CLASSIC CUT – Blue Velvet (1986)

blue velvet isabella rosellini kyle maclachlan david lynchIt looks like we Netflix instant users may lose a real gem on October 1st, 2015 – David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. I have to thank Sarah Jane for bringing (tweeting) this to my attention. I own the DVD of course, this is Blue Velvet we’re talking about. Nonetheless, learning that it is on its way off of Netflix instant steered me toward writing this with the hope that I will convince at least one person to re-visit this perfect film. (And if someone sees it for the first time because of me, I will be very proud of myself indeed!) Is “perfect film” hyperbole? Good question. Let’s get into it.

David Lynch is an icon of subversive cinema. He is often referred to as an auteur. Whether that is because his singular vision is put onto film through sheer force of personality or because he knows how to bend the oft-maligned film industry to his will, I don’t know. Either way, he makes movies that leave one questioning her/his own perceptions of society (and usually reality as well). His name has become shorthand for films that are weird or feature weird characters but aren’t quite horror. Anything with a touch of the creepy or a menacing undercurrent is described as Lynchian. It is often misguided but the adjective is cemented in our film vocabulary because we would lack the words to express our impressions otherwise. When we hear “Lynchian”, we know what to expect. But this – Blue Velvet – is the source material. This is THE film that first gave us the elements of the Lynchian film in one complete package. Eraserhead gave us macabre nightmare imagery. The Elephant Man gave us stark and brutal reality. Dune doesn’t count. Blue Velvet gave us depravity hiding behind idyll via nightmarish encounters with characters so head-spinningly fucked up that they border on surreal. Blue Velvet is Lynch’s first real Lynchian film. 

The thin veneer of a picture-perfect small town is marred when Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) finds part of a human ear in an empty lot. He turns it in to the the police but finds his curiosity about the appendage insatiable. He teams up with Sandy (Laura Dern), the daughter of the detective handling the case. She feeds him information leading him to the apartment of a local singer, Dorothy Vallens (superbly played by Isabella Rossellini). There, he poses as an exterminator to gain entrance and steal a key for a return visit when she’s not home. The perfect time to do that is when she’s at a bar singing the titular “Blue Velvet” (rather hypnotically, I must say). He breaks in and gets caught by Dorothy, sexually assaulted, hidden in a closet, and he then he witnesses Frank (Dennis Hopper). Frank is a psychopath with sado-masochistic tendencies and violent mood swings. (Hopper chews the goddamn scenery like a fucking madman!) Jeffrey is attracted to Sandy but he’s also irresistibly drawn to Dorothy. Thus forms a twisted love triangle. Turns out Frank is a very, very bad man and he’s not too keen on Jeffrey hanging around Dorothy, his sex slave. Things go south for Jeffrey. Like, really south.

I don’t want to give everything away, but even if I wrote pages and pages of scene description and my interpretation of the film, I could never convey to you just how upsetting it is. A few examples: Dean Stockwell in clownishly thick makeup lip-synchs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” into a worklight while Jeffrey watches nervously, surrounded by menacing weirdos. Frank huffs some sort of gas (nitrous oxide?) and refers to himself both as “daddy” and “baby” when slapping Dorothy around/getting off. Sandy’s boyfriend threatens to kick Jeffrey’s ass “right in front of your own stupid house” when Dorothy, completely fucking naked, walks from around the back of the house and into his arms. Frank, in a rage, spits a hyper-intense, profane monologue at Jeffrey about sending him a “love letter”. “STRAIGHT FROM MY HEART, FUCKER!” (FYI – it’s not the kind of love letter normal human beings refer to when they use the term.) (Another FYI – big pieces of this monologue were used in the first Metal Gear Solid game by Sniper Wolf.)

THE FINAL CUT: Blue Velvet is gloriously disturbing. Lynch shows us Hell under the veil of quiet small town society. It’s a hell that is horrific enough to tie our guts in knots, but just believable enough to make us hope we never feel the urge to dig deeper than the safe, comfortable surface of our day-to-day lives. It is a perfect film. (though Isabella’s hair is VERY 80s.) Watch it on Netflix before it’s too late!

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