A masterpiece then, a masterpiece now, BLUE VELVET is David Lynch’s
brilliant dissertation on the horror and depravity lurking beneath
picket fence America. It remains one of Lynch’s absolute finest films.
BLUE VELVET, financed and released by Italian
mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis (who’d just employed David Lynch for
one of David Lynch’s most acclaimed films, but also among his most
misunderstood. One widely held misconception is that the sentimental
moments were intended as somehow “ironic.” This is reflected in revival
screenings whose audiences cheer on Dennis Hopper’s slimy Frank Booth
character and boo the heroes Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern. Yet Lynch’s
love of and identification with small town naiveté is quite genuine
(check out THE STRAIGHT STORY if you don’t believe me). In this respect
Maclachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont can be seen as the most autobiographical
of Lynch’s protagonists, being a young man who cherishes the idyllic
world of his childhood yet has an unhealthy fascination with the
grotesque and bizarre.
BLUE VELVET, while not a huge commercial success,
reinvigorated Lynch’s career after the disaster of DUNE. It also
jump-started those of Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern (who’s since become
leading lady) and resurrected that of Dennis Hopper, who was
all-but unemployable at the time. It also set the stage for TWIN PEAKS,
whose major templates originated with BLUE VELVET, and much of the
independent film movement of the nineties (see
THE DARK BACKWARD, THE REFLECTING SKIN,
While on college break the naive young Jeffrey Beaumont
returns to the sleepy town of his childhood to care for his ailing
father. Yet no sooner has Jeffrey gotten back than he finds a severed
ear in a vacant lot. This is the start of a bizarre mystery.
Jeffrey visits the home of home of the local police
lieutenant and gets to know his teenage daughter Sandy. Intrigued by
Jeffrey’s find, Sandy tells Jeffrey of an exotic brunette singer named
Dorothy who may be involved in the mystery. The two go to see Dorothy
sing at a local nightclub, and Jeffrey finds himself smitten. He
promptly visits Dorothy’s apartment, located in the shady part of town
Jeffrey’s mother has warned him never to go. There Jeffrey steals a key.
That following night Jeffrey winds up hiding in
Dorothy’s closet, where he witnesses a slimy man named Frank Booth abuse
and then rape her. Afterward Dorothy discovers Jeffrey in the closet and
forces him to do perverted things to her at knifepoint. The more violent
and degrading the sex acts, the more Dorothy seems to enjoy them--and,
even scarier for Jeffrey, the more he enjoys perpetrating them!
Jeffrey visits Dorothy the following night for more
freaky sex, but runs into Frank. Together with several of his gangster
pals, Frank takes Jeffrey and Dorothy to “Pussy Heaven,” where Frank’s
effeminate buddy Ben is keeping Dorothy’s son captive. Later, in the
parking lot outside, Frank confronts Jeffrey with a horrifying truth
he’d rather not face: “You’re like me.”
The next day Jeffrey reports his findings to the
police, and has them confirmed when a severely battered Dorothy turns up
naked on the lieutenant’s front lawn and announces that Jeffrey “put his
disease” in her. This precipitates a raid on Frank’s place, and a final
confrontation between Frank and Jeffrey--and also between Jeffrey and
his own darker impulses.
For all the strangeness and perversity of BLUE VELVET,
the film’s most uncomfortable sequences are actually the “nicest” ones,
such as the ultra-sentimental dance scene in which Jeffrey and Sandy
profess their love for one another, and Dorothy’s sappy final reunion
with her child. The emotion behind these scenes is genuine, and neither
is played for laughs (despite what many critics would have you believe).
Lynch is not and never was a cerebral filmmaker, but rather an unabashed
sentimentalist unafraid to make his audiences uncomfortable, be it
through gooey love scenes or depictions of over-the-top perversion and
Lynch also favors uncomfortable laughter, and BLUE
VELVET is one of the most cringeably funny movies of all time. It
contains some of the darkest, nastiest comedy you’ll ever experience, as
the funniest scenes are paradoxically the most disturbing (such as
Dorothy’s climactic nude scene).
This doesn’t mean the film isn’t scary or suspenseful.
It’s one of the great thrillers of the eighties, if not of all time,
with tension and excitement to spare. The photography of Frederick Elmes
(who also photographed ERASERHEAD) and music of Angelo Badalamenti (in
his first Lynch film score--there’d be several more to come) are beyond
compare, with the performances of Kyle Maclachlan, Isabella Rossellini
and Dennis Hopper all up to a similar standard.
BLUE VELVET is one of most iconic “cult” movies of all
time, and there’s an excellent reason for that.
DEG Entertainment Group
Director: David Lynch
Producer: Fred Caruso
Screenplay: David Lynch
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Editing: Duwayne Dunham
Cast: Kyle Maclachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper,
Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances
Bay, Jack Harvey, Ken Stovitz, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance