Blu-Ray Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Roger Ebert
Based on a Story by: Roger Ebert, Russ Meyer
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett
Country: USA
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 18


Russ Meyer is an unusual character in the history of American cinema. His first feature film as a director (after working as a combat cameraman in WWII) was The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). Widely acknowledged as the first commercially viable American ‘skin flick’ (or softcore porn as the films are more commonly known these days), it grossed more than $1,500,000 in the US at the time of its release from a budget of a mere $24,000. This success spurred Meyer on to make a name for himself as the ‘king of the skin flicks’, producing dozens of successful exploitation films that always featured incredibly buxom female stars, even when his films started to mix in other genres and become wild action-packed romps.

What’s interesting and unusual about Meyer is that, despite his reputation for making what were pretty much porn films, he actually became respected as a filmmaker in many circles. One of the key reasons for this was that he showed all the traits of being a true auteur. He worked as director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer and film editor on many of his films, giving him a huge amount of control over the end product. His films had a recognisable style because of this. As well as the large-breasted stars, his films had a punchy editing style and bold, well composed cinematography. He made exploitation movies that actually looked good and were well put together, unlike many of the ‘skin flicks’ that would follow in his wake.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls represents an unusual point in Meyers career though. After Easy Rider, which was cheaply produced by a bunch of young ‘hippies’, became a huge unexpected success for Columbia Pictures, the other studios wanted in on the action. A number of the companies believed that giving money to young directors, fresh out of film school, would produce exciting counter-culture movies that the nation’s youth would flock to see (which is what kick-started the 70’s New Hollywood movement). 20th Century Fox’s plan though was to give a large budget to an already successful indie director with a reputation for making commercially successful genre films for very little money. The director they chose was Russ Meyer and the film he made was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

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Cinecast Episode 360 – It’s Like Mustard

 
Sone famous once said that a person’s character can be defined by what he chooses to complain about. What do you despise? Is it Max Brooks? Is it Steve Guttenberg? The video streaming entity such as Vudu? Or is it someone/something else? By all means sound off! So yes, we explore the depths of our personal hatreds on this week’s Cinecast, but equally so, we also share some fondness, nay love, for Charles Grodin, Jean-Marc Vallée, Brent Spiner, Chris Tucker, Louis C.K. and yes, even Mel Gibson.

Documentaries and Ozploitation occupy the bulk of this week’s conversation. Steve James’ documentary, Life Itself (aka you’re better off just reading the book) and Russell Mulcahy’s creature feature, Razorback. But, and this is important. don’t even bother downloading this show until you’ve purchased your 4-pack of Midnight Run sequels. Yeah, it’s that kind of show.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Review: Life Itself

LifeItselfStill2

Director: Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie)
Producers: Garrett Basch, Steve James, Zak Piper
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 115 min.


 

I knew Roger Ebert.

I never met the man nor did we ever exchange words but I knew him. I knew the movies he liked, what filmmakers he championed and that he was willing to go out on a ledge and sometimes against the grain to support something he believed in. I also knew he grew up in a small town, loved his parents and that he was an alcoholic. I learned those last things, the really personal things, well after he had left television and illness had forced him to communicate only via the written word. Roger Ebert never stopped writing.

Steve James’ Life Itself isn’t just a documentary about a great man, and there is little doubt that Roger Ebert was a great man, but also a document of a life well lived. It’s apropos that Ebert’s life is celebrated in flickering images because they occupied so much of his life for so long. He was a great critic because he could appreciate the art of filmmaking but he was a great writer because he could articulate those ideas in simple, beautiful language.

Inadvertently, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert are responsible for a majority of today’s ardent movie lovers and critics. The internet may have given us a soapbox but Siskel and Ebert gave us the OK. Their TV show brought movies into our living rooms but more than that, they encouraged us to talk about them. They encouraged us to watch with a critical eye and to discuss the medium in a way that had, for the most part, been limited to critics. They taught us that it was OK to argue and disagree and to commiserate in movies and that they were a perfectly acceptable and more than that – a great – form of art.

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Trailer: Life Itself

The movies are machines for generating empathy. That was one of the humanist mantra’s of Roger Ebert over his lenghty and celebrated career as a film critic, and more importantly, as a writer of all things. From food to boobs to Hoop Dreams, Steve James (director of the latter) has had a close relationship Ebert and his wife Chaz since Roger became a champion of that documentary and pretty much singlehandedly made it a household name. Here James gathers stories, accounts, footage and testimony of all things in life that were influenced by his presence. And from the trailer below, it looks like it will generate a lot of empathy.

Life Itself will arrive on VOD/iTunes and in limited theaters on July 4th.