BLUE VELVET(director/writer: David Lynch; cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; editor: Duwayne Dunham; cast: Kyle MacLachlan (Jeffrey Beaumont), Isabella Rossellini (Dorothy Vallens), Dennis Hopper (Frank Booth), Laura Dern (Sandy Williams), Hope Lange (Mrs. Williams), Dean Stockwell (Ben), George Dickerson (Detective Williams), Jack Harvey (Tom Beaumont), Priscilla Pointer (Mrs. Beaumont), Brad Dourif (Raymond); Runtime: 120; De Laurentiis; 1986)
“I loved the film for its intransigencies.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s a strange world — an artificially nostalgic world that David Lynch depicts of neighborly neighbors, friendly dogs, of red roses growing against a white picket fence, a clear blue sky, and the neat suburban homes that are shown in the beginning and at the end of the film. There are also the cheerful sounds of the radio DJ announcing the time “at the sound of the falling tree.” There is also a dark side to life that David Lynch (Eraserhead/ The Elephant Man/Dune) wants to show you as the underbelly of a small town, and that’s what gets explored in this original American film.
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is a young college-aged man returning to his home town of Lumberton, USA, after his father had a stroke and he must run the family hardware store. The routines of suburban life changes for him when he picks up a severed human ear in the field by his house and brings it to his neighbor, Detective Williams (George Dickerson).
Jeffrey meets Detective Williams’ attractive daughter, the high school student Sandy (Laura Dern), outside her house and she intrigues him by mentioning that she overheard her father talking about the case and that they are investigating the singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who resides in an apartment in the neighborhood. Jeffrey feels adventurous and romantically inclined toward Sandy and talks her into showing him the building where the singer lives. He then devices a plan so that he can sneak into the apartment and snoop around.
Hiding in the slatted closet Jeffrey gets an eyeful of the attractive singer parading around in panties and bra, and sees her have one of the weirdest sexual encounters ever in a commercial film. Deranged gangster Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) enters her apartment and begins a sadomasochistic tryst with her. Frank beats Dorothy, orders her not to look at him, yells obscenities, inhales some kind of drugs from a cylinder, and rapes her. Upon coming out of the closet Jeffrey discovers that Dorothy actually enjoys being abused as he begins a sadomasochistic romance himself with the mentally unbalanced woman, as she performs fellatio on him and gets him to beat her. Jeffrey does what she asks him to do, even though he didn’t want to love her that way. The singer’s child and, possibly, her husband are being held captive by Frank. It is also possible that the severed ear, is her husband’s.
Dorothy will sing in her nightclub act the titled song from the film, where Jeffrey watches her perform.
Jeffrey has entered into a dark world of madness, a world that most of the people of Lumberton could never imagine exists in their community. His curiosity becomes his admission ticket to a world of drugs, kidnappings, murder, violence, and sexual perversions. Frank will take him on a joy ride where he is forced to meet some crazed thugs who intimidate him. Ben (Dean Stockwell), an effeminate drug dealer and pimp, will slap and further humiliate him. Frank will beat him and warn him to stay away.
Hopper is funny and menacing in one of his all-time best over-the-edge roles. He is the energy of the film, and has outrageous lines like: “let me f*ck everything that moves!” In what goes for conversation, he asks MacLachlan: “What kind of beer do you like?” MacLachlan: “Heineken” Hopper: “f*ck that shit, Pabst Blue Ribbon!”
There were many quirky moments in this quirky film. The romance Kyle has with the innocent Dern is cleverly compared with the maddening passion of his romance with the not so innocent Rossellini. Dern constantly looks like she lost something in the translation while they are conversing, while with Rossellini it is unbridled sex that spearheads the relationship. One conversation between Dern and Kyle goes like this: Laura: “I don’t know if you are a detective or a pervert!” Jeff: “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
This is a highly personal film. For those looking to criticize it, these might be some reasons to do so: it relies on shock to tell its forgettable story, it fails to develop character by emphasizing style instead, and the acting seems more staged than spontaneous. Some might be taken aback upon viewing the naked singer, as Dorothy appears on the lawn of the detective’s house and seems to be irrationally babbling. They may be looking upon it as the mocking of a helpless woman. True. It was shocking to see, but I think it set a mood for how painful and humiliating life is and these incidences do happen more regularly in contemporary America than some would care to admit. All these possible flaws in the film still do not detract from how visually powerful the story was and how it had such a unique feel to it, as if it were capturing something about the American heartland that hasn’t been told in this way before.
I loved the film for its intransigency. What it has going for it in large measures is a sense of freshness, imagination, and an almost seamless melding of beauty and violence. It is a dark visionary tale encompassing the conventional lives of the protagonists when pitted against their antagonists and it offers a genuine sense of terror with a devilish peek at the sexual subconscious, as even the innocent find under unusual circumstances they will do something they might ordinarily not do. This non-commercial film should satisfy Lynch’s fans and those looking for a film that doesn’t pull its punches. Others might dislike it for being so plainly weird and shock-orientated, admiring it only for its craftsmanship. If that’s the case, I think they will have sold this film short; after all, strange stuff happens all the time.
REVIEWED ON 3/19/2000 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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