beyond the valley of the dolls (1970)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is one of the miracles of movie-making. By everyone involved, it's unanimously declared a film that could never have even come close to existing if not for the specific time and place that the stars aligned. Simultaneously, it is immune to and inspires criticism, probably since it was written by Roger Ebert, Dolls occupies a place of high art that belies its pornographic b-movie roots. Meyer's ouvre up to that point had been filled with delicious exploitation and camp, but nothing before or after reached the heights of sublime acid-trip momentum. Like nothing else in cinema it becomes completely unhinged from the opening frame and untethered to all structural logic, never to return to a solid ground of any kind until its credits have stopped rolling. The exaggeration of color, cuts and character increase as the film progresses from one invention to another. The exuberance at the process of filmmaking here is palpable as its complete understanding of the genre tropes it picks up and puts down throughout the proceeding is matched by its refusal to stop re-inventing what it's doing. Like the Nouvelle Vague of the previous decade, Meyer was knocking down pillars all around him and injecting a new burst of life into a cinema that was becoming bogged down. Like no other, the film is a burst of creativity and pure cinema that never for a split-second goes on auto-pilot.
Meyer's staging structure and editing form one of the most unusual, but yet to be bested, depictions of young life, with its enhanced emotions, insane pacing and party sequences that achieve being everywhere at once. I'm struck most by the editing in these sections as we're effortlessly introduced to a large number of characters, all of whom receive no introduction and no continuous dialogue. As we bop from character to character and all around the 3 dimensional space of the party house where Z Man lives, we encounter all of the film's central characters and are put perfectly in touch with all of them. The film, in every scene, seems to be driven more by the sound than the image, the audio track is always one step ahead and moving on to the next development, while the visual lingers for just a second longer. It's this interplay between an ever-changing and progressing world that subliminally lingers on the past, trying to hang onto each colorful fleeting moment that constitutes Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' brand of cinema nirvana. Much like David Lynch who came after it, the soapiness of the scenarios and characterizations match a primal emotive recklessness of the youth portrayed as well as touching a deep nerve of onscreen schlock that appeals to its audience's base instincts. Pornography, Meyer posits here, doesn't come from titillation but from unbalanced indulgence. Exploitation, so at play in the subsequent decade's collective consciousness, is given a master class here as we see indulgence from all angles. The gravitas derives from Meyer's blending of his elements as well as his deep and honest understanding of their nature. Is there any wonder that after indulgence in sex, drugs and rock n' roll we're suddenly saturated by emotional outpourings from all the negative effects of a comedown? Suddenly the dark side shows its true face in murder, egotism and psychosis. Finally, we gather beyond that valley for a snicker-inducing moral to our tale. The rush of those initial sequences, Meyer was said to cut his pictures with one rule: never let the audience see a performer blink. As all accounts of the present day are woven in, from the counter-culture to the Manson murders and lingering Nazi paranoia, this account of the moment the US culture shifted from the 1960's to the 1970's brings with it a passion for the turning tides of time. The full spectrum of machismo alpha and beta male, the alpha and beta female, each strong player overtaking those weaker beneath them and the animalistic ritual of rock and roll and unbridled sexual energy unleashed in the night at an endless progression of house parties and club appearances. An endless volley of what makes each individual gain power, Porter Hall's mastery of money and the rules of his generation overtaken by Kelly's mastery of her sexuality and drug use, though she too is unable to guard herself against Lance Rock and so on. Predator and prey are interchangeable, each unsure of which they are at any given moment.
Lost souls looking for acceptance, or perhaps looking for a fix, united by their desire to 'give their body to the ritual'. The masters who orchestrate the ritual find unsurpassed ecstasy in leading such a cult, feeding from the rush of knowing that all they see before them is their doing. At the same time caring little for the effects, whether bliss or demoralization, their doing has on those subjugated. As Z Man famously puts it 'This is my happening and it freaks me out'. The faithful wander toward their own destruction, spiraling downward in a ring of enchantment, locked in their obsession with the scene. It all comes with a price. Meyer elevates his tale by keeping actions and their consequences purely causal, situational and a crossroads of converging wills, not based on an underlying morality. A study of the sensory and a brilliant blending of all elements of film and culture, a free-flowing stream of consciousness and chemicals, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls refuses to be matched even almost half a century later. A rare gem in all of cinema.