Blue Velvet (1986)
Directed by David Lynch
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nance, Brad Dourif, Frances Bay.
1986 120 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, nudity, and sex).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 1998.
David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" was one of the most influential films of the 1980's, and arguably jump-started the idea of independent filmmaking. But aside from that, it is also one of the most original, invigorating films I've ever seen.
In a tour de force opening sequence, which has been widely praised, brightly-lit, picture-perfect clips are shown of a small town: a man watering his green lawn, a milkman waving as his truck drives by, flowers blooming beside a picket fence...and then the happiness of the scene vanishes as the man watering his lawn collapses on the ground, and the camera slowly burrows down through the glass until it comes upon a mound of bugs, symbolizing the dark secrets buried in the seemingly perfect town.
The film then switches to a college student (Kyle MacLachlan) returning to his hometown of Lumberton to stay for awhile and visit his father in the hospital. While walking through a field, he spots a human ear lying on the ground, which leads to him meeting up with the town's sheriff's teenage daughter (Laura Dern), and convincing her to help him out to solve the mystery of the ear, which involves a nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini), murder, and a sadistic kidnapper/drug dealer (Dennis Hopper).
One of the many pleasures of "Blue Velvet" is watching this multi-layered, intricate mystery unravel and develop, and it would be criminal to give anything else away. It is completely unpredictable, and the characters, just like the plot, are true originals. MacLachlan is a perfect center for the movie, Rossellini is superb as the tortured singer, Hopper is very, very creepy as the kidnapper, and Dern is outstanding, giving one of her best performances to date, and bringing much depth to her role, as well as her sweet, tender relationship with MacLachlan.
"Blue Velvet" also involves a masterstroke of style and atmosphere. Lynch wonderfully gives the movie a film noir feel, but it also has a small-town, postcard essence, which mixes together brilliantly to create a look and feel never before seen on film.
The opening scene, as already noted, is flawlessly realized, and is a perfect contrast to the darker elements of the story, and town. It is also a picture that could not be placed in a specific era. Some elements are right out of the 1950's, but it could also very well be set in the 80's. The same thing goes for its location. The town is called Lumberton, but it pretty much is set in Anywhere, U.S.A.
There is no doubt that "Blue Velvet" contains many disturbing moments, and much of it involves sadomasochistic behavior, sex, degradation, and elements of an even darker nature. But it is at this level that "Blue Velvet" succeeds in becoming a true masterpiece in all senses of the word, because these terrible things occur in this quiet, peaceful little town, which harkens back to the opening of the film. It makes the point that no town, no matter what, is perfect, because there will always be something dark hiding right behind the surface, and it is called human nature.
© 1998 by Dustin Putman