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31st January 2017

Revisiting: Blue Velvet

Eloïse Wright revisits Lynch’s classic

Reissued in cinemas thirty years after its initial release (1986), David Lynch’s controversial Blue Velvet remains intact in its scarring effect.

The film is packed with raw emotional scenes that construct the film’s status of a masterpiece. Despite being uneasy viewing, it demands to be watched. The trouble lies in Lynch’s apparent inability to successfully produce an appropriate setting for the intense violence of Blue Velvet.

Jeffrey’s (Kyle MacLachlan) boredom of life in Lumberton and natural inquisitiveness is the premise for what is to follow. On the way back from visiting his father in hospital one day, he finds a severed ear in a field. This leads him to the station, where he gives this lead to the local head of police, who upon their second meeting asks Jeffrey to cease all interest in the case. His previously eluded to prying nature causes these instructions to fall on deaf ears. Instead, he gets romantically involved with the police officer’s daughter, who helps him piece together this mystery that leads to Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), a nightclub singer.

He realises he has stumbled upon a much bigger mystery than he could have possibly imagined when he sneaks into Dorothy’s flat one night, having to hide in the cupboard as she comes home earlier than anticipated. Witnessing a terrifying phone call between Dorothy and a certain “Frank” (Dennis Hopper), he is discovered by her, her reaction being how one would imagine to an intruder. The shock beings to register within the viewer as one realises she is making their first encounter into a sadomasochistic one. It is upsetting that Lynch doesn’t explore this relationship more, focusing instead on his satire of suburban life.

This early on, it is clear there are two different worlds in the movie. The first world Lynch introduces us to is the one in Lumberton, a run-of-the-mill suburban American town full of clichés that seems to be straight out of a 1950s sitcom. The second is the surreal story of emotional and psychological slavery of Dorothy, whose husband and child have been kidnapped by the perverted Frank, making her his sexual slave.

The twist here is the backward pleasure she finds within this situation and is probably one of the most disturbing, incredible things that Lynch portrays best in Blue Velvet, of which Rossellini’s acting has a lot to do with. Her mesmerising delivery almost doesn’t belong in this badly handled film, where the reality seems too sarcastic and takes away from the serious register the more violent scenes deserve. This is a recurring feeling throughout the film, as between the bland, monotone conversations of these small town suburbanites, Lynch clumsily adds disturbing scenes where Rossellini is stripped, hit and humiliated.

A vibrant palette of colours make Blue Velvet a hypnotic experience. From the plush blue velvet background as the credits roll on screen to the idyllic red and yellow flowers and green gardens, it is a feast for the eyes. Equally, the soundscape Lynch perfects is quite powerful and penetrating. At the end of the film, you will find yourself very aware of your hearing. The soundtrack alone is something out of a dream, including of course Bobby Vinton’s ‘Blue Velvet’ and Roy Orbison’s ‘Dreams’. Similar to another surreal film of Lynch’s, Mulholland Drive, the use of one of Orbison’s hit songs is used in the form of an actor flawlessly miming the lyrics in a performative way.

Blue Velvet has most certainly aged, already seeming old-fashioned in its initial year of release, but it has aged well. The performances are superb, and the soundtrack and cinematography are well worth the experience of seeing it on the big screen.

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