Monday, March 24, 2008

Valley of the Dolls - A Seminal Experience

Do you recognize this title card? Noooo?

Here's another hint:

It was only a matter of time before it would be Valley of the Dolls time around here. For me, this movie never gets tired. Before you roll your eyes and get all Lovey Howell on me, saying, "Oh PLEASE!," hear me out: Yes, it's got the bad screenplay, terrible dialogue, ridiculous situations, god-awful showtunes (I own the soundtrack), bizarre-o 60s glam costumes, sky-high hair, and mental institution-grade acting; yes, yes, of course, all those things and more. But it's got that extra special something that makes it eternal: not a single moment in Valley of the Dolls is real. Not one!
It wants you to think it's real, but it's completely artificial from the moment we enter Anne Welles' forever snow-covered New England town, to Neely O'Hara's high-decibal curtain call to herself in a garbage-strewn studio-lot alley.

Of course the badness makes it so good, but it's the artificiality that makes it special. Broadway legend Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) really tanks on stage, listing to one side like a unbalanced mannequin and croaking out her number in the Broadway sensation, "Hit The Sky" ("My tree will not be just one in a row...") while easily upstaged by a giant mobile. Yet the audience is rapt and Helen commands top billing and major back-stage grovelling by all who encounter her. As played by Patty Duke, Neely O'Hara is definitely not especially talented, charismatic or appealing, yet her storyline follows the Judy Garland lifetime arc anyway. Barbara Parkins' Anne Welles goes from secretary to cardboard cut-out supermodel in nanoseconds upon arrival in New York.

But why am I gabbing away here, when you can just see for yourself? Let us embrace the wonder and misguided madness that is:

Meet the girls (and completely ignore their weak-willed, smarmy, ineffectual love interests). Anne Welles - a vision in beige.

Broadway legend and head beotch, Helen Lawson.

Neely O'Hara, the up-and-comer--she's got spunk, moxie, a voice like gargled Lysterine.

The lovely and untalented Jennifer North.

And lest we forget—Miriam. Lee Grant certainly has presence—ominous presence.

Show business is a cruel business, as evidenced here.

There's the tedium of bust exercises.

The hard physical work, resulting in seeing trails while cartwheeling.

I just like this lamp.

The onstage triumphs, overshadowed by ridiculous stage craft.


There's the audience.

What follows are way too many screen shots from the Gillian Girl Hairspray ad campaign, but I just can't help myself. Have pity on me. Barbara Parkins would understand.

Yes mother. I am doing my bust exercises. The beautiful and tragic Sharon Tate.

Trouble in paradise.

It's too damn HOT!!!

I'm fond of the coat rack on the left. Urban Outfitters has a similar one in three colors for only $68.

The bitterest line in all of film history: Sparkle Neely SPARKLE!

How DARE you! You have SOME nerve! Contaminating MY pool with your FILTH!

The completely straight Ted Casablanca.

Suspicious with vinyl pillow.

Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope.

Dhrr shee prirr dee perrr firrssz.




Oh for fuck's sake.

The special edition of Valley of the Dollscontains two DVDs of excellence, including screen tests, commentaries by Barbara Parkins and E!'s Ted Casablanca, photo stills, lobby card reproductions, karaoke with bouncing pills, and two short films; a vintage documentary about author Jacqueline Susann and a new documentary featuring the story of Theater-A-Go-Go's successful theatrical production of the movie. Clumsily titled, Gotta Get off this Merry-Go-Round: Sex, Dolls and Showtunes; it should be called, How 'Valley of the Dolls' has Been Read and Enjoyed by its Gay Audience Throughout the Years. Just as clumsy but more telling, and it's as funny as the film it reveres. Entertaining a cult following since 1967.


Buzz Stephens said...

This week over at The Judy Garland Experience on Yahoo they are featuring some extremely rare, never before heard, pre-recordings that Judy Garland used to learn some of the material for her television series.
The discovery of these recordings is almost like finding a long lost studio album by Judy.
Many of the great songs that she performed on her TV series can now be heard without applause or announcements. Just Judy and her band, the way it was meant to be.
There are also many other exciting and rare files currently posted at the experience, but you will just have to go find out for yourself what they are (or read about them on our blog:
If you are a Judy Garland fan please consider joining The Judy Garland Experience, the world's largest Garland group. Along with rare audio files, we also have unique photo's, first person accounts, lively discussions, and more!
Please stop by and check things out, you may find that you'll never want to leave our little Judyville!

Lisa Mc said...

I discovered through the DVD that Judy Garland was actually filmed as Helen Lawson for about a week before going on hiatus due to doll-like issues. It's a fun creative exercise to imagine her in the role. But what really gave me brain damage was when Barbara Parkins was interviewed and said that director Mark Robson didn't give his acctresses enough direction for addictive pill-head behavior and they just staggered around like they were drunk while he concentrated on close-ups of scattered pills and messy decor.

"Think if Martin Scorsese had directed Valley of the Dolls," she said (I paraphrase), "and all the detail and emotion that would have gone into the feelings behind this behavior." At that point during the documentary my brain did a schism as I tried to imagine such a scenario. And for a moment I had a hard time coming back to reality. If you ever want a little break from real life, I recommend you do the same: Martin Scorsese directing Valley of the Dolls. See? It works!

Anonymous said...

Sharon Tate perchance? Not Jessica

Miss Lisa said...

Thanks, Anonymous for keeping it real.