“Blue velvet” was released 30 years ago in 1986, but a masterpiece of woozy surrealism of David Lynch doesn’t really fit in this decade. Some of the cuts, of course, since the 1980s years, but it’s a tribute to film Noir of the 1940s and 50s years, two ballads signature, blue velvet, and in the dream, were both recorded in 1963. The detective work of the hero could be removed from the COP show of the 1970-ies. But more than anything, though, blue velvet feels as if it is the first film of the 1990-ies. One of the reasons why so many critics are raving that he was a few years ahead of its time. But it’s one of the reasons why some critics hate it.
The previous film was Lynch’s 1984 Dune, space epic, which became one of the most notorious failures in the history of cinema. Blockbusters immortal alien worms was clearly not his Forte (Lynch blamed Studio interference), but, again, we can say that he was a pioneer: it is commonplace for famous young art-house creators to hand over the reins of the sci-Fi franchise, from the fantastic four in Jurassic world. In any case, the producer of dune, Dino de Laurentiis, Lynch gave another chance. As long as he agreed to a reduced fee, he may do something that was closer in spirit to his experimental debut, 1977’s “eraserhead”. Lynch is not shy.
Who in 1986 was really shocked to hear unpleasant happening in a small town in America?
Instead set on a desert planet in a distant galaxy, blue velvet is located in Lumberton, North Carolina, American logging town of white picket fences and street Diners. But there is trouble in Paradise. One of the residents of Lumberton collapses while watering the lawn, so its a clean cut son, Jeffrey beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan, who starred in “Dune”), returned from College to manage the family store. Jeffrey is quite happy to be home, but he clearly yearns for adventure. After he finds a severed ear in a vacant lot, he teams up with sandy (Laura Dern), blonde-teen, daughter of a police detective and trying to figure out whose ear it is. Studies of young lead to the apartment where exotic cabaret singer, Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), has sadomasochistic sex with an unstable thug, Frank (Dennis Hopper). Jeffrey, who is spying on them from inside the Cabinet Dorothy, shocked… kind of. But he’s not completely against the idea of some sadomasochistic sex with yourself Dorothy.
What to do with it? The most common meanings, a terrible thought crime of Lynch is that he reveals the rot that rots behind the shiny facade of America. According to hopper, among other commentators, it was a brave truth that upset so many critics when it was released. But this reading which raises a number of questions. Who in 1986 was really shocked to hear unpleasant happening in a small town in America? And does anyone today really believe that the secret shame of the country involves the Italian torch singers unflattering Frank-N-Furter wigs and whiny psychopaths who sniff nitrous oxide from their own portable cylinders? Blue velvet caught her cult without exposing themselves to sordid reality, but the production is terrible, but seductive fantasy.
To the right of slow motion introductory montage, it’s clear that Lynch wants us to see Lumberton as real as make-believe town stilted dialogue and archetypes of TV. Then, when Jeffrey hits Dorothy corruptible world, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, the film to make things worse: in its most famous sequence, the nifty pimp (Dean Stockwell) mimes records Roy Orbison in dreams, illuminating his face with a lamp, he uses as a fake microphone. It makes more sense if Lynch film can never be said to have meaning – to see blue velvet, not as an indictment of a corrupt America, but as a Freudian study of a boy on the threshold of adulthood, who is torn between hometown respectability the face of the virgin sand (possibly named after the heroine of lubrication) and the forbidden pleasures in the face of a whore-ish Dorothy (probably named in honor of the heroine of “the Wizard of Oz”).
Movies allow us to visit twisted demimonde of sex and violence and Moody music
This is the story of two competing narratives that seem to happen in different universes. When Dorothy first discovered Jeffrey in her closet, she toskuet his cheek with a kitchen knife, but the next morning, his face as smooth as ever. Another night, Frank hits him cruelly, but his bruises disappear with amazing speed. In a sense, he is a substitute for those who go to the movies. Movies allow us as Jeffrey, visit twisted demimonde of sex and violence and Moody music for a couple of dark hours before returning unscathed to normal life.
Blue velvet offers many other interpretations, of course: that’s why viewers will return to again and again. But we can’t deny the fact that Lynch is not telling the truth to the end (to borrow the title of one of his later films); it is switching between different genres and different tones, constantly reminding us that we’re watching a work of art.
In 1986, these post-modernist game, was the draw – and, to some critics, annoyed. In the Washington post, Paul Attanasio complained that blue velvet was, ultimately, frivolous, “minors ‘would not it be neat if … quality.” In a one-star review in the Chicago sun-times, Roger Ebert claimed that Lynch was a cowardly creature, constantly pulling Jeffrey back from the transgressive underworld Dorothy and Frank: “he’s afraid that movie audiences might not be ready for the harsh S&M if they believe that this is all a joke? I was absorbed and convinced by the relationship between Rossellini and MacLachlan, and … I don’t need the Director prancing with the cylinder and a cane, whistling that it was all in fun.”
In the 1990s, however, everything that annoyed Attanasio and Ebert would become standard practice. Just as rap records of the era was to get into the habit of a selection of tracks in the style of soul, indie-movies, stealing scenes and settings are wildly ridiculous films and sticking them together in bizarre configurations. They were less inspired by the writer-Directors lives than their video collection. They were, in short, reproduction blue velvet. Hip, Meta, retro movies mix-and-match 1990s learned everything they knew from Lynch.
Just look at how reservoir dogs has in common with blue velvet: career-revival of casting an elderly actor, voice overs for radio DJ, rupture of the ear, sinister spin on a harmless decades-old pop hit (stuck in the middle with You). In 1996, writer and essayist David foster Wallace went so far as to dismiss Tarantino as a populist Lynch wannabe, someone whose only achievement was “to take what is ragged and distinctive and menacing about [Lynch’s] work and homogenize it, whip it until it’s smooth and cool and hygienic enough for mass consumption.”
Whether or not You agree with this assessment, there are echoes of “blue velvet” not only in the works of Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Jim Jarmusch and the Coen brothers, not to mention the dozens of inferior imitators “Sundance”. Watch Thriller 1990-ies that a pair of extreme violence, with a sense of humor, and what flags its artificiality with flashing references to old songs and movies and you can bet that the Director is a fan of Lynch.
The Lynch can hardly blame all the people who followed in his footsteps, of course. But maybe blue velvet needs to take some responsibility for pop culture trends to put things in quotes – will be arch and ironic and not sincere. Maybe she has so many loyal fans, because, as Ebert did, and he encourages us to look at our deepest, darkest desires and then move away with a giggle as Jeffrey Lee, we don’t have the courage to explore them. In 1990-e years, too many films were wrapped in a comfortable blanket of blue velvet.