I sit down, shaken. I don’t know where to go, what to write, what I’m doing, what I did. The last near two hours of my life are a blur. I just watched Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a film that dares you to find another like it. It’s so wild that in trying to remember what even happened in the film you feel like being hungover from a drug addled yesterday. All you can say for sure is that you had a good time.
The film follows an all female rock trio and their manager as they move to LA to make it big. The front woman, Kelly, meets her long lost aunt Susan who decides to give Kelly a third of her one-million-dollar inheritance. Susan then invites Kelly and the gang to a party hosted by a Shakespearian speaking producer known as “Z-man.” The band performs one of their songs at the party and Z-man decides on the spot to give them a record deal. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot. What ensues afterwards is a kaleidoscopic journey through the glamour and grime of the pursuit of fame.
Russ Meyer was a true auteur, directing and producing many films over a thirty-year career, all of which exhibit his clear and distinct style. His most well-known work is probably his 1965 film Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! This Friday we will bring this style to the stand. The question of whether Beyond the Valley of the Dolls should be considered trash, or treasure. But that begs the question of what makes a film a piece of trash. If one is following auteur theory, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is definitely a treasure. I personally think that great films are well-made and engaging. Trash films then, are poorly made and boring. A general outline, but that’s what serves my needs right now. You can mix and match as well: Well-made films that are boring and poorly-made films that are engaging both exist.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is definitely a film that borders on the poorly-made yet engaging category, given the amount of “big cleavages.” There are those who would simply dismiss this film as trash just because of the amount of nudity, violence, and various other sins, which is fair, but these people are missing out. Amidst all the chaos flying out of this film, one will find a precious nugget of sincerity. A glimmer of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. The film tries to leave you with a lesson surprisingly, there’s a moral to a film with seemingly no morals. But having a moral does not get a film off the hook.
So where do we go from here? Do we forgive the vulgarity and focus on the fun and the moral? Or do we condemn the film for it’s exploitative nature. When the credits roll this Friday, it’ll be up to you. Ask yourself: What makes a film trash? What makes a film treasure? How does Beyond the Valley of the Dolls fit in? How the fuck did Roger Ebert write this?
We hope to see you this Friday at Social Science 203 at 5:00pm.
By Jake Bews