Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Blue Velvet (Happy B'day, David Lynch)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 77 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Blue Velvet (1986)
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
PRODUCER: Fred Caruso
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Duwayne Dunham
COMPOSER: Angelo Badalamenti
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Jack Harvey, Brad Dourif, Hope Lange, and Dean Stockwell

By the late 1980’s, David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet was a trendy, cult favorite at the university I attended. One associate told me quite flatly that he really couldn’t tell me what the story was about, but that he liked the movie because “you were supposed to like it.” Apparently Woody Allen liked it so much that when he and Lynch were two of the 1986 Oscar nominees for Best Director, he asked Orion, his studio at that time, not to create an ad campaign to support his chances (for the film Hannah and Her Sisters) in competition against Lynch. Allen really believed that Lynch should win. Blue Velvet is not that good.

Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is home from college because of his father’s illness. While taking a walk on a back road, he discovers a severed ear, which piques his curiosity. He makes a connection to the ear with a troubled and enigmatic singer, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Jeffrey becomes obsessed with Dorothy at the same time he’s chasing Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), a high school girl he has become sweet on. As he digs deeper into the mystery, he discovers a bizarre and dark underworld of drugs and murder beneath the façade of his hometown Lumberton, USA, not the least of which is Dorothy’s sicko paramour, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).

At this point in his development as a surrealist, David Lynch was formulating his visual style, but the narrative style that would make the connection between him and his audience was still in the tinkering stage. The story of Blue Velvet is a noir-ish tale of criminals, damsels in distress, girlfriends, crooked cops, and the steady lawman, but these elements are mostly window dressing for the director’s pictorial staging. Out of the story we may get the idea that there is something dark, wet, and nasty behind the white picket fences of small town America/suburbia, but that idea has been done to death, even in 1986. There is usually something kinda brown and squishy behind every pretty façade.

There are a lot of good moments and characters in Blue Velvet. Some of it will make you laugh, and some of it is quite imaginative, as well as shocking. It’s fun to watch Lynch go through the process of staging everything and creating his visual shorthand for his brand of storytelling. However, in the end, this is a baby step towards what he would do in the future. It’s like Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets in the sense that this is the shape of things to come, or at least the mold for Lynch’s future films.

I heartily recommend it to people who like to watch movies, not just for the sake of watching movies, but who particularly enjoy this form of storytelling for what only it can do. Blue Velvet is special, and because of the way that it tells its tale, it could only be a movie, so you have to watch it to experience it, warts and all.

6 of 10

1987 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Director” (David Lynch)

1987 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Dennis Hopper) and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (David Lynch)


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