2 Hrs., 1 Min.
Blue Velvet October 21, 2015
Wandering away from the boundary line that props the boundary push has never been David Lynch’s problem per se — he has every right to play tricks as the pulp fiction undertones run dry and we’re left with Edward Hopper-meets-Frankenstein artistry. His problem is with convention, and that’s why he's remained an exciting filmmaker ever since he released Eraserhead in 1977 and drove cinema junkies nuts. So frequent are his successes that every one of his films seems to be a landing point, a beginning of an era, as if he’s a cinematic David Bowie, Madonna.
Blue Velvet burns in the memory as his most iconic moment, where every single one of his lurid noir/sicko comedic instincts grabs us by the lapels, throws us around the room for a couple of hours, and still manages to never let go. I prefer Mulholland Dr., his magnum opus, his last great film, and the first time the performances stuck out just as much as his artistic indulgences. But I can hardly complain; I might as well go out on a limb and say that I favor chicken over steak, which changes with the mood and the wind and is therefore an untrustworthy statement. With Lynch, your life, more or less, is changed after sitting for a few hours inside his mind. To have a favorite film of his is a sort of impossibility (though I’m still sticking with that 2001 Hollywood ditty for now).
He is an artist intrigued by the underbellies of American society. And like in Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet is a horror mystery set in an idyllic town that finds its thrills in the disturbing happenings that occur on a nightly basis in the more shadowy pockets of the city.
Clean-cut college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan), the attaching tool who connects the white-picket fence exuberance with the more horrific side, is back in town after his father suffers a devastating stroke. An all-American young man, he would never expect his hometown to be anything more than the plastic-looking backlot of a 1960s television studio that it appears to be — so when he discovers a severed ear in a field during a leisurely walk, his romanticized notions are shaken when authorities all but look the other way.
Determined to solve the mystery himself like a single Hardy Boy, he uses Sandy (Laura Dern), the wholesome daughter of the police captain, as a main source of information. She thinks the ear could be connected with Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a slinky lounge singer with legal suspicions surrounding her name. The two, believing they’re Pamela Sue Martin and Parker Stevenson on a good day, decide to investigate themselves.
But such ideas immediately prove to be dangerous, as Jeffrey, the riskier of the two, discovers that Dorothy’s husband and young son have been kidnapped by the sadistic Frank Booth (Dennis Hooper), who, on a near daily basis, makes it his mission to make Dorothy a rape toy and an object of humiliation. Before Jeffrey can call the Scooby Gang for backup, however, he finds himself increasingly entangled with the violent dramas of his sleuthing: just as his feelings for Sandy begin to blossom, he also starts to unleash his dark side with Dorothy, who prefers sadomasochism to tenderness.
Blue Velvet is a sort of portfolio, introducing us to the artist that David Lynch really is. There are touches of film noir, psychological horror, fantasy, romance, old-fashioned melodrama, the avant garde, the experimental. It’s a cockeyed crime film that, more or less, contains the dark truths about the unsafer parts of town — yet the reality of it all is kinda sorta pulpy, like Lynch mimicked components of war-era detective comics and Archie serials, took a lot of the fun out, but didn’t forget to keep the humor. So it’s a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy more stunning than Kanye’s, which is saying something. There isn’t a moment during which Lynch isn’t in control — everything is his.
And I like the cast, who embody roles that should have all the dimension of a cutout soap opera individual but end up being much more than that. MacLachlan is perfectly cast as the kid who gets way in over his head, like a Hitchcock anti-hero; Dern has charisma that goes much further than what we’re used to seeing with most movie teenager love interests. But Blue Velvet unquestionably belongs to Rossellini and Hopper, who make the familiar (the Rita Hayworth-esque torch singer, the evil Bond villain) seem new again.
The film has something for everyone. For the mainstream looking for simple entertainment, a mystery of great luster is involved. For the film junkies, it’s splendor in the grass. It goes far beyond the norm — that’s why David Lynch doesn’t have a prime decade à la De Palma: his idiosyncrasy doesn’t have a warranty. A