Matt Stacey talks about the first time he ever caught Russ Meyer classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls…
The name ‘Russ Meyer’ first came to me through another director, the great John Waters. I had been a fan of his since I was eleven when Hairspray, his 60s dance movie, had been released. I ate up everything Waters had to say in every television appearance and magazine interview. I can remember seeing him on The Jonathan Ross Last Resort (the talk show that started Ross’s career) and loving his pencil moustache. It was whilst on this show that Waters was asked a question. That question was ‘Who Are Your Biggest Influences?’ Amongst the names that Waters gave, the directors and films he mentioned, one stuck out in particular. Russ Meyer & Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.
I spent many years desperate to see this film but sadly, back in the late 80s, Meyer’s work wasn’t as easy to get a hold of as it is today (being eleven years old also didn’t help…). Fast forward two years to when I was thirteen. I had my very own TV in my room (although I wasn’t supposed to watch it past eleven), and most importantly, I had an old but still working Beta Max video recorder with a pile of tapes (we had this old thing in our front room right up until 1989). I searched the TV listings every week for films. If they were on late, the video timer always came in handy.
I’d taped all the films that got shown too late for me to watch (my parents bedroom was right next door and they had the hearing of bats). Porkies, Creepshow and Southern Comfort all come to mind as films I taped and watched over and over again. Then, one day, I saw a film advertised. Showing at 1am, on Channel 4, it wasn’t the film that interested me but the name of the director. Russ Meyer.
As soon as I could, I had the Beta Max ready. I can remember hearing the machine spring into life as I lay in the dark. I had no idea what to expect from this film. The title, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, sounded pretty stupid to me but if Waters liked this stuff then I’d give it a go. The next day was a school day so the viewing would have to wait until later. I got home, went straight to my room, played the film, and became a life long lover and fan of all things Meyer.
I loved everything about it. The tragic plot of an all female rock band and their manager coming to the big city, their eyes filled with hopes of fame and stardom, only to be used and abused, finding only betrayal and heartbreak, was both moving and thrilling (I could go into the plot in more detail but I’d hate to spoil it for anyone). But, for me at least, it was the other elements that made this film. The awesome music, the groovy parties, the ending and, of course, what I would find to be the Meyer stable. A bounty of beautiful and sexy big breasted babes! Oh! The women!! (remember I was thirteen at the time and attending a Catholic school, I didn’t get to see stuff like this very often!).
I lapped up this camp, sexy melodrama with gusto and made it a mission to seek other Meyer’s flicks. The reach of this film has been far. You only have to watch a mainstream film like Austin Powers to see that (the line that Austin says during the party scene at the start of the film, “It’s my happening and it freaks me out” is directly lifted from a scene in Beyond). Watch it and enjoy the wild craziness of it, the swinging 60s feel of it and the sad tale of money, fame and far too many drugs. I love this film! It’s not my favourite Meyer film (that goes to Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, which I finally got to see a few years later), but it’s an easy 8 boobs out of 10!!