Category Archives: Film Reviews
Well. Firstly…spoiler alerts, so if that’s gonna be a problem, take a U-turn.
Now. Before I delve into the campy schlockfest that is Roger Ebert’s, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, let me just say that if you’re looking for a film that has everything…really, everything you can think of (girl groups, musical numbers, murderous transsexuals, nymphomaniac porn stars, girl-on-girl action, boy-on-boy action, sex scenes, drug usage, legal battles, assault and battery, infidelity, paraplegics, attempted vehicular manslaughter, superheroes, occult references, gory violence, T&A, A&T, and a host of other acronyms)…then this is it. About the only thing you won’t find is any reference to the original Valley Of The Dolls, as some legal issues arose and forced the directors to change the character of Anne Welles (the original’s protagonist) to Susan Lake who assumed the position of main character, Kelly,’s aunt, thus obliterating any potential link to Jacqueline Susann’s story.
Now that you know THIS IS NOT A SEQUEL, prepare to be taken on a journey that will leave you reeking of cheap, sexually-transmitted aftershave and “marijuana cigarettes.”
The barest of plots centers around Kelly Mac Namara, a plucky stoner who enjoys singing with her rock band, the “Kelly Affair,” which consists of her two friends, sassy Petronella “Pet” Danforth and introverted Casey Anderson. They’re managed by her boyfriend, Harris, who’s charming in a stoned-schoolboy kind of way. Anyway, they decide to take a road trip to L.A. Why? I can’t remember. “To make it big,” I suppose. Oh! And to meet Kelly’s aunt Susan whom she’s never met and is extremely wealthy and plans to include her in an inheritance of some sort.
So, the main creeper of the film is Porter Hall, Susan’s square financial advisor. He hates the group because…well, I guess he hates hippies since he’s square, his motives are never made too clear but presumably he wants the piece of Susan’s inheritance that she’s decided to give to Kelly. Anyway, Susan shuts him down and encourages her young niece to become a success. She introduces them to the second creeper of the film (and to be considered a creeper in this film, let me tell you…is a rare distinction), Z-Man, who’s based on Phil Spector and is nearly as off-putting. Anyway, these girls are at a swingin’ party full of booze, boobs and bizarre guests (including a toothless senior and a man whose head, I recall thinking, resembles a gourd of some kind). What really stuck out to me though were the fashions, the hair, the make-up…all of it, taken over-the-top and I must tell you…I did NOT want it to come back down. That, coupled with the bubbly musical number by the suddenly re-named “Carrie Nations” (formerly known as “The Kelly Affair”) combined to form a richly resplendent retrospective of the 70’s.
We also meet nympho Ashley who develops a crush on the alienated Harris and some man-whore named Lance Rocke who Kelly becomes involved with. Also, Pet meets Emerson, a waiter who’s working his way through law school and is probably one of the most (or only) decent characters in the whole film. Casey has words with Porter, but also meets Roxanne, the slightly shady lesbian fashion designer who complements her figure and practically eye-rapes her.
So…then Kelly smokes some weed and has casual sex with people. Harris experiences doubts about his sexuality after an (apparently) disappointing stint as Ashley’s personal man-dildo, and feels even MORE alienated. Pet “makes it” with some prize fighter with roid-rage who assaults Emerson with his car and Casey…sleeps through everything thanks to the titular “dolls” of the film, uppers and downers.
Towards the film’s end, we see a rather quickly strewn-about cornucopia of increasingly improbable situations and equally improbable (albeit hilarious) dialogue. We see Harris’ failed suicide attempt which leaves him a whiny paraplegic, instead of just whiny. We see Casey getting preggers but taking care of it real quick as the following scene of a cracked egg in a frying pan so brilliantly illustrates. We see Pet growing a pair and telling the prize fighter to stop before she “cuts him.” Next, in no particular order, we see Z-Man’s boobs, a laughable action scene, Harris struggling to not be paralyzed and then half the cast dies. No seriously.
During the gory ending I couldn’t help but think that whoever thought up this screenplay. *Ahem* ROGER EBERT, must have been in the throes of a rather sexy fever-dream or hopped up on INSANE amounts of illegal substances. Either way, I was absolutely enamored by the whole thing and can understand why this film’s done as well as it has, becoming a cult classic and garnering ten times its budget. I laughed, I cried…well not really…I did furrow my brow in confusion a few times though, and that’s nearly the same thing, so…there you go. This was a technicolor tapestry of campy, kitschy excellence. It’s like ambrosia salad or a mystery meat-laden gelatin mold…a product of its time that, despite being a tad unsettling in appearance and certainly difficult to digest, is ultimately too full of character to trash. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls never takes itself too seriously, and neither should the viewer. As a serious piece of storytelling, it’s laughable and lacks depth, but as a piece of entertainment (which is what I gather it was mostly intended to be), it shines brighter than sequins, rhinestones and all manner of tawdrily terrific tinsel.
Let’s finish with some of my personal favorite quotes…
-“You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!”
-“You’re a groovy boy! I’d like to strap you on sometime!”
-“C’mon, Casey. The principal’s supposed to hit me with a coupla caps of acid.”
-“God only knows what they were up to in there… and furthermore, Susan, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that all four of them habitually smoked marijuana cigarettes… reefers.”
-“Step into my web said the spider, etcetera.”
Poetry. Sheer poetry. I expect you readers to use these quotations frequently and unapologetically in your daily interactions AND interjections…after being cut off on the highway, at the grocery store when they won’t take your coupon for kitty litter, before engaging in a drunken tryst with some random stranger…really, these can be interchangeably switched for whatever the occasion and that’s the real beauty of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls…it’s tackily trashy timelessness.
Now get lit and go watch it!
So as promised in my last video, I want to take some time to delve into my own interests a bit more, not just as a transwoman (BTW, can I just randomly volunteer…every time I use that term I feel like one of the X-men…but like, one of the ones who never leaves the mansion), but as a person who has had 25 years to cultivate a garden (get it?) of interests and loves. One of those being a lifetime love of the arts in every form, literature, visual art and of course, film. So this is one of my very first reviews…or should I call it a ‘reflection?’ I have always fancied that term more than ‘review,’ which sounds so generic, so that’s what I’ll be using. ^_^ Ok, so let’s get on with this.
Firstly, I must admit my introduction to Grey Gardens was through RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4. One of the contestants, the ever-creative Sharon Needles wore an ensemble that was according to both she and the judges, “evocative of Grey Gardens and the smell of cat piss” for a challenge that revolved around coming up with a look based on a fictitious magazine each contestant was assigned…and since Sharon Needles’ was a “Cat Fancy” type publication, the look matched up perfectly. Well…I knew as soon as I’d heard about a movie centered around cat ladies living in a dilapidated mansion that reeked of cat piss that I had to get my grubby little paws on it, not only because it sounded high-camp, which I love, but also because I’ve been raised by two cat ladies and had a harem of constantly-changing cats as companions throughout my life. So, it would be a bit of campy nostalgia only bigger and better.
To begin my experience, I perused the documentary, which was honestly quite disturbing. I mean that, however, in the best way possible. It was a ‘slice of life’ piece cut from a pie that had been left out of the fridge for too long and had grown mold. The dilapidated mansion covered with years of overgrown vines and garbage was such a poignant real-life metaphor for the past memories that seemed to have piled up and dominated the two Edie’s lives. The discordant arguments that the two used to fill the silence of each monotonous day were painful to listen to, not only because of the shrill over-lapping of the two women’s voices, but also because there was a genuine pain that resonated through each barb, each song and each dance. Big Edie, for me, seemed to be so utterly entwined with Grey Gardens itself that she came to personify the mansion and it’s ivy-like grip on Little Edie, whose concern for her mother, coupled probably with her own insecurities about performing , led her to remain voluntarily shackled to her home. For all the gloom of the picture, there were tiny rays of hilarity that shone through which I’m certain can be attributed to the lively personalities of the cast. To me the two Edies were timeless gems, perhaps a bit dimmer with the ebb and flow of time…but never, never dull. Some of my favorite lines, paraphrased… (from Big Edie) “He doesn’t want to sleep with you, not with an old person like you,” (about Little Edie’s concerns that their repairman wanted to sleep with her), “You guys need to save your, save that stuff because this is just…NUTS!!” (about a tantrum Little Edie was throwing) and of course, the incomparable Little Edie’s delightfully rambling monologue about her “costume of the day” and her “revolutionary look.”
After walking away from the documentary with an admiration and sympathy for the two Edie’s and their ruined state of affairs, I decide to survey the HBO film version starring Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. Above all, I must say how completely phenomenal I thought both women were in their respective roles. Appearance-wise they matched their targets perfectly and, coupled with the firm adoption of the real-life Edie’s mannerisms and dialogue, the illusion was an enthralling success. To me, the film clarified much of the name-dropping cacophony in the documentary between the mother and daughter which could become confusing at times due to the viewers uncertainty as to who “so-and-so” was. Interspersing parts of the faithfully re-enacted documentary with glimpses into the two Edie’s past was ingenious and perfectly punctuated the line Little Edie delivers in the documentary, “It’s awfully hard to see the line between past and present,” or something to that effect. In addition to the finely polished talent, the raw heart of the story was exacerbated in the fullest way possible and in concordance with the masterful soundtrack, brought a tender sadness to the surface…the best metaphor I can think of, though maudlin, is like tears about to well up in ones eyes…only to be constantly swept back by a sudden burst of singular wit from one of the two Edie’s, like for example, “I’ll be right down as soon as I put some lipstick on!” shouted in that marvelous New England accent or Little Edie’s exchange with Jackie O. “Is it true Jack Kennedy gave you gonorrhea?” The film was no better or worse than the documentary and it would be unfair to compare the two in any way…I will say, however, that each was the perfect accompaniment to the other, expanding upon a story with a sincere love at its root, that between mother and daughter, underneath the accumulated grit of life’s sometimes tragic experiences.
In conclusion, should you watch this movie? Hell yes you should! The documentary makes for an intriguing look into two multifaceted, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious characters who seem stranger than fiction, in the most sterling way possible. The film was a stellar work of artistry that I recommend extremely highly especially to those who adore camp classics and over-the-top female characters like Norma Desmond from “Sunset Blvd.” or Blanche and Baby Jane Hudson from “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.” This is a masterpiece that I think anyone who appreciates superb story-telling will enjoy as evidenced by the Library of Congress’ decision to preserve it in the US National Film Registry as being culturally significant. So, as Little Edie would say, “Cement the deal already!” Get to watching!