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BLUE VELVET

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 31, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the more controversial films of the 1980s, which critics and moviegoers either loved or hated in equal measure, was this one. Sadly, I’m on the negative side of the equation, as is obvious from this review, published Oct. 5, 1986, in the Deseret News. The boutique label Criterion Collection has just given the film a new edition replete with plenty of bonus features.

Writer-director David Lynch is certainly a talented craftsman, but he is fast developing a reputation as the most unpredictable, and perhaps slickest and sickest filmmaker to come along since Ken Russell or Brian De Palma.

Lynch’s first film, a low-budget, independent, extremely strange movie was “Eraserhead,” a maddening film, filled with stark, fascinating, and often disgusting imagery.

Next came “The Elephant Man,” an eloquent telling of an ugly story, filled with pathos and character, and embraced by both critics and the public.

Then “Dune,” an obviously heavily trimmed, overwrought and frequently incomprehensible film version of the Frank Herbert science-fiction classic.

Now we have “Blue Velvet,” which in some ways is comparable to Russell’s “Crimes of Passion” and DePalma’s “Body Double,” but which manages to surpass even those films in its depravity.

Yet, as with those films — and others by Russell and DePalma — “Blue Velvet” leaves one admiring the technological talent. Lynch does have an eye for imagery and an undeniably original touch. But this is not a pleasant film, and repulsion is the one feeling that lingers more than any other.

The film begins with a very weird sequence, one that certainly sets the tone for the next two hours. We see images of small-town Americana but in something of a time warp. Some of the set design and costuming appears to be right out of the ’50s, while other aspects indicate the present day.

That’s deliberate, I’m sure, as Lynch is interested in establishing a sort of nether world, a little “Twilight Zone” all his own where he can tell his story without having to rely on too much reality.

     

  Kyle McLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, 'Blue Velvet'

The surrealistic overtones continue as we see flowers and nicely trimmed lawns and eventually an older man watering his front yard. He has an apparent heart attack and falls to the ground while his wife watches television in the house. A dog jumps on the man, drinking form the hose he still clutches. A baby toddles in the yard. The camera goes to slow motion, with amplified sounds of indiscernible screams and explosions (a device repeated throughout the film at various dramatic moments).

Then the camera takes us through the yard, into the grass, under the earth to reveal a mountain of bugs frantically digging and crawling and pulling at each other, as the amplified sound continues.

It is apparent we are going to be shown the contrast between Middle America and its sordid underbelly — and that’s exactly what follows.

The story has young Kyle MacLachlan (he had the lead in “Dune”) as the son of the man who had the heart attack. MacLachlan walks through a field where he finds a human ear, and he immediately takes it to a police detective who lives on his street.

MacLachlan’s curiosity about the severed ear gradually leads him into underworld intrigue involving a young woman (Isabella Rossellini, who resembles her mother Ingrid Bergman, and to some degree Nastassja Kinski) whose husband and son have been kidnapped by a drug dealer (Dennis Hopper) that brutalizes her repeatedly in various violent sexual rituals. (The rating here is a very hard R, by the way; this is exploitive, sleazy, perverse stuff.)

And in many ways the brutalization seems to extend to the audience. Not only is Rossellini’s character consistently dehumanized, people who view this film are likely to feel the same way.

     

The young man becomes involved with her, hoping to be her savior, and at the same time begins dating the innocent young daughter (Laura Dern) of the police detective. Another obvious contrast. (At one point Dern says, “It’s a strange world.” She ain’t seen nothin’ yet.)

MacLachlan’s initial meeting with Rossellini involves a ridiculous and very sordid male-chauvinist fantasy, and virtually all of her scenes in the film are the most shocking and brutal to appear in a movie in many years. Yet they seem to be without any real dramatic point.

We get the idea quickly enough, but Lynch forces the audience to wallow continually in Rossellini’s humiliation, and the result is more than uncomfortable. It’s like reading some sick magazine you’d be ashamed to have anyone see you holding.

Lynch does successfully show us the seamy side of the street, his actors — especially Dern, and in a bizarre cameo, Dean Stockwell (Hope Lange and Brad Dourif have nothing to do) — perform very well, the photography is excellent, there is some good humor and tension, and the Angelo Badalamenti score most intriguing. And some of the Lynch’s directing choices here are mesmerizing.

But when you come out of a theater feeling like you should be sprayed with disinfectant, the filmmaker has simply gone too far.

Lynch is a very talented artist, but one hopes his future efforts will be less inclined toward shock for shock’s sake, or visions so obscure you wonder if even he knows what they mean.

In the case of “Blue Velvet,” audiences are likely to leave the theater saying to themselves, “That’s entertainment?”