On May 31, 1935 the Fox Film Corporation (founded by William Fox) merged with Twentieth Century Pictures (founded by Darryl F. Zanuck and some other dudes) to form 20th Century Fox. Now, to commemorate its 75th birthday, Fox is having a nationwide movie party.

Not unlike the Alamo Drafthouse’s Roadshow, Fox will be screening a selection of their films – spanning many decades – across the country in cities where the movies took place; in theaters, but still a fun idea. They’re calling it Hometown Hollywood and the list of films and locations is thus:

    * All About Eve  New York, NY
    * Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid  Albuquerque, NM
    * Carmen Jones  Chicago, IL
    * Napoleon Dynamite  Boise, ID
    * Porky’s  Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    * Raising Arizona  Tempe, AZ
    * Say Anything  Seattle, WA
    * The Day the Earth Stood Still  Silver Spring, MD
    * The Fly (1958/1986)  Quebec
    * The Happening  Philadelphia, PA
    * Walk the Line  Memphis, TN
    * Whip It  Austin, TX
    * Wild River  Knoxville, TN

Definitely some films on there that seem out of place, but hey, it’s not my birthday. Hometown Hollywood has also whipped up a fun series of posters too. Such as these bad boys…



Hop over to their website to check out more posters and to get dates for the films. They’ve also got a few videos with great ideas – like the backstory on the 20th Century Fox logo – but they’re so brief they leave you with blue balls.

Hometown Hollywood kicked off the bday tour out here in Hollywood last night and because we always do things bigger here in La La Land (we don’t actually) Fox decided to do a double feature.

Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Interesting that out of all the movies in its library, Fox chose to celebrate its birthday with a movie that people only love ironically because it is so awful and a gonzo exploitation flick. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is amazing Fox made this selection. I’m just surprised. It is oddly, I don’t know, cool of them.

The screenings took place in Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theater (I’m a sucker for balconies) and was hosted by a drag queen named Jackie Beat, who starred in an Off-Broadway stage recreation of Valley of the Dolls. Beat, who I believe I’m supposed to refer to as “she,” was hilarious – the exact combo of quick wit and salacious zingers movies have trained me to expect from a drag queen. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ stars Dolly Read, John LaZar and Harrison Page were all on hand for a somewhat lackluster Q&A (though aren’t most Q&As?), which limped through only because of Beat’s light banter.

Hey, as long as we’re all here, might as well look at the films…

Valley of the Dolls
Based on Jacqueline Susann’s popular novel, the film centers on Barbara Parkins as a down-home country girl who moves to New York and becomes sucked into the blender of showbiz. We also follow the tragic tales of Patty Duke (who I hear will lose control if she eats a hotdog) as a rising star who isn’t big enough to contain her growing fame and loses herself popping pills, or as she calls them “dolls”; and Sharon Tate, a dim-bulb actress who is at least smart enough to realize her only talent is her smokin’ body (I don’t condone Roman Polanski’s crime, but if you impregnated this chick and then crazy hippies murdered her… you might do some bad things too). The characters’ lives continually intertwine as they eventually all move from the bitter, backstabbing world of New York to the soulless suck-hole of Los Angeles. Bad things happen to everyone.

Valley of the Dolls is a movie that I totally understand why some people love. It is true camp. True in that it is completely sincere; this movie thinks it is sticking every landing. There are some fantastically wacky moments that come out of this sincerity – such as an ex-crooner, with a nonsensical genetic disorder that has left him comatose, being briefly drawn out of his coma to join Patty Duke in a duet – but for me the movie drags very frequently. It’s not a complete hilarious mess (this is not The Room), too frequently nearing actual quality to be continuously funny for me. The film was actually a huge hit when it came out. The diehard fans of the film love the atmosphere, the bitchy cat-fighting, and the crazy wardrobes as much as they love the ham-fisted acting and ridiculous drama (I think I was the only straight guy in the theater last night). Fun fact: Harlan Ellison, the angry imp of speculative fiction writing, wrote the original draft of the screenplay, but in true Ellison fashion demanded his name be removed once the studio started making changes.


Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Despite the title, this film is not actually a sequel, not any more than Return of the Living Dead is a sequel to Night of the Living Dead. Much like Return of the Living Dead, the film simply takes the themes and ideas of the first film and explodes the fucking shit out them. The film’s tagline says it all “This Is Not A Sequel. There Has Never Been Anything Like It!”

Nowadays Beyond seems to be largely remember in a wacky factoid sense, as the film Roger Ebert wrote. Because of this, and the sad lack of respect filmmaker Russ Meyer receives, the film has gotten a reputation as a so-bad-it’s-good film. As Jackie Beat succinctly said before the film screened, “This is my test for people – whether I’ll like them or not. Cause I hear all these people say ‘Oh, I love that film! It is SO bad!’ But it is good because it is SO good!” Beat asked the actors about what kind of film they thought they were making at the time and they all said they and Meyer and Ebert were fully aware the film was funny. This is the claim the filmmaker behind The Room now makes too, but honestly, I don’t know how you could watch Beyond and think Meyer didn’t know what he was doing.

Valley of the Dolls was about the acting biz. Beyond is about the music biz. Dolly Read plays the naïve front woman in an all-girl rock band who quickly gets engulfed in the corrupting doom of the LA party scene. The first act plays as a cheeky comedy, the second act as cheesy melodrama, and the third act becomes a baroque tragedy of intense proportions.

I really like Russ Meyer, and not just cause his movies are filled with big tits. Yes, the big tits are intrinsic to his films, and this has sadly hurt his legacy by ghettoizing him as nothing more than a nudie-film director. Like Hitchcock his films were fetishistic towards women. Unlike Hitchcock he saw no reason for restraint and followed his fetish as far as bad taste could take him, and was wholly consumed by it. But calling him just a nudie filmmaker is kind of like calling Dr. Suess just a kids author. It is true, but it’s also ignoring some legitimate creativity happening within that context.

I don’t think he took his T&A fetish any farther than Sam Peckinpah took his violence fetish, but America has always preferred violence to sex (we didn’t fuck the British out of our country after all). Before anyone blows up the talkback section needlessly, I am not saying Meyer is as good as Peckinpah. Just making a point. Looking past the bouncing bosoms (distracting as they may be) Meyer deserves more respect as a filmmaker. Even aside from his energetic use of camera movement and editing, and signature blend of comedy and melodrama, his films had an ahead of their time approach towards homosexuality and racism, which makes them very interesting to watch now. And, you know, having big boobies everywhere never hurt anyone.

Fun fact: Meyer’s tombstone reads:

RUSS MEYER
“King of The Nudies”
“I Was Glad to Do It”


Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t the most iconic Meyer film (that would be Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). It also isn’t the best (that would be Vixen, in my opinion). Nor is it the most Meyertastic (that would be Supervixens). But Beyond the Valley of the Dolls may be the most palatable for newcomers. It had Meyer’s biggest budget, and definitely has the best acting of any Meyer film (Meyer’s films were always handicapped by the female performances; needing girls with giant boobs who are willing to show them off will inevitably restrict your casting options). The script is demented genius too. Ebert’s dialogue for the character of Z-Man is really something else – a fever dream of Shakespearean hokum, which John LaZar spouts to fantastic effect. And I think the whole movie is worth watching if only for the ending, which features possibly the most insane tonal shift in film history – from crushing tragedy to ecstatic joy in mere seconds.

For once, Fox, you did us proud. High five, Fox.

Happy birthday, big guy.