Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Short Take: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet (1986) is part small-town crime thriller and part coming-of-age story, all shaped by the unique vision of writer-director David Lynch. A college student (Kyle McLachlan) returns to his North Carolina hometown after his father suffers a stroke. Walking through a field on his way home from the hospital, he discovers a rotting human ear. After turning it over to the police, a detective's teenage daughter (Laura Dern) tells him there may be a connection between the ear and a local bar singer (Isabella Rossellini). With the daughter's help, the young man plots to covertly search the singer's apartment. Once inside, he discovers more than he ever wanted to know--about the singer, his hometown, and the darkest sides of his own personality. Lynch has a remarkable imagination: unbridled conceptually, but strikingly disciplined in terms of execution. One can tell one is in the hands of a great filmmaker right from the first frames, where the brightly idyllic images of small-town life give way to the brutal interactions of insects beneath the perfectly cultivated lawns. It's a brilliantly succinct allegory for the film's main theme: the ugliness found beneath genteel surfaces. Lynch builds the drama around the taboos of voyeurism, fetishism, and sadmasochistic desire, and he makes the story's key scenes, while only mildly violent in surface terms, among the most shocking ever filmed. He also gives free rein to whimsy, and the trippy moments range from oddball humor to reaches into the uncanny. The most brilliant is a hallucinatory set piece in which an effete thug (Dean Stockwell) mimes a performance of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams." But Lynch's wild card is his villain: a local crime boss played with ferocious intensity by Dennis Hopper. The character is the personification of depravity--the human analogue of the brutal insects hiding in the grass, and the symbol of the dark impulses the young hero fears within himself. It's a tribute to both Lynch and Hopper that the crime boss carries this allegorical freight while being nothing less than terrifying. Lynch's other collaborators, including the rest of the cast and the behind-the-scenes artisans, are remarkable as well. The most noteworthy are Frederick Elmes, who provided the gorgeous cinematography, and Alan Splet, who was responsible for the eerily detailed sound design. The film's score, which ranges from jazz to lush strings to romantic synthesizer pop, is by Angelo Badalamenti.

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