So, I saw Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls last summer (thanks again to my friend Curran). I meant to write about it, but kinda didn’t know what to say. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the sordid tale of mixed-race girl band The Kelly Affair making it big by changing their name to The Carrie Nations and losing their minds in the big city. I do know that I liked it more than Mark Robson’s Valley of the Dolls, adapted from Jacqueline Susann’s wildly successful pulp novel about a group of girls who seek fame and instead wrestle with debilitating addictions, which just left me numb and bummed.
The unrelated sequel’s campiness, stodgy dialogue, illogical plot development, crazed characterization of Los Angeles, and parade of late 60s tacky couture made it an ideal movie to watch while drinking and cackling with friends. And I was pleasantly surprised by Roger Ebert purple, at times oddly perceptive, dialogue and how it synced up with Meyer’s arresting imagery. And having read a write-up about Meyer muse Tura Satana from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, I know that some Meyer icons have a feminist following.
And yet. I think seeing this movie with friends and laughing at it from an ironically detached position was key to my enjoyment. Without them, I think I might have been saddened by the movie’s clearly regressive gender and sexual politics. The director was in love with big, bare breasts? Duh. Lead singer/grifter Kelly MacNamara uses her wiles to get ahead in show business? Shocking. Bassist Pet Danforth is coerced into lesbianism by predatory, be-taloned fashion designer Roxanne, only to be killed in a mansion orgy that apparently was based on the Manson Family murders? Yeesh. The fact that the orgy is orchestrated and the murders executed by The Carrie Nations’ Phil Spector-like producer Z-Man, who reveals himself to be transgendered? Double yeesh. The fact that surviving members McNamara and drummer Casey Anderson distance themselves from their hedonistic past through marriage? Fail.
One thing I will give the movie full credit for is awesome music. If The Kelly Affair were a band (I prefer this name over The Carrie Nations), I’d totally listen to them. I love Lynn Carey’s voice, who fills in for “actress” Dolly Read. And others seem to agree. The Pipettes re-created the scene where the girls get discovered at an industry party in their video for “Pull Shapes.” Feel free to watch it alongside the original scene.