Roger Ebert’s physical presence — bespectacled, en-sweatered, and arm-waving — seemed intrinsic to his film reviews, first on Sneak Previews, then on At the Movies, and later on Siskel & Ebert. For those of us who didn’t live in Illinois before the internet, his televised thoughts were the only way we were receiving them, after all. His and Gene Siskel’s passion and love for movies were inspiring, and their shows were an important entry point for people who also felt strongly about film but weren’t academic enough to start with Pauline Kael. Ebert was especially huggable and uncle-like. I saw My Dinner with Andre as a kid because of him, and I am still grateful.
But always enhancing Ebert’s place as a seminal figure in movie criticism was his hilarious contribution to movies themselves: the 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He cowrote it with shlocktarian Russ Meyer, and it’s just an unparalleled spectacle of amazingness. On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, Ebert wrote about the experience in Film Comment: “We wrote the screenplay in six weeks flat, laughing maniacally from time to time, and then the movie was made.”
The plot doesn’t make any sense, but if you want to try, Wikipedia has a good summary. And Louis Peitzman has written the “19 Reasons “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” Is The Greatest Cult Film Of All Time.” As Louis points out, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls gave us many gifts, but my favorite (and I’m sure I’m not alone) was the Z-Man character, who Ebert said was based on Phil Spector (“but neither Meyer nor I had ever met Spector,” he wrote).
I hope that college students are still watching it and laughing hysterically.