A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 131 – Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet – July 9th, 2010

I am on a mission. As I mentioned last night, and at the outset of this project, I really would like to watch all the stuff I’ve got that I’ve never seen. Sure, there are titles I’m not looking forward to, but mostly there are just a lot of DVDs I’ve never put in. If I look at our little spreadsheet and calculate the percentage of movies I’ve seen out of what we own, it’s at around 62%. That’s up a good bit from when we started, but it’s not high enough! So I’m aiming to up my new view count. And this bit of David Lynch weirdness is tonight’s effort.

So here’s another thing: I’ve never watched more than maybe ten minutes of Twin Peaks. I was too young for it when it was originally on. I caught a few minutes of some dude changing into some other dude when my parents were watching it with friends once. That’s about it. So when Andy told me this had some similarities, well, I’m going to have to take that on faith.

I started out trying to keep a little description of the plot going, but even describing the plot doesn’t touch the weirdness in this movie. I mean, it would give a good view of the events that happen, but it’s how they happen, and the impact they have on the characters that’s important. It’s semi-neo-noir, but sunnier than noir has any right to be. It’s a mystery, but it’s also an exploration of morality and sexuality and duality.

When we arrive in the town of Lumberton, with its puntastic radio station and cheerfully immaculate neighborhoods, we meet Jeffrey (Kyle MacLaughlan), who’s home from college to visit his father, who was injured in a freak lawn care accident. While he’s home, Jeffrey finds a dismembered ear in a field and ends up mixed up in things his previously mundane Lumberton life never prepared him for. With the help of Sandy (Laura Dern), a detective’s daughter, Jeffrey ends up spying on a woman who sings at a local club (Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy), discovering that she’s being abused and sexually coerced by a psycho named Frank (Dennis Hopper) while he has her husband and son locked away somewhere. Through Frank, Jeffrey learns that Lumberton is hiding a whole seamy underbelly, with drug deals and murders and brothels. Eventually everything comes to a head and there’s a confrontation between Frank and Jeffrey in Dorothy’s apartment. There’s a corrupt cop involved, but it’s never made very clear what he’s up to other than being a corrupt cop. But beyond that it would seem to be sort of straightforward, right?

Except it’s not. Mainly because there’s this whole thing between Jeffrey and Dorothy, but also between Jeffrey and Sandy. And Frank’s obviously got some mommy issues in addition to all the other issues he’s got (like his amyl nitrate habit and his overuse of the word “fuck”). I could spend a lot of time dissecting the themes and symbolism in this movie, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Plenty of people already have, I’m sure, and I don’t want to be writing this all night. Basically there’s a conflict within Jeffrey. Does he want the good girl, with the pastel dresses and sweet disposition? Or does he want the bad girl, the one who wears blue velvet and asks him to hit her? Can he want both? Can he want the bad girl but not the bad life? He’s pretty obviously out of place when Frank and his gang drag him along to the brothel. But he’s drawn to the whole mystery and to Dorothy herself anyhow.

There’s a lot more to it, of course. The movie has plenty to pick apart and put under a microscope. And it’s got plenty in it that sort of makes you wonder if it’s supposed to mean something or if it’s just there to set the scene. I feel like I should mention Brad Dourif as Raymond, one of Frank’s gang, but he’s clearly just creepy set dressing (he does do a good creepy guy). Dean Stockwell as Ben, on the other hand, who runs the brothel and seems blissed out on something and about to keel over until he sweeps into a lip-sync of In Dreams, which then ends abruptly and he’s out of the movie? Does his part mean anything? Or is he just a means to the end of getting In Dreams on cassette so it can play later while Frank beats up Jeffrey and one of the women from the brothel dances on the roof of the car? Who knows!

And then there’s the whole aesthetic of the movie. Lumberton seems to exist in a weird time limbo. The clothes and hair say 1980s, but a lot of the stylistic choices, like the cars, say 1950s. Dorothy’s apartment has a decidedly art deco look to it, but nothing else does. It’s almost as if someone tried to recreate the 20s and the 50s using only 80s stuff. But then both of the iconic songs used in the film (the titular Blue Velvet and Roy Orbison’s In Dreams) came out in 1963. It’s sort of like, take Pleasantville, infuse it with some fashion from Sixteen Candles and set Hitchcock loose in town.

I guess the only thing that throws me out of the movie is how blatant Jeffrey is in his naivete. I mean, it’s supposed to be obvious, but when he comes out with lines like “It’s a strange world.” and “Why are people like Frank in the world?” It just seems like a little too much telling. It’s not MacLaughlan’s issue. It’s the script. But that seems like another style choice. Like the whole bald-faced display of innocence is supposed to be over the top so that the flip side of it all is that much starker. I don’t know, maybe it’s a Lynch thing, but it’s not a me thing. I get it, but I’m not overly fond of it.

All that being said, I’m glad I’ve now seen the movie. It’s iconic. It’s a bizarre cultural touchstone. And while I might not be entirely taken with the style, I can certainly appreciate that Lynch has a style and that he’s picked some difficult subject matter to tackle. The performances, especially Rossellini and Hopper, are fantastic, and maybe the style will grow on me. It’s certainly interesting.

July 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blue Velvet

July 9, 2010

Blue Velvet

It’s been many years since I last saw this movie. Probably in the neighbourhood of about twenty years. And yet there are stark images in this film that have stuck with me all these years. The crazy ending. The ear. The sunny opening montage and its culmination in the grotesque underside of the picturesque town of Lumberton, USA.

I tried to describe the movie to Amanda this afternoon before we watched it. I chose to describe it as “Lynch Noir.” A twisted kind of murder mystery with a kind of Lynchian feel to it. As I watch it again this afternoon I think that it’s a lot closer to being a “Lynch Hitchcock” film. It’s got clear Hitchcock inspirations. The orchestral swelling when Laura Dern’s character, Sandy, first appears, emerging slowly from shadow, is pure classic Hollywood.

The theme, of the perversions that lie hidden under the surface of idyllic little towns, is something Lynch likes to explore. (Particularly of course with Twin Peaks.) This movie is full of twisted broken crazy people.

Young Jeffrey, played with a kind of naive charm by Kyle MacLachlan, discovers a lone human ear in a field. Jeffrey is simple all-American kid, but that ear intrigues him. He gets a little obsessive (a character flaw that does him no good in the rest of the movie) and goes to talk to the police chief about it. When the police chief tells him that he shouldn’t get involved Jeffrey ends up trying to investigate the mystery of the ear with the chief’s daughter. She doesn’t know much, but she thinks maybe that a woman named Dorothy has something to do with it (based on her eavesdropping on her father.)

From there it starts out as a sort of Hitchcockian suspense film as the two kids plan to break into Dorothy’s apartment and search for clues. But when Jeffrey gets caught by Dorothy in her closet things begin to get weird. And slowly, over the course of the rest of the movie, things get weirder. The mystery at the heart of the movie isn’t really the point of the film, we discover.

There might be a kidnapping involved. And something about a corrupt cop and a drug deal. But mostly the movie is about the strange creepy seedy world that Jeffrey finds himself falling into. A world full of some of the oddest characters ever committed to film. There’s the severely broken Dorothy (played with absolutely brutal frailty by Isabella Rossellini.) There’s the savage, unpredictable and utterly batshit Frank (Dennis Hopper at his most psychotic.) There’s a very surreal drug den party at the home of the unflappably suave Ben. Dean Stockwell, as Ben, is probably my favorite part of the whole movie. His den of iniquity is something directly out of Ed Wood’s The Sinister Urge. It’s the evil abode of a drug peddler as seen through the eyes of cautionary tales of the fifties. More Reefer Madness than Scarface.

It’s strange. My memories of this movie from back in eighty-eight or eighty-nine when I first saw it are of a much darker and bleaker movie. The more perfect than perfect ending of the movie reminds me in equal parts of the first Nightmare on Elm Street and Brazil. Maybe I’m supposed to take away that the perfect suburban world that Jeffrey returns to at the end of the film is a dreamworld, and that Frank’s crazy land of lawbreaking hoodlums is more real? I’m not sure.

Then again, I think part of what David Lynch likes doing more than anything else is leaving the viewer unsettled and unsatisfied. It’s how he gets his kicks. (Someday I’ll have to try watching Mulholland Drive, which is famous for being an inscrutable piece of weirdness that explains nothing.)

This movie really makes me want to watch Twin Peaks. So very much. Sadly, although I have the first season special edition box set of Twin Peaks that set doesn’t include the pilot. How can I watch the show without watching the pilot? Lynch, you bastard.

July 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment