Blue Velvet (1986)

A column article, Classic Film/New Blu by: Paul Brian McCoy

Blue Velvet

Dir: David Lynch



120 min.



Blue Velvet is one of those movies that you can never un-see. Which can be problematic if you're of a more delicate sensibility than someone like me. For me, though, I have no desire to un-see anything about this film. In fact, I'm more grateful for the long-awaited Blu-ray release than I even realized.

You see, it's been years since I've sat down and watched Blue Velvet. Not because I didn't want to, but because I'd seen it so many times over the years that eventually it was just too familiar. Hell, one of my all-time favorite bands, Mr. Bungle, even sampled it for their self-titled major label debut in 1991.

And I still can't look at a Heineken without thinking fondly of Dennis Hopper's outbursts.

The VHS release of this film back in the day heralded it as "The Most Talked About Film of the Decade!" And for good reason.

Director David Lynch really hit on something both extremely disturbing and remarkably accessible with his fourth feature film. After the no-budget mind-fuckery of Eraserhead, he had slid into something a little more mainstream, but only just. The Elephant Man was impressive for many reasons, but mainly for how it told the story without sacrificing Lynch's idiosyncratic vision.

Somehow, after the Jodorowsky/Moebius/Giger collaboration fell apart, the science fiction epic Dune was handed over to Lynch (after he turned down the offer to direct Return of the Jedi) and while it is an interesting work, it failed both critically and at the box-office.

For his next project, he decided to go back to something more personal and began tinkering with a script he'd had since 1973, which he described as "a dream of strange desires wrapped inside a mystery story." And Blue Velvet was born, laying the groundwork for Lynch's next ten years of work (because this is nothing if not a sounding board for ideas that would be brought out in Wild at Heart and both the Twin Peaks TV series and feature film).

Lynch recruited Kyle MacLachlan, who had also starred in Dune, to play the lead role of Jeffrey Beaumont, a college student who is forced to return home when his father has some sort of episode and ends up in the hospital. On his way home from visiting his dad, Jeffrey finds a severed ear in a field and we are suddenly transported into a world that looks normal enough – disturbingly normal, in fact – but has a dark and violent underside.

Isabella Rossellini plays uber-damaged lounge singer Dorothy Vallens and Dennis Hopper, in his first major role after rehab, plays one of the most disturbed and disturbing characters in film history, Frank Booth. The supporting roles are handled very nicely by Laura Dern as Sandy Williams, Jeffrey's "safe" love interest (and daughter of the detective working the case of the severed ear), and Dean Stockwell as creepily camp Ben. If you pay attention, you'll even notice Brad Dourif as one of Frank's entourage.

The film is all about abuse, sex, violence, corruption, and every naughty thing you ever thought might be happening behind the closed doors of small town America. It was sheer genius from start to finish. Every performance is perfect. Every shot is beautiful. Every sound is pristine.

This is one of the best looking Blu-ray transfers in my collection. In a manner similar to the transfer for Jodorowsky's El Topo, the colors are so vivid it's like watching a brand new film. The transfer was personally supervised and color corrected by Lynch himself, so you're getting the definitive version of the film here. The darkness is a deep black and the reds and blues practically explode from the screen.

The audio is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and is both crystal clear and subtly unnerving at times. Angelo Badalamenti's score is able to smoothly slide from comforting and engaging to a visceral horrorshow of effects and noises.

As with my review of Pulp Fiction, I can't recommend this disk highly enough. It's one of the greatest American films of the Eighties and is finally presented in a format that presents it in its best light. It practically defines the phrase, Must Buy.

The Extras:

Mysteries of Love (SD 1:10:45): This is an extremely comprehensive retrospective documentary on the film providing interviews with most of the cast as well as archival footage of Lynch himself. This was included on the DVD Special Edition but is very welcome here. The stories of MacLachlan's first meetings with Lynch were particularly entertaining, as was Dern's.  

I was most interested, however, in Rossellini's reflections on the film. She took a lot of the negative criticism of the film personally and blamed herself for not being good enough for the role. It was only here second American film appearance and she sometimes felt maybe Lynch should have gone with his first choice for the role: Helen Mirren.

Newly Discovered Lost Footage (HD 51:42): This is probably going to be the goldmine that brings in most of the fans who aren't as impressed with the differences between their DVDs upscaling to their Blu-ray players and the Blu-ray improvements. But I've gotta say, I wasn't that impressed.

Sure, these are scenes that couldn't fit into any other film. They're as decidedly Lynchian as anything that made it into the film, but they're not essential. The most interesting moments are details about Jeffrey's college life. It seems he was a little bit of a voyeur and had a stiff and distant relationship with his college girlfriend (played by Megan Mullally, and who gets married to someone else while he's home!).

It helps to flesh out MacLachlan's character somewhat, but isn't necessary or even very important. Personally, I think the film works much better without knowing anything about Jeffrey as he plunges into Lumberton's underworld.

A Few Outtakes (HD 1:33): Cute and quick.

Siskel and Ebert At the Movies (SD 1:30): This is short, but very amusing. Siskel compares the film to Psycho, while Ebert is incensed at Lynch for putting Rossellini through the suffering and degradation of her character. He's so adorable when he's angry like that.

Vignettes: These are just outtakes from the Mysteries of Love documentary and don't really add a lot to the experience, although the story of the obviously fake robin is one that needs to be heard to be appreciated.

There are also a couple of TV spots and the theatrical trailer included in the extras.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. His first novel,The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook, or can be sampled and/or purchased at Smashwords. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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