Blind Spots: Blue Velvet

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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3 Responses to Blind Spots: Blue Velvet

  1. Pingback: Blindsided by WILD AT HEART | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective

  2. M. Derbecker says:

    Blue Velvet has dated bet­ter than most Lynch mater­ial — people for­get that the the all-out weird­ness is low key, unlike Wild at Heart or the Twin Peaks series. The blu-ray has a great series of cut scenes, none of which work at all — they date the movie to the early 80s, rather than the limbo that com­pli­ments the fin­ished film. It is still a scary piece of work; I’d pay to see it in a theatre with first-timers again.

  3. Mike says:

    Love it. My favour­ite Lynch film & I think his best — due in large part to the I guess lucky/brilliant cast­ing of Hopper just as he was ready to emerge from cocaine-land and assert him­self as full-on pro­fes­sional crazy-dude rather than full on crazy-dude that also acts in Peckinpah movies some­times

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