Russ Meyer’s mock horror exploitation musical — one of the great pop artifacts of the counterculture — finally appears on DVD in a two-disc set featuring participation from the vast majority of surviving players. Although it turned a healthy profit on release, pic was largely dismissed with the rest of Meyer’s oeuvre — Variety’s original review calls it “as funny as a burning orphanage.” Package offers a welcome reassessment, achieved largely by an insightful commentary from screenwriter Roger Ebert, positioning Meyer as a maverick independent auteur using a studio budget to make his grandest statement.
On paper, “BVD” seemed like a good idea. Fox was in dire need of a hip pic to attract young auds, since all it had on its slate were two war pictures and a Western, which, Ebert notes, were the unreleased “Patton,” “MASH” and “Butch Cassidy.”
But hiring the “King of the Nudies” to shoot his first studio pic and tapping a rookie film critic to write it provided Fox with something it didn’t bargain for: a deliberately camp satire of an unintentionally camp melodrama.
“Valley of the Dolls” author Jacqueline Susann refused to sign off on a sequel, resulting in a disclaimer at the start of “BVD” that further blurred the line between the two.
“BVD” is actually Meyer’s tamest pic; Ebert reveals Fox was aiming for an R rating, but the pic was ironically certified X due to its violence.
Ebert’s wry and self-depreciating commentary dishes equally on the production and on Meyer’s talents, pointing out the script’s naive allusions to “Citizen Kane” while comparing the helmer to John Cassavetes as an auteur who would write, shoot, direct, produce, edit, distribute and promote his own pics.
Other bonus features offer a cornucopia of trivia. The featurettes are cheap and cheerful, but work thanks to the sheer enthusiasm of a wide selection of the film’s supporters.
Best are the warm reminisces and revealing anecdotes from the pic’s participants. Thirty-six years on, John LaZar still dislikes the pic’s signature line, “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” (since appropriated by Austin Powers) and initially refused to say it because it was not hip enough.