Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, August 21, 2006

Bad Movie Month takes you to the Valley of the Dolls and Beyond.

Book to film adaptations always have their fair share of naysayers,even when the book in question is not considered "literary" by critics. So,you could reasonably conclude that the film version of Jacqueline Susann's hit novel Valley of the Dolls was destined to be a camp classic from it's onset. Valley of the Dolls was one of the biggest insider glam books of the time which supposedly was talking about real life celebs(sort of the Devil Wears Prada of it's day)and even Ms. Susann herself has a small cameo in a movie she later came to hate.

The movie tells the story of three working gals caught up in the wicked world of entertainment;Anne Welles(Barbara Parkins),a WASPy good girl who lands a job at a theaterical agency by just showing up in beige and becomes pals with ambitious Neely O'Hara(Patty Duke) and Jennifer North(Sharon Tate),a pretty girl written off as just that. Neely winds up being a big Broadway/Hollywood star and a major pillhead to boot. Poor girl,she can't help it-"Of course,I'm hooked on dolls! I have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and it's SPARKLE,Neely,SPARKLE!"

Patty Duke's over the top performance perfectly fits this movie with so many bits of goofiness to mock that it's hard to know where to begin. Duke doesn't just chew the scenery,she rips it apart and smacks the rest of the cast around with it,particularly in a big showdown with fading Broadway diva Helen Lawson(Susan Hayward,who replaced an on-the-rocks Judy Garland)that ends with a bathroom brawl where Neely tries to flush Helen's wig down the toilet.

Of course Neely isn't the only one with bad dialogue(she does deliver it the loudest tho-one of my favorite lines is "Boobies,boobies,boobies! Who needs 'em? I sure didn't"). Other memorable lines include"Just remember,at midnight all cats are grey" and "That little whore makes me feel nine feet tall." Plenty of songs are sung (and/or dubbed)with fun lyrics as "I'll plant my own tree/and I'll make it grow" and when in doubt,the theme song sung by Dionne Warwick is played to punch up those dramatic highpoints(usually in a scene where Anne stands by a window,feeling all pouty about her commitophobe boyfriend,Lyon Burke). Just listen to this sucker and enjoy it's soap opera funeral dirge charms:

When the storyline isn't ripe with melodramatic turns like Jennifer having to support her chronically ill husband by doing "art" films or Neely drying out in a sanitarum by being sealed up in a bathtub,montages are abused left and right. The best one is for Anne's fashion commerical(yep,out of the blue,she gets to be a supermodel)which looks like what Coco Chanel would see during an acid trip. There's a good reason this movie has become a cult hit and the DVD is definately worth adding to your midnight movie collection.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has to be taken as a major bitchslap. The movie has a pre-opening credits discloser claiming not to be an actual sequel to VOD and oddly enough VOD also has a "not based on real persons" one up front,too. BVD runs along similar lines about how the evils of fame can ruin young women,only this time the music world is the big focus. The three leading gals-Kelly(Dolly Read),Casey(Cynthia Myers)and Pet(Marcia McBroom)-are members of a rock group called the Carrie Nations mentored by Ronnie"Z-Man" Barzell(John LaZar) and when the girls start to be successful,romantic tensions are increased with plenty of sex and drugs galore.

Russ Meyer directed and co-wrote this movie with Roger Ebert(yes,the big thumbs-up critic man himself)and while many of Meyers' signature touches(rampant nudity and wacked out violence)are all over the place,it's weird to think of Ebert,who rips on subpar screenplays himself,penning such lines as "You will drink the black sperm of my vengence" and "You're a groovy boy,I'd like to strap you on sometime".

Montages get the redheaded stepchild treatment here as well(Ebert relates in an article about BVD that he and Meyer did see the VOD movie for inspiration),with plenty of them set to the Carrie Nations tunes that rival Josie and the Pussycats for sophistication and style.

Ebert calls BVD"an essay on generic expectations"-well,that's one way to put it,I guess. Another way would be to wonder if they weren't high while making this film, perhaps someone should have been! The best parts of the movie are when Z-Man appears,making his psuedo-Shakespearan quips and gossiping about everyone in sight. By the end of the movie,Z-Man goes insane after a bad dose of peyote and has a freaky little killing spree,armed with a sword and gun. Sure,some major characters bite it but then,one guy realizes that he can walk again and it's all smiles! No joke,folks.

BVD is also now on DVD and you can pair the two of them up for a daring double feature of culty camp goodness. I personally had more fun with the original Valley but it's good to compare and contrast. It is hard to decide which is better;Z-Man's declaration of "This is my happening and it freaks me out!" or Neely's backalley bellowing of"NEEELY OHARRAAA!" Tough call to make.


PJS said...

So much fun... this is one of those movies where the backstories make it even more fun. The new DVD edition is chock-full of featurettes and tidbits, including a snarky "pop-up video" style commentary.

They say Jackie Susann had an affair with Ethel Merman, and thus based her Helen Lawson character on her. And since Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson was a replacement for Judy Garland, and Susann wanted Liza Minnelli to play Neely (based on Judy Garland), we just damned near had a movie where: Judy Garland played Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli played Judy Garland, and Sharon Tate played Marilyn Monroe.

It's just staggering, really...

lady t said...

Yeah,I love all the juicy gossipy goodness behind VOD-one story has it that they premiered the movie on a cruise ship(there's even a featurette of actual footage from that night)and that Jackie S hadn't seen the movie until then(despite playing a small part in the film)and she threw one of those grande dame fits about it.

Oh,and the karoake numbers are funny,too!