As part of the David Lynch course at the Broadway, last night I had the pleasure of watching Blue Velvet on the big screen. The pre-screening talk was excellent and highlighted the ways in which this film could be viewed. Jake Smith who is hosting this course introduced the idea of Blue Velvet being a modern folklore – a fairy tale for adults. He revealed the horrifying truth that the original Little Red Riding Hood saw the innocent young girl not only being tricked into drinking the blood of her dead grandmother, but also being forced to strip naked to “feel the touch of the wolf’s” skin before being devoured herself. I could see why the brother’s Grimm felt the need to smarten it up for a middle class audience - bedtime stories might not have had such a comforting effect otherwise.
Blue Velvet certainly shows an uncomfortable portrayal of modern life (well, 80s American suburbia) and the dark underside of society that bubbles beneath the surface of white picket fences and immaculate lawns. The infamous line from Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLaughlin) “why are there people like Frank in the world” has split critics to ask if this is ironic or not? Is this a desperate plea from a young man who has lost his innocence or just postmodern irony? It’s hard to tell to be honest.
It’s a pretty straightforward film for Lynch, the narrative is pretty linear, there’s a beginning, middle and end, which is perhaps why it received so much critical and cult acclaim, despite the content, it’s a very accessible film.
I felt this was a film about the loss of innocence, a young boy, Jeffrey, is forced to “man up” in several obvious and some unobvious ways. The first is his loss of child like freedom: Jeffrey’s father is left incapacitated after a presumed heart attack, so he takes the reins of the family business and begins to experience respect and power for the first time. Finding an ear in his neighbourhood he feels emboldened by his new experiences to solve the mystery behind this horrifying treasure.
The second his is loss of sexual innocence: Dorothy Vallens (isobella Rossellini) catches Jeffrey spying at her apartment; mistaking his detective intentions as voyeurism she becomes sexually aggressive and fellates Jeffery at knifepoint. This experience is immediately followed by Jeffrey being forced, out of circumstance, to watch Frank (Dennis Hopper) sexually abuse Dorothy Vallens (Isobella Rosellini). Like a child hearing the unsettling creaks and groans of parents in a distant room, Lynch magnifies this child-like experience of sexual revelation to the same disturbing experience for adults. How very Freudian.
The third is his exposure to a world outside his own: Frank kidnaps Jeffrey for a “joyride” through the dark streets of Lumberton. Frank’s home becomes a macabre, fabricated commercial in contrast to the “real world” – a bit like Tim Burton’s ‘perfect’ town in Edward Scissorhands which politely ignores the gothic horror which is built at the end of the road. His known world falls about him as he realises what
The film has been criticised for portraying violence against women, but I found this film difficult to take offence at. The violence is administered by Frank, a man with some serious Freudian hang ups about his mother and a drug addled maniac, it’s not surprising he’s violent towards women. Also, I don’t genuinely believe Dorothy enjoys the violence in any sexual manner, it seemed rather she had been programmed to expect this from men – though that could be wishful thinking as there’s no indication what her husband is like.
Dorothy and Sandy (Laura Dern) are such one sided characters that it’s hard to empathise or criticize them. It’s an all too obvious, dark-seductive-older- woman versus light-innocent-girl-next-door scenario. I guess they represent the two sides of male sexual desire – a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint – and it’s written and filmed from such a male gaze that it’s hard to see they’re real people at all – for example, Sandy cries melodramatically into the phone that she forgives Jeffrey for sleeping with Dorothy because she loves him. Please, what a male fantasy.
Visually it’s stunning, a modern twist on film noir. The soundtrack shows signs of classic Lynchian techniques – mechanical noises, the unsettling use of silence – and the theme song by Roy Orbison doesn’t seem to leave a scene. As a modern fairytale for adults I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, but I can guarantee that you won’t be able to easily get this film or “Blue Velvet” out of your mind for days afterwards.
Best scene: Ben, (Dean Stockwell – Al from Quantum Leap!), Frank’s partner in crime, lip-syncs a performance of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" into a lamp in a full face of make up.