“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.

2. “Fight Club” (1999) dir. David Fincher

Number 2 on Dave’s Strange World’s all-time favorite films is director David Fincher’s infamous, hyper-violent, extremely funny, anti-consumerist satire “Fight Club.” Sometimes, the greatest films aren’t made or released … they escape. To this day, I still find it shocking that a major corporation (in this case News Corporation who owns 20th Century Fox … and Fox News) financed and released this big-budget rock to the bloated head of consumerism. Wait, this stars Brad Pitt … so … I guess this means that if the star is big enough (ala Warren Beatty’s “Reds”), major studios will write a check for anything. By the way, no disrespect to Pitt. He’s absolutely perfect in the role of Tyler Durden and the fact that his star power got “Fight Club” made, makes me even more grateful for his presence here.

Anyway, star Ed Norton once referred to this as Generation X’s “The Graduate,” which I thought was ridiculous back in 1999, but the more I’ve grown to love and appreciate “The Graduate” over the years, the more I’ve realized that Norton’s statement is a very astute and accurate observation.

Coincidentally (or not coincidentally), “Fight Club” was released around the same time as Susan Faludi’s terrific book about the plight of modern manhood “Stiffed.” Both “Stiffed” and “Fight Club” have taken on more resonance post 9-11. Arguably, the men in both texts finally got the test of manhood their generation was waiting for and, as they say, “Be careful what you wish for …” However, I don’t think “Fight Club” promotes this attitude at all. It identifies and plays with it, but it rejects the mindless macho BS that many in our society think defines manhood, as much as it rejects the consumerism that replaced the macho BS. I’m not sure what the solution is (and I don’t think the filmmakers know either), but there is something better than beating the snot out of each other or buying objects. What that is, is up to you, your sense of intelligence, and your sense of courage to be yourself.