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 | , , , , ,


  1. I love how you describe the film: “It’s sort of like, take Pleasantville, infuse it with some fashion from Sixteen Candles and set Hitchcock loose in town.” I have a love-despair relationship with Lynch. I admire him to the point of fanaticism, and yet I will never fully like or understand him. It’s a conundrum.

    Comment by Trisha | July 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks!

      And yeah, that’s sort of how I’m coming to feel about Lynch myself. He’s fascinating, I’ll say that.

      Comment by ajmovies | July 9, 2010 | Reply

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