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Blue Velvet

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*Also starring: Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nance, Brad Dourif

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Of all of David Lynch's films, I find myself ranking "Blue Velvet" on a lower meter. It's a good, blazingly original film that is also wholly uneven, obscene and tasteless to the core. The latter terms are not meant as a critique - Lynch at his best is always obscene and tasteless. But I also find "Blue Velvet" to be underwhelming, as say compared to "Eraserhead" (his greatest film) or the neo-noir/horror picture "Lost Highway." It's just that their themes are more complex and disturbing than this perverse take on suburbia.

"Blue Velvet" was released back in 1986 and was highly controversional for its time, mainly due to graphic scenes of torture and sex. There was also much talk about the sequence where Isabella Rossellini (Ingrid Bergman's daughter) is naked and publicly embarrassed, while teeth marks and cigarette burns cover her entire body. There is no question that Lynch has always had trouble protraying women in a positive light (take a close look at Patricia Arquette forced stripping at gunpoint in "Lost Highway"), but this particular sequence is pure misogyny serving no purpose in the entire film. Consequently, Rossellini also endures several beatings by a helium-sniffing psycho named Frank (a truly classic performance of psychotic rage by Dennis Hopper). There are also numerous close-up shots of ants and cockroaches littering the screen as if they were aware of something beyond our knowledge. Of course, the wonderful opening scenes of the film, including the shot of ants scowering the e! arth, suggest an evil lurking beneath a conservative town of white picket fences, rose gardens, people mowing their lawns, etc.

The story in "Blue Velvet" revolves around a potential murder mystery that is never quite explained or resolved (at least, not to my liking though Raymond Chandler's novels are often so complex that even he did not know what they were about). Kyle MacLachlan plays a college student named Jeffrey, who is visiting his picture-postcard hometown, Lumberton. One day, he discovers a severed human ear on an open field. He contacts the police and then decides to investigate on his own. This all leads to the apartment of a distraught singer (played by Rossellini), who occasionally sings "Blue Velvet" at a nightclub. Enter the deranged killer Frank who tortures and humiliates the poor singer, and the scenes between the two of them are as startling and effective as any other scene in the film. They contain a raw, vicious power that is unparalleled in the history of cinema, but they are often tempered with a joke or some sly humorous poke in the arm. There is such an intense buildup of em! otions that eventually Lynch throws it all away by winking at the audience - in effect saying, hey, this is not as bad as it looks. This reminds me of a similar scene in "Wild at Heart" where a similar psycho played by Willem DaFoe humiliated and sexually teased Laura Dern to the point where it was lessened by an unnecessary joke.

As Jeffrey veers further into this S & M world with the help of a policeman's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), things get much weirder especially when Dean Stockwell shows up as a Kabuki transvestite. Both Stockwell and Hopper must hold the record for spouting more obscenities on film than Eddie Murphy.

"Blue Velvet" is a fascinating, intriguing film but it is not completely successful. The elements of the mystery are so warped that I gave up after a while trying to follow it. It is true that some of Lynch's later work was more confounding and that it did not bother me much, but this mystery is actually more conventional and, dare I say, realistic so I did expect to be able to follow it. The performances are mostly shouting matches, especially between Hopper and Rosselini though their scenes lend the necessary realism to their strange, sexual bond. Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern merely react than act, except for one exquisitely subtle scene at a cafe. I also think the music by Angelo Badalamenti is far too offputting, though the songs by Julee Cruise enhance the theme of a town with dark secrets ready to explode. Plus, the uplifting ending negates the darkness that preceded it, though I did like the shot of the bird with a wasp in its mouth. That shot actually adds a sly perv! erse touch, but I could have lived without the annoying sappiness of it all.

For whatever strange reason I cannot comprehend, I still liked "Blue Velvet" because nobody has ever produced or directed anything like it prior to its release. There isn't anything you can easily compare it to. It is definitely Lynch's wildest endeavor and, somehow, strangely compelling. Being a huge Lynch fan, I will probably look at the film again ten years from now, and perhaps call it a masterpiece as many have. For now, this is just fairly good Lynch fare.

Copyright 1998 Jerry Saravia

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