Blu-ray review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Starring: Dolly Read, Edy Williams
Director: Russ Meyer

Russ Meyer fans insist that this bright, splashy tale of an all-girl rock band coming to LA and experiencing overnight excess (reprising the themes of Jacqueline Suzanne’s Valley of the Dolls) was always intended to be a parody, but as the script – by the famous film critic Roger Ebert – turns into an assault course of cliches (broken relationships, abortions, attempted suicides on live TV), you can’t help suspecting that some of the biggest laughs are unintentional.

Does it matter? No, because either way it’s an extremely likeable film. For starters, who can resist glutting themselves on the flamboyant, high-gloss ‘Scope cinematography and all those outrageous psychedelic costumes? It also gets points for an inclusive, non-tokenistic attitude to minorities – Petronella, the band’s black drummer, is given a decent story thread, and there’s a great moment when they’re all piling into the van on an urgent life or death mission and everyone gallantly waits so the wheelchair-bound guy can get in too.

Best of all, the bad eggs who lead the girls astray are as engaging a trio as you could hope to spend a lost weekend with – Z-Man, the camp Svengali who ushers them onto stardom; Lance Rocke, the cash-strapped bit part actor who gets a showmance going with the lead singer; and Ashley St Ives, the man-eating porn star who turns the band’s manager into her boy toy.

And the fact that the plotting is shambolic, the dialogue is overcooked and its portrayal of Tinseltown is so ersatz only adds to the film’s kitsch, postmodern appeal. Whether it’s the result of cold calculation or glorious incompetence, the truth is you can’t tear your eyes off it and it’s a film you wouldn’t want to be without. 7/10

TRANSFER Gorgeous transfer. In the opening dance hall sequence, the deep focus crane shot through the bunting is in crisp focus from front to back. Even dimly lit scenes such as the one in the band’s dressing room are exceptionally clear and free of grain. Throughout, colours are lustrous and candy store vibrant, magnificently so in the gel-swamped, peyote-fuelled finale. The audio is also full and rounded. 9/10

EXTRAS Lively 30-min “making of” with contributions from cast and scriptwriter (one of a number of strong featurettes on the Blu-ray dating from the film’s 2006 DVD release). There’s some interesting background info on Meyer’s career and working methods, and we learn that Z-Man was based on Phil Spector (prophetically, as it happens). ~ 10- minute piece on the music – the actresses were dubbed, shock horror. ~ 25-mins of featurettes in BEYOND_THE_VALLEY_OF_THE_DOLLS_2D_BDwhich the cast pick out their favourite lines from the movie,, indulge in starry-eyed reminiscences of the ’60s, and discuss the film’s lesbian sex scene. ~ 28-min interview with Meyer recorded in 1987. The director’s charm and charisma are on full display as he chats about working as a cameraman during WWII and his early years on Playboy. ~ Really nice gallery of behind the scenes stills. ~ Crisp, lucid, info-packed audio commentary from Roger Ebert. ~ Audio com with the film’s stars, who do a good job of speaking around each other. Dolly Read reveals that the reason she looks so crazed in the film is because Meyer kept on shouting at her to stop blinking. 10/10

This release comes with a bonus DVD including:

The Seven Minutes. Meyer’s follow-up to Dolls was this rather more serious-minded outing, based on a novel by Irving Wallace, in which a corrupt establishment attempts to make capital out of an obscenity trial by linking a salacious novel to a sensational rape case. The sort of liberal-leaning subject matter that was bread and butter to a director like Stanley Kramer, It’s actually quite an interesting story, but with its dialogue-heavy court scenes, it doesn’t play to Meyer’s strengths (he presumably took it on as an opportunity to settle old scores). Still, there’s enough flashy editing and visuals to please Meyer’s fans. The transfer is grainy standard def, but perfectly watchable.

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