Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.
Well, I'm not sure how much of an idea of what he's all about I really have at this point, but one thing's for sure: I needn't have worried about "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" being conventional. That is one thing it certainly is not. The reason that quote from the Mega City Four album insert came to mind almost immediately was because of the pell-mell narrative style the movie engaged in throughout. Truth to tell, the plot didn't make all that much sense. Early in the movie, four of the main characters, who are in a band together, show up at a happening party in LA, where they have just moved. Somehow, without any sort of general introduction, everyone at the party knows all of their names, and one guest even determines from one of the band members' last names that she's the daughter of a US Senator--this without said character's last name having ever been mentioned before in the movie. There are moments like this throughout, where the plot of the movie makes huge leaps of logic that slide by OK but, with even a second's examination, are seen to be ridiculous. And with any other director, flaws like this would ruin a movie.
Not so Russ Meyer. He directs with the pedal to the metal throughout, and in so doing, keeps the viewer from ever pondering unexplained things like the aforementioned leaps in logic, or the fuzzy motivation that is a problem for almost all of the characters at one point or another. Character is developed in only the most rudimentary ways, and everyone is pretty one-dimensional... until they're not, that is. And most of the main characters do experience what, in any other movie, would be a developmental character arc. However, with Meyer at the helm, it seems less like development and more like, every now and then, some character or another will do something that makes no sense in light of their previous motivations and behavior. There might be some tossed-off 5-second attempt to explain it, but there might not even be that. As the viewer, though, you're too caught up in the pell-mell narrative style to even care. You think, "Wait, what? Oh, fuck it." And you roll with whatever Meyer throws at you. In a weird way, this is part of his oddball genius--he does shit that should not work, but makes it work by doing other shit that shouldn't work either.
About that pell-mell narrative style: the best way I could describe it would be as "compressed", which is a word used popularly in comic book criticism to describe stories in which intricate, well-developed plots are fit neatly into 25 pages or less. Some fans are really into this whole style, and rail against the "decompressed" writing styles of guys like Brian Michael Bendis, who will take 5 issues of a story arc to vanquish a villain and then give us one more issue solely devoted to the tying up of loose ends in a hero's personal life. Generally, I'm the type to prefer the decompressed narrative style, so by all rights I should hate Russ Meyer's directing style. But even with me, it works, just because I'm having too much fun to complain. It was weird to look at the time-elapsed display on my DVD player and realize how much had already happened in the movie and it was still only 30 or 45 minutes from the beginning. But I couldn't really mount any objection.
I think the real key to everything Russ Meyer does with narrative in "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" comes down to the way he looks at set pieces, of which there are many in this film. Rather than using them the way a lot of directors do, as climactic points throughout a film that advance the plot, Meyer seems to see the set pieces as the whole point. "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" has a plot that moves in a unified narrative arc--it's not a David Lynch film or anything--but the plot is constructed in such a flimsy manner, it seems like it's threatening to fall apart at any point. It's only Meyer's directorial velocity that keeps it from doing so. And the plot gets flimsier every time an opportunity for some other garish set piece arises. It seems like no more than 10 minutes go by without the characters all going to a party. And what parties they are--characters are constantly popping pills, smoking weed, making out, groping each other, shedding clothes, walking in on couples fucking, etc, etc. I knew to expect this, but it's still kind of stunning to see just how much female flesh is bared in this movie. For a Hollywood picture, even a B-movie, to show as many gratuitously naked tits and asses as "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" has on display is hard to imagine. I have no idea how Meyer pulled off getting this film made. And perhaps that's why it's the only film of his aboveground enough to even be available from Netflix. I can only imagine the levels of debauchery that await me if I ever do track down one of his other films.
In fact, maybe this train of thought explains the truly weird ending to the movie. All of the action is done by the time there are 5 or so minutes left, but from there, a narrative voiceover that has not existed anywhere else in the movie leads us through a discussion of all of the major and some of the minor characters, and exactly how their moral failings led them to the positions they ended up in. A lot of the supposed moral lessons included in this ending voiceover are absurd and nonsensical, but they're there nonetheless, as out of place as the police lecture at the end of John Huston's "Asphalt Jungle". I'm glad Hollywood isn't forcing directors to tack this sort of thing onto the end of their movies anymore, but it's always interesting to see nonetheless.
I'll leave you with this Youtube clip from the film. It spans about 4 minutes at the beginning of the film, maybe minute 5 to minute 9 or so. In it, the all-female band finishes a nowhere gig, heads out to their van, smokes a joint provided by their male manager, who then begins to make out with the singer. The other band members scram, and the singer says "Let's make love." "Where, here?" "No--IN LA!" Singer and manager proceed to have a rhyming argument about the the pros and cons of LA, set over a rapidly-cutting visual montage of random street scenes and clips from party scenes that will show up later in the movie. Said montage includes its fair share of exposed tits and asses, too. By the end of the argument, the band and manager are depicted driving across the country on their way to LA, and the band girls shake tambourines and sing one of their songs, presumably called "Gentle People". The clip ends as they arrive in LA--a lot of plot development for less than 4 minutes of the film. And if you agree with me that this short clip is a pretty interesting mix of fun, titillating, and confusingly absurd, then you'll probably enjoy this movie just as much as I did.