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Movie Review: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls

I’d heard before seeing it that Roger Ebert’s 1970 movie Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is “bad.” This is certainly true, but it needs context.

I shouldn’t’ve thought much of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls if I’d watched it on its own, but I didn’t do that. I first watched 1967’s The Valley Of The Dolls. Interestingly, Beyond The Valley starts with a disclaimer distancing it from the original Valley, but I’m pretty sure this was included for legal reasons, since the former is obviously a parody of the latter. The wording of the disclaimer even cleverly maintains a link between the 2 films:

“THE FILM YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE IS NOT A SEQUEL TO ‘VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.’ IT IS WHOLLY ORIGINAL AND BEARS NO RELATIONSHIP TO REAL PERSONS, LIVING OR DEAD. IT DOES, LIKE ‘VALLEY OF THE DOLLS,’ DEAL WITH THE OFT TIMES NIGHTMARE WORLD OF SHOW BUSINESS BUT IN A DIFFERENT TIME AND CONTEXT.”

Whatever you might take away from this disclaimer, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls clearly mocks its namesake. The Valley Of The Dolls is a film about four girls who meet in New York City, where they’ve moved to pursue singing and acting and generally get more excitement out of life than they could in the small towns where they grew up. Of course, as it turns out, life for our budding starlets isn’t as glamorous as they envisioned it being, and insecurity, dysfunctional relationships, substance-abuse, and other bad decisions ensue. This movie is shameless melodrama without any real purpose or message.

In a vacuum, Beyond The Valley is simply terrible. The camera work and editing is often zany to a fault (favored tacks are quick back-and-forth cuts between multiple conversations, perspective changes between which the onscreen characters jarringly reposition themselves, and cuts that so barely change the camera’s angle of perspective they’re pointless). There’s the slimmest pretext of an overarching plot (much like the original Valley; three innocent young girls looking for a slice of life and getting more than they bargained for) but I’d say the movie’s really more like a very loosely connected grab-bag of subplots (almost none of which get resolved in any meaningful way), and even for that definition, many scenes are head-scratchingly pointless. The dialogue is laughably overwrought. Sometimes even the score is confusingly incongruous. It’s certainly funny, but devoid of context it’s funny just for being silly.

But, in the context of the movie (and, by extension, genre of movies) it parodies, it’s very enjoyable and effective. I think if I saw it in the time in which it was made, when the cinematic milieu it attacks was current, I’d have thought of it as brilliant. I think “parodies” might be the wrong word here, too. I mean, it certainly applies, but Beyond The Valley is more like a cinematic argument in response to Valley Of The Dolls and movies of its type. Parodies tend to be self-consciously silly, and I guess Beyond The Valley is in parts, but more often it sort of comes off as though the people who made it were taking it seriously. It’s like they said “let’s take this premise to the furthest extreme we can” as a method of critique.

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Its title notwithstanding, dolls abound in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.

“I guess it’s strangely appropriate” a friend commented, “that Ebert would make a movie that’s basically just a longwinded review of a certain type of movie.” And that’s exactly what this is. It’s like he was saying “when you strip all the pretense away, this is what this genre looks like. All these tragic melodramas are just schlock pretending to be something better.”

So ought you see either of them? I view the relevance of Valley as being purely historical. It showcases a genre of film whose heyday has past, but which briefly held sway at the box-office during that strange time of transition for our pop culture that was the 1960s and early ’70s.

Beyond The Valley also has historical interest, at least for showing what Roger Ebert was up to during his less-refined youth. It’s got more going for it than just that, though. I genuinely enjoyed watching it for reasons beyond the sort of MST3K appreciation I had for the inept and dated Valley. It is, in and of itself, funny. If you’re a fellow b-movie connoisseur you could do worse than to make a double feature of Valley Of The Dolls and Ebert’s retort to it.

I called into the Metocast (staring the internet’s Jim) yesterday, and took the opportunity to shill for the site a bit. Listener Joe Robot writes:

I heard you on Jim’s show and I want to ask WTF is your website about? I write content for a couple of websites and get decent levels of response. I thought I would come see what you were about and could potentially write something if it was inline with my interests.

I don’t know what the fuck your website is even about. It looks like someone took /b/ posts and pasted them into wordpress. You got a lot of attention from Jim’s stream but your website is such a fucking mess it’s not going to go any where. Figure your shit out because right now you have a cluster fuck website with no focus.

Post a mission statement or some shit while you’re still getting people coming in from watching Jim’s archive on Youtube. It’s too late to get the most out of it but it’s better than pissing it all away. You were looking for new writers but give them no idea what you would want them to write. Is it top 10 lists? A review of shitty anime? Some pointless rant about bullshit?

Seems awfully harsh for a Robot. But the answer’s yes to all three. The only requirement for content is quality.