Valley of the Dolls Revisited: The Enduring Art of Awfulness

Article By I. M. Clarke

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Years ago, during a somewhat strained interview, I asked the director of a feature-length Canadian film why he’d said his work was destined to be a cult hit?  He replied that, after studying the most prominent cult films, he had compiled common characteristics and somehow melded them with his plodding narrative.

Obviously, he missed the point – and my bet is that you have never heard of this director or his sad professional progeny.

Surely a major attribute – if not the foundation – of a cult film is the sincere intent and belief of all concerned that they are creating wonderful art. If a director sets out to make a bad film, chances are he/she will make, well, a bad film.

Few major motion pictures are as aggressively awful as Valley of the Dolls, a 1967 release, based on author Jacqueline Susann’s 10-million copy best-seller. (In fact, one of best-selling novels of all time).

In fact, ‘Dolls’ is so reliably terrible, that all who claim an active interest in motion pictures, from indie projects to studio releases, should take the time, perhaps once every few years, to sluice their palates with the tangy froth of cinematic debris. Without knowledge of how bad it can get, you shall never appreciate the exhilaration of an enduring artistic accomplishment.
Most bad films have at least a few redeeming qualities. Not ‘Dolls’. It has integrity in that sense. The film is unique in that falls so far beyond redemption with such awkward sympathies, even the Pope would say, “O forget it. Straight to Hell’. The acting is amateurish, the script is clunky, the metaphors are juvenile, the storyline is far beyond the most over-heated soap opera effluvia, the direction is sloppy and static, the lighting itself is either unnaturally intense or full of meandering shadows and other evidence of incompetence, and the editor, at some point, must have just given up the will to live. Finally, the music is consistently bathetic and wretched, especially when warbled and screeched by non-singers like anti-thespian Patti Duke.

‘Dolls’ cartoon-like simplicity renders any commentary on drug abuse (its supposed thematic adhesive) wonderfully impotent.

Of course, the film has gained notoriety as the magnum opus of actress Sharon Tate, who would be murdered less than two years later by members of Charles Manson’s dull-eyed followers.

“They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway,” says one brassy gal to another brassy gal, “But Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way, I’ve got a man waiting for me.”

No writer, no matter how gifted and inspired, could ever improve on mainline kitsch like that.

I.M. Clarke’s musings on 1960s pop culture can be uncovered at http://60spop.blogspot.ca/

 

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