Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

“This is my happening and it freaks me out.”

So exclaims pop music svengali Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell to boggle-eyed ingenue protege Kelly McNamara as he shows her round his swinging LA party. It could also be exploitation auteur Russ Meyer’s scream of delight at finally being handed a Hollywood budget to gleefully indulge his ribald fantasies to the max for this camp masterpiece.

There are many independent film-makers who take the studio ‘golden ticket’ but effectively self-neuter their distinctive voice to join the ranks of production line blandness for an easy paycheque. Not so Russ, who took the opportunity to gleefully unleash his very personal brand of fetishistic sex, violence and bad taste comedy onto a mainstream audience in a movie as original, experimental and outright hilarious as anything in his ouevre.

Right from the off we’re in an upside down world, opening credits rolling over climactic scenes of a scantily clad maiden being chased around a darkened mansion. The sequence ends with the shock jump cut from a gun being shoved into a horrified female mouth to a pop singer caterwauling her lungs out as the trigger is pulled.

Wow.

Welcome to The Kelly Affair – an all-babe trio of Kelly, Casey and Pet – who decide to travel across country to LA with simpering pretty-boy manager Harris to visit Kelly’s rich aunt Susan and make it in the big city. The awesome logic of this Damascus moment is conveyed through a classic fast-cut Meyer montage that dazzles with speed, humour and crass titilation. 

It may be obvious stuff – orgy shots are intercut with oil derricks pumping and beer bottles overflowing; our first look at Aunt Susan sees her running in slow motion, breasts bouncing and arms outstretched, clad only in a see-through negligee – but defines the sheer energy and joyfully relentless shock value the movie celebrates.

Peace.

Once the pre-Scooby gang hits town an invite to pop ubermeister Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell’s shindig at his mansion beckons, thrusting our innocent protagonists and wide-eyed audience into the world of Hollywood hedonism Meyer-style a.k.a. Best Party in the WorldTM. With the Strawberry Alarm Clock providing banging tunes, naked hippies flaunting their wares and an assorted collection of ageing freaks spouting the kind of cliched hippie-speak only squares or satirists could dream up we’re introduced to all the main characters, intersecting plotlines and how they’ll play out neatly signposted and packaged together in one momentous scene.

Groovy.

The frenzied storytelling economy of the party never lets up; at least a season’s worth of soap opera shenanigans are crammed into the next hour. The well-worn fable of innocence corrupted by big city sins of money, fame, sex, drugs, sex and more sex are given fresh life through sheer verve and helter skelter pace.

So, Z-Man wrests influence of our girl band from Harris, renaming them The Carrie Nations with his Midas touch; Kelly is pounced on by gold-digging gigolo Lance Rock; Pet falls for aspiring lawyer Emerson Thorne; Pet cheats on Emerson with champion boxer Randy Black, a man so big he can’t wear a shirt; Casey falls prey to sapphic temptress Roxanne after aborting Harris’ baby that resulted from a drunken rapey tryst; Kelly demands more inheritance money from Susan before seeing the light after Harris’ suicide attempt renders him a paraplegic…

Heavy.

What do you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s