To lewdity and ‘Beyond’ right

Eric Hoyt

Most Americans don’t associate Roger Ebert with gyrating topless women, psychedelic musical numbers, or gory decapitations. Best known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic and co-host of “Ebert & Roeper at the Movies,” Ebert also enjoyed a brief career as a screenwriter. In 1970, Ebert collaborated with veteran skin flick director Russ Meyer to create “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” a wacky, energetic and sex-filled genre-bending film.

Some might wonder how the reputable Ebert could be happy having written an X-rated movie. Other celebrities have worked to erase tainted histories of sex movies. After achieving “Rocky” fame, Sylvester Stallone allegedly tried to purchase and destroy every print of “Italian Stallion,” a porno in which he starred.

So why would Ebert be willing to speak positively about the sexually explicit “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?” All you have to do is watch the movie to find out. “Beyond” is an outrageous and hysterical look at Hollywood and the 1960s counter culture. It is not just a skin flick — it is also a musical, a satire, a melodrama, a horror movie; it is the work of someone who has seen way too many movies.

“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” takes its title from the 1967 film “Valley of the Dolls,” based on the book by Jackie Susann and often considered one of the worst films ever made. Although “Beyond” assures us in the opening credits that it is not a sequel, its basic premise is similar: three hopeful young women move to Hollywood to break into show business but become engulfed in a whirlpool of sex and drugs.

The three young, busty heroines of “Beyond” (Marcia McBroom, Cynthia Myers and Dolly Read) form a rock band called The Carrie Nations, a late ’60s girl group in the spirit of “Josie and the Pussycats.”

Their music is about as tame as “Josie,” but their lifestyles are not. Within hours of being in L.A., the trio finds to the pleasures of promiscuous sex and pill popping in one of the most colorful and excessive party scenes in cinema.

Even more wild and entertaining than The Carrie Nations are the bizarre and eccentric characters surrounding them. The band’s freaky manager, Z-Man (John Lazar), is a pop music svengali reportedly based on Phil Spector. Z-Man speaks in Elizabethan English (“You carlet! You serf! You buggering knave! How dare you spurn my alabaster charms!”), a strange character quirk that Ebert has said probably grew out of his time spent as an English graduate student. Many call the Z-Man the inspiration for Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) for his androgynous sexuality, sadistic charm and occasionally violent temper.

The villain for most of the film is Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), a greedy attorney who represents a foil to the counter culture of the hippie movement. “I wouldn’t be surprised that all of them smoke marijuana cigarettes,” warns the square Porter Hall to a relative of the band.

But it’s the lusty Edy Williams who really steals the show. As Ashley St. Ives, a sexually insatiable porn star both on and off screen, Williams takes great pleasure in delivering outrageous pickup lines like, “You’re a groovy boy. I’d like to strap you on sometime.” Williams must have proven irresistible to the director — she was Mrs. Russ Meyer for five years after the film came out.

Deservedly nicknamed the “King of the Nudies,” Russ Meyer also made low budget sex-ploitation films “Mondo Topless,” “Vixen!” and the fabulous “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” before directing “Beyond.” Meyer’s first collaboration with Roger Ebert was also his first major studio project. Its subject matter might be a bit tasteless, but in terms of scope and visual outrageousness, the film goes ‘Beyond’ anything Meyer or Fox ever tried before.

The new print of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” opens this weekend at the Music Box Theatre. Roger Ebert will be present to introduce the film on Friday. nyou