Blue Velvet (1986)


“My dad drinks Bud.”
“Ah, King of Beers.”

Noirvember Film Series #9:

“Blue Velvet” (1986) is an American neo-noir mystery thriller film written and directed by David Lynch, starring frequent Lynch collaborator, Kyle MacLachlan, as well as Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, and Laura Dern. The title of the film comes from the 1951 song of the same name, which is sung throughout the film in a sleazy nightclub called “The Slow Club.”

In classic Lynch manner, the film quickly devolves into an unwinding rabbit hole of bizarre and inexplicable antics. The most notable work of this auteur director prior to “Blue Velvet” was his 1977 black and white fantasy horror “Eraserhead” which is known for its psychologically disturbing imagery, screeching and crackling white noise score and memorable snakelike infant. Prior to the release of “Blue Velvet,” Lynch had faced the failure of his 1984 film “Dune” which was met with heavy criticism and he himself had disowned by the time of release. Stating that the producers and distributors stunted his own artistic control and left him with an outcome that was far from his initial intent. When it came time for this new film, Lynch was determined to create a film that felt more personal and surreal, more similar in style to “Eraserhead.” The result is a dreamlike, meandering tale that is driven heavily by sexual violence, fettishism, and a deepening unsolvable mystery.

Opening with an “American Beauty”-esque neighborhood, complete with picket fences and well-kept flowers, the small town of Lumberton, North Carolina is experiencing a typical weekend morning, full of buzzing lawnmowers and children playing, when a man suddenly collapses in the grass. We then meet Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) who returns home to tend to his father after the near-fatal stroke. Shortly after arriving, he stumbles upon a severed human ear in a nearby field, and takes it into the police precinct and gives it to detective John Williams. He quickly becomes reacquainted with Williams’ daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), and together, they start to attempt to solve the crime with a childlike playfulness and charm. However, the levity that prompted their adventures gets darker and stranger as Beaumont begins to spend more time with a nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini). At one point, Beaumont is hiding in her closet, naked, and watches as a man named Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper), as he engages in humiliating and degrading sexual acts with Dorothy on her living room floor, before hitting her and leaving.

Lynch’s films are often constructed in heavy symbolism, “dream logic,” and unusual characters. In “Blue Velvet,” the clearest and most re-turning * symbolism is introduced in the first scene, when the camera zooms past the prickling, perfectly cut lawn to reveal the swarming pile of gross insects, which is seen as a metaphor for the seedy underworld that is found under the surface of this small suburban town. Also, this film follows the general conventions of a classic film noir as it originated in the 1950s. There is a femme fatale, a destructive villain, questionably morality surrounding all the characters and shadowy, dramatic cinematography.

This film is weird, seemingly just for the sake of being weird. The largest difference between this film and some of his others is that the plot is concrete enough to follow through to a resolution and the character arcs are grounded enough to understand. However, the exaggerated eccentricity of the people in this film and their circumstances is so extreme that it is difficult to feel compelled to care after a while. It is worth noting that David Lynch films are not everyone’s cup of tea. You either like him or you don’t. Nevertheless, the film earned Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director (the first being for “The Elephant Man” in 1980), and came to achieve cult status. It is perhaps worth watching for Dennis Hopper’s wild performance alone, as well as some particularly hilarious lines of dry humor.

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