Blue Velvet (1986)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
The amateur detective subgenre of thriller noir pretty much hits my cinematic sweet spot and Blue Velvet might be one of the best examples of it done right.
David Lynch has always been interested in the dark underbelly of Rockefeller America and the odyssey we take with the young and naive Jeffrey Beaumont through the savage world of Frank Booth works well to show that because it is tantalizing and terrifying and shows just how thin the line between wholesome and horrible really is.
The story of Blue Velvet follows the young Jeffrey, played by Lynch staple Kyle Maclaughlin, as he investigates the discovery of a severed human ear which he found in a field. That ear belongs to the husband of the local lounge singer, Dorthy Vallens, played by Isabella Rosellini, whose husband has been kidnapped by local gangster and total gas-huffing psychopath, Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper, who is forcing Vallens into a pretty brutal sexual relationship.
I know I said this is an amateur detective story, and it is, but it’s the David Lynch version of a detective story… and if you remember your Twin Peaks, you’ll remember his mysteries don’t really focus on the ‘whodunit’ aspect of the story, he wants to get into the hell the mystery creates. And there’s plenty of that here. The world of Frank Booth is violent and scary and just being exposed to it changes you, as we see with Jeffrey who also finds himself getting involved with Vallens and strangely venturing to point where sexual exploration meets violent impulses… something you wouldn’t expect from the good ole’ college boy home to help the family out.
I’m giving this story an eight. It’s weird and dark but also really accessible, which is not something you can always say with Lynch.
Speaking of eights, I’m going to give this one an eight for acting as well. Man, everyone in this is so good. The big three of Maclaughlin, Rosellini, and Hopper are giving career-best performances, especially Rosellini. This could not have been an easy shoot for her, but she’s fantastic. And, of course, Hopper created one of the best villains in movie history.
There are lots of familiar faces, like Laura Dern and Dean Stockwell, who are solid as usual. It’s gotta be fun to be a secondary character in a Lynch film. Someone like Brad Dourif who gets to wear great jackets and just ham it up.
Production Value: 8
I think one of the most under-appreciated aspects of a David Lynch film, at least for me personally, are the sets in his films. Lynch never really struck me as a camera wizard, but he knows how to dress a set.
I’m giving Blue Velvet another eight for Production Value. This is a really well-shot film, but the sets do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating the atmosphere that permeates this film.
It’s hard to talk about the costumes in Blue Velvet without addressing the gas canister Frank Booth carries around with him and just starts huffing from time to time like a madman. Apparently, this was originally intended to be helium, because Lynch wanted Frank to have a higher-pitched voice during the ‘daddy’ scene, but he didn’t want it to be funny, so that was scrapped. I guess Dennis Hopper has done drugs before or maybe met someone who has, and he said that Frank would be huffing amyl nitrite… which was apparently popular during the days of disco.
I’m split on what to feel about the music of Blue Velvet. There are some really interesting musical scenes in this movie with Rosselini, Hopper, and Dean Stockwell, but then the rest of the time the music is just generic pop. I get it and it works, but it is what it is.
I’m going to give Blue Velvet two bonus points. One for the closet scene in which Jeffrey is being a voyeuristic creep in Dorthy’s apartment. Lynch said this was the genesis of the story and it really is pretty amazing.
And the second bonus point is for Frank Booth. He’s one of the most terrifying villains I’ve ever seen on screen.
Blue Velvet is my favorite Lynch creation, just edging out Twin Peaks. It’s a good story with great characters and I think this might be the most accessible of his fully Lynchian films.