Friday, June 16, 2006

Camera Obscura - Ultra Groovy Edition

"This is my happening and it freaks me out!"

Which movie do you know that line from? Think it's from the first "Austin Powers"? Nope, he cribbed it from a script by film critic Roger Ebert. And Ebert crafted his screenplay at the end of the 1960s collaborating with one of his most favorite filmmakers, Russ Meyer in a big-budget Fox spectacle that finally gets the DVD treatment it deserves.

"Beyond The Valley of the Dolls" hit stores this week, loaded with commentary from Ebert as well as the stars of this very influential cult classic and several new documentaries which make it a must own for true film buffs.

Austin uses the line when he enters the Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club - it was a line from BVD which the actor hated saying. Also, the tune "Incense and Peppermints" by the Strawberry Alarm Clock is playing, and that same band was actually in the scene in BVD when the line is spoken.

And while Ebert's work is exceptionally funny as is the BVD movie, the real genius for the movie is Russ Meyer. Meyer had a rep in the early 60s as That Guy Who Made Nudie Movies, but Meyer truly was a master and BVD is the best place to start your adventure with him. Without Meyer (Russ, not the actor who played Austin and no, no relation) there would never have been a John Waters, a "Rocky Horror", or the rapid edit style of MTV or the tounge-in-cheek Tarantino. Yeah, baby, yeah!!!

The studio got this hilarious send-up of Hollywood from Meyers under budget and under schedule and had no idea how to market the satire of the wild and the groovy and ultra-hip. The preview they made is a mash-up madness with some of the strangest all-time rambling announcer lines I've ever heard. The audience got it though, and the movie made ten times what it cost to make on it's first release and became even more popular with time. As for that preview, check it out below.

It is tough to make an easy label for this movie - an all-girl rock band goes to L.A. in a smarmy soap opera satire, is immersed in the most bizarre cult of personality and fame and fortune (yeah, the one that's still there cranking out Weird at high volumes) and encounters all the horrors of the hedonist life.

The stars from the movie are touring together for midnight showings of the movie to promote the DVD and RetroCrush has great interviews with them all here.

In Ebert's DVD comments, he says that the actors were pretty confused too - was this a comedy or not. He spent meticulous time with the actors, telling them how to play the scenes with all the backstory and emotional hoo-ha and to do it with a straight face. He would add the comedy, he said, thru the music and the editing. He does. When a beheading occurs you hear the 20th-Century Fox theme, and he also was the first director to blend in Wagner's opera just as Looney Tunes used much classical music the make their cartoons hilarious.

Also out on DVD in the US finally is the first classic from Meyer, a 1965 movie so bad and hot and wild the title still provides names today for rock bands and rock songs: "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!". Gotta love that title. And the ad lines from the poster: "Filmed in Glorious Black and Blue!" "Belted, Booted and Buckled!!"

This comedy action crazy adventure is made most memorable by the star, Tura Satana - who as a young Japanese girl in America was held in an interment camp as a child with her parents, endured the horrors of rape at age 9 and then life in the girl gangs, dated Elvis, danced burlesque and found much fame from the movie. RetroCrush has a killer interview here.

I was lucky enough to catch the movie on the big screen at the Downtown West when it was re-released in 1995 and laughed myself silly. It's like Mystery Science Theatre and David Lynch made "Thelma and Louise" with the dialog of Ed Wood. Have to see it to believe it and you'll have to go to the late, great Russ Meyer page to order the DVD.

Ah, the 1960s - ultra groovy times indeed. This week I found another wild take on relationships, this time on the Moon with a crazy cast - Dick Shawn, Dennis Weaver, Connie Stevens, Anita Ekberg, Howard Morris (better known as Ernest T Bass ala Andy Griffith), plus cameos by James Brolin and Linda Harrison (soon to be Charlton Heston's girlfriend in "Planet of the Apes") and starring Jerry Lewis.

Yes, that Jerry Lewis. The movie is "Way ... Way, Out!"

A Cold War sci-fi sex comedy with Jerry Lewis ... sorta leaves any sane person speechless. Sadly no DVD on this one yet, look for it on the movie channels, and I'm one of maybe three people who like the oddity. The director was Gordon Douglas, who made the classic sci-fi "Them!" (and how come they don't put exclamation points in movie titles anymore?), and another classic groovy flick from the 60s, "In Like Flint" plus countless westerns and action films, including a trio of movies with Frank Sinatra as a private detective.

Finally this week a big thanks to GAC at Atomic Tumor for her post on Asian Cinema with some fine selections to consider and where I was allowed to ramble endlessly on the topic and probably killed the conversation.

I'll do that.


  1. Joe, Joe, Joe.
    You are the grooviest. I LOVE "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" and "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill."
    When I was in college. We had pirated copies and would throw movie fests for them.
    Were we seperated at birth?

  2. I've only seen one of the three you mentioned today: Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! I think it was at the Taphouse, and it must have been in '95. I was thoroughly amused.
    Every time BVD is mentioned, I make a mental note to see it, and then forget. I'm writing it down this time!
    Thanks for the nod in your post. ;)

  3. Newscoma - activate Wonder Triplet powers! Guess maybe it was 'cause we wuz borned in Coolsville.

    GAC - you're right, that was at the old Tap House in 95, not Downtown West. the two screens then at the Tap were on the *cough* art house *cough* circuit. Might be able to catch a copy of the new DVD version on Fox Movie Channel, but the commentaries make the purchase worthwhile!

  4. It still makes me sad that they turned the Tap House into a lame dinner theater. I watched a lot of movies there in high school. I loved the funky 1970's decor.

    By the way, there are still movies with exclamation points in the title. The most recent I can think of is a silly piece of fluff called Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! The kid from That 70's Show was in it along with that other guy from Las Vegas and Kate Bosworth. Oh, and Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! you gotta love that movie. Fear not, there's still plenty of room for kitsch.

  5. I'm sure I'm likely the only person who wonders what roles punctuation could play in a movie.

    I also kinda liked the way the filmmakers used to give a movie a title and then add "Or" and make it really long - like "The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck", "The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-up Zombie", "Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Love the Bomb and Stop Worrying."

    the rap movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" doesn't count.

    and ya know, i kinda like both movies you mentioned, girlspit!!

  6. You're a groovy boy. I'd like to strap you on sometime.

  7. woo hoo!! an Edy Williams line! i'm swooning!

  8. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a whole bunch of fun to watch. Russ Meyer was pure genius. Thanks for the kind words about the retroCRUSH interviews. I dunno if it shows, but it took a little while to transcribe/edit those babies.

    For those of you who have never seen the film one way to check out a bunch of fun clips is to do a search on

  9. only the finest info for the readers, here Randy - thats why i mentioned those interviews. they are first rate work!
    just go the retroCrush site people!! it has tons of great info on all types of Grade-A cultural goodies!

    thanks for stopping by, Randy!