Blue Velvet review by Tom Blain

A deep blue sky with a speckling of clouds backgrounds a white picket fence, newly painted or at least kept so clean you would think it was fresh. In front of it a bush of red roses open and in full bloom catching enough of the sun to reveal their perfect velvety texture. Cut to a perfect neighborhood with a fire truck passing, fireman waving, and a well-trained Dalmatian hanging patiently on the side. Kids crossing the road safely from school protected by an elderly cross guard who probably doesnt even need to be there. In the background, the song Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton; an innocent, bubble gummy romantic song from the early sixties. Its a song that conjures up feelings of safety and innocence. This is what David Lynch reveals in the opening of Blue Velvet, so that he can lull you into safety before hitting you over the head with a mallet.

The opening just described is more or less a pallet cleanser later used for contrast. The story itself starts out with an ear. Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is the one who finds it. He is a young nave college kid looking for adventure in his sleepy small town described above; the town where anyone would feel safe to live. Where the ear came from seems like a great thing to investigate. Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) is his high school aged friend who becomes his Hardy Boy/Nancy Drew investigation buddy. It all seems like good clean fun until Jeffrey steps into the apartment of Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rosselini) and finds himself engulfed into a darker side of his sleepy logging town.

Blue Velvet was directed by David Lynch and came out in 1986. It was released after Dune which was more or less a Dino De Laurentis film directed by David Lynch. This film is Lynchs best straight forward execution of the directors favorite themes. His innocent setup followed by complete darkness and depravity has become his trademark by now. Lynch would dive into the dark corners of seemingly normal America for many of his subsequent films (Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive), but in the subsequent films he would also muddle his stories in twisted surrealist fantasy. His surrealistic touches are enjoyable and worth discussing but they also tend to mask or draw attention from the main themes. Blue Velvets story is linear and doesnt dip into altered dimensions.

The characters in his film follow a similar pattern that is used in later films. Jeffrey might as well be a younger Dale Cooper. There are some comparisons to "small time detective" groups like you would read in a Hardy Boys book in the Twin Peaks series that seems to resonate in this film as well. Even the town draws similarities to Twin Peaks. Although its never told where its located, there are logging trucks rolling through so one could possibly assume its in the Pacific Northwest. But its the female characters and villains that get re-used the most. Lynch concerns himself with dualities of good and evil; sometimes within the same character and sometimes with two characters but especially with women. One a blonde; in this case Sandy, who is good, wholesome and innocent. She is introduced to the camera (heard first, not seen), entering out of a dark shadow as if to show despite her fathers work in law enforcement, that she has unknowingly walked through darkness. The other dark haired; in this case Dorothy who lives in a dark apartment, constantly holding in secrets. Her perverse desire to feel pain is a reaction to her sexual captivity under the mentally unstable Frank (Dennis Hopper) as well as her guilt for living while her husband and child are being held hostage. In Twin Peaks the role was reversed: Laura Palmer was blonde and Donna Hayward was dark haired. In Lost Highway Patricia Arquette played the role of two women (blonde and brunette). Finally in Mullholland Drive, Naomi Watts and Laura Harring donned both wigs.

And of course there is the villain. Frank is a merciless sociopath. He is one of those guys who could be smiling and laughing one minute and then punching you the next. Like many of Lynchs villains his lack of reason, his insanity is what puts the audience on edge. In no other Lynch film is this whacked out evil executed as well as when Hopper pulls it off. There were a number of similar cases in Twin Peaks (Bob, Leo Johnson, after a while Leland Palmer), Lost Highway and previously in Dune (the Baron). But Hopper carries off the role with a constant scowl on his face, like a loose dog on the street that you dont want to turn your back on. His insanity and lack of morals make him capable of anything.

Stylistically, Velvet is one of the few color films I feel comfortable calling film noir. In 1986 Lynch was still a relatively young director and just came off of his first big budget film, Dune. While this film isnt a big budget, it still shows off his skill for manipulating light and lack thereof for mood. Lynch uses deep dark shadows not only outdoors but also within uncertain interiors. The dark corners, of say Dorothy Valens apartment, have as much to do with the mood and feel of the film as any of the subject matter presented within the script. When Frank enters a room, he seems to enter as if delivered by a black cloud.

The scene at the 54 minute mark says it all. After Jeffrey was left to witness a strange and violent sexual encounter between Frank and Dorothy, he finds himself asked to explain what he saw to a still excited Sandy. Jeffrey is still noticeably shaken, relays the story to a stunned Sandy. Yeah, a David Lynch film will do that to you sometimes.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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