Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Blue Velvet

Year:  1986
Director:  David Lynch
Screenplay:  David Lynch
Starring:  Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell
Running Time:  120 minutes
Genre:  Mystery, thriller, crime

This was the film with which David Lynch finally found his niche after the bizarre Eraserhead (1977), the striking success of The Elephant Man (1980) and the disasterous critical and commercial flop that was Dune (1984).

College student Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) returns to his home town of Lumberton after his father collapses in the back garden.  Taking  a walk trhough a patch of waste ground near his house, Jeffrey discovers a mouldering, ant infested human ear on the ground which he takes to the police.  The detective's daughter, Sandy (Dern), reveals to Jeffrey that the ear may be connected with an ongoing case involving a singer, Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini).  Hiding in Dorothy's apartment, Jeffrey soon discovers that she is being brutally tormented by the violent and deranged Frank Booth (Hopper).  Before long Jeffrey is drawn into their nightmarish underworld of sadomasochistic sex and violence.

This film opens with the credits, elegantly written in copperplate writing, over undulating blue velvet curtains.  We then see a succession of stylised images of a perfect all-American small town while Bobby Vinton sings the song "Blue Velvet" on the soundtrack, then the camera moves deeper into the neatly manicured lawn to reveal a seething netherworld of insects tearing each other apart.  This sequence encapsulates the principal theme of the film, that just below the perfect facade of small-town life, lurk violent undercurrents. 

Jeffrey Beaumont, the clean-cut all-American boy, has to choose between the nice, normal surface world, represented by wholesome, squeaky-clean Sandy, and the dark, violent, sexual underworld, represented by sultry, tormented Dorothy.  Jeffrey has a pretty big dark side right from the start ("Are you a detective or a pervert?" Sandy asks him fairly early on.  "That's for you to find out," he replies), however for the most part he prefers to watch from a closet until he is drawn in against his will. 

The film's most memorable character is Dennis Hopper's completely unhinged Frank, sucking in some unidentified gas through a mask, bellowing obscenities and threats, he manages to be both horrific and hilarious often at the same time.  Reportedly, Hopper rang up David Lynch, who he had never met, exclaiming "I have to play Frank!  I am Frank!"  Which apparently quite frightened Lynch.  Isabella Rossellini gives a powerful performance as the seductive and troubled singer.  After the film she and Lynch dated for a while.

Resonances from the film recur throught Lynch's subsequent work, most notably in the television series Twin Peaks (1989-1991) and the resulting film Twin Peaks:  Fire Walk With Me (1992) which also deal with the dark underbelly of American small town life.   

Blue Velvet is a funny, dark, horrifying, erotic and deeply powerful film.  It is one of the most impressive American films of the 1980s and is the quintessential David Lynch movie.

"It's a strange world."
- It certainly is for Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan)

Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) sings the blues in Blue Velvet

1 comment: