11/12/11

BLUE VELVET

David Lynch's masterpiece, Blue Velvet has finally received the treatment it deserves re-released on blu-ray this week.  Besides seeing this darkly gorgeous film in all of its newly restored glory, there are also a slew of extras as well as 50 minutes of cut footage...more on that later, for now, let's go back to Lumberton...
 ***
The sugary facade of American small town life takes it on the chin in Blue Velvet.  Initially, the viewer is given scenes of sun dappled streets, crossing guards, fire trucks, white picket fences and stunningly gorgeous flowers; but eventually we witness a man, who earlier was watering his lawn, grasp at his neck as if something might have stung or bit him, and fall to the ground while the camera delves deep under the well manicured lawn, where he lay gasping for breath, to discover all manner of creepy crawling things going about their dirty business...that which lies beneath?
Soon we discover that the man's son Jeffery (Kyle MacLachlan) has returned from college to be with his family as his father recovers from his malady (possibly a stroke, though we never find out for sure).  One morning as Jeff is walking back from the hospital, he stumbles across a human ear amongst some debris in an overgrown lot.  Finding the ear, sets Jeff on a journey down a dark, mysterious, horrific path where (much like we saw earlier), all manner of creepy crawling things are going about their dirty business.  
Darkness sets in at this point and most of the action in the film (with a few exceptions) takes place at night.  Sometimes the evenings seem full of magic; as in the scene where Jeff meets Sandy (Laura Dern), who seems to walk out of the shadows like the ghost of Sandra Dee, all strawberry blond hair and pink frilly dress.  -- indeed much of Lumberton seems locked in some kind of odd timewarp.  Clearly it is the 80's, and yet, old television sets, hot rods and home interiors seem like left-overs from the Eisenhower era -- Other times, the evenings are filled with seedy bars, malevolent factories, and menacing characters.  And only daylight seems to make these places and people fade away.   Could it be that Lumberton itself is on some sort of twilight plane of existence; not present, not past, just somewhere in the middle sort of teetering back and forth in time? 
Speaking of teetering back and forth, consider our hero, Jeff.  He's handsome, obliging, square jawed, and seemingly all American.  And yet, he's prone to voyeurism,  and, when push comes to shove, he might even engage in a little sadistic sex play (if his partner really wants it).  It seems that Blue Velvet is all about Jeff's inner battle with the dark and light. Of course, as much as he might find it seductive, Jeff discovers that the night's darkness will turn on you, and possibly even kill you, if you aren't careful.  And that's where Sandy fits in.
Almost angelic in appearance, Sandy seems like she wandered out of a Disney film from the early 60's.  Virginal and pure, she is a good girl with a strangely spiritual and prophetic side (her monologue about her dream and the robin's bringing back the light to the world is one of the most touching moments in the film) who seems to see that Jeff is basically being tested.   When we see her in anguish much later in the film, we understand that things may have gotten worse then she ever expected when she cries out, "Where's my dream?"   However, is  Sandy's innocence and purity as strong as the dark powerful tragedy that engulfs Dorothy Vallens?
Billed as "The Blue Lady" at a local nightclub, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) is a victimized woman whose life has been shattered.  Her husband and young son are being held captive by a psychopath, and in turn she's become the sex slave of said psychopath.  Stressed beyond belief, and streched to her limits, Dorothy has begun to embrace the darkness that has engulfed her and in turn draws others in.  She finds Jeff hiding in her closet, threatens to kill him, and, later on, sleeps with him and then orders him to hit her - it's as if she feels that she deserves to be punished for everything that has happened to her - or has she become a masochist?  One wonders what path Dorothy would have followed were it not for Frank Booth. 
 Manically dangerous, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) is the crime king-pin in Lumberton.  Sadistic, psychopathic and addicted to amyl nitrate, Frank is the bringer of darkness, the ultimate creepy crawling thing who has made Dorothy's life a living hell, and in turn, dragged others in to the abyss.  We first see Frank through Jeff's eyes as we watch along seeing him degrade, abuse, and finally rape Dorothy on the floor of her apartment.   Later on, he kidnaps Jeff, torments him, mocks him, and beats the tar out of him leaving him for dead on the side of the road and in doing so, teaches him all about the reality of the darkness.  
Now It's Dark: There is much in the way of brutality seen throughout Blue Velvet.   Dorothy's rape, Jeff's beating at the hand's of Frank, the dead bodies on display in Dorothy's apartment near the end of the film, and just the crude way Frank address everyone (especially Dorothy who he refers to at one point as "tits") .  But nothing is as brutal, or as gut wrenching as the moment when Dorothy shows up nude, bruised and raving on Jeff's front lawn.  That scene alone is probably one of the most difficult things to watch in the film, and it strips bare the reality of what is going on, the truth that Dorothy has been living with, and the truth of how demonic Frank really is.   This is the moment when Frank goes from being a crazy bad guy, to something worse  - something almost inhuman. 

For all of it's darkness and violence, Blue Velvet also has some farcical  moments.  Women who look like they stumbled out of a John Water's film play frowsy prostitutes,  Jeff's eccentric aunt Barbara (Frances Bay) delivers some much needed comic relief, even Frank has his moment of levity when he asks Jeff what kind of beer he likes.  Jeff tells him, Heineken, and Frank roars, "Heineken? Fuck that foreign shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon is what you'll drink tonight!", and of course there is "The Chicken Walk"...you'll know it when you see it.  
 In the end, Blue Velvet remains a modern film-noir classic.  The simple story about a good kid who stumbles upon a bad thing and sort of finds himself in a fractured Hardy Boys adventure.  But it's also a love story - Jeffery and Sandy's love story - as well as Frank's love for a woman that he can only get through kidnapping and enslavement.  And there is also the not so simplistic story about the corruption that lies beneath life, the loss of innocence, and the battle between good and evil (and the constant human struggle of trying to understand that battle).  
***
Now, about those special features.  Well, first things first.  This blu ray looks stunning.  Plain and simple, you will not believe how gorgeous this movie looks now.  

A lot has been made about the missing footage that was included.  All I have to say about that is, well, there was a reason it was not included in the first place.  Sure it's kind of fun seeing a young Megan Mullally, playing Jeff's college girl friend, and it was also kind of interesting to see the dynamics between Jeff and his mother when he first comes home; but most of the extra scenes are pretty long and would have just bogged the final film down.  I think it's a good thing that they were cut.

A decent documentary is included and Isabella Rossellini has some great stories to tell about working with Dennis Hopper.
yes that's Megan Mullally - the future Karen Walker.

14 comments:

wavingpalms said...

The 50s/80s thing is an interesting point- did Lynch exploit, or did he create the zeitgeist? I've often felt that the 80s were, culturally, a 50s yard sale. Politically, certainly. And a new repression clamped down hard on the advances of the 70s. And you couldn't swing a dead production designer without hitting a Pearsall table or some 50s Detroit iron.

-Mike Stubbs

Prospero said...

It's been quite a while since I've seen "Blue Velvet." I mostly remember feeling like I needed a shower, after watching it (of course, many Lynch films have the same effect). For my money, Lynch's masterpiece is "Mulholland Dr." Still, Kyle was awfully pretty in this movie... I'll have to take another look.

Pax Romano said...

Mike,

I watched this movie with my Dad (honest) back when it was on VHS, and at one point he asked, "What decade is this taking place in?" I think Lynch purposefully mixed the 50's vibe in to keep us all off balance a bit. That said, the 80's did have a bit of a 50's feel to it.

Prospero,

I agree that Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece, I'd love to see it get a blu ray re-release. But watching Blue Velvet again made me realize what a brilliant, masterful film it actually was as well. Give it another look. It's still very difficult to watch (parts of it), but it has really held up well. And yes, Kyle was adorable back in the 80's!

Drew Mackie said...

Dude, literally seconds before I saw this, I posted something on my own blog about the craziness of Megan Mullally being in this movie. Glad I'm not the only one surprised by this.

James Gracey said...

Wonderful write up, Pax. You’ve really put me in the mood for some Lynch this afternoon! I can’t wait to see Blue Velvet on Blu-ray – I’m sure it’s going to look stunning. I think Lynch is just a big fan of the ideals, morals and ‘innocence’ of the Fifties – all cherry cokes, curfews and diner jukeboxes. It juxtaposes nicely with the harshness of the Eighties. I think Twin Peaks also had a weird Fifties vibe to it – in fact, you can see Lynch prepping himself for Twin Peaks throughout Blue Velvet – the two have many irresistible similarities.
I’m really keen to check out those deleted scenes too!
Meanwhile, I’m off to listen to some Ketty Lester and daydream about Kyle MacLachlan. ;)

Pax Romano said...

Drew,

Great minds...

James,

As I was watching, I could not help but notice how much of Blue Velvet seemed like the blue print (see what I did there?) for Twin Peaks.

basementscreams said...

Great review! I go back and forth between Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive in the Lynch masterpiece department, it depends on my mood. As far as Lynch's preoccupation with the fifties and the wholesome Americana image, he is from a small town in Montana so I think that's where it stems from. I read an interview once where he described himself as "boring and very conservative." You wouldn't guess from his films!

Pax Romano said...

Basement,
I once heard him claim that whole conservative thing as well (I take most of what this guy says with a grain of salt). I think he just has an affinity for the 50's.

Mulholland Drive is probably my favorite film by him. I've been to L.A. several times, and the last time I went, I could not help but get the Mulholland Drive vibe out of my head (thank god I saw no creepy men behind dumpsters or miniature senior citizens out terrorizing others!).

Will Errickson said...

Watched this last month for the first time in about 20 years. I'd sorta forgotten what a MASTERPIECE it is. Laura Dern was heartbreaking...

Pax Romano said...

Will, amen to that. In fact, this time I was mesmerized by Dern. Sandy was the role she was born to play.

MrJeffery said...

incredible film. can't wait to get the blu!

Bill D. Courtney said...

Still my favorite Lynch film. I think he really made what ever statement he has been trying to make over and over with this one and presented it in a nice neat package. The story was fairly linear in my opinion (compared to later films like Mullholland Drive, which I liked too) and it still looks great. Thanks.

Bill

Bill D. Courtney said...

Hey Pax, I see you have me in your blogroll, thanks. But that URL is now defunct.

If you want you can update that address to:

http://theuraniumcafe.blogspot.com

Thanks

Bill

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