No Heineken Allowed: David Lynch's Blue Velvet
“See that clock on the wall? In five minutes you are not going to believe what I've told you.”
Having come off the personal embarrassment of his 1984 film Dune, David Lynch was desperate to get back to the types of stories he's been interested in throughout his career. With his follow-up, 1986's Blue Velvet, he did just that - crafting a tale concerning the dark side of American Suburbia. The film stars Lynch mainstay Kyle MacLachlan as college student Jeffrey Beaumont, returning home to Lumberton, North Carolina to care for his sick father, and almost as soon as he arrives, the trouble begins.
What starts with the discovery of a severed human ear soon spirals into the dark and depraved world of local crime boss Frank Booth, played with scene stealing relish by the late Dennis Hopper. Jeffrey joins forces with the daughter of a local detective, played by Laura Dern in her first of many collaborations with Lynch, to solve the mystery. The seeds of a great acting career are relevant with Dern’s performance in Blue Velvet, as she's able to run a gamut of emotions as if she's a seasoned professional. She really is astounding here, playing a young girl caught in the middle of a deadly and abusive love triangle. That third corner is filled by the resilient Isabella Rossellini, giving possibly the bravest performance of her career as tortured lounge singer Dorothy Valens. Lynch put Rossellini through hell and back, and the reaction at the time of release was one of outrage. Rossellini however, clearly wasn't affected all that much seeing as how she would return to work with Lynch a few years later in Wild at Heart, a fact that seems lost on many.
The parallel of the innocent MacLachlan and almost satanic Hopper is the crux of Blue Velvet. Without their confrontations I have a feeling this picture wouldn't be as fondly remembered as it currently is. Their night on the town is equally entertaining and horrifying as we see a seedy underbelly filled with dangerous lip-syncers, kidnapping, rape, and all the Pabst Blue Ribbon you can drink. It's a descent into madness that not only scars young Jeffrey, but the audience as well; you'll never be able to listen to Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ the same way again.
Visually striking, Lynch along with frequent cinematographer Frederick Elmes, craft a picture perfect image of middle class suburbia. Colors are vibrant and add to the dreamlike quality of establishing shots and the interiors of Valens’ apartment are appropriately dingy. Elmes, who started with Lynch way back on Eraserhead, is one of the few artists who's able to depict what's inside Lynch's head, a rare feat indeed. Adding to the production is Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting musical score, his first of many for the filmmaker. His work on the main title are the sounds of legend, as Badalamenti makes his voice heard in a big way, bringing sweeping string arrangements to a jazzy score with horror undertones.
Blue Velvet can be seen as one of the more “normal” films that Lynch has unleashed onto unsuspecting audiences, as it tells a fairly straightforward story but with the visual flair that the director is known for. I've seen this picture numerous times over the years and if not for the masterful Mulholland Dr. it would probably be my favorite of his ten theatrical releases. There's a purity here that's rare for cinema, a belief that maybe sometimes the good guys can come out on top no matter their faults and that even though evil is always lurking around the next corner, there's always a way to best it in the end.