“Talking about it was so important to that film. I think some people could despise it. If you don’t like the story or what it’s saying, then you just end up hating everything. It’s not a movie for everybody. Some people really dug it. Others thought it was disgusting and sick. And, of course, it is but it has two sides. You have to have the contrasts. Films should have power. The power of good and the power of darkness, so you can get some thrills and shake things up a bit. If you back off from that stuff, you’re shooting right down into lukewarm junk.” David Lynch interviewed by Chris Rodley for Lynch on Lynch
Blue Velvet (1986)
Directed by David Lynch
Written by David Lynch
Produced by Fred Caruso
Taken at face value, Blue Velvet is the most primal tribute to Alfred Hitchcock to be conjured by another director outside of Alfred Hitchcock. Shadow of a Doubt found diabolism under the eaves in a small town, Rear Window warned voyeurs against peeping through the blinds of their neighbors and Blue Velvet hands out literature with a similar message, complete with a portrait of evil more unsettling than Psycho. If David Lynch had been satisfied making a thriller about other thrillers, his fourth motion picture would have still been one of the decade’s most powerful. Kyle MacLachlan (in his second film role after debuting as The Chosen One in Lynch’s unwieldily adaptation of Dune) plays Jeffrey Beaumont, a college student who returns to his “woodsy” hometown of Lumberton after his father suffers a terrifying stroke.
Strolling home, Jeffrey discovers a human ear in a field. The police detective on the case stays mum on who belongs to the ear, but his teenaged daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) is game to let Jeffrey in on what she’s heard through the walls, specifically, the name of a singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Jeffrey’s thirst for “knowledge and experience” leads him to Dorothy’s apartment on the dark side of town. He’s forced to take cover in a closet and see what should have been left unseen: an amyl nitrate inhaling psychopath named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) has kidnapped Dorothy’s son and husband, clipping off her spouse’s ear to keep the songstress dependent on him. Jeffrey is repulsed by and attracted to his subject and it takes more than a hell ride with Frank and his crew for him to put Dorothy Vallens out of mind.
David Lynch grew up in Spokane and began noodling on Blue Velvet as early as 1973, starting with Bobby Vinton’s haunting version of the melody, some suburban mise-en-scène and Lynch’s obsession with sneaking into a girl’s room at night, where a mystery might be revealed while he watched her. The script frightened Warner Bros. and perplexed Lynch, specifically, how it should end. He accepted an offer to adapt and direct Dune for Dino De Laurentiis and though the results didn’t live up to expectations, De Laurentiis rolled the dice on Lynch again and his gamble paid off. The National Society of Film Critics voted Blue Velvet the Best Picture of 1986, but with Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Platoon and A Room with a View vying for Best Picture, Blue Velvet was left in the dark at the Oscars.
With the eerie steadiness of a planchette being nudged across a ouija board, the mastery of Blue Velvet is how it drifts away from safety and discovers perversity lurking under what passes for normal in the suburbs. In terms of visual composition, this is watercolor come to life. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes immerses the film in electric blues, verdant greens and nightmare black. Even with extras who look like they were stolen from a circus, there’s not a bad performance in the picture; Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper have never been stronger, with Hopper cracking the screen with white trash intensity. In the daylight scenes, Lynch lets his infectious sense of humor come out to play. After dark, he forces viewers to question the foundation of evil. Angelo Badalamenti composed the lush orchestral score.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 67,823 users: 88% for Blue Velvet
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