It’s been announced that various independent film companies have banded together to make yet another film about making a film titled RUSS & ROGER GO BEYOND. Set to tell the story of the collaboration between trash auteur Russ Meyer and respected film critic Roger Ebert on BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970), like Meyer’s cult favourite, the end product will no doubt be…interesting.
Such an unusual and fascinating real-life tale seemingly lends itself well to a dramatic re-telling. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was a semi-spoof-psychedelic-musical-comedy-drama-horror (try saying that in one breath) and despite studio clashes and the near-impossible task to market the film, it was a financial hit in the USA. It’s unclear at this stage what the film’s plot will focus on – the many challenges of the filmmaking process, the unlikely friendship and working relationship between Ebert and Meyer, the contrasting private and public lives of the men themselves, or all of the above. I sincerely hope they don’t spread themselves too thin and try to cover all of these angles – that was what destroyed HITCHCOCK as a film; it became bland and non-committal.
One of the main problems with films about films is that we’ve likely already seen the end product that we’re supposedly watching being made on-screen. We know the ending, so there’s zero tension. The only thrill we can possibly attain from a film where we already know the ending is witnessing how the journey affects the characters. For it to work, the characters have to engage, and because they’re usually actors playing real people, they have to utterly convince in their portrayal of that real person. We know Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was made, it was massively successful, and its popularity with audiences only increased over time. Beyond the quality of the screenplay (by Chris Cluess), which has to at least be engaging, it’s going to be down to how good our two lead actors are.
So, who should play Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert? That’s a tough one. While you could probably get away with slapping a pervy moustache on just about any larger-framed character actor to play Meyer (he was reclusive and rarely gave interviews), Ebert poses a real challenge for a casting director. He was arguably the most famous, and most frequently heard English-speaking film critic in the world. Whoever gets to play the late, great Ebert will have to do an uncanny impression of his voice and mannerisms. No-one immediately springs to mind to play Ebert, but I could see someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman – with a bit of hair dye – playing “The King of the Nudies”.
I’m really not sure about this one. It’s a great story to tell on-screen, and Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer were undoubtedly fascinating, insanely talented men, both iconic, in different ways, players in film. It’s all down to who they cast, and what direction their story goes in. A bit of artistic flare wouldn’t go amiss, either – I’d love to see a biopic in the luridly colourful visual style of Meyer’s later career, maybe with some Meyer-brand camp humour thrown in. No word on when Russ & Roger Go Beyond will be cast, filmed, or released, but I await it with equal parts excitement and trepidation. SSP