Desperately Seeking Neely O'Hara

4:39:00 PM

I've spent almost my entire movie fandom life chasing the proverbial dragon. At the tender age of ten years old I fell in love with all things camp. I was home alone for the first time and I rode my bike to the local video store and rented the new release of Hairspray. Filled with hair detentions, men as mothers, and a telling of a counter culture I had yet to experience, I had found my Utopia. I wanted to live in the world of the slightly reality based but mostly unreal technicolor sunshine!

So John Waters' Baltimore lead the way to my discovery of cult films. I explored exploitation and trash, indie and art house. But it wasn't until the late 1990's that I found what would be my one true love. I rented a film called Valley of the Dolls. I knew nothing of the late great Jackie Susann or her scandalous novels. I had always had a slight affection for classic films. But it had never occurred to me to search for classic BAD films. Valley of the Dolls was like finding the Holy Grail.
Upon first viewing I was engrossed. It set a criteria for me on which I now base my love of a quintessential wonderfully bad flick.

1) There must be an identifiable female lead in turmoil. In VOTD it could be all of these characters. Jennifer, the hot bitch with "only a body" and no talent. Anne, the good girl who falls into stardom and love with the wrong man. Helen Lawson, the old star who's still fighting to stay a star. And the BEST of all Neely O'Hara. She is the scrappy go-getter. She's got the talent and the drive but she just can't get by without that damn booze and dope. I heart Neely.

2) There must be loud ridiculous costumes and/or sets. Luckily for VOTD it was the mid 60's and Travilla did the gowns. GOOD GOD! They are so beaded and bright and fabulous. Travilla had done many trademark gowns for Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and Elizabeth Taylor. But these were like Travilla on psychedelics! Maddening!



3) There must be scandal! The more the merrier!
VOTD is chock full of scandal! Now this is the point in which I'd like to recommend the book. If you have not read it, well you are a fool. Every library has it, I think at one point it out sold the Bible. So find it and pour over it's juicy narrative. Flick wise, the movie is fine on it's own. Separate it from the film. You really need to think of it as an entirely different entity. The film includes infidelity, disease, abortion, drug addiction, porn (ze art films?) ugh and so much more! You have to remember that this was made very much so in a time where these things were only discussed in the smarmy underbelly of film. So kind of ahead of it's time.


4) Lastly, it has to have every person on the film making the worst possible decision through out every frame. Valley of the Dolls is a wonderfully bad film for a myriad of magical reasons that all come together. The director seems more focused on the look rather than the actors. The actors seem to be trying to out chew one another on a buffet of scenery. The music is hilarious. The things that should have been cut out of the film and are oddly over looked (pay special attention to Patty Dukes boobs in the scene where she sings on a telethon.) It all culminates into movie magic!

I have only found a few other flicks that have met this criteria:
Showgirls, Total Recall, Black Book,(Paul Verhoeven is the patron saint of big budget camp!) Glitter, Peyton Place, and some Douglas Sirk flicks. They are rare gems to be treasured.
However, everyday I yearn for something similar. I'm forever chasing Neely. Looking for the next flick to appease my heart and fill the void that Valley has so thoroughly created.

Originally published in Come On Flick Me 1/2/11

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