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The Test of Time: Blue Velvet (1986)

06.01.2017by: Jake Dee

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

BLUE VELVET: DIRECTED BY DAVID LYNCH

STARRING: KYLE MACLACHLAN, LAURA DERN, DENNIS HOPPER, ISABELLA ROSSELLINI, DEAN STOCKWELL

David Lynch. Who could possibly purport to know what goes on in the maniacal mind of this madman? Hell, half of his movies feel like the twisted musings of an inveterate paint-huffer. Yet we can’t look away. Dude often rides right up to the edge of laughable lunacy, borderline amateurism, yet somehow shows just the right amount of reserve to pull back and tie things all together in a compelling way. As a result, he’s mounted some of the most memorably iconic movies ever made: ERASERHEAD, ELEPHANT MAN, WILD AT HEART, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, just to cite a few. In an age of unabashed biters, carbon copies and sad simulacrums, the guy is a true original. Always has been.

So what’s the word then, friends? How you feeling the new iteration of TWIN PEAKS? Too early for a full review I realize, but one thing’s for certain: it’s very Lynchian…winding, opaque, surreal. Initially, we wanted to bust out a FIRE WALK WITH ME retrospective, but since our man John The Arrow Fallon has kicked all kinds of ass on the subject HERE, we thought it best to avert the attention over to another undisputed Lynch classic. This film was not only critically hailed as one of the top films of the entire 1980s, personally speaking, it’s also my favorite Lynch movie. Hell, I’m looking at the poster on my wall as I write this. Guys, gals, enough foreplay…let us swaddle ourselves in the plush perversion of BLUE VELVET and see just how it feels and fares now, 31 years after release. The Test of Time is nigh!

UNDER EXAMINATION: BLUE VELVET

THE STORY: Before we get into the particulars of the plot, mention must be made of the sheer excitement of even procuring a copy of BLUE VELVET as a teenager. Long before the days of 1,000 cable channels, VOD, Youtube, DVD and the rest…BLUE VELVET was one of those long lost, ultra-taboo underground movies that seemed out of reach, hard to attain. The kind of flick your older siblings would watch and talk about, but seemed so difficult track down on your own. At least, that’s how it was for me. And frankly, that helped when eventually seeing the film for the first time, playing into the voyeuristic sense that you’re witnessing something you should not. Ever. There was an inherent danger about the movie before even seeing it.

As for the story, you know it already. Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle Maclachlan) ambles through the sunny idyll of a small town in Middle America called Lumberton, only to find a severed human ear wedged in the tall-grass. He informs Detective Williams, then co-opts his daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) and begins a low-key amateur investigation into who’s ear it is, why it was lopped off and by whose hand. This leads to the apartment of gorgeous Italian chanteuse Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), which Jeff enters by feigning to be an exterminator. He steals a spare key, then returns at night, and is soon introduced to a harrowing few days of unadulterated S&M kink, Freudian foreplay, exotic drug-sniffing, mysterious kidnapping and hyper-violent demeaning. Most of which is exacted by Frank Booth in a histrionically show-stopping turn by the late great Dennis Hopper. Erratic, unpredictable, abusive…this dude is truly terrifying!

As Jeff becomes further entangled in the web of sexual depravity, at times sating his own primal urges in the process, he must find it in his heart to make a stand of morality when it becomes clear that life and death is at stake. In the end, he opts for the lighthearted idealism that bookend the film, rather than going looking for subterranean trouble where you can find it, just below the surface of society's seedy underbelly. In the end, love triumphs over evil!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: There’s little surprise that most of what BLUE VELVET has to offer still retains its power today, more than 30 years after release. But if we had to pinpoint the best of the best, three standouts instantly come to mind. The first is the initial semi-sex scene between Jeffrey, Dorothy and eventually Frank. The other standout is the scene at Ben’s house (my favorite), where all of the f*cked-up Lynchian flourishes come to light. The other, featured in both, is the absolutely bravura performances of both Hopper and Rossellini. Without these three key cogs, to our minds, the movie would likely be far less memorable.

That initial sadomasochistic psychosexual power-play. Heat! Jeffrey hides in the closet, voyeuristically leers at a spastic Dorothy, who slowly strips nude after writing on the floor in a fit of antsy ecstasy. She hears a noise in the closet, pulls a knife from the kitchen, then totally turns the tables on Jeff. Now she’s in charge. She orders the kid to slowly strip nude, but to do so while never looking or touching her. “I’ll kill you!” she barks at him, luridly turned on by the empowerment. Then a knock at the door. Jeff hides back in the closet. We meet Frank Booth for the first time. He storms in with a fit of profane abusiveness. Dorothy demurs. Now Frank is in charge. He orders Dorothy to spread her legs, then he pulls out a gas-mask and huffs a slew of ether (or whatever) until he reverts into a sobbing fetal state. Straight up, this scene is just as disturbing now as it was in 1986. The raw emotion, unbridled energy, the stark realism, the unbroken take, the psychosexual vacillation of power between all involved. This is Hitchcock’s wet dream!

And it isn’t even my favorite. That honor is reserved for when Frank and his crew take Dorothy and Jeff over to Ben’s house. Dean Stockwell steals the show. Few things in life give me more delight than seeing him croon along to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams. Of course, it’s made all the better by seeing Frank’s emotional breakdown during the karaoke take, revealing a layer of humanity we hadn’t seen before. But even everything before and after the song, the background characters, the hilarious dialogue, the dreamlike oddity of it all, it’s the one scene that feels like quintessential, unmistakable Lynch. I love this scene!

But look, none of this stuff would jive without the level of dedication shown by Rossellini. She sells it. She puts all out there. She’s beaten, defiled, humiliated, stripped nude, kicked around, laid emotionally naked…and does so with 100% conviction. It’s a bold, brave performance that without a doubt stands the test of time. She’s sexy, scared, strong, powerless, passionate, confused…all in the same movie, every emotion believable. As for Hopper as Booth, laugh at it if you want, it’s still a remarkable turn. He’s so vicious and over the top, so vilely abusive, so wildly hard to pin down, that it’s power cannot be denied. Sure he played almost the identical role in RIVER’S EDGE the same year (“I ate so much pussy in those days, my bears looked like a glazed donut”), but still, Frank Booth will go down as one of the most memorable screen villains of all. In Lynch world or otherwise!

"Let's F*ck!!! I'll F*ck Anything That Moves!!!"

"Heineken? F*ck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!!!"

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Very little in BLUE VELVET has lost its luster over the past three decades. If we had to parse a complaint, it might be that the romantic susurrations between Jeff and Sandy are a bit too maudlin. But then again, that is sort of the point. The idealism trumps the criminality, and the soft, lighthearted moments between the two budding lovers is meant to depict exactly this. Some might think the two extremes don’t really gel together, they’re wrong!

THE VERDICT: BLUE VELVET remains a landmark American movie, and just the same, is still one of David Lynch’s very best. I think it’s my favorite of his. Don’t get me wrong, I love the surreal, nonlinear puzzle pieces he’s offered – LOST HIGHWAY, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, etc. – but I equally love when Lynch tells a story simply and as straight forward as possible. THE ELEPHANT MAN, THE STRAIGHT STORY and BLUE VELVET are just as thought-provoking and emotionally taxing as the others. Straight up, I still get chills every time I see the final montage of BLUE VELVET set to the wistful Angelo Badalamenti score. Velvet, as blue as it may seem, has never felt warmer!

GET BLUE VELVET ON DVD HERE

GET BLUE VELVET ON BLU-RAY HERE

Extra Tidbit: What's your take on BLUE VELVET?
Source: AITH

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