Sunday, November 17, 2013

Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970)

WHO: The late Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for this.

WHAT: One of the best films of the early 1970s, gorgeously shot and cast, wonderfully scored in the rock and roll idiom of its day, and edited almost like an experimental film in places. Matt Singer wrote a lovely piece about the film as a reflection of its screenwriter's critical values shortly after Ebert's death earlier this year.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 2:00 and 4:30.

WHY: The films in YBCA's X: The History of a Film Rating all have very different stories behind their MPAA rating. For instance, when Midnight Cowboy (screening December 12) got its X-rating in 1969, the rating system was still new and didn't have the same pornographic implications it would soon acquire, so the film was able to screen widely nationwide and even won the Best Picture Academy Award (a year after Oliver! won with a G-rating; Patton would become the first GP-rated Best Picture winner, The French Connection the first R-rated one, The Sting the first PG and The Last Emperor the first PG-13.)

But by the time Pink Flamingos (screening December 14) received an X-rating (according to John Waters "for hideousness, not sex") the rating prevented it from showing at mainstream movie houses but helped ensure its credibility and popularity among the midnight-movie crowd. When gearing up for a 25th anniversary re-release in 1997, the NC-17 rating had replaced X at the MPAA, (and on the blacklists of religious groups, mall theatres and "family newspapers") and its distributor New Line actually requested it be re-rated NC-17, sensing that the substantial Waters fanbase and future fanbase would not be deterred from buying a ticket to a movie with that rating; perhaps they'd even be more inclined to do so.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls seems to have been made during a moment when studios were particularly uncertain of what 'X' might mean for box office. The impression I get from listening to Roger Ebert's commentary track on the DVD is that Fox's original concept was to hire Russ Meyer with the expectation that he make an X-rated film, but that at some point during the production or post-production process Fox changed its mind, feeling an 'R' would be more commercial and sked Meyer to try to attempt an edit for that rating; when the MPAA gave it an X anyway, he pressed to be allowed to re-edit some more of his risque footage back into the film, but was denied.

HOW: 35mm print

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