Roger Ebert passed away two weeks ago and mentioned in the numerous obituaries was his notorious collaboration with the maverick boob fetishist Russ Meyer on the subversive Beyond The Valley of The Dolls. Ebert was enlisted as a screenwriter by Meyer on the hope that he would bring a fresh, youthful sensibility to the project which was initially a cash in on 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, a hit adaptation of Jacqueline Susann‘s best-selling book which claimed to expose the sordid soap opera lives of Hollywood starlets.
Meyer, a fiercely independent director of hugely profitable, stylish low-budget b-movies melodramas – Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Vixen, Lorna, Up!, Beyond The Valley of the Ultravixens – featuring lashings of nudity, violence and black humour was hired by 20th Century Fox to make a sequel of sorts to Valley of The Dolls.
The film’s plot is a schlocky rags to riches tale of an innocent, all girl rock group who travel to Hollywood seeking fame and fortune only to become corrupted by success. It’s a far-out, bizarre hybrid of rock musical, camp psychedelia and music business satire and became a huge commercial success back in 1970.
Beyond is now regarded as something of a cult classic although Ebert claimed several times in interviews later on that Fox became somewhat embarrassed by the film’s success and it’s association with the iconoclastic Meyer, perceived by many critics throughout the years as nothing more than a peddler of high-class smut.
Meyer’s brief affair with studio film-making lasted one more picture, an atypically straight adaptation of Irving Wallaces’ best seller The Seven Minutes about a pornography related obscenity trial. The director toned down his energetic comic book style and skimped on nudity in a bid for respectability resulting in a rare commercial failure for Meyer and forcing him to return to independent film-making.
His skill for bold and vigorous framing, cutting and pacing, an innate ability to sell an image picked up from his years as a stills photographer is clearly evident as images of Los Angeles are intercut and contrasted in kinetic, dizzying fashion accompanying the breathless narration; an eroticized industrial film which then segues into the Sixties pastiche ‘Come With the Gentle People’, performed by the films fictional female pop group The Kelly Affair.