"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"

"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls takes great pains (including an onscreen disclaimer) to remind you it isn't a sequel to 1967's The Valley of the Dolls.  If we may distill the difference between the two films: Valley, which we recently explored for the 50th anniversary of Jacqueline Susann's novel, is a relatively chaste account of good girls popping pills and doing bad in L.A. 1970's Beyond, which 20th Century Fox envisioned as a low-budget, high-return New Hollywood product, is a satirical freakout of sex, color, rapid editing and gender bending, a gloriously bizarre exploitation movie that never met a bare breast it didn't like. Little wonder Susann insisted on that disclaimer.

'Valley of the Dolls' at 50: Feminism, camp, showbiz and lots and lots of pills

Both are now available as Criterion Blu-rays, a mark of high culture that both films wear with a wry sense of irony.

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Beyond was directed by nudie king Russ Meyer, who tabbed as his screenwriter a young movie critic named Roger Ebert. One can imagine the fun Ebert had writing lines like, "This is my happening, and it freaks me out!," and "You're a groovy boy; I'd like to strap you on sometime." Oh, behave.

On second thought, don't. Beyond was so out there that Fox distanced itself even as it counted the movie's profits. As Glenn Kenny writes in the Beyond liner notes, "That the movie business has never seen such a thing happen before or since says quite a bit about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' proper place in American cinema." In other words, there ain't nothing else like it.

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