Beyond the Valley of the Dolls appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the movie’s age, the transfer made it look very good.
Sharpness was largely strong. A smidgen of softness affected some wide shots, but vast majority of the film appeared crisp and detailed. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement appeared absent.
I also failed to find any notable source flaws. Some opticals – like the “traveling west” montage – included a few specks, but overall, the flick looked clean.
With its lively party setting, Beyond went with a broad palette that came across well. The colors were dynamic and full. Blacks seemed deep and dark, and except for a couple slightly thick day-for-night shots, shadows were clean and smooth. This was a consistently solid image.
Though it showed its age, LPCM monaural soundtrack of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls worked fine. Speech could be a little distant, but that stemmed from the low—budget source. Overall, dialogue appeared intelligible and without obvious flaws.
Music and effects followed suit. While both seemed less than robust, they offered accurate enough material and didn’t suffer from notable distortion. This became a more than competent track for a low-budget flick from 1970.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2006? The DVD offered a terrible stereo remix, so the lossless mono track seemed much more satisfying.
Visuals also improved, as the Blu-ray appeared more accurate and dynamic. While fine for SD-DVD, the old disc didn’t fare nearly as well as this appealing Blu-ray.
The Criterion disc mixes old and new extras, and we get two separate audio commentaries. The first features screenwriter/film critic Roger Ebert. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Ebert provides a pretty informative and entertaining chat. He lets us know how he got the job as screenwriter and discusses the film’s development.
Ebert tells us a lot about Russ Meyer and divulges notes about the director’s style and personality. We learn about the cast and crew along with studio notes, cuts, technical issues, and some fun anecdotes. Ebert aptly combines the film historian side of things with his personal experiences.
Ebert does run out of steam somewhat as he progresses. He seems to lack much to say about Dolls and tells other stories about Meyer. This means some good tales like how the pair almost made a flick with the Sex Pistols, but he does lose track of Dolls. In any case, there’s more than enough good material here to make this a fun and informative discussion.
For the second track, we hear from actors Harrison Page, John LaZar, Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers and Erica Gavin. All of them sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion. Don’t expect much from this rambling, ineffective chat.
The participants present little in the way of concrete info. We find a few decent stories from the set but don’t learn much. Instead, the speakers usually just say “Look at that!” or “I love that!” Page focuses on how young he looked and obsesses over the lesbian love scene. He gets annoying.
Compared to the exceedingly obnoxious LaZar, though, Page is a treat. LaZar bitches about not getting enough money and whines that he doesn’t know why he’s at the session. He makes some other odd comments and behaves in a generally antagonistic manner toward the others. This commentary would be simply boring without LaZar. His presence makes it actively unpleasant since he comes across as such a jerk.
Next comes a documentary called Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy. The 30-minute, one-second show melds movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We find notes from Ebert, LaZar, Gavin, Read, Myers, Page, Russ Meyer’s production assistant Stan Berkowitz, Meyer’s assistant Manny Diez, biographer Jimmy McDonough, editor Dann Cahn, critic David Ansen, Onion writer Nathan Rabin, critic Michael Musto, actors Marcia McBroom and Michael Blodgett, and cinematographer Fred Koenekamp.
“Beneath” looks at how Russ Meyer got into movies and developed as a filmmaker. From there, we learn about aspects of his style, the status of Fox in the late Sixties, the evolution of Dolls, cast and crew, how Meyer worked with the participants, various production notes, ratings issues, and the flick’s reception.
“Beneath” acts as a basic “making of” piece and does this well. It lacks as much depth and detail as I’d like, and a moderate amount of material repeats from the commentaries, but it serves as a nice overview.
Six segments appear under “Interviews”. Look On Up at the Bottom: The Music of Dolls runs 10-minutes, 58-second piece includes notes from Ebert, Read, McBroom, Myers, composer Stu Phillips, singer Lynn Carey, musicians Jeff McDonald, Paul Marshall, Steven McDonald, and Christopher Freeman, filmmaker Dave Markey, Pulp Fiction music supervisor Chuck Kelley, and music supervisor Igo Kantor.
As expected, they talk about the flick’s tunes. They get into the actors’ portrayals of musicians, writing and recording the songs, the score, and thoughts about the work.
“Bottom” acts more as an appreciation of the music than a look at its creation. Though we get some decent notes, there’s a lot of gushing praise for the elements. I find that hard to take, partially because it makes little sense – did anyone really think McBroom looked like an actual drummer? Anyway, there’s still enough good material to make the piece worth a look.
When we go to the 12-minute, 21-second The Best of Beyond, we hear from Musto, Read, Gavin, LaZar, Blodgett, McBroom, Kelley, Page, Myers, Ebert, Rabin, artist Coop, and film distributor Fred Beiersdorf. They discuss their favorite lines, breasts, kisses, and deaths. They also relate their memories of Meyer. We get a couple of decent stories here, but otherwise it’s a pretty fluffy piece that lacks much to interest us.
Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder runs seven minutes, 34 seconds. It features LaZar, Read, Rabin, Marshall, Carey, Page, Gavin, and UCLA history professor Mary Corey. “Signs” looks at aspects of the era in which Dolls was made. The participants chat about music, drugs, sex, and other topics from that period.
If anyone needs this disc to tell them that sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were a big deal in the late Sixties, they shouldn’t be allowed to watch this movie. “Signs” acts as a superficial recap of what everyone should already know about the period.
After this we get the four-minute, 19-second Casey and Roxanne: The Love Scene. It includes statements from Myers and Gavin as they reminisce about their big sequence. They toss out a few notes but not anything new or memorable.
New to the Criterion release, Beyond the Bottom goes for 29 minutes, 43 seconds. Filmmakers John Waters discusses Beyond and director Russ Meyer. Waters gives us a good history of the “sexploitation” genre as well as aspects of Beyond. Waters proves to be entertaining and informative.
Memories of Russ lasts eight minutes, 16 seconds and features Napier, Gavin, Page, actor Haji and Meyer’s friend/collaborator Jim Ryan. As expected, the participants discuss Meyer and aspects of the Beyond shoot. It provides a few good thoughts.
Within “Archival Materials”, two components appear. A 1988 episode of UK’s Incredibly Strange Film Show runs 38 minutes, 19 seconds and offers a discussion of Russ Meyer. It involves comments from Meyer, Ebert, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and actors Kitten Natividad and Tura Satana. The program mixes movie clips with interviews to become a useful overview of Meyer’s career.
From 1990, a Cast and Crew Q&A fills 49 minutes, 20 seconds with remarks from Meyer, Ebert, Gurian, Read, Napier, Blodgett, LaZar, Haji and actors David Gurian and Edy Williams. They go over aspects of the shoot and the film’s legacy. A fairly loose session, it mixes worthwhile insights and banal fluff. Still, it deserves a look.
Five trailers appear. We get a theatrical ad, a teaser, a “behind the scenes” promo and clips for Meyer films Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill and Vixen.
We also find some Screen Tests (7:29). These come for “Michael Blodgett and Cynthia Myers” plus “Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom”. Both pairs do the same scene: the one in which Lance tells Kelly she deserves lots of the family fortune.
Since only Blodgett plays the same role he does in the film, that makes these fun to see. It’s also interesting to note that Aunt Susan was originally called “Anne Welles”, which would have created a much more direct connection to the original Valley of the Dolls.
A booklet appears as well. It provides an essay from film critic Glenn Kenny as well as an excerpt from a 1970 article about a visit to the set. The booklet offers useful materials.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls attempts to mock its predecessor but it fails as parody, comedy, and pretty much everything else. The movie doesn’t look like a spoof of a bad flick; it just looks like a bad flick. The Blu-ray offers very good picture along with acceptable audio and a long roster of bonus materials. While this becomes a fine release from Criterion, the movie is silly and poorly made.
To rate this film visit the DVD review of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS