Josie Cotton’s B-Movie Guide: “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” (Part 1)

Josie Cotton may have stolen the prom scene in a cult-classic film (1983’s Valley Girl, singing new-wave hit “Johnny, Are You Queer?”), but she never committed such cinematic high-camp crimes as found in vintage b-movies. Each day this week, Cotton surveys one of her favorite films and offers a song from her latest album, Invasion Of The B-Girls. Read our Q&A with Cotton and her memoir about “Johnny, Are You Queer?”

josie-dolls375Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)
In the world of b-movies, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls stands alone. It’s hard to even call it a b-movie (or b-movie musical). It is simply the apex and zenith, and there will never be another movie like it. The film’s premise is deceptively simplistic: part Partridge family, part Manson family, an all-bombshell trio called the Kelly Affair follows its rainbow unicorn dreams to the charred ruins of a cultural and sexual revolution the likes of which the world had never seen. It was the end of the ‘60s, it was Los Angeles, and director/producer Russ Meyer was the high priest ordained to carry out the last rites.

The fact this movie was ever made is nothing short of miraculous. Dolls slipped under the radar of a major movie studio (20th Century Fox), which gave Meyer, sole creator of the sexploitation genre, carte blanche with no supervision. It was described by Roger Ebert (who co-wrote the script) as “when the lunatics took over the asylum.” The ‘60s had passed Fox by, and maybe the studio equated free love with pornography but without big money problems. Still there was no denying that Meyer was a seriously talented young filmmaker, making hard cash with soft porn on low budgets. For whatever reason, Fox decided to throw him a bone and baby, he ran with it. Lucky for us.

Having been called both the worst and best movie ever made, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is simultaneously a melodrama, a skin flick, a violent exploitation movie, a satire of a satire, an exposé on real people, a rock musical unparalleled and a comedy often accused of being a movie that didn’t know it was a comedy. Mercilessly panned by film critics, Meyer was going into such uncharted post-modernist territory that he had to make it up as he went along. Quentin Tarantino, Russ Meyer was doing this 40 years ago without a map and doing it without the artifice of affectation.

Thanks to the bevy of busty babes who could act only seconds at a time, Meyer had to develop a kung-fu-fast editing style. The writing ranges from cheeky Shakespearean prose to drug-addled street slang, which always seems slightly out of synch, as if it were written by squares trying to be “hep.” Nevertheless, the dialogue in the film has become archetypal: “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” was shamelessly lifted by Austin Powers in 1997. “You’re a groovy boy. I’d like to strap you on sometime” was uttered by the incomparable Edie Williams, Russ Meyer’s real-life wife. It remains the best pick-up line ever purred by a bottomless man-eating sex hyena on the make.

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls required a protracted prologue, an epilogue to harelip all epilogues and ongoing narration that, at times, includes the actors describing their own characters in the third person while they are trying to act like they’re acting in the first person to an actor also referring to them in the third person! Crazy shit. To say that Meyer had a demented sense of humor would be the understatement of the century.

“Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” from Josie Cotton’s Invasion Of The B-Girls (download):