-up to the cult classic.  The opening title card says as much.  Instead, what we get is the story of three girls: Kelly McNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom).  They are members of a rock group, The Kelly Affair.  Kelly is romantically involved with the manager, Harris (David Gurian), a generally sweet guy.  The big Hollywood dreams soon sweep them to California, where Kelly has an aunt, Susan (Phyllis Davies), whom she hasn't seen for many years.  As it so happens, Kelly is heir to a family fortune, which Susan's scheming financial advisor Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod) is dead-set against giving money to this mystery girl.

Well, Susan happens to know Ronnie Z-Man Barzell (Johnny LaZar), a music impresario.  Seizing upon the girls, he quickly takes over management and changes their name to The Carrie Nations, where they rise to superstar status.  Of course, this does mean some changes.  Kelly becomes lover to Lance Rocke (Michael Blogett), a himbo wannabe actor and gigolo with only a body and little talent (think Channing Tatum minus the virtual prostitution).  Harris submits to the seduction of Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams), porn star deluxe.  Casey has a one-night tryst with Harris, gets knocked up, then seduced by Roxanne (Erica Gavin), an Edith Head-like designer.  Petra begins a romance with aspiring lawyer Emerson (Harrison Page) but her relationship stumbles with her own one-night stand with boxer Randy (Jim Inglehart). 

The lives of the Carrie Nations become more tangled and twisted.  Harris attempts suicide while they perform live; he survives but is paralyzed.  It all comes to a bloody conclusion, as Z-Man hosts a decadent sex party.  Casey and Roxanne indulge in pleasures of the flesh, and Z-Man is desperate to get Lance to have sex with him.  Even though Lance is hard up (financially) he can't bring himself to do so.  Enraged, Z-Man reveals his greatest secret: he has female breasts (though it is never firmly established whether Z-Man is really a woman in drag or perhaps a hermaphrodite).  Then commences a bloody massacre: Lance is beheaded, Z-Man's Nazi manservant Otto (Henry Rowland) is stabbed repeatedly, both Roxanne and Casey are shot brutally, and Kelly barely survives. 

BVD ends with a voice-over intoning how all these characters went astray, but for some there is still hope for some. 

Roger Ebert was far too smart to see that BVD was anything other than total junk.  As such he and Meyer must have decided to make a total trash of a film to make fun of everything wrong with Hollywood films.  However, this is giving them far too much credit, because for whatever wit they might have been going for is lost in their mutual obsession with flaunting large boobs at us.

Everything in BVD was played so wildly, so broadly, so idiotically, that either the people in front of the camera were clearly in on the joke or were just abysmally bad.  I think that judging by the audiences' reaction no one expected this was any good.  I can only imagine that Ebert and Meyer attempted to make a thoroughly awful film, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls tries to be camp and succeeds in its silliness...up to a point.


I laughed often; when you have a woman screaming "Bentley, BENTLEY!" when she seduces Harris (who looks as eager to get at her as we are to see it).  It all plays like a soap opera and it all looks like a good time until we get to the massacre at the mansion. 

Due to the connection Valley of the Dolls has with Sharon Tate, having a sequence involving mass killing and in a particularly gruesome manner (guns in women's mouths, beheadings) was just tasteless.  Once we got into all this, my enthusiasm for BVD dropped.  I could no longer enjoy the nutty camp nature of it all.  Instead, all I could picture among the laughing audience members was the sight of an eight-month-pregnant Tate, terrified, screaming, pleading for her life to live long enough to give birth...and a group of monsters stabbing her repeatedly in her condition.

Roger Ebert, as much as I respected him, as far as I know never thought that perhaps this was one step too much.  Maybe he was too involved in how clever he was being, with all those boobs flapping about, to really consider that maybe ridiculing in any way the Tate-LaBianca murders was a mistake.  Yes, I could see shades of Sunset Boulevard when Z-Man (or Woman) started killing people, but once they started ratcheting up the bodies I felt physically ill.

I would add that Z-Man telling the Martin Bormann-lookalike Otto "Be sure to turn off the ovens" when the Nazi-clad servant was vulgar.

For myself, I did laugh at a great deal of the nonsense BVD indulged in: the parties that were both decadent and hopelessly square, the wild leaps of logic (the scene when Randy, a Muhammad Ali-type, runs Emerson down is a howler) but once we get to the murders, especially coming so close to when the Tate-LaBianca murders took place, is far too much for me to stomach.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a bad film, and shamelessly proud of it.  It could have been a lark, but Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer went one too far for me to be comfortable with it.  I am reminded of Taxi Driver.  I admire that film's brilliance, but its subject matter and imagery is so repulsive I will never watch it again.  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls likewise is a film I will never watch again, except it was deliberately bad.      

DECISION: F-

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