The 10 Reasons Why ‘Blue Velvet’ Is a David Lynch Masterpiece

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:

# 10 – Jeffrey’s Dad

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.

# 9 – The Ear

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.

# 8 – Sandy “Appears” Out of the Darkness

“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.

# 7 – The Chicken Walk

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.

# 6 – Frank Booth

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.

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# 5 – Jeffrey’s Wall Decoration

After a particularly troubling set of nightmare images, Jeffrey wakes up in his old bedroom. Looking for comfort, or verification of some unseen fact, he reaches up along the wall and Lynch’s camera settles in on a weird object hanging there. Some suggest it’s a birdcage made by our hero in his youth, a reminder of his parents continuing love of their son and his presence in their house. Others have argued it’s a shrunken head, or a crude representation of a vagina dentata (or toothed vagina). In either case, it’s a striking visual that sticks with us long after the scene is over.

# 4 – Jeffrey and Sandy Kiss (“Mysteries of Love”)

There is perhaps no better moment is all of Blue Velvet. Agreeing to attend a high school party with what is rapidly becoming his girlfriend, Jeffrey asks Sandy to dance as Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting “Mysteries of Love” (sung by Lynch collaborator Julee Cruise) plays in the background. The ethereal, operatic tune, with its grandeur and sonic spectacle, is the perfect fuel for the growing infatuation between the couple. It’s a beautiful sequence, one that sets up the serious and disturbing situations to come, including angry high school jocks and a naked and beaten Dorothy crying out for help.

# 3 – “In Dreams”

Dean Stockwell was a former Hollywood player whose career cache was then limited to low budget B-movies – when they were offered. But thanks to an industrial light fixture, a long forgotten Roy Orbison tune, and a brilliant bit of mimicry, he transformed his short scene as brothel owner Ben into one of the most memorable musical moments in all of cinema. As Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth looks on in a combination of nostalgia and nastiness, Stockwell sells the sentiment, leaving us ill prepared for the rest of Jeffrey’s jaundiced joyride.

# 2 – ‘Love Letters’

Another song reference, another amazing scene. We know that Jeffrey is about to be beaten, called out for his concern over Dorothy and his presence in a place where no one believes he should be. Before Frank “finishes’ him off, he warns our hero about receiving a love letter (read: a bullet from a gun). The reference is original and revealing, and takes on an even greater import when Lynch places the song “Love Letter” by Ketty Lester on the soundtrack. It reconfirms Frank’s obsessions and Jeffrey’s false frame of reference.

# 1 – The Death Tableau

Toward the end, when it looks like the police will crack the case against Frank Booth and capture the baddie in his factory row hideout, Jeffrey stumbles into Dorothy’s apartment and discovers a sickening scene. The Man in the Yellow Suit and some unknown figure are arranged, as if on purpose, their bloody wounds seeping as they stand/sit almost motionless. For a moment, our lead is convinced they are dead. Then a police radio bulletin comes across on a nearby walkie talkie and Mr. Yellow reacts violently. He’s still alive, even with part of his brain exposed. Death shouldn’t be so surreal, but that’s David Lynch and his amazing movie for you.