Eraserhead got him noticed. The Elephant Man proved he could transfer his unusual muse to a more mainstream ideal. Indeed, for the first few years of his fledgling career, things were looking up for David Lynch. Then Dune came along and crushed whatever commercial credibility he had. Even critical acclaim and Oscar nominations couldn’t put aside the stigma of being yet another member of the failed blockbuster club. Desperate to again redefine himself and his work, Lynch shopped a script around centering on a mystery, a young man, and the ugly underneath the seemingly tranquil facade of small town America. Entitled Blue Velvet, many were turned off by its overt violence and seedy sexual content. Lynch never gave up, finally finding financing to bring his unencumbered vision to life.
Divisive at the time (Siskel loved it, while Ebert called it an abomination), it has come to be regarded as Lynch’s first legitimate masterpiece, a work of wild imagination and even greater professional skill. From the opening music that mimicked Hitchcock to an ending which offered both finality and a fairytale, it would become the benchmark by which all other efforts in the auteur’s oeuvre would be gauged. Currently getting the glorified HD treatment thanks to Blu-ray, one can re-experience the magic and the menace of this amazing film all over again. Indeed, for those of us who are students of the experience, there are certain beats, individual moments and concepts that create the work of art Lynch intended.
While your choices may vary, here are our 10 reasons why Blue Velvet is still great some two plus decades after release. While far from definitive, this list highlights the reasons we come back again and again, from the Hallmark card prologue to the similarly themed finale. Let’s begin with a heartbreaker:
During the opening of the film, we watch as a serene suburban gardening sequence is suddenly shattered by what appears to be a man having a heart attack or a stroke. It turns out that this is the father of our soon to be seen hero, Jeffrey Beaumont, and when son comes home to visit his stricken dad in the hospital, the emotion on the older man’s is so powerful it’s impossible not to feel moved. Lynch uses this moment to stress his hero’s commitment, his love of his family, and the threat that will come to claim him later on.
As the gateway into Lumberton’s sinister underworld, Lynch uses an item that’s both shocking in its seriousness (Quentin Tarantino would do the same thing in Reservoir Dogs) and a bit goofy in its gratuity. Jeffrey is initially repulsed by his find, then intrigued, knowing it’s a door into some manner of forbidden fruit. Later, when he learns of the object’s connection to the sultry torch singer Dorothy Vallens and her cavalcade of sexual hang-ups, it becomes a symbol for eavesdropping into areas a boy like him should never be privy to.
“Are you the one who found the ear?” It’s a question that comes out of nowhere, a calm and considered inquiry that jars the listener with its naive knowing. As Jeffrey faces the direction of the voice, we watch as the pitch black darkness of this North Carolina night is pierced by the wholesome beauty and virginal effigy of Laura Dern’s Sandy. Blond haired, conservatively dressed, and designed to be the moral foil to everything our hero is about to help himself to, it remains one of the great entrances in all of film.
Hoping to impress the newfound object of his affection, Jeffrey asks Sandy if she’s ever heard of the Chicken Walk. When she replies in the negative, actor Kyle McLaughin stiffens his back, bends at the knees, and makes a quick circuit behind her, all the time bobbing his head like a deranged Rhode Island Red. After it’s over and the nervous laugh is filling the space, Jeffrey reaches out and quickly puts his hand on Sandy’s shoulder, giving her a half-hearted hug meant to measure her response. Her reaction alludes to their future together.
He’s an foul mouthed fiend with a pocket full of perversity and a canister of Nitrous Oxide at his constant disposal. He’s a sappy romantic and a legitimate loose cannon, someone who would kill you as easily as treat you to a can of his favorite beer (“PABST…BLUE…RIBBON!!!). But there is more to this villain than F-bombs and sadomasochism. No, Frank Booth is one of the most unusual and enigmatic bad guys in any thriller. There are things that Lynch hints at (his love of old rock n roll, for starters) that complicate what should be a straightforward scourge.
// Notes from the Road
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