This week we had a deep dive into the world of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. As a mere film geek and not ‘buff’ my understanding is somewhat limited, so I was keen to see what the other geeks on my course thought – and especially what our course leader, Jake, thought.
Jake explained that after the success/failure of Dune Lynch was willing to take a substantial pay cut to have full creative control over Blue Velvet (1986) and this film ultimately became the first full narrative. Lynch’s “final cut” demands were not written into the contract, just to secure the studio control over future directors, but the studio boss was happy to shake on it and a gentleman’s agreement was made.
Here’s what the others thought about Blue Velvet:
Blue Velvet is Jeffrey’s dream – the narrative starts by entering the severed, grotesque ear where the audience descends into the dreamlike, psychological world of Jeffrey, where the other characters “act out” Jeffrey’s deepest, darkest desires, the narrative then ends with the camera panning out of his ear.
This theory does explain some of the stinted melodrama, the unreal reactions from people and the calm way in which Jeffrey paces through the events of the film, it also explains the nightmarish, surreal moments with Ben (Dean Stockwell). It also helps define the over male desire, the whore/angel representation of women and the Freudian scenes with Frank and Dorothy. However, the film’s overly kitsch, Americana ending is outside of the dream, the narrative has left the ear. Does this suggest that the outside world is more artificial than the truth we find in our dreams? Maybe.
Product placements – Heinekken or Budweiser? Joke or paid product placement? With Lynch, unlikely to be the latter. This discussion of the everyday, the normal products Joe Public enjoys paved a new “Lynchian tone” which others like Tarrantino developed – Pulp Fiction, gangsters discussing the merits of cheeseburgers while on a killing spree.
It’s a “joy ride” of a film – the phrase Frank delights in screaming at Jeffrey whilst at Ben’s place is one way to describe the emotional registers within the film. Starts out as a kind of Nancy Drew teen mystery drama, but as soon as Jeffrey witnesses Frank and Dorothy in the apartment Lynch pulls the carpet from under the audience. Jeffrey’s disbelieve and un-real “calm” is delayed shock, things have escalated so far out of control Jeffrey is now the voice of the audience. The scenes swing rapidly from the horrific to the comic to the sexual.
Post modern director – the 70s TV cop show references with the car chases, the hub caps spinning away, the melodrama point to Lynch being a post modern director, drawing more inspiration from television rather than cinema history.
Love story – for Jeffrey the “love interest” is one woman split into two personalities, played by two women (another Lynchian tone, see Mulholland Drive for doubles) The two women merge into one love when Dorothy shows up naked, beaten and vulnerable at Sandy’s house. The sexual dominator is cast to damsel in distress and his innocent; girl next door is now the object of his adult feelings of true love. Frank is a sentimentalist (arguably) he coverts the small piece of velvet from Dorothy’s coat, he cries as she sings her songs. Frank is a man so in love he has no other way to handle these over powering emotions than through violence. As he turns to Jeffrey he shouts, “you’re just like me” where in turn Jeffrey punches him, fulfilling the circle and becoming like Frank – he has already changed from innocent bystander to aggressive lover (already consenting to hit Dorothy during intercourse).
Fantasy – Frank acts out his fantasies, it’s mechanistic, the bourbon, the dark, “it has to be dark”, the robe, the lipstick and the music. Frank puts these things in place to start the fantasy. This view leads the audience to suspect he may have raped Jeffrey during the “joy ride scene” as these fantasy elements are slowly put into place. Whose fantasy is this? Jeffrey’s voyeur fantasy? Dorothy’s domination fantasy? Frank’s fantasy of masochism and who does the audience identify with? Or this Lynch’s fantasy to pull the audience into this world, to provoke a reaction from them, to start a debate, to make you watch the darker side of society?
Violence – Jeffrey’s moral code is rejected with shockingly quick speed – he goes from out right, offended objection to hitting Dorothy to violently striking her in a matter of narrative minutes, the moment he loses his innocence the screen fills with flames and the audience is thrust into this troubling life of Jeffrey. Lynch’s idea is to make the audience focus on this horrifying violence, if you were to have no reaction to these disturbing scenes then you’re the disturbing aspect of society. Lynch is not like Scorsese who casually passes over violence towards women, he in contrast makes the audience dwell, focus, become involved with the violence (through us identifying with Jeffrey).
Exploiting the audience – could have been a fair reaction from 1980s audiences used to slasher horror movies, entirely there to exploit, scare and shock the audience. An 80s audience could have assumed Blue Velvet was a post modern way for Lynch to exploit, scare and shock his audience – but this doesn’t ring true, the violence is not graphic, Lynch is asking the audience to think, to be engaged by the unsettling aspects of this film, not merely exploit the emotions temporarily. The disturbing part of the film is not the violence, it’s the un-natural fragmentation, and it’s inglorious portrayal of nudity, the tender innocence behind monstrous characters.