Movie Reviews 315 – Blue Velvet (1986)

David Lynch‘s unique and often disturbing storytelling style was already well established when he wrote and directed Blue Velvet. After his debut Eraserhead had patrons scratching their heads he briefly turned to mainstream cinema with the highly successful Elephant Man and then followed that with the disastrous Dune adaptation. Blue Velvet was his triumphant return to his personal twisted turf, garnering accolades as much as controversy.

The tale of how a small town local returns when his father suffers a heart attack, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) stumbles upon a bloody human ear in a field. The local police detective effectively turns him away from the investigation, but the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) proves to be much more insightful and leads him to spying on a woman (Isabella Rossellini) in a nearby apartment building. Breaking into her apartment one night Jeffrey discovers that Dorothy is being tormented by someone, but the reasons are unclear, and only later does he learn that she is being abused and debased by a Frank (Dennis Hopper), a crazed drug lord holding her family hostage.

Dorothy is a nightclub singer whose signature song is Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet with Frank being regular patron for her performances, always clutching and salivating over a piece of blue velvet fabric that he has cut from her housecoat. When Frank encounters Jeffery he strong-arms him into joining him and his motley crew of thugs who are nearly as insane as Frank into a night of audacious whorehouse and bar visits. All during this time Jeffrey is vying for Sandy while being seduced by a masochistic Dorothy who is never fully hinged.

Lynch’s suburbia noir, rumoured to be a partial biopic, is equally repelling and viscerally fascinating. A movie that begins with sunny white picket fences transitioning to Dorothy’s dark dingy crimson apartment, and then back again. Hopper’s portrayal of Frank is equally bipolar, one minute a sleazy screaming brute who regresses into a babbling baby when seducing Dorothy, only to snap back if she so much as looks at him directly. Dorothy’s torment goes beyond mere abuse and at her lowest point dazedly walks the evening streets fully unclothed, one of many scenes eliciting scorn from critics for having Rossellini put through such an ordeal. The fine line between art or exhibitionism is razor thin.

Marking the triumphant return of Dennis Hopper to Hollywood after a stint in rehab, Blue Velvet really must to be seen to be appreciated. Full of nuggets and subtleties like the organ music score playing as Sandy explains her dreams of robins to Jeff with street view of a church as a backdrop. The film never explains how and why Dorothy’s family got into the predicament with Frank in the first place, but this ambiguity and other non-traditional indiscretions to film storytelling ‘rules’ enhances the mystery of the film and part of what make them ‘Lynchian’.

No review of Blue Velvet is complete without mentioning Angelo Badalamenti fabulous score which aside from Vinton’s song equally effectively uses Roy Orbison’s “In dreams” hauntingly being lip synched by Dean Stockwell.

My MGM Special Edition DVD contained a documentary made a number of years after the movie that I found to be almost as mesmerizing as the movie itself and further mystifying the enigmatic director. He reportedly found the brutal rape scene uncontrollably funny and laughed throughout the filming. Another surprise addition was the wildly divergent review by Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert from one of their old “At the Movies” episodes, which really completed my time machine viewing experience.

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