Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Clint Davis

Blue Velvet [1986]

Blue Velvet [1986] Clint Davis

Summary: David Lynch's seminal tale of seduction and danger on the wrong side of town is as weird and original as they come. Dennis Hopper represents one of the best casting choices in film history.


Truly Classic

User Rating: 5 (1 votes)

R  |  120 min.

Director: David Lynch  |  Screenplay: David Lynch

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern

Distribution: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Jeffrey and Sandy represent wholesome suburban life in the film’s daytime scenes.

In the history of film, there are a number of characters you’d never want to cross paths with.  Hannibal Lecter, Anton Chigurh, Christian Szell, and any character Joe Pesci plays in a Scorsese flick, just to name a few.

Frank Booth makes those guys look like Mister Rogers.

Blue Velvet‘s villain is a murderous, disconnected, morally-bankrupt sexual-deviant who curses more than Tony Montana and incidentally, has great taste in music and beer.  It’s Dennis Hopper’s manic performance that takes Booth off the screen and into your nightmares, though.  While you don’t meet his character until the second act, he dominates every scene (except one) that he’s in–and will likely be all you remember from the film your first time seeing it.

Director & screenwriter David Lynch (Eraserhead, TV’s Twin Peaks) is famous for shocking his audiences with hypnotizing images of domesticated life gone wrong.  His films are also noted for their subtle dreamlike quality that leaves viewers wondering if anything they saw really happened, most-evident in his 2001 film Mulholland Drive.  His works are controversial because they often split audiences between intense love and hate, often you either get it or your left feeling like you just wasted two hours of your life on a cryptic puzzle with no solution.  I view Blue Velvet as Lynch’s masterpiece because it combines every aspect of his signature style into a sultry package that’s both beautiful and downright ugly.

Isabella Rossellini’s Dorothy is a troubled nightclub performer on the wrong side of Lumberton.

The plot follows clean-cut college kid Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) as he grows obsessed with a suspected kidnapping after finding a severed human ear in a clearing near his hometown of Lumberton.  Jeffrey spends his days flirting with innocent high school girl Sandy (Laura Dern), who’s detective father is working on the case.  At night, he performs some amateur detective work, eventually connecting the crime to a lounge singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and her tormentor, Booth (Hopper).

Once you get past the nightmarish atmosphere of Blue Velvet, you’ve got a fairly simple crime story that attempts to peel back the clean, wholesome surface of suburban living and reveal the dirty secrets beneath.  In daylight, we see Lumberton as akin to ideal 1950’s towns like Mayfield or Hill Valley–but when the sun goes down, it’s as grimy as Twin Peaks or Hill Valley in Biff’s alternate 1985.  This duality is clearly exposed in the movie’s first ten minutes as Jeffrey’s father waters his lush green lawn but the camera soon takes us under the beautiful grass for a glimpse at the mass of hideous insects that live below.  This is the cutthroat world that Lynch’s film is really interested in.

Jeffrey is a clear representation of both worlds coexisting, he spends his days with the bubbly blonde Sandy, the all-American teen complete with a pink sweater and football-playing boyfriend–but he spends his nights with Dorothy, who’s nightclub act and blue velvet robe are all woman.  Laura Dern makes some hideous faces during her most melodramatic  teenage angst scenes, but she nails one scene as Sandy and Jeffrey check out Dorothy’s seductive performance, and no words are needed to express her intimidation at the display of raw sex in her singing.

Atmosphere is what Blue Velvet thrives on, and Lynch’s team creates some of the most memorable visuals ever put to film.  As mentioned, Hopper’s performance as Booth is as far from subtle as acting gets, but his frantic energy makes for an unpredictable and magnetic portrayal.  The best scene in this movie is one that never leaves you once you’ve witnessed it, as Booth and his crew visit an effeminate man named Ben (Dean Stockwell), leading to the creepiest karaoke you’ve ever seen.  I wrote above that Hopper dominates almost every scene he’s in, this would be the lone exception as Stockwell seems to channel every bit of desolation in the world and spew it out over Roy Orbison’s chilling classic “In Dreams” (or as Booth calls it, “Candy Colored Clown”).

Hopper and Stockwell share the screen in the film’s most memorable and chilling scene.

You’re never quite sure if Jeffrey is awake or dreaming during this film, especially in the sequences after dark.  Lynch purposefully shows his protagonist waking up in his own bed after numerous long nights, and the fact that all of his evening activities are typical male fantasies (sexy nightclub singer, damsel in distress, dangerous detective work, tangles with bad guys)–and you really start to question what’s really happening in Blue Velvet.  Lynch doesn’t use this device to cheat his audience though, everything that happens in the movie is conceivable in real life, so the answer is never totally clear.  Sure, Blue Velvet is as strange as 1980’s cinema got, but its storyline is nothing you haven’t seen in previous detective stories–so it’s not too demanding to keep up with.

As Orbison’s narrator says, “It’s too bad that all these things, can only happen in my dreams.”.  I’m sure Jeffrey Beaumont, and every other whitebread suburban kid, would agree.

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at TheClintDavis@gmail.com.

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