John Waters has never made any secret of his admiration and love for the films of Russ Meyer, the breast-obsessed auteur behind such berserk B-movie classics as Vixen, Mudhoney, and the immortal Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Those exploitation classics had an enormous impact on Waters’ own sex-and-violence-drenched films, especially the early star vehicles for the cross-dressing Divine like Pink Flamingos and Mondo Trasho. When the Criterion Collection released its own edition of Meyer’s 1970 opus Beyond The Valley of The Dolls, Waters was more than happy to share his thoughts about both the movie and the music featured in it. Criterion is currently highlighting some excerpts from Waters’ interview on its website. Scripted by a young Roger Ebert, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was the film that was supposed to bring Meyer into the mainstream. Unlike his previous independent pictures, this was a major studio production bankrolled by 20th Century Fox. But Meyer’s drive-in sensibility remained intact, much to the the studio’s horror and Waters’ delight.
But Waters clearly admires Meyer’s technique as well, describing his hero’s movies as “industrials about tits. They were shot like tits were the product, and Russ was the best at it.” He also admires ex-Marine Meyer’s no-nonsense approach to filming, which included forbidding his actors to have sex during production. “You always had to be horny, which is great.” He’s not afraid to refer to Meyer as an auteur, praising him for shots like the one of Dolly Read and Michael Blodgett making love on box springs with no mattress.
As a satire of the rock music industry, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls contains nearly wall-to-wall music, including several original songs. Waters counts himself as a fan of the soundtrack, comparing the title song to the theme from Douglas Sirk’s Imitation Of Life. One early concert sequence in particular (for the song “Find It”) evokes fond memories for Waters, thanks to a particular lighting effect. “That shot where [David Gurian] is spinning the color wheel? I used to see Andy Warhol spin that same color wheel at the Dom on St. Park’s Place when they were showing Chelsea Girls and The Velvet Underground was singing onstage. So all that stuff kind of happened, but not like that!”