Logline: After finding a severed human ear in a field, a college student investigates the strange circumstances surrounding a mysterious nightclub singer.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, which was recently re-released in select theaters across the country. I caught a screening of the film last night at my local theater despite having recently revisited the film in the fall. I could not pass up the opportunity to see David Lynch’s masterpiece on the big screen. Blue Velvet is one of those special films that gets better every time you see it. In this most recent viewing, I was more enthralled than ever and completely absorbed in the unique world that Lynch creates; a world that is weird and wonderful; a place where image and sound are combined to create something truly beautiful.
In Lynch’s body of work, Blue Velvet stands between his more stylistically traditional films like The Elephant Man (1980) and The Straight Story (1999) and his more experimental, Lynchian works such as Eraserhead (1977) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). Blue Velvet is not as abstract as those latter films. There is a central mystery driving the story; one that is solved in the end. However, Lynch is clearly most interested in the film’s expressive visual language. The film opens with a blue velvet curtain with Angelo Badalamenti’s beautiful score playing in the background. The following sequence is one of the most memorable opening scenes in all of cinema. Images of suburbia America fill the screen: white picked fences and well manicured lawns. However, a man suffers a stroke and Lynch’s camera delves closer into the blades of grass to reveal an extreme close-up of swarming insects. The implication is clear. The seemingly perfect facade of this small town is hiding the dark and sinister things that lie beneath the surface.
Soon, we are introduced to Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a wholesome “boy next door” with darker, sexually perverse qualities hidden underneath this exterior. Indeed, the film draws parallels between Jeffrey and an evil and terrifying man named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), which gets at a common theme found in Lynch’s work: duality. Jeffrey’s discovery of the human ear leads him into a world of darkness. The extreme close-up inside of this human ear is just one of the film’s many remarkable visual and aural touches. This shot is paralleled at the end of the film when, in an extreme close-up, the camera zooms out of Jeffrey’s ear. This final scene shows that Sandy’s idyllic dream has become reality and the robin, a symbol of love, appears at the windowsill. Fire, electricity, and images of small town America all serve as reminders of Lynch’s iconography.
Appropriately, Blue Velvet has a timeless feel as do most of Lynch’s films. Visually speaking, the film is gorgeous and expertly directed. Frederick Elmes’ cinematography is remarkable in its use of colors, notably blue. Angelo Badalamenti, a long-time Lynch collaborator, provided the film’s excellent music. Lynch also worked with another frequent collaborator, Alan Splet, to create the film’s unique sound design. The film also utilizes vintage tunes to great effect. There is, of course, Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” which mirrors that sense of American nostalgia that the film elicits. In addition, it is hard to listen to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” without recalling the incredible scene in which Ben (Dean Stockwell) lip-synchs the song. Lynch gets some amazing performances from his actors. Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, and Dennis Hopper are all superb. Blue Velvet is a disturbing film and one that caused outrage upon initial release for its depiction of sexual abuse and perversity. However, these scenes serve the important purpose of eliciting an emotional response and establishing the mood and atmosphere of the film. Admittedly, Blue Velvet is not a film for everyone but it also demands to be seen more than once.
In conclusion, seeing Blue Velvet on the big screen was a dream come true and a reminder of Lynch’s genius as a filmmaker. Blue Velvet remains one of my absolute favorite films of all time; a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that explores the dark underbelly of small town America.