By Glenn Dunks
July 25, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!
By far one of the most fascinating careers of an American filmmaker is that of David Lynch. To watch his 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet is to be plunged headfirst into the mind of an extraordinary filmmaker whose experiences with the mainstream studio system had left him burnt – his 1984 adaptation of Dune was a long-gestating failure – and who then returned to the world of independent cinema and made one of the finest dissections of the American mythos yet seen, filmed using high-gloss suburban iconography and with heavy use of symbolism and graphic violence.
Upon discovering a severed human ear, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan) and the local detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), decide to investigate. They are led to a local nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini) and the sadomasochistic criminal who has kidnapped her family and uses her for his sexual gratification (Dennis Hopper), sending them careening through a nightmarish peek behind the artificial veil of suburbia.
Lynch was clearly inspired by the excessively wholesome images of America that television perpetuated in the 1950s and ‘60s and echoing themes that Lynch would go on to investigate in even greater detail in his Twin Peaks franchise. No clearer is the brilliance of his concept seen than in the opening sequence that begins with Bobby Vinton’s titular tune playing over stylized images of red roses, white picket fences, cute puppies, and friendly neighbours that quickly burrows beneath the surface into a cacophony of the grotesque as chomping insects and filthy dirt take over. It’s ugly, yet beautifully intoxicating at the same time.
While Lynch’s command of the movie’s visuals, sounds, and tone are exceptionally on point – he was nominated for the Best Director Oscar, the film’s only nomination – the actors are equally special. McLachlan and Dern are especially tuned into Lynch’s gee-whiz innocence, while Rossellini and especially Hopper as the deranged Frank Booth are the film’s propulsive, dark hearts. (Dean Stockwell also memorably appears as a Roy Orbison-singing creep.) Despite its wild cross of genres and styles, Blue Velvet is an endlessly fascinating and ultimately rather horrifying excursion into the mind of a genius.
Blue Velvet is available on Quickflix.