Saturday, 23 January 2016

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

"More decadence than you can swing a large pair of breasts at"

What do you get if you cross the film-making skills of breast-obsessed cult auteur Russ Meyer with all the most ludicrous, decadent soap opera elements to be found in the once-popular potboiler novels of Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, and others? Twentieth Century-Fox obviously couldn’t wait to find out because they gave him a load of money and carte blanche to do pretty much what he liked. The result has been given a new Blu-ray release from Arrow and if you’ve ever fancied having your brain fried by some of the most peculiarly demented trash to be seen outside a John Waters film, now’s your chance.

Busty (of course) pop trio The Carrie Nations travel to Los Angeles in search of fame but instead find themselves in the most outlandish soap opera ever. Lead singer Kelly (Bristol-born Dolly Read from Hammer’s KISS OF THE VAMPIRE) betrays her boyfriend and sees him end up paralysed after a failed suicide plunge onto the stage of one of the band’s performances; guitarist Casey (Cynthia Meyers) ends up in a prolonged lesbian scene with fashion designer Roxanne (Meyer regular Erica Gavin) and drummer Petronella (Marcia McBloom) gets herself into all kinds of trouble with a heavyweight boxer. 

Watching from the sidelines (and waiting to jump into the ever-present cesspool that is Hollywood in this film) are porn star Ashley St Ives (Edy Williams, another Meyer regular doing her best sexy Mary Woronov impersonation in this), movie star-cum-gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett from THE VELVET VAMPIRE and Fritz Leiber’s Dead Man episode of NIGHT GALLERY) and most of all, raving mad decadent agent supremo Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar). Or is he actually Superwoman? Don’t ask me. 

Something for the ladies. And some of the guys, too, I don't doubt
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS isn’t really a film about plot elements but about noise, colour, culture, craziness, and above all huge, huge breasts, as anyone familiar with Russ Meyer’s oeuvre might expect. It’s raving mad, it’s over the top, and it’s exhausting. It’s not difficult to see why it bombed at the box office on its initial release as it’s deliciously and deliriously all over the place, such that selling it must have been a nightmare.

But is it art?
Once again Arrow are to be highly commended for coming up with such a decadent package for this supremely decadent film. The transfer itself is spotless and an utter delight. The colours are so bright and so rich at times you want to put on sunglasses. There are so many extras it’s difficult to list them all, but you get two commentary tracks, a David Del Valle interview (always good value) with Meyer & Yvette Vickers, an introduction by John LaZar, a making of documentary, a featurette with composer Stu Phillips, short pieces on 1960s culture, Casey & Roxanne’s love scene, screen tests, photo galleries and more. 

This scene goes on for a bit, in case you need warning
The limited edition also comes with a second disc that features Russ Meyer’s other Hollywood picture THE SEVEN MINUTES which was not available for review. Finally, as well as a reversible sleeve you get a booklet with new writing on the film by Kat Ellinger, plus an interview with Meyer by Anne Billson and a piece by David del Valle. 

Russ Meyer's BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is out now from Arrow Films on Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD

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