There’s already one major film about the life of film critic Roger Ebert in the works, Steve James’ documentary Life Itself, and now, per a press release reprinted at /Film, there’s another: Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a fictional film about Ebert’s collaboration and friendship with director Russ Meyer during the making of their 1970 movie Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.
The script for Russ & Roger Go Beyond was written by Christopher Cluess, an Emmy winner for his work on SCTV; he’s also written for The Simpsons, MADtv, and Saturday Night Live. Now a couple of production companies (Sobini Films, Permut Presentations, and Chautauqua Entertainment) have joined forces to acquire his screenplay. Some background on the story from the press release:
“At the end of the ’60s when films like Easy Rider and Bonnie & Clyde were reaching new audiences, Meyer, the outlaw director of soft-core pulp films like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was given the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of directing a studio film by Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox. The studio was struggling with a string of big budget failures and Zanuck thought Meyer was the solution. He offered him Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and Meyer agreed on the condition that Ebert, then the third string film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times (who had written one of the few positive reviews of his work) would write the script. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls became a struggle between the outsider filmmakers and the establishment studio’s board of directors, particularly over the film’s rating. Meyer, Ebert and Zanuck were ultimately vindicated when Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was released in 1970 to huge box office success.”
In his obituary for Meyer from 2004, Ebert celebrated his friend:
“His films were unique in that the women were always the strong characters, and men were the mindless sex objects. The film critic B. Ruby Rich called him ‘the first feminist American director.’ Meyer took praise with a grain of salt. After The Seven Minutes (1971), an attempt at a serious mainstream big studio picture, flopped at the box office, he told me: ‘I made the mistake of reading my reviews. What the public wants are big laughs and big tits and lots of ‘em. Lucky for me that’s what I like, too.’”
I’m not sure how much drama there really is in the making of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, but it’s certainly an interesting era in Hollywood, and an opportunity to see that era through the eyes of a pair of interesting subjects. There’s probably room for some big laughs and big, uh, other things, too.
Now, though, there’s a big question to ask: who the hell could play young Roger Ebert? Off the top of my head, I have absolutely no idea.