Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970)

Last week’s trailer challenge was dedicated to dumb, hyper-sexualized X-rated movies. The last was David Cronenberg’s Crash, a trailer I’ve featured before to lukewarm Basement reception, but decided to try again because it’s about people getting their rocks off with car crashes. The second was infamous shitshow Showgirls, which famously sent Joe Eszterhas’s overpaid, over-lauded screenwriting career into a nosedive, and also boasts former Saved by the Bell starlet Elizabeth Berkley screwing a hilariously banged Kyle MacLachlan in the world’s greatest terrible sex scene.

Despite the skeezball promise of both of these movies, I was reasonably confident that the evening’s first trailer, 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, would get picked, and get picked it did:

A depraved send up of Jacqueline Susann’s novel Valley of the Dolls and its subsequent 1967 film adaptation, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is probably best known for its bizarre creative team of titty movie maestro Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) and world class film critic Roger Ebert.

Originally intended as a sequel to 1967 film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls morphed into an oddball pastiche when the studio gave Ebert and Meyer $1 million and free reign to do whatever they wanted. Ebert, who’s still quite proud of his work, says this of the movie: “[Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is] a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations, dialogue, characters and success formulas, [one that’s] heavily overlaid with such shocking violence that some critics didn't know whether the movie ‘knew’ it was a comedy.”

Like the best of satires, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls maintains a poker face even during the wildest scenario, piling on ridiculous soap opera melodrama until all that's left is a frenzy of topless transgender murderers and raving drug addled psychopaths. The film never pauses to wink at the camera or offers any re-assurance to the audience that what they’re seeing is all a big goof. In a weird way, the film feels like a pre-cursor to zanier send-ups like Airplane! or Police Squad!, which both sell dumb jokes with serious delivery.

But Beyond never goes as broad as the Zucker Brothers, relying less on zany humor and more on taboos and an uncomfortable mix of explicit sexuality and bursts of graphic violence. Some may not find a woman getting blasted in the mouth with a handgun all that funny, but in context, what with the endless train of orgies and Nazi house servants, it kills.

See that bad pun I used there? Satire.

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