Monday, 28 November 2011

JACQUELINE SUSANN AND HER “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS”



"You’ve got to climb mount Everest to reach the valley of the dolls.” Aw, such sweet words from a movie that is definitely the best of the genre. I was around 10 years old when I first saw it, seated comfortably in my parents living room, unaware that the film was about to be pivotal in my growing up. No, not in a draggish way, mind you, but as an introduction to—how I would later describe films such as this one—bad movies heaven. It was right after THE BRADY BUNCH series ended and right before Travolta’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER began. I was knee deep in Archie Comic books and, alas, the unfortunate victim of gay bashing. The sad part is that I wasn’t even aware of my own sexuality back then. But, for some strange reason, they sure were.

Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for Jacqueline Susann and her VALLEY OF THE DOLLS I would never have been as easily lured into the trashy world. One thing I have to say before continuing: just like my then-up and coming alternative lifestyle, I didn’t know the film had been harshly criticized by moviegoers at that time. To me, VALLEY was just the greatest thing that ever existed. It would take me years to finally get it and see the film as the epiphany of bad taste in a high gloss production value. But back then, I, the kid educated to the screen world of Esther Williams and Elvis Presley, was mesmerized by everything that was going on, and with good reasons.


For those two people still unaware of the film, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS centers around three unfortunate gals (or dolls, if you prefer) who take on the showbiz world and are quickly tramped upon by success, failure and pill popping (referred to as dolls as well). There’s Neely, the gifted but auto-destructive singer/actress whose low self-esteem takes her to loony bins and darken gutters; Jennifer, the bombshell with nothing to offer but her tighten by exercise boobies; then there’s Ann, the good girl with her naive ways who suffers greatly in the name of love, so much so that the Dionne Warwick theme song follows her wherever she goes. Almost two hours are spent watching these aspiring women loving, hating, back stabbing, and best of all, wig pulling one another for the sole benefit of sheer entertainment ‘60s style (an era so in right now that there’s even talk of bringing the film to TV, à la MAD MEN series). It’s like watching every episodes of the JERRY SRINGER SHOW all rolled up into one—but with classier broads.



Ann was my favorite character. She was the strongest of the trio; positive (when doll free), supportive; a true friend. I can still see her on that train heading to New York, so sure that her world was about to rock once there. And without knowing it, I, too, had found my niche somewhere else, embarking on a cheesy journey that would change the way I see movies forever. And yes, I did develop a strong dependence on trashy films afterwards. In fact, I’m still riding on the same high. Not that I don’t appreciate a good old fashioned movie once in awhile. Like everyone else, I have my own limits. But there’s nothing better than watching a high or a low-budget train wreck in action. That is, what is considered to be a train wreck. Because you know the old saying: one man’s celluloid trash is another man’s celluloid treasure. It just depends on what tickles your fancy, and for me, this film does it aplenty.


If you have yet to savor the VALLEY OF THE DOLLS special DVD edition, I suggest that you do it pronto. There’s everything in it, from never-before-seen supplements—like the Judy Garland wardrobe test shots before she was replaced by Susan Hayward as queen bee Helen Lawson—to the actual movie soundtrack that includes the ever-famous theme song belted by co-creator Dory Previn (Warwick could not contractually appear). Now, all we need, to die very very happy, is the official 1981 mini-series remake released on DVD. Wouldn’t that be a kick if it ever came to be?! In the meantime watch this blog for my eventual take on it (reviewed here).




Until next post—Martin




 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, 14 November 2011

"LACE", THE BOOK



A few years ago I wrote a lukewarm Amazon review regarding Shirley Conran’s LACE. I titled it “More Like Cotton”, referring to the degree of smoothness this tale of revenge on mama lacked overall. The novel, far from being perfect, failed to stir any warm feelings on my part, like the adapted mini-series did when it first aired in 1984. Someone replied to my less than enthusiastic comment about the book, labeling it rubbish on account of my gender. That bothered me. I replied by saying that I'm sure a man's perspective wouldn't have mattered had this been a rave review, which I still believe today. Frankly, a novel is as good as its author makes it out to be.
 
I re-visited LACE last week, keeping in mind that person’s unfavorable comment. And I can see why she wrote it. Clearly, LACE is a woman’s book. You can swing a “Duh” here if you want, but what I mean is that, contrary to many offerings in the same category, this one makes a point in elevating its female characters even higher to reach that I am woman hear my roar pedestal. In my opinion, no other novels besides Marilyn French’s THE WOMEN’S ROOM ever did that. Sure, LACE is a ‘80s genre book, meaning opulence takes center stage, but its theme is still the ever strong bond these women share while moving mountains to fulfill their individual needs.

But, alas, this discovery does not make LACE a better read a second time around. Yes, the main story line about sex symbol Lili wanting to find her real mom is as intriguing as it can be, but besides that, everything else is a struggle. Conran’s narrative is wordy and, let’s not mince words, almost dull. You barely come out feeling anything for these career gals. Moreover, the men in their lives are the bad guys. The author makes sure we, the readers, know it over and over as we go along.
 
This never really annoyed me before, since I’m from (and all for) the Jackie Collins school of get away from me bad men as I conquer the world and look stunning while doing so. It’s just that in this novel, no one with a schlong is friendly, and while it usually still makes for swift reading in any other work, Conran’s LACE ends up irking more than pleasing. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better had it been a bit more pro-male. So, yes, I guess that Amazon person was right all along. You shouldn’t give credence to my point of view regarding novels for women about women such as LACE. I'd much rather watch the sensational TV adaptation, anyway.




 
Until next post—Martin







Thursday, 3 November 2011

MARGAUX HEMINGWAY'S "LIPSTICK"



I always had a soft spot for Margaux Hemingway, especially after sitting through the delectable awfulness that is LIPSTICK. Here is the then-million dollar contract model for Babe perfume trying to succeed as an actress and failing miserably (according to many insiders, but more on that later). I’m sure her entourage had something to do with this, not only encouraging her for the sake of money; but making sure that she turns a deaf ear to any true criticism (or self ill-feelings) toward her onscreen performance. But whatever the cause, LIPSTICK bombed at the box office in 1976 and her career in films soon fizzled after that. In 1996 Margaux died supposedly of a massive epileptic seizure; some say of a suicide. Who knows? What’s sure, however, is that she died all alone in her house in Bel Air. She was in her early 40s and her days of making it in Hollywood long gone. Oh, she did continue to work, mostly in B-grade films  like KILLER FISH or INNER SANCTUM but she never reached the A-list sphere so much expected with the release of LIPSTICK.
 


In it she plays, what else, a famous fashion model who, urged by her younger sister (played by real life sis Mariel in her screen debut), meets the little one’s music teacher (an effective Chris Sarandon). The guy turns out to be one sick puppy, raping her in every which way possible, and, when arrested and on trial, yells consenting hook up. Because it’s a movie, and there’s some form of lack of evidence involving sex and the selling of the body (don’t ask), Margaux looses the trial. However, she later reclaims her spot when little sis gets a shot at the teacher’s sick talent and he ends up pumped full of bullets by a red-clad Margaux holding one mean rifle.



There’s no doubt in my mind that LIPSTICK is a flawed film. Scenes of unintentional laughter mixed with cringed-induced moments are plentiful, not to mention demeaning to women. But that’s what makes LIPSTICK such a fascinating viewing experience, witnessing the degree with which director Lamont Johnson degrades himself, and ultimately others, for the sake of his art. And it is art we’re seeing here; not an easy breezy art form, perhaps, but one that connects with those into sexploitation cinema. I’ll go even further and declare that LIPSTICK is mostly a total joy because it does revive the sleazy days of pulp movies (now in an upswing, thanks to Tarantino’s Grindhouse style filmmaking and also to the folks behind the Mill Creek Entertainment DVD label who have been releasing their load of shlock titles). Of course, Russ Meyer first comes to mind when focussing on this subject, with his keen handle of onscreen sexual exploits and cinema de vérité approach of the late ‘60s; though LIPSTICK is more subdued in that department (if this can be believed) choosing instead a higher gloss and budget to counterbalance its harsh theme.



Legendary Anne Bancroft, who co-stars in the film portraying Margaux’s feisty attorney, has nothing to worry about, acting-wise. Clearly, her talent is miles ahead over Margaux’s. Still, when sharing the screen with others but Bancroft, Margaux does manage to hold her own. You can clearly see some evidence of sparks in her performance, despite the many negative criticisms over it. But clearly it is Mariel, her little sis, who steals her thunder. She delivers some of the sweetest and finely-tuned moments in the film. She single-handedly saves LIPSTICK from becoming a total disaster (should we really thank her for that?). Every nuance of her emotional face shows the making of a great actress, and she did become one for a while, as her older sister stumbled and stumbled into even more forgettable Z flicks.



LIPSTICK was indeed the apogee of Margaux's career. Far from being Academy award worthy, it is definitely a fave among cult cinema lovers. Suffice to say, had the film been perfect in every way, this blog would probably have dismissed it as total waste of time. That’s how grand it really is. So, here’s to you LIPSTICK for giving us 90 minutes of pure joy every time we pop our disc in. But most especially to Margaux Hemingway, for having had no choice but to rise above the film bashing and move on. You are dearly missed.


 


Until next post—Martin