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  • Benjamin May

Blue Velvet (1986) Review

After his father collapses on the front lawn, college student Jeffrey Beaumont is made return home to the picturesque town of Lumberton; a place as quintessentially American as apple pie and coffee as black as midnight on a moonless night. Everything he once knew, however, appears different: full of mystery, strangeness and darkness. Like Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz,' Beaumont peeks behind the curtain, and is confronted with the harsh reality of a situation he had imagined to be perfect. Join Beaumont as he explores the seedy underbelly of the ideal suburban dystopia, in David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet'.


Delightfully dark and disturbing, 'Blue Velvet' is a fascinating portrait of American existence full of abstractions, black-comedy and violence. "If one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath," Lynch has said, and Beaumont is fascinated by the creatures (both literal and figurative) he stumbles across upon his return to Lumberton. Lynch uses his story to examine themes of violence, voyeurism and sexuality, in a way which still feels relevant today. Additionally, in our social media focused society- where people's representations of themselves are often far from reality- the idea of someone discovering the real truth beneath a glossy façade is incredibly percipient.

Which is not to say the film is an overly intellectual affair, or is in any way pretentious, because it isn't. The off-beat humour that would go on to feature so prominently in 'Twin Peaks' and 'What Did Jack Do?' (among other works of Lynch's) is on full display. Like Takeshi Kitano, and to a lesser extent Werner Herzog, comedy is just as important to the narrative as the mystery and darkness at the center of it all. Though violent and often uncomfortable; 'Blue Velvet' is also a strangely funny movie with plenty of opportunities for laughter.


Music is incredibly important in 'Blue Velvet', and Angelo Badalamenti's beautifully sinister score haunts the film. Initially hired as Rossellini's vocal coach, he eventually became the composer and music supervisor, and has served in this capacity on nearly every other Lynch project to date. His unsettling but melodic tunes perfectly match the bizarre, often disquieting images that one associates with Lynch, and throughout this film his formidable presence- in the form of his score- is made known. Alongside Badalamenti's original score, a soundtrack of 50's pop hits- be it the title track, as performed by Bobby Vinton, or Ketty Lester's 'Love Letters'- are utilized to eerie effect, contributing to the atmosphere of sinister banality and hidden danger the film contains.

'Blue Velvet' is a visually arresting movie, with stunning cinematography from Frederick Elmes. His composition under Lynch's direction is inspired, irregular and heavy with symbolism. The opening satirical montage, of suburbia in all its white picket fenced glory, is a strangely grotesque and highly symbolic display- like a bizarre and brilliant mixture of Edward Hopper, Edvard Munch and 'The Andy Griffith Show'. It sets the tone of the rest of the film, and- combined with Badalamenti's score- many of the images from 'Blue Velvet' will almost certainly haunt your dreams.


'Blue Velvet' finds Kyle MacLachlan starring as Beaumont, in his second collaboration with Lynch. A charismatic and charming fellow, MacLachlan plays Beaumont like a young Jimmy Stewart for modern times: a good humoured, kind-hearted boy innocently intrigued by the darkness he suddenly finds all around him. MacLachlan is the perfect leading man for this type of story, as he is more than willing to go to complex and morally ambiguous places performance-wise.

Co-starring as the club singer he forms a bond with is Isabella Rossellini, who gives everything to her role. Her performance is heart-breaking and intense, as a woman trapped in a horrific nightmare of machoism and shame; she is electrifying. Years ago, critic Roger Ebert accused Lynch of being crueler to Rossellini than anyone on screen, suggesting that the director constructed the film as some sort of misogynistic torture chamber for the woman who would go on to be his romantic partner for five years.


While there is much violence in the film, his accusations were ridiculous. Viewers understand that Rossellini is an actress, that Lynch is a director, and that they are creating fiction. Like with 'Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom', the process may be difficult in places and the finished product may look shockingly authentic, but we still know it's just a movie; and an actress giving a brilliant, tour de force performance.

The late, great Dennis Hopper also stars, as one of cinema's all-time great villains: Frank Booth, a gas-huffing sadist with a penchant for Pabst Blue Ribbon and Roy Orbison. Leading Beaumont down a rabbit hole of indignity and crime, Hopper has arguably never given a stronger performance. He throws himself so fully into the role, it is frightening to think what he must have been like on set. "I am

Frank Booth," he allegedly told Lynch before shooting began; and there's no reason to doubt him after watching the film. Cruel and unusual, insane and assured of himself- he is the pinnacle of perversion.


Rounding out the main cast is a young Laura Dern- already showcasing the talent and depth she is acclaimed for these days. She plays Sandy, the daughter of a local detective whom Beaumont meets. She is also intrigued by the darkness of suburbia, though doesn't immerse herself in it; staying apart in a world she understands. Sandy is a ray of hope for Beaumont, and his last link to the goodness he once saw everywhere. There could be no one better for the part than Dern. In fact, every role is perfectly cast, from the likes of Brad Dourif and Jack Nance, to the sadly departed Dean Stockwell in an all too short, scene-stealing turn as the 'In Dreams' miming, ultra-suave Ben.

As many have done before, one could go on discussing 'Blue Velvet' endlessly. It has so much to offer, on so many different levels, that no two viewings are likely to feel the same. Funny, dark and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, it is a remarkable film, featuring terrific performances, a great score and beautiful imagery. If you haven't seen it before, you've missed something truly unique: the work of an auteur at the top of his game.

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