Blue Velvet (1986) dir. David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper
With the Toronto release of “Inland Empire” it seems opportune to review another classic Lynchian nightmare. Three years after the disaster that was “Dune” arose the film that laid the foundation from which all his other films would be influenced - “Blue Velvet”.
The film opens with the opening credits superimposed over, appropriately, a beautiful piece of blue velvet hanging and swaying with the breeze. The Angelo Badlamenti’s music sting is melodramatic and ominous. Then a series of impossibly beautiful shots of the small town of lumbertown.
The town of Lumbertown is a make-believe fantasy world likely fashioned after Lynch’s hometown of Missoula Montana. It’s a template for the “Twin Peaks” world, a glossy middle-America world of good coffee and apple pie but with a dark underbelly seething underneath. This is a common subject for Lynch. Similarly his Hollywood of “Mullholland Drive” was ripped apart in the third act to reveal a murderous world of jealousy and greed.
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachan) is our guide into this world, a young college grad who one day stumbles upon a human ear lying in the grass. Jeffrey Beaumont does the right thing and informs the police. But Jeffrey is still curious about the mystery, and so begins his own Hardy Boys-type exploration into the crime. After following a few clues he finds himself hiding in the closet of the sultry Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) a lounge singer and sexual slave for the vile gangster Frank Booth (a villainous Dennis Hopper). Jeffrey is found out, but instead develops a relationship with Vallens. When Booth finds Jeffrey out, all hell breaks loose.
Jeffrey’s night out with Booth and his cronies is a trip into the surreal world of David Lynch. Jeffrey is beat up as a warning to stay away. But it only fuels his anger and desire to right what is wrong. Complicating Jeffrey’s life is his real world girlfriend Sandy (Laura Dern) who will eventually learn of Jeffrey’s secret life.
The star of the show is Lynch’s nightmares put to screen. Hopper’s Booth is perhaps the scariest villain in the history of cinema. His violent rage brought on by his personal flask of compressed helium hidden in his pocket will give you goose bumps. And I don’t think anybody has ever used the word ‘fuck’ with greater intensity. Lynch mixes his violence and horror with sincere melodrama and soap opera dramatics. Sandy and Jeffrey’s slow dance at the house party could be out of a John Hughes movie or an episode of Degrassi, and Angelo Badlamenti’s swooning score lulls you into a dreamlike state.
I’ve always said, at will David Lynch could make the scariest film of all time. He uses all elements at his disposal, sound, music, lighting, camera angles, and movement first to create a foundation of utter creepiness, then he can make you jump with slightest of changes. For example, Laura Dern’s luminous introduction at night on the sidewalk outside her house. From the darkness she slowly emerges from under a streetlamp to introduce herself to Jeffrey. It’s a subtle but brilliant cinematic moment. And only Lynch could make Roy Orbison or Bobby Vinton scary. That’s talent.
The dichotomy of the mid-western saccharine life with the heinous villainy of the seedy underbelly is what Lynch has recycled ever since this film. The best metaphor for this is the shot of the camera slowly moves into the human ear, the closer it gets we hear the sounds of the bugs eating away at the flesh. It’s a typical Lynchian image and the hallmark of his body of work. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Blue Velvet (Special Edition)