Why It Works: Blue Velvet

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.


Well, the bad news is it looks like David Lynch won't be making any more films, as he stated in a recent interview that 2006's INLAND EMPIRE was almost assuredly his last. The good news is that Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost are bringing Twin Peaks back for a limited run over 25 years since the original show ended. The mind of David Lynch is quite a thing indeed, so this week we're looking at the filmmaker's classic BLUE VELVET. Earning a whopping one star review from Roger Ebert, who called the film "painful" and "marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots," BLUE VELVET has gone on to become a cult classic and one of the most important films of David Lynch's career. Here's why it works:


BLUE VELVET explores the dichotomy of light and dark within humanity, and in its four leads, we see four distinct points on the spectrum. Sandy is the personification of the "gee shucks" facade of small town suburbia as well as an anchor of positivity we can attach ourselves to through the violent storm of the film's plot. Jeffrey Beaumont serves as the film's lead, though he's not a terribly sympathetic character. We see him visit his sick father, and certainly the ordeal he goes through eventually affords him some more sympathy on our part, but in Sandy's words, "I can't figure out if you're a detective or a pervert." Jeffrey is a spoiled college kid who seems to think the world is his plaything, and it's his tampering and bravado that put him in harm's way in the first place. That said, Jeffrey probably represents where most of us fall on the scale- generally good but with a taste for mystery and danger- so we're able to identify with him even if we don't always sympathize.

Between Big Little Lies, Twin Peaks, and THE LAST JEDI, it's a pretty good year to be Laura Dern.

Further down the spiral, we have the abused jazz singer, Dorothy Vallens. Dorothy still comes across as a good person, but she seems to revel so gloriously in the identity of a victim, we're not sure exactly how much she wants to be saved from her predicament. In Jeffrey, we expect her to find her knight in shining armor, but she instead asks him to hit and do "bad things" to her and recoils when he offers to help. We still feel for Dorothy, though; her situation is so grim that we don't feel offended or bewildered when Lynch explores the darker side of her psyche. Finally, BLUE VELVET isn't the film we've come to know and love without its f*cking bonkers villain, Frank Booth. Frank is, without a doubt, a very bad man. There's no sympathy here, but Lynch still explores the same themes with Frank. As we see Frank waver between the personalities of Daddy and Baby, clutch at his blue velvet security blanket, and let himself become absorbed with emotional music only to become angry and violent when he does, we see a character rejecting the light but still tempted by it and allowing himself to indulge in it from time to time.

To this day, there have been very few movie villains as unapologetically unhinged as Frank Booth.


BLUE VELVET is a classic tale of boy meets girl, girl has boyfriend, boy and girl get together anyway, boy meets woman, woman's husband and son are being held captive by maniac, maniac uses woman for his sick desires, boy and woman get together anyway, maniac terrifies everyone with lipstick, gas mask, and Dean Stockwell. Hilarity ensues. Since, as discussed above, we're not really on board with why Jeffrey needs so badly to get involved with everything that's going on, we don't have a strong sense of intention and obstacle so much as a general curiosity about the mystery surrounding a severed ear and a beguiling singer. Once Jeffrey gets involved with Dorothy and eventually caught by Frank, however, we very clearly understand the stakes and are pretty sure this can't have a pretty ending. Also, there's just a ton of delicious what-the-f*ckery along the way to keep us from ever getting comfortable or feeling like we know what's going to happen next.

"I have your disease in me now."


Much of the finale of BLUE VELVET happens offscreen, as the police raid Frank's place, Dorothy's husband is killed, the Yellow Man is... I have no idea... and Dorothy is unceremoniously dropped naked on Detective Williams' front lawn. As Jeffrey goes to Dorothy's apartment to investigate, thinking all has been resolved, Frank shows up and hunts him down. Jeffrey misleads him to the back bedroom to buy himself some time to grab a gun and hide, and promptly kills Frank when he comes to investigate Jeffrey's favorite closet.

"And it seemed like that love would be the only thing that made any difference... and it did."

Surrounded by the aftermath, Jeffrey and Sandy engage in a kiss as the screen is bathed in light and we cut to the couple living an idyllic life shortly thereafter. In the opening segment of the film, the camera pushes into the grass below suburbia to reveal the unseemly bugs underneath. In the middle of the film, Sandy shares a dream in which robins represent love and light and can defeat the darkness. Bringing these images together, Jeffrey and Sandy observe a robin on their window sill with a bug wriggling in its mouth as Jeffrey suggests, "maybe the robins are here." As we're treated to a final shot of Dorothy reunited with her son (the first time in the film we see her in sunlight), we get a sense that maybe not all is perfect with the world but that at least for now, the darkness has gone.

"It's a strange world, isn't it?"


Whatever you feel about David Lynch, the man knows how to make things feel just the right amount of odd. From overly homespun suburbanites to surreal dream sequences to those shots that go on just a bit too long to the outright bizarre nature of some of the film's most memorable scenes, BLUE VELVET sets an unforgettable stage on which to tell its story. Angelo Badalamenti's underlying score combined with beautifully out of place hits from the 50's and 60's and David Lynch's signature unsettling sound design make for a tense and at times troubling soundtrack, and the production, costume, and lighting design give us just the right blend of light and dark. Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and the truly terrifying Dennis Hopper play their parts magnificently, with Dean Stockwell stealing the show as Ben and George Dickerson, Brad Dourif, Frances Bay, and ERASERHEAD's own Jack Nance rounding things out.

You guys know what Isabella Rossellini has been up to lately, right?

Lynch may be done making movies, but the man is always involved in something. Whether it's releasing electronic music, guest starring on Louiejamming with Moby, directing bizarre music videos, raising money for charity and Transcendental Meditation, reviving Twin Peaks, or just making a damn fine cup of coffee, I have a feeling the multifaceted and wonderfully weird David Lynch will continue to surprise us for as long as he's around.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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