Sunday, April 29, 2007

This Is My Happening Yada Yada Yada

A big thanks to Moto, who woke me up this morning and offered me one of his passes to see BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS today, the final feature of Roger Ebert's annual Overlooked Film Festival here in Champaign. I've seen it several times before, including on the wonderful Fox DVD (with a fantastic Ebert audio commentary) and once at the Brew & View in Urbana, where it shared a memorable double bill with CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD (and when is Warners getting off its ass to release that one on DVD?). But you'll never see BVD at a better venue than Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and surrounded by about 1000 eager, knowledgeable film fans.

Ebert, as you may know, has had a rough year in terms of his health. He's unable to speak, and his surgeries have left him with a (hopefully temporary) physical appearance. He and his wife Chaz took the stage at the Virginia, and used a laptop and some electronic voice software to introduce today's film, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. He walked a little slowly, but you could tell that he had energy and enthusiasm. Actress Marcia McBroom, the Chicago Sun-Times movie and rock critics, and the leader of the Strawberry Alarm Clock did a 15-minute discussion before the film ran, and made it clear to the audience (mostly older, upscale film lovers) that it was okay to laugh, that BVD is a comedy and is intentionally funny. Everyone seemed to like it and laughed at the right places. The 35mm print looked extremely nice, and carried an MPAA "X" rating card at the end, not the NC-17.

In case you aren't aware, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was written by Ebert, when he was still early in his career as the film critic for the Sun-Times, and directed by legendary exploitation auteur Russ Meyer, his first for a Hollywood studio. Part rock musical, part action, part psychedelia, part sexploitation, part parody and part soap opera, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is a sex- and sleaze-filled riot about a female rock-and-roll band (called The Carrie Nations) trying to make it big in Hollywood. BVD is really a bizarre mess with typically (for a Meyer movie) stunning photography and editing, as well as memorably campy performances and kickass tunes co-written by Stu Phillips (THE MONKEES). I have the soundtrack, which contains some great songs by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Phillips' witty score and amazing grrl power blasts by The Carrie Nations, who were not the actresses in the film, but actually session musicians and singer Lynn Carey, who also co-wrote a couple of the songs.

This weekend is just about Champaign-Urbana's busiest. In addition to the annual "Ebertfest" (this year's was the ninth), the annual Artists Against AIDS show occurs just a few blocks away downtown. Oddly, this year's event was held in the Orpheum Children's Museum, which was once the Orpheum Theater, another historical-landmark movie house. Many downtown businesses stay open later this weekend, and the bars and restaurants are typically packed. This year we also had fantastic weather, which you can't always count on during April in Central Illinois.

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