Blue Velvet (80)
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
September 12, 1986
I became obsessed with the return of Twin Peaks to television. The privilege of getting to witness David Lynch on a weekly basis recalled memories of my mother watching the original run on late Thursday nights in 1990. My happiness was bittersweet. The show ended after episode 18 and the tale of Twin Peaks had ended. To fill the void that this had left I took a look at David Lynch’s other work. No specific order. Just watching his movies and seeing what interests me. This had led me to Blue Velvet, a movie I had paid little attention to before. Even though I had been intrigued.
Blue Velvet is a dark noir mystery from 1986. It was written and directed by David Lynch. And serves as an unconventional detective story. Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) and Sandy (Laura Dern) are two young lovers in the sleepy town of Lumberton, North Carolina. A colorful, happy place that has a deep, dark, foreboding underbelly. Early in the film, Jeffrey had found a disembodied ear in a field. A discovery that kicks off a strange and dangerous journey. Sandy leads Jeffrey to the apartment of a troubled singer, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). He investigates on his own, hoping to find who the ear came from. But Vallens is pretty much held hostage by a sadistic murderer. A brutish and disturbed individual named Frank Booth. Booth terrorizes Vallens while holding her husband and child in captivity. Jeffrey decides that it’s his duty to stand up for Dorothy and creates this unhealthy situation that places him right in the lion's den with the murderous sociopath. Booth sets his focus on the young Beaumont and we get an interesting and compelling look at some insane characters along this intense journey.
David Lynch’s script had been floating around Hollywood since the late seventies. His previous works had been Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Dune. And Dune had bombed. It was a failure and led to a short fallout with producer Dino De Laurentiis. That is until Laurentiis got his hands on Blue Velvet. Cast members had said it was amazing to work with Lynch. Dennis Hopper had said “David Lynch is one of the most important directors!” and he knew it would help restart his career.
David Lynch had sought out Isabella Rossellini for the role of Dorothy Vallens. Rossellini had not been an actress of the conventional sort. She had been in one thing before. However, she has mostly been a model and spokeswoman. And she did fantastic for such a demanding role. In interviews later after Blue Velvet she had looked back on the production fondly. Kyle MacLachlan had been tapped after starring in Dune. He has gone on to become a bit of a member of the David Lynch crew along with cast members, Laura Dern, Jack Nance and Francis Bay.
This movie has a ton of similarities with Twin Peaks. In fact, you could say that Blue Velvet and an early script by Lynch called, Ronnie Rocket had evolved into what Twin Peaks became. Both productions share a number of qualities and ideas. The contrasting idea of having a squeaky clean, fifties type town with a dark hidden secret rings the loudest. But also the themes of wood and birds all coincide. Lynch has said that “Agent Dale Cooper was conceived as a grown-up Jeffrey Beaumont.” Both productions also showcase that signature David Lynch dream style. A style that had defined his career and proved successful time and time again. The soundtrack to Blue Velvet is delivered by Angelo Badalamenti who had also worked on Twin Peaks. His notes are now unmistakeable to my ears.
Everyone is amazing in this movie. Their performances drive the movie. MacLachlan delivers a really pathetic but redeemable guy. Jeffrey evolves through the movie and it's really interesting. Dennis Hoppers character was an amyl nitrate huffing gangster named Frank Booth. Booth was the complete opposite. He was a sociopath that manipulates those around him and abuses them in various ways. I can hear his crass nonsense now in my mind. No one delivers FUCK like Hopper. That man was a true legend, and this movie proved it. Frank Booth is an icon in film history.
The film is beautiful and grotesque all at the same time. Some of the scenes are just so good looking and colorful to simply ignore. The footage is shot in widescreen letting the cinematographer, Frederick Elmes have a lot of freedom. Noir films rely on that heavy darkness. The loud shadow. This movie is no exception. The blackness during scenes suffocates the color and creates a void. This void has a natural pressure that Lynch can manipulate and build upon. He’s a master at building tension. So much so, that it can actually become frightful and that tension can drive the fear.
I don’t begin to understand what this movie is about. I am not that kind of person. I just can’t. But this film has a lot to say. I just appreciate how successful the movie is. It delivers a fright through physical, mental and sexual horror. Lynch is working on all cylinders here. Blue Velvet is a strange movie. It’s really heavy and daunting but well worth it. I highly recommend this movie. It has been said that this is the most grounded production by David Lynch. But I found it to be pretty far from grounded. This movie explores not just the narrative at face value. Also the minds and psyche of the characters in the film. This attention to detail is a feature of Lynch’s films that I have grown to really appreciate. Every character is interesting no matter how insignificant their role is.
If you appreciate film then please watch this movie. This is easily one of Lynch’s best films. It’s still not my favorite, that being Lost Highway. But, even if you are not a fan of Lynch’s work it’s still a great movie. I would be really interested in knowing what you think of it. So called film critic, Roger Ebert had been critical of the movie for making him feel uncomfortable. He panned it for its interpretation of Isabella Rossellini’s character being humiliated on screen. He scoffed at David Lynch who had reportedly couldn’t stop laughing at the “rape” scene between Hopper and Rossellini. Regardless, what are your opinions?