Blind Spots: Blue Velvet

by James McNally on March 1, 2012 · 3 comments

in Blind Spots,DVD

Blue Velvet
This post is part of the Blind Spots 2012 series. For back­ground on the series, read the ori­ginal post

Blue Velvet (Director: David Lynch): For my second Blind Spots post of the year, I chose David Lynch’s 1986 film noir freakout Blue Velvet, par­tially because I’d just read some good reviews of the Blu-ray, including “lost” footage left out of the final ver­sion of the film. For the record, I haven’t yet watched any of this footage, nor any of the other sup­ple­ments, including the “making-of” doc­u­mentary. I think it’s best if I record my first impres­sions while they’re fresh and unsul­lied by too much ana­lysis. There will be plenty of time for that later, I assure you.

I haven’t seen very many Lynch films at all, but I’m familiar enough with his style that nothing in Blue Velvet really came as a sur­prise. I did notice how the art dir­ec­tion is inten­tion­ally evasive when it comes to loc­ating the film in a par­tic­ular time and place. The town of Lumberton is really an amalgam of various periods in American his­tory from the 50s to the 80s, but the opening shots of a lit­eral white-picket fence evokes the period of the 1950s most obvi­ously. We begin with Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returning home from col­lege to help run the family hard­ware store after his father suf­fers what appears to be a stroke. He’s a clean-cut kid, but the pres­ence of an ear­ring in his left ear hints at some sub­merged non-conformity (and tips us off that we’re not actu­ally in the 1950s). When he finds a severed human ear in a field near his home, he reports the find to the police. Detective Williams treats him a bit like a child and tells him to forget about the case, but Jeffrey has a morbid fas­cin­a­tion with fig­uring out what happened.

So does Detective Williams’ pretty daughter Sandy (Laura Dern), who tips Jeffrey off to the police department’s ongoing sur­veil­lance of a singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Soon Jeffrey is breaking into Dorothy’s apart­ment and seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing. As he con­tinues to pursue the mys­tery, he tries to keep Sandy out of danger even as he’s drawn into ever-darker scenarios.

At one point, Sandy expresses her worry and says, “you must really love mys­teries.” Jeffrey tells her he loves being “wrapped up” in a mys­tery. Then he says, “you’re a mys­tery, and I like you.” Compare this “aw shucks” Andy Hardy beha­viour with his growing obses­sion with the unstable Dorothy. It’s like the two women rep­resent two kinds of mys­tery. Sandy is an unknown, but at some point, he’ll dis­cover the limits of her depths and touch bottom. With Dorothy, who just might be insane, the mys­tery is unsolv­able. She’s an end­less riddle and so a per­fect object for obses­sion. Jeffrey can explore the mys­teries of his own dark side when he’s with Dorothy or the strange and violent people around her.

Later in the film, our apparent vil­lain Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) mut­ters to Jeffrey, “you’re like me.” Which makes the cir­cu­larity of the ending (including the repe­ti­tion of the shot of the white picket fence) inter­esting as an obsuring device. It’s like we’ve fallen into deep sleep, con­fronted our night­mares, then resur­faced only to forget everything we’ve seen.

I find it inter­esting that I’ve used “deep water” meta­phors in each of the pre­ceding two para­graphs in attempting to describe the film’s puzzlements.

Apart from those thoughts, I enjoyed the film’s extremely mannered style. When char­ac­ters are being “good,” the acting is melo­dra­matic, but when they’re bad, they’re often inco­herent and loud, or the film heightens the vis­cer­ality by the use of repe­ti­tion or odd sound design. The score even uses dra­matic cues at key moments, making the whole thing seem like a Douglas Sirk-directed Sam Spade caper, if Sam Spade was played by one of the Hardy Boys.

While I enjoyed the film’s style, I feel that Blue Velvet won’t give up all or even most of its secrets on one, or even two view­ings. So it’s a good thing that the Blu-ray transfer is so gor­geous to look at. And while I want to resist, I’ll prob­ably take a look at the sup­ple­mental fea­tures and extra footage at some point.

And now that I’ve finally watched the film, I can go and enjoy my friend Nicholas Rombes’ fas­cin­ating pro­ject over at Filmmaker Magazine, in which he’s writing about the film, one frame at a time. He’ll likely have more to say about one image than I do about the whole film at this point, but I’m looking for­ward to digesting his insights now to see how they affect my appreciation.


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