Most critics don’t get the chance to review a movie they helped write. Then again, Roger Ebert wasn’t most critics. Ebert, who died today of cancer, may be best known for flashing his thumbs with Gene Siskel and posting immaculate analyses at his Chicago Sun-Times blog, but he’s also the mind behind a cult classic that deserves a mention, the 1970 dark comedy “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.”
Ebert co-wrote the in-name-only sequel to “Valley Of The Dolls” in six weeks, working with Russ Meyer, a sexploitation director whose early work Ebert championed. In a piece for Film Comment marking BVD’s 10th anniversary, Ebert calls the final product “an essay on our generic expectations...set to music and manipulated to work as exposition and satire at the same time; it's cause and effect, a wind-up machine to generate emotions, pure movie without message.”
In a 2006 interview, actor John Lazar, who played one of BVD’s most legendary characters, Z-Man, remembered Ebert during the time of filming as “very quiet,” “busy doing his thing” (that “thing” Lazar later clarified as rewriting the script). There was apparently plenty of reason for Ebert to stay busy. In that same Film Comment piece, Ebert wrote that the movie came into being mainly because of financial problems at Fox, which produced the unusual circumstances of low oversight and high expectations. “In hindsight I can recognize that the conditions of its making were almost miraculous,” he wrote.
And yet, even if the movie was a one-off creation -- a miracle -- it made space for others like it. It’s hard not to recognize a common line linking BVD to the work of rule-breakers today. (What better description is there for Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” than “pure movie without message”? It's the phrase critics have been searching for!) So today, we remember Ebert not just as dignified arbiter of mass entertainment, or familiar TV personality, but as the ballsy screenwriter who helped make this miracle a reality: