Celebrating "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"

Dennis Harvey July 6, 2006

Sometimes it seems that the more ferociously a movie is derided at first glance, the higher its reputation rebounds later on. By now everyone agrees “Heaven’s Gate” was a noble failure, if not an outright criminally underrated masterpiece. Smart folk have realized that “Ishtar” is, in fact, pretty funny, “Hudson Hawk” sporadically clever, and “Showgirls” is — well, it’s just “Showgirls.” It’s difficult to think of a film more immediately dissed and subsequently beloved than “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” whose deluxe DVD release is getting celebrated with a revival screening and live cast reunion at Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass series this weekend.

Upon its release in September of 1970, BVD endured a public flogging in response to similarly X-rated transgression “Myra Breckinridge” and greeted with a mudslide of negative reviews. Incredibly, many seemed not to understand that it was a deliberately camp satire. (Newsweek’s Paul D. Zimmerman complained about the ludicrous paraplegic-walks-again fadeout as if it represented actual bogus sentimentality, rather than a parody of such.)

Those disgruntled by the opened floodgates of violence and sex that the new age-restrictive MPAA ratings system allowed found an easy target for their loathing. What had the world come to, after all, when a respectable studio gave a million bucks and carte blanche to “King of the Nudies” Russ Meyer? (Despite such angry dismissals, however, “BVD” was not a flop; it made a more-than-healthy $9 million in its original release.)

That “BVD” happened at all is a testament to Hollywood