“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (1970) director Russ Meyer, writer Roger Ebert

With the exception of Tom Green’s “Freddy Got Fingered,” this is probably the wildest, weirdest film ever released by 20th Century Fox (or any studio, for that matter).  The studio heads at Fox at the time (Richard Zanuck and David Brown) were so desperate to look hip and make money in the late 1960s, they hired sexploitation legend Russ Meyer to direct a pseudo-sequel to their trashy 1967 blockbuster “Valley of the Dolls.”  Meyer hired film critic Roger Ebert (yes, THAT Roger Ebert), the only mainstream critic who admitted to appreciating Meyer at the time, to write the screenplay.  What resulted was a masterpiece!  A twisted, f–ked-up, surreal, insane, X-rated masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless.  Along with “Midnight Cowboy,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Last Tango in Paris,” “Beyond” was one of the few major studio X-rated films to be a box-office hit (a $50 million box-office hit, when inflation is taken into account).

This is one of those films where it’s hard to say whether it was intentionally campy, whether it was just so terrible that it’s funny, or something on the level of the meta-comedy of an Andy Kaufman or Sacha Baron Cohen.  As Ebert himself said about the tone of this film: “Meyer directed his actors with a poker face, solemnly, discussing the motivations behind each scene. Some of the actors asked me whether their dialogue wasn’t supposed to be humorous, but Meyer discussed it so seriously with them that they hesitated to risk offending him by voicing such a suggestion. The result is that ‘BVD’ has a curious tone all of its own. There have been movies in which the actors played straight knowing they were in satires, and movies which were unintentionally funny because they were so bad or camp. But the tone of ‘BVD’ comes from actors directed at right angles to the material. ‘If the actors perform as if they know they have funny lines, it won’t work,’ Meyer said, and he was right.

The attached clip is a pivotal scene, where the sinister Phil Spector-like music impresario named Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell reveals his true nature to gigolo Lance Rock (gotta love those character names).  Lance is less than sensitive in his remarks to Z-Man and pays the price.  This scene teaches an important lesson: if you’ve been tied up by some maniac wielding a sword, and said maniac decides to disrobe, the smart move is to be complimentary on the maniac’s equipment.  To be fair, though, never having been in that position, I’m only guessing as to what the right move would be.  Apparently, when Ebert revealed to Meyer during the script stage that he was making Z-Man a woman, Meyer took it in stride, saying “You can never have too many women in a picture.”

Needless to say, due to the graphic violence and simulated nudity (you’ll know what I mean when you see the clip), not safe for work or little ones.

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