How did Valley Of The Dolls and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls—once considered disreputable camp—get to be part of Fox's "Cinema Classics Collection"? In the latter film's case, it's part of a decades-old critical give-and-take over the career of Russ Meyer, a softcore director with a singularly rhythmic editing style and a fetish for big-breasted women. One of Meyer's earliest supporters was critic Roger Ebert, who worked with Meyer on Beyond, a quasi-sequel to Mark Robson's 1967 film version of Jacqueline Susann's bestseller, and Meyer's Hollywood-studio debut. Together, Ebert and Meyer produced an unhinged spoof of soapy melodramas and hippie iconography, so over-the-top in its violence and libertine sexuality that no one in 1970 quite knew what to make of it.
The movie is still a little hard to parse. The story—about a female rock trio that gets trapped in a culture of drugs and showbiz sleaze—is more like conventional exploitation fare than Meyer's usual backwoods romps, and as Ebert points out on the Beyond DVD, neither he nor Meyer knew enough about counterculture decadence to do more than make fun of how they imagined it must be. But between the amusingly square "hip" dialogue, the catchy music, and Meyer's usual combination of vivid photography and casual explicitness, the movie comes off like a raunchy-but-no-less-wide-eyed version of a Josie And The Pussycats cartoon, with a coat of Douglas Sirk gloss. Meyer runs the plot around in circles and amps up the violence too much, but his movies were never really about "fun." He knew how to tease an audience's lust, then curdle it.
As for Valley Of The Dolls, it's more in the "so bad it's almost good" mode. The film looks vibrant and colorful, and it's still bracing to see glamorous lead actresses examine their bustlines in a mirror and sigh, "To hell with it, let 'em droop," or stumble drunkenly through a red-light district cackling "Boobies, boobies, boobies!" But Patty Duke and Sharon Tate—initially engaging as young actresses on the rise—both get harder to take as the pill-popping amps up. Valley Of The Dolls and its X-rated non-sequel are equally naïve in their attempt to be knowing, but at least Meyer's obsession with making his women look great means that they keep their dignity, right to the bloody end.
Key features: Commentary tracks on the main features, and a second disc of comprehensive featurettes that are frequently more fascinating than the movies themselves. (One even features The A.V. Club's own Nathan Rabin.)