Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Blue Velvet


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/4/07 w/ Additional Edits.


Following 1977's feature-film debut Eraserhead, that would become a cult classic. David Lynch was hired by Mel Brooks to do a film version of The Elephant Man in 1980 that drew massive critical acclaim and Oscar nominations. When George Lucas asked Lynch to direct the third Star Wars film Return of the Jedi, Lynch turned it down to instead work with producer Dino de Laurentiis for a huge adaptation of the sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert. Instead, the 1984 release was a disaster and went through bad re-cuts that forced Lynch to not want to take any credit for the film. In 1986, Lynch rebounded with a film that not only shocked audiences but also would solidify him as a seminal auteur in the years to come entitled Blue Velvet.

Written and directed by Lynch, Blue Velvet tells the story of a college student in a small town in North Carolina who discovers severed human ear that leads into an investigation. There, the young man enters into a dark world of voyeurism that included a crazed lounge singer and a psychopathic criminal. A film that mixed the innocence of 1950s film with 1980s underground cinema, the film is considered to be one of the most original films of its time as it would give Lynch the prestige that he sought for. Starring Kyle McLachlan, Isabella Rosselini, Laura Dern, Dean Stockwell, and Dennis Hopper. Blue Velvet is a strange, dark, yet provocative masterpiece from David Lynch.

Visiting his father (Jack Harvey) after an accident, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan) is walking around his small town of Lumberton where he stops at a shack. While throwing rocks, he finds a human ear which he gives to a detective named Williams (George Dickerson) whom he later meets when an investigation is conducted. After meeting the detective at his home, he walks out of the house where he meets William's daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) who talks to him about information she knows. She mentions a lounge singer named Dorothy Vallens(Isabella Rossellini) as Jeffrey decides to break into her apartment as Jeffrey pretends to be a pest controller. He meets Dorothy as he quietly steals a set of keys. Jeffrey and Sandy later go to the club where she sang a jazz-like version of the 50s classic Blue Velvet.

After watching Dorothy sing, Jeffrey decides to break into her home to find any clues while waiting for Sandy to give him the signal from his car in case the singer returns. Unfortunately, Jeffrey doesn't hear the signal as Sandy is forced to leave him behind. Forced to see the woman talking to a man in a yellow suit (Fred Pickler), whom he saw earlier, in a closet. He ends up seeing her undress and then talk to a man named Frank (Dennis Hopper) on the phone about someone named Don. After the phone call, she finds Jeffrey in the closet as she forces him to strip down naked while seducing him. Then she hides him when Frank arrives, who abuses her where the two engage in a sadomasochist form of sex. Haunted by what he saw, Jeffrey reluctantly leaves as he later tells Sandy what he saw. Sandy is amazed that something dark is going on in this quiet little town as she tells a dream she had that involved robins.

Jeffrey decides to go see Dorothy again at the club where he also sees Frank and his entourage that included Raymond (Brad Dourif) and Paul (Jack Nance). Learning that Frank is leading a crime gang, Jeffrey isn't sure who to turn to as Sandy remains his only ally as the two start to fall for each other. Jeffrey is also being seduced by the strange Dorothy where another encounter leads to Jeffrey's first meeting with Frank. Frank takes Jeffrey and Dorothy to meet Ben (Dean Stockwell) as a party happened with Ben lip-syncs to Roy Orbison's In Dreams. Dorothy goes into a room to meet Don, whom Jeffrey learns is her son. After the party, things get stranger when the continues abuse on Dorothy by Frank pushes Jeffrey to the edge. After getting beaten up, Jeffrey reluctantly turns to Williams only to learn that the man in the yellow suit is his partner. Deciding to go out with Sandy on a date, things start out nice until a naked Dorothy is at his home, beaten and weary. Jeffrey is finally forced to see what goes on as he hopes to stop Frank.

While the film is a take on the 50s visuals of Douglas Sirk along with the crime, mystery genre. The film is essentially about a young, good-hearted young man. A boy scout actually, who enters into a dark underworld where he ends up finding about his own dark side as well as how strange the world is. Lynch's complex, high-octane script is wonderfully structured while filled with dialogue that is stylized yet also over-the-top in some parts. Still, it manages to work by unveiling clues to the film's crime theme while also venturing into themes of voyeurism and sadomasochism. It is indeed a strange film and couldn't have come from someone as dark and as eerie as David Lynch.

Lynch's direction is wonderfully surreal with its opening, 1950s-like look of the film helmed with amazing colors, wonderful scenery, and the original Bobby Vinton song Blue Velvet playing in the background. Then, it shifts into something much darker where Lynch is saying, nothing is as it seems. The shocking images of a man becoming paralyzed with images of bugs on the ground is indeed disturbing. Yet, it sets the entire tone for the film. The way Lynch sets up a shot or a scene as well as the tension of the film's suspense is very unique. There's moments where things seem peaceful and then, everything becomes a moment where someone would say "what the fuck?" Lynch's ability to shock and make the audience uncomfortable, though not for everyone, is proof of his genius as both a storyteller and as a director.

Cinematographer Frederick Elmes brings a wonderful, colorful look to some of the film's exterior, daytime sequences that looks like a film straight out of the 1950s. Then when the film is in the hallway or Dorothy's room, the colors are much darker, and more intimate. The eerie tone of the camera while in the nighttime sequences, things get darker and more claustrophobic as it almost feels like a horror film. Editor Duwayne Dunham creates a wonderful style to the editing with a suspenseful like approach to the film while in a few sequences, he does some amazing, shimmering-like speeds to convey the emotions of those scenes.

Production designer Patricia Norris and set decorator Edward LeViseur creates a wonderful look to the film with the 1950s like poster for Lumberton to the 80s, slick look of Dorothy's apartment. The hallway next to apartment is also noticeable for its green carpet that looks very dark. Costume supervisor Gloria Glynn creates a great look to the film with the black suits that Kyle McLachlan and Dennis Hoppers wear, the 50s-like dresses of Laura Dern, to the sexy, blue velvet robe that Isabella Rossellini wears. There's life to what the costumes have. Sound designer Alan Splet brings wonderful mix to the film's sound to convey the suspense and dark tone of the film while adding chills to the town as if not everything is wonderful.

The film's music and soundtrack is dominated by the diverse film score of Angelo Badalamenti that is a mix of jazz, orchestral music, and electronic-ambient music that plays up to the film's suspense or a jazz theme that accompanies Frank, or a wonderfully haunting, evocative electronic piece to convey the innocence. The rest of the soundtrack features wonderful cuts like the title track Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton and Isabella Rosselini doing a wonderful jazz-like version accompanied by Badalamenti. Also appearing is Roy Orbison's In Dreams that is wonderfully dreamy to Julee Cruise's haunting song Mysteries Of Love composed by Badalamenti and Lynch. Overall, the film soundtrack and score are one of the most memorable piece of music of the 80s.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with notable small appearances from Hope Lange as Mrs. Williams, Jack Harvey, Priscilla Pointer as Jeffrey's mom, Frances Bay as Aunt Barbara, Ken Stovitz as Sandy's boyfriend Mike, J. Michael Hunter, Brad Dourif, and Lynch regular Jack Nance as members of Frank's gang, and Fred Pickler as Yellow Man. George Dickerson is good as Detective John Williams, a man who warns Jeffrey of what he might enter to while Dean Stockwell is great in his role as Ben. Notably for his lip-sync of the Roy Orbison song while wearing make-up and lipstick. Dennis Hopper is brilliant in his role as the very psychotic Frank. Almost every sentence Hopper says mentions the word "fuck" as if it's part of his vocabulary. Every line, every thing Hopper does is brilliant. Even though his character is a very evil, twisted man, he's a villain that's fun to watch while breathing into an oxygen mask.

Isabella Rossellini is equally as great in her role as the desperate, destructive, submissive Dorothy. Rossellini's performance might be described as over-the-top yet her own craziness mixed in with sadness is truly one of the most haunting performances ever captured on film. Laura Dern is wonderful as the innocent, sweet Sandy who keeps Jeffrey grounded while being the kind of girl that you want to take home to mother. Dern really gives the character life by just being real and not being over-dramatic. Even when role was originally offered to Molly Ringwald. That would've been really strange. Kyle McLachlan is excellent in his role as Jeffrey Beaumont, a college kid who enters a dark world that he never should've entered. McLachlan starts out as an innocent young man who later is forced to see the dark side and even himself. McLachlan's performance hits all the right notes as he carries the whole movie with ease and comfort.

Released in the fall of 1986, Blue Velvet shocked audiences and critics as the film became an unlikely hit. Despite accolades from both film critics and audiences, not everyone was enthused by David Lynch's surreal vision. One of those people was Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert who named Blue Velvet the worst film of 1986. Despite Roger Ebert's notorious review, David Lynch received an Oscar nomination for Best Director as his career began to take off that were followed by high-profile projects like Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart. Twenty years since the release of Blue Velvet, the film remains a cult classic as in 2005, director Noah Baumbach showed a clip of the film in a hilarious scene for his film The Squid & the Whale. The scene emphasized on what kind of audience shouldn't see the film when Jeff Daniels' character tells his son to go see Blue Velvet with his girlfriend rather than see Short Circuit.

While it's a film that isn't for everyone. Even for those who can't stand crass language, shocking nudity, graphic sex, violence, or excessive use of the word "fuck". Blue Velvet is a masterpiece that still shocks to this day. Those new to the work of David Lynch no doubt should see this as an introduction to the director. With great performances from Kyle McLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and Dennis Hopper, it's a movie that won't leave anyone's head. Even through the surrealistic visions of Lynch and all of his concepts. In the end, Blue Velvet is a must-see for anyone who loves shocking, surreal images, and evocative storylines.

David Lynch Films: Eraserhead - The Elephant Man - (Dune) - Wild at Heart - (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me) - Lost Highway - (The Straight Story) - Mulholland Dr. - INLAND EMPIRE

(C) thevoid99 2011

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