Blue Velvet Reviews
I must admit that this film did not thrill me upon first viewing. In fact, it was as pleasant as being hit in the head with a shovel. However, upon a second viewing I found out oddly enough that Lynch made me like and even admire the shovel that seemed hellbent on doing me harm. And for me that is quite an impressive feat, and one I soon won't forget.
"It's a strange world."
Holy Shit! I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually liked this movie. This is shocking because I might have hated David Lynch more than anyone. I've seen most of his movies and before seeing Blue Velvet the only one I really liked was The Elephant Man. This isn't nearly as good as The Elephant Man though, because it still has the elements of Lynch films that piss me off. The great thing about The Elephant Man is those elements are missing. But this is the first time the strangeness of David Lynch didn't ruin one of his films.
His strange elements are still there in Blue Velvet and there were scenes that I absolutely hated. For the most part though, I did enjoy this mystery, suspense film. Kyle MacLachan was really good. Dennis Hopper radiated with energy in his crazy villain role. And almost as shocking as me liking a Lynch film, was me not entirely hating a Laura Dern performance. Now, just like with Lynch, I'm still not a fan. I just see that they aren't complete shit all the time.
The plot is about as weird as you'd expect from Lynch. A young college student, Jeffrey, comes back to his home town after his father is taken to the hospital. Walking through a field he finds a human ear and takes it to the local police. Then for some reason, he gets himself wrapped up into the mystery of the murder. I will say that Lynch's movies always have a strong energy about them and this one is no different. The reason I like this more than the average Lynch film, is that he doesn't go to insane with adding random garbage and doesn't try to make the film totally incomprehensible.
This movie almost makes me want to go back and re-watch all of the Lynch films I hate. Again, like with The Elephant Man, it almost makes me hate Lynch more because when he worries about telling a story more than putting a bunch of weird, random scenes in a movie to make it more stylish and strange; he is a great filmmaker. Too bad he couldn't do this more often.
David Lynch likes to paint with broad strokes when he makes movies. Sometimes it seems like we're looking through the lense of some alien studying our planet. But Lynch isn't as inaccessible or weird as you might think, in fact films like Blue Velvet follow a pretty standard narrative. I like his unique perspective, both in the style of his films and the way in which he directs his actors. Blue Velvet has an aura of sleaze about it which is exactly the film it was meant to be. The film itself is quite superb.
I think that growing up in a later era and watching film influenced by earlier works so not seeing the original first can be a problem. This is one of those cases. I'd heard SO much about Lynch and his work in many film classes and decided to be a darer and try out this one as my first.
Firstly, I got the symbolism and the levels. The perfectly manicured suburban garden with the bugs chomping away beneath it all (LOVED the through the grass shot, by the way.) I got the seedy underground life contrasted with the superficial suburbanites.
But I felt as though it was cut too short. I didn't feel any real connection between characters Jeffrey and Dorothy, and I was confused at why he went for Sandy and cut off the other relationship so quickly. Nor did I begin to understand any of the actual crime offenses going on with the other police detective. And what was the point of the Nicely Dressed Man or whatever? He was just Dennis Hopper? What?
Then I read that this film was originally cut from 4 hours down to 2. Ouch. Buy, does that effect a film. A film can survive cuts, yes, but I think it was just a little too damaging for this one in particular.
Now, don't get me wrong. It was extremely well filmed. Gorgeous colors. Very well acted. There seems to be some debate on Dennis Hopper's performance, but I think he is divine. And possibly a touch bipolar. But what good character isn't?! Of course the other performances and fantastic as well!
Overall, I don't feel good about giving it such a low rating, but I really just wasn't crazy about it as a whole. And I should say, I don't mind at all a weird movie, it just didn't hold together that well. Plus the ending. I mean, whoa. Unexpectedly sweet and happy for something writhing around in the dirt the whole time.
I haven't been a big David Lynch fan in the past. Besides The Elephant Man, I think his style is way too weird for me. I can understand how others find his work very intriguing, I'm just not there for most of the time. This film manages to combine a fairly straight forward plot with some really crazy, Lynch style shit, but it did manage to keep me intrigued throughout, which is in small part due to Dennis Hopper's mad performance.
The film is set in a small North Carolina town. Kyle MacLachlan stars as Jeffrey, a college boy who has come home after his father was hospitalized. Jeffrey manages to stumble across a random ear diced off from someone, which leads him into a bizarre mystery situation involving a possible kidnapping, a broken lounge singer, and an insane man who has a thing for amyl nitrate.
The movie really sets itself up nicely, showing us what seems to be a peaceful town, before launching the camera underneath the ground and into the hive of a lot of slimy insects. Its the perfect way to show us that danger is lurking just around the corner if you look a little closer. As this film progresses, Jeffrey finds himself in a dark underworld, which he has almost no idea how to handle.
MacLachlan is quite good at mixing his cool college attitude when dealing with the local sweetheart, played by Laura Dern, and his barely-able-to-comprehend facial expressions when dealing with the characters played by Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper. Speaking of Hopper, this man is just fantastic in this crazy, mad, fucked up role. Hopper completely steals the show, with the film giving us just enough of him and despite being one of the least likable characters in just about any film.
The visual style is typical Lynch. Lots of random imagery, evoking different thoughts, that I'm sure others, more in line with what Lynch has to offer, can accept and be fulfilled by. I can't necessarily say I was, but the forgivingly simple way the plot handles itself was enough for me to at least not get lost.
A very dark mystery, that certainly benefits from having its strange qualities be matched by its actors.
Frank Booth: What kind of beer do you like?
Jeffrey Beaumont: Heineken.
Frank Booth: [shouting] Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!
Blue Velvet is a world filled with not only darkness, but also ambiguity. The characters of this world are constantly hiding behind some kind of façade, be it the wardrobe doors that practicing teenage voyeur Jeffrey peers from behind as he watches Dorothy and Frank interact, or something as simple as the make-up worn by Ben. Everything suggests to us that these characters inhabit a world at night, a world away from the life they live in the day. As the film moves closer and closer to the climax Jeffrey begins to feel more of a connection with Frank, having to go to some very dark places within his psyche. However Lynch's message, that underneath the normal persona of a regular human being is a repressed pervert laying in wait, or whatever point he is making doesn't really translate well. Not least to today's audience.
Blue Velvet is very much a film of its time, that time being the mid-eighties, with aids paranoia everywhere, it's easy to see this metaphor for the dangers of sex and love within the films turgid dreamscapes. But beneath this message hides a strong detective story, a modern day neo-noir that delivers interesting twists and a controversial pay-off with it's almost fairytale climax. This is the film David Lynch got right, proceeding to make great films that where all personal, but completely different in terms of style and substance from one another. Blue Velvet is a great film, with some fine (albeit bizarre) performances, still challenging to this day, If only Lynch hadn't gone on to spend the rest of his career re-making it.
After finding a severed human ear in a field, a young man soon discovers a sinister underworld lying just beneath his idyllic suburban home town.
To me most of Lynch's films are like fascinating oil on canvasses. Rich in colour, detailed yet ambiguous, they are more than what one sees on the surface. 'Blue Velvet' is no different. At first glance it looks like a nice neighborhood in the suburbs until Jeffrey finds an ear in the yard after which, through Jeffrey, Lynch peels the layers into something far darker. Unlike, Lynch's other works, he uses a lot of humour. Yes, it is dark and of a macabre sort so perhaps not everybody's cup of tea. The story includes disturbing themes like voyeurism, torture, murder, rape and masochism yet it is visually captivating with its images. The lighting is top quality. Cinematography has always been a strong point of Lynch's films. Here he uses effective closeups and shoots from distinct angles. The songs give 'Blue Velvet' a surreal and nostalgic quality and they are exceptionally visualized. Kyle Machlachlan, Isabella Rosselini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell all deliver first rate performances. 'Blue Velvet' is a classic example of a film where 'not everything is as it seems' and much of it is open to interpretation. This one also follows a coherent story, or so you'd think. Look a little closer.
It's hard to believe that Dune and Blue Velvet were made by the same director, let alone released within two years of each other. Where Dune is rambling, muddled and lacks a solid creative drive, Blue Velvet is intense, mesmeric, and truly frightening. Where Dune is purely a space fantasy which does little justice to its multi-layered source material, Blue Velvet manages to be a murder mystery, an erotic thriller, a social satire and a horror film all at the same time. Lynch is a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick, and like Kubrick's work this is a film which requires your full attention to really appreciate it. But once it has your attention, it will never let you go. Just as the final scene of Eraserhead leaves you staring at the screen wondering what the hell just happened, so Blue Velvet will hold you in a trance as you simultaneously flinch and marvel at what occurs on screen.
The references to Kubrick are apparent from the start. The film owes a great deal to The Shining in its eeriness and near-constant suspense. From the first shot after the credits, you're certain that something isn't right, and even the happiest scenes underscore this un-real feeling to the world Lynch puts on screen. In The Shining, the opening 15 minutes are slow-moving and relatively naturalistic; there is still a staged quality to them, but they served as both set-up and contrast to the madness that follows. With Blue Velvet, it's almost as though someone put on The Shining and skipped the introduction; the eerie and all-too-perfect Overlook Hotel looms large over Lynch's Lumberton.
There are also references to Barry Lyndon in Blue Velvet's cinematography. Frederick Elmes said in interviews that Lynch wanted to see how dark they could make the sets, to utilise the potential of shadows and natural light to create tension. Some of the scenes in Dorothy's apartment are seemingly filmed in only natural light, and the multiple staircase scenes have a film noir quality which deepens the sense of murky terror lurking at the heart of the film.
But although Blue Velvet spans genres, at heart it is a film about voyeurism. The crime thriller aspect of it as a metaphor for individuals' desire to dig deeper and discover what lies beneath, even if -- or perhaps because -- they know they will get hurt in the process. Just before Jeffrey sneaks into the apartment, Sandy remarks, "I don't know if you're a detective or a pervert." In Lynch's mind, they are clearly one and the same.
It would have been very easy to take this premise and run with it either as a straightforward erotic thriller or an exploitation film; the result would have been a trashy but enjoyable 90 minutes. But Lynch is too clever for that. Just as Kubrick did in Eyes Wide Shut over a decade later, so Lynch offers the audience sexual titillation and then turns it against us to expose one of our deepest flaws. The theme and experience of voyeurism are present not only in the events unfolding, but in the way you watch them. You watch Isabelli Rossellini undress and the terrifying Dennis Hopper assault her as a voyeur, and throughout the film you have a strange, twisted feeling in your heart and stomach. You're feeling guilty for being there, and yet a strange, animalistic thrill prevents you from leaving or looking away.
One complaint that critics made about Blue Velvet was that in this world there are no shades of grey. But that's the whole point. Again, it would have been easy to have made this film as a more simple genre piece, in this case either as a thriller in which the good outsider stops the bad guys, or as a conspiracy piece about police corruption. But Lynch sticks to his guns, showing that no matter how normal or law-abiding things seem on the surface, once you move behind the picket fence all manner of dark and strange things can occur.
The central point of Blue Velvet is that all those on screen are guilty; all have become corrupted by their desires, and some -- in the case of Frank -- have even been deranged by them. Much like C. Thomas Howell's character in The Hitcher, Jeffrey Beaumont may start out as the hero (so to speak), but as the film progresses his naivety falls away in the face of the evil around him, so that in the end he is as much in the slough of despond as Dorothy Vallens or Frank Booth. The moment that Jeffrey beats Dorothy to calm her down is analogous to the final scene of The Hitcher where Howell shoots Rutger Hauer. In that moment both characters have crossed to the dark side.
As all of this plays out, however, Blue Velvet becomes an oddly moral film insofar as it tackles how one should deal with the guilt and shame. Jeffrey's responses in the second half are admirable in that he tries to bring down and expose Frank, while working on a relationship with Sandy based upon love rather than on using her. As unlikely as it may seem or look on paper, the film has a happy ending, with order seemingly restored and love (and robins) in the air. But knowing Lynch, it may not be that simple. This little battle may be over, but the war may carry on for a long time.
Blue Velvet is a mesmerising masterpiece, albeit one which is not easy to sit through. It's uncomfortable, disturbing, surreal and strange, all of which means that it will stay with you, for better or worse, for all time. The film contains some wonderful performances, from the understated work of Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern to the chillingly psychotic Dennis Hopper and the highly strung Isabella Rossellini (note, incidentally, the subversion of the Hitchcockian stereotype; here the blonde is the hero's salvation and the brunette his downfall). The film is beautifully shot, masterfully directed and possesses a script which is both relaxing and razor-sharp; one wishes David Mamet could have written a script like this when he came to write The Untouchables. A truly strange and terrifying film, one of the best of the 1980s and a must-see for all film fans.