Blue Velvet (1986) dir. David Lynch
Starring: Kyle Maclachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern
A mixture of heart-on-one’s sleeve sentimentality and hardcore terrorizing brutality anchor David Lynch’s classic nightmarish love poem. After suffering the indignation of failing to deliver on the big budgeted sci-fi franchise in waiting, Dune, in 1986 Lynch seemed go back inward summoning latent fears and closeted fetishes for inspiration. The result is one of his three or four masterpieces - and the film that first defined the term ‘Lynchian’.
“Blue Velvet” lays the stylistic and thematic groundwork which he would expand upon in his later films. Of course the Lumberton locale, which Lynch’s opens up and like his rotten apple visual metaphor, becomes the environment for his seminal Twin Peaks TV series.
The actual plotting of the film, lead character Jeffrey Beaumont's investigation and the movements and motivations of the nefarious elements of the story, quickly fall to the background once Lynch starts the film’s headlong cinematic momentum. Starting with the third visit to the apartment, the film goes deeper into Lynch’s subconscious and by the time Jeffrey’s fateful night is over, we don’t care about who the ‘well-dressed’ man is, or who the 'yellow man' is.
The wonder of “Blue Velvet” lay in Lynch's amazing control of tone. And it doesn’t take him long to hypnotize us. The opening credit sequence is masterful. An ominiously dark and brooding music cue laid over his flowing curtain of blue velvet is enchanting. The film then segues into a dreamlike melancholy of the slow-moving rural life of Lumberton.
Throughout the picture Lynch moves us back and forth between these two extremes with supreme confidence and command of the medium.
The performances are typically subdued. Jeffrey, as played by Kyle Maclachlan, isn’t so much a developed character as another pawn for Lynch to use to express his mood. His love story with Sandy serves to allow Lynch to craft his grandiloquent melodramatic set pieces. The house party dance scene for instance, set to Angelo Badlamenti & Julee Cruise’s swooning dreamsong could melt butter. It takes us completely out of the film, at a point, when, in traditional screenwriting 101, the film should be maintaining it's A-Plot momentum, but for Lynch (and us) its more important than any of the action.
Sit this this scene next to one of Dennis Hopper's maliciously over-the-top sadistic fuck-tirades and it's the cinematic equivalent of bipolar syndrome.
Before Quentin used pop music as a counterpoint to violence Lynch did it masterfully here. Who ever thought Roy Orbison or Ketty Lester could be made so frightening? If I ever here Bobby Vinton crooning Blue Velvet again, it now brings a spine-tingling sense of danger, that in combination with the sound of nitrous oxide hissing from a gas tank will likely have me running out the door.