Thursday, July 11, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "BLUE VELVET"



"I had a dream,... in the dream, there was our world, and the world was dark..." begins a soliloquy by Laura Dern in the middle of "Blue Velvet", although it's probably a fair assessment of most David Lynch films. I was talking about Lynch to a fellow blogger recently, who had just seen his first Lynch film. He began with "Eraserhead," his first film, which is a reasonable thing to do for most directors when you begin analyzing them, to start at the beginning of their careers, and their first films, and then proceed to the rest, but for David Lynch, I recommend to him, that it was probably better to start with "Blue Velvet," so that you can, get used to him a bit, before diving into, his really surreal work like "Eraserhead", or "Mulholland Dr.", or my favorite, "INLAND EMPIRE". I called "Blue Velvet", "Beginner Lynch". Whether that makes it better or worse than some of his other films, that's subjective, but then again, so is the rest of his Canon. The film inspired a Siskel & Ebert disagreement that was so memorable that an abbreviated clip of their review is on the Special Edition DVD of the movie, and it's been heavily discussed and debated ever since, but yeah, I think it is the film that probably most first-time Lynchians should seek out first, and it's as dark, mysterious and surreal as anything Lynch has done.

You can also see some of the early influences that led to Lynch's TV show, "Twin Peaks" as well. A mysterious murder in a seemingly picturesque small suburb where white picket fences are the norm. He even has Kyle MacLachlan investigated the crime, but in this case, instead of the out-of-town detective, he's the hometown boy, Jeffrey Beaumont, who's gone off to college, but is back home after his father suffers a severe heart attack while watering the lawn. As far as he knows, his world is pretty much, out of one of those '50s sitcoms, but walking home one day, he finds a severed human ear. He takes it to the police station, and goes to Detective Williams, (George Dickerson) his neighbor from down the block to investigate it. He sees the coroner investigate the ear, which he found odd, considering no dead bodies have shown up without an ear lately. It isn't much, but then Jeffrey starts confiding in the Detective's daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) who he's known all his life, and these two starts scheming like Nancy Drew to track down anything on the case, listening in on conversations, breaking into apartments, etc. This curiosity leads him to Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a nightclub singer, known for singing "Blue Velvet" in her act. In her home,...- wow, how do I write this? How do you describe it? Scenes so dark, violent, sexual, disturbing, Freudian even. It's almost impossible to take it any way, other than wrong, in fact, I think that was by intent. He's contrasting two worlds so dramatically. One's artificial, one's brutally real, (Although one could claim that's artificial too, and I probably will in a minute). one's laughably campy, one's bloodily violent. One's based in the light, the other the dark. One world is "Leave it to Beaver," the other is-, (scoffs) the other is about as opposite of that as you can get, and when Dorothy discovers Jeffrey, hiding in her living room closet, he gets a close-up look at how different her world is. Too close, and too different. She makes him strip, and begins to caress him, talking dirty to him, (Although "dirty" feels like too nice a word here), and then she hides him back in the closet when Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper, in another unforgettable role) arrives, and we find out, part of the mystery. Frank is a drug-dealing, homicidal criminal, who inhales some kind of gas through a mask periodically. He's infatuated with her, so much so that he's kidnapped her husband and little boy, and she's become his sex slave, just to keep them alive.

Oh, and she likes it, somewhat, as we learn when she uses the same sadomasochistic techniques in her seduction of the wide-eyed Jeffrey, who's completely at a lost, and so are we at this point. Two different worlds, and two different extremes, and yet you can argue quite convincing which side is the reality or the fantasy, or that they're both one or neither. It isn't that uncommon that just around the corner from your quiet little neighborhood, you can be in the ugliest, nastiest part of town, in some places. Or maybe, like the rest of Lynch's milieu, it takes place in the mind. I think you can make an interesting psychological study, on how the three characters represents the id, ego and superego thoughts of Jeffrey, and how he's still trying to understand and control them. He's often in his bed, sleeping, or at least trying to, and part of that often involves thoughts and flashbacks of sex. Often the most and grotesque kinds, that, despite all attempts, will somehow find their way, onto your front lawn.

That's truly the appeal of David Lynch, it's how we interpret his films, as oppose to what they're about, or even at times, if they're any good at all. Actually, while I've adored Lynch, I actually tend to agree more with Roger Ebert on this film. It does feel manipulative, and sometimes too shocking, and he puts these actors, especially Rossellini through a lot, more than most actors will or should ever go through. Doesn't make it any less of an essential; it's too powerful to be ignored. It asks too many questions, and worse yet, it leaves us to figure out the answers. Like, can somebody be falling in love with one girl, while still find a way to screw another, even though, he's in some ways, disturbed and disgusted by the other person. Or, if being forced into sexual slavery, can still be a turn-on, so much so, that you might chose the slavery over your family's life? And are these events, just as common in those white picket fence houses, then they are those dingy old apartments?

Whether these are good and reasonable question to ponder and make such a glorious movie about? That one, I'm not sure of, but he made us think about it anyway.
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