When Susan Sontag set out define camp in 1964, she differentiated between pure camp, which is innocently bad, and the deliberate variety, which is ultimately a simulation of naiveté. The latter, she rightly noted, is less likely to be as satisfying.
Squarely in the former category is a piece of '60s Hollywood pulp called Valley of the Dolls, about three troubled girls in Hollywood. The film was a hit, and it became time to do a sequel. Somehow, "Nudie King" Russ Meyers and critic Roger Ebert were drafted to direct and write respectively.
Luckily, the studio was burnt out on two previous efforts to get the ball rolling, so by the time the odd duo came on board, all it was expected to stick with was the title --- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. They parodied the structure of the original, and loaded it up with as much camp as they could. (The plot, about a girl rock band, merely provides the springboard for a tangle of soap-opera digressions.)
The result was something more sophisticated and consistent than Meyer's usual trash fare (despite the fact that the story was made up as they went along), and far more fun and fascinating than anything you might expect from Ebert. It was definitely "beyond." Beyond is not even in the same ballpark as the original. It's as crass and giddy as any movie with this kind of money behind it, and it's determined to shimmy every one of those dollars off of the screen and into your lap.
The filmstill works today perhaps because of the delicate balance between naive and faux-naive that Meyer walked. All the actors were instructed to deliver their ridiculous lines sincerely, and he had them convinced that he was sincere as well. Even though handicapped by its ironic intentions, the movie ends up trouncing the original in the camp competition by a landslide. Not to mention the sleaze competition. And yet, it's a strange combination of exploitation and corny wholesomeness. It plays like a Disney movie enthusiastically trying drugs for the first time... and deciding it really, really likes them.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, screening on Wednesday, March 31, at 8 p.m., wraps up the Dryden Theatre's Loathsome Films series. On Thursday, March 25, University of North Texas professor Harry M. Benshoff will give a lecture, "Rethinking the Loathsome Film of 1970," in the University of Rochester's Lander Auditorium, at 6 p.m. Free. 275-7800.