Beyond the Valley of the Dolts

The culturally numbing influence of the Walt Disney Co. continues to grow almost as fast as its profits. Perhaps without lifting a finger, Disney has succeeded in convincing AMC to pull the plug on the opening night of the 15th Annual Central Florida Film & Video Festival. Until Thursday, festival director Jason Neff had expected to kick off the festival on Sept. 26 with a screening of filmmaker Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" at AMC's Pleasure Island 24 in Downtown Disney. Then Neff learned AMC honchos had overruled their regional marketing director out of concern that the movie's NC-17 rating would dismay Disney. The decision came on the heels of an Orlando Sentinel story on the festival opening, headlined "Skin flick classic to be shown at Disney." Neff says Disney gave the thumbs-down after reading the story. But in the Sentinel's followup, which linked its earlier coverage to the cancellation, Disney denied having taken such a role. Neff had hoped AMC would offer an alternative venue. But he has learned otherwise. "We've completely lost AMC. If they do stay with us, it's a slap in the face to Disney," he says. When it debuted in 1971, the film, co-written by Manny Diaz and film critic Roger Ebert, was rated X. Twentieth Century Fox pulled it from distribution almost immediately. Yet it grossed $9 million worldwide, the number-two showing of the year. (Perhaps Sentinel critic Jay Boyar wrote his articles from this dated perspective. He told Neff he had last seen the movie 20 years ago.) But compared to films released today, its sexual content is "mild," Ebert said in labeling the cancellation as censorship. Neff agrees, and accuses Disney of operating by a different set of standards when the profitability of one of its own productions is involved. "They obviously try to cover up because of their family image. But the bottom line is to make dollars," says Neff. The festival runs from Sept. 26-Oct. 6, and the remaining shows all have venues. Meanwhile, Neff is scrambling for an opening-night location. Meyer , Diaz and possibly actress Cynthia Myer are expected to attend -- wherever the film is shown.
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