Sunday, July 18, 2010

You Know How Bitchy Fags Can Be: My First Viewing of Valley of the Dolls

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching Valley of the Dolls for the very first time. This film was released in 1967 and has lived on as a favorite for many gay men. For the heterosexual world, the gay aesthetic or camp is sometimes difficult to understand. Why do films like Valley of the Dolls attract gay men? Why are we a sucker for crazy women who pop pills and drink too much? There are no simple answers to these questions.

In many ways, it begins with a love for those on the outside. Gay men are often drawn to strong women who go against the grain of society. Obviously, gay men feel connected to that outsider status. Valley of the Dolls paints a world that was quite shocking to a 1967 audience. The film includes pill popping, plenty of drinking, smoking, talk of sex, even a few carefully done sex scenes, and a line about abortion. When something is labelled shocking, people are drawn to it, and especially those, who by their very nature, shock people (i.e. gays).

For those gay men who were born and raised in the 60s and 70s, there weren't gay films or Logo or gay characters on nearly anything. We still have a long way to go in good inclusion of gay characters in film and television, but we are quite a few steps ahead of the 60s and 70s. This is one reason a film like Valley of the Dolls was and is attractive to a gay audience. It is a glimpse into a sordid world. We are also a sucker for overly dramatic scenes, and this movie has plenty. From a 2010 perspective, the film is hilarious and the dialogue is as campy as you can get, but that is all part of the fun.

I was also amazed by the gay references in the film. There are quite a few lines about fags and queers. They are not positive. It is these lines that make the film even more interesting from a current gay perspective. There is an underlining homophobia that seeps into the film so easily and gives a snapshot of that time period.

The gay poet, David Trinidad, loves to write about films and actresses from the 1960s. When I taught a pop culture poetry class at Florida State University, I taught his poem "The Shower Scene in Psycho." In this poem, he splices together three threads. The first is a frame by frame description of the shower scene in Psycho. The second is a description of the Manson killings that resulted in the death of Sharon Tate who stared in Valley of the Dolls. The last thread of the poem is the story of a young man buying Valley of the Dolls (the book) and then eventually going to see it in the theater. The poem is an examination of violence and curiosity. Now, after seeing the film, I can't help but think about the young gay men who saw this film in the 60s. Why were they pulled in by it?

The gay references in the film have something to do with it. The lines are homophobic, but I imagine they were thrilling to a young man questioning his sexuality in a world that didn't want to talk about it. Sometimes just hearing those words, even in a negative context, lets you know that gay people do exist. There are fags and queers out there. I can relate to this, because I grew up in a small Midwestern city where I knew no other gay people. Hearing any gay reference caught my attention. When you combine that with the over-the-top acting, the scandalous boozing and pill popping, you've got yourself a gay hit.

Valley of the Dolls is well worth the viewing. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you get some cocktails and let the dolls take you on a fabulous two hour ride.

-Stephen (Bitchy Fag)

12 comments:

  1. I've never seen Valley of the Dolls, but I feel similarly about Mommie Dearest. It's so campy; you can't help but laugh even though it deals with some very dramatic situations.

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  2. As Edina Monsoon says of gay men: "God, a bitch with a drug habit, and you're anybody's, aren't you?"

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  3. I bet I could knit you a little case to keep your dolls together! Great insight into the film, loved the generational comparison and exploration of homophobia in the film and its impact on the person who may have felt isolated in their quest for authenticity. Fantastic post!

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  4. Valley of the Dolls is a fun time. I've actually wondered about the attraction to these tragic women. I mean, I've liked Judy, Bette, and Tina since I was a kid. They've all had some sort of addiction, abuse, or tragedy in their lives. I'm pretty sure I was drawn in by the over-the-top theatrics, but it does make me wonder if there isn't something a little more "collective subconscious" about the whole thing. It's not like I chose these people based on stereotypes that I knew anything about. I was made fun of when I told people that I was going to one of the concerts so it was certainly not the socially appropriate thing for a 10-15 year old boy to be listening to.

    The whole thing seems to confirm what ever gay man I know has ever said about coming out; that even before he knew he was gay, he knew he was "different."

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  5. Fags? Fags! Fags?! Who the fuck using the F word?

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  6. Thanks for all the comments and insights!

    Rondell: I'm not sure what you mean by your comment. The film uses the word fag and many other people do as well. Sometimes it is very negative, but not always. Some gay men have reclaimed the word and use it in a funny or friendly way within a gay audience.

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  7. Mr. Goldstein brings up a topic that has always fascinated me about gay culture. Gays people are the only minority not raised by their own. So why is it that so many of us were worshipping Madonna or Cher when we were 12? If I was Latino, I might like music because my parents listened to it. However, gays never have this. Yet, there are many universally gay things, that most of us will at least enjoy if not downright adore.

    As for usage of the other "f" word, I am still not quite comfortable with it. I was offended by the post, but I usually wince when I hear it in conversation with other gays. I can handle "queer," which for some reason straight people are always surprised at. I always tell them, "Listen, I don't want to hear it being shouted at me from a passing car, but it's okay most of the time." LOL

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  8. Good post. Blogged it over at areyououtsidethelines.wordpress.com (and got some link luv from CDYoung for it, too). THANKS! Would love to be on your blogroll.

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  9. Christopher,

    Thanks so much for the link. I really appreciate that. By the way, I absolutely love The Gay and Lesbian Review. You guys published one of my first poems in early 2008. I'll happily link your blog.

    Take care,
    Stephen

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  11. What is irrefutable is that there absolutely seems to be a ""gay agenda." If you accept my premise, you might want to know what that agenda is? It would appear to be general acceptance and the patina of normalcy. For years the American Psychological Association had classified homosexuality as an illness.

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