What movie was that...?

09 November 2011

Blue Velvet

directed by David Lynch

Much more palatable than Eraserhead, much less confusing than Lost Highway, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is perhaps my favorite of the more straight forward variety of Lynch films (other such examples being A Straight Story and the wonderful The Elephant Man). This is not to say that Blue Velvet isn’t complex and disturbing in classic Lynchian fashion, but it isn’t overtly surreal, which makes certain moments all the more shocking. Blue Velvet is one of those “peel back the surface” kinds of films, where the hero (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a dark and disturbing underbelly to his quiet slice of suburbia, but the tricky thing is that the film itself is just like the genre it exploits. As you begin to look beneath the surface of an otherwise not so wonderfully lit, cheesily scored (on purpose, of course) film, you find yourself sucked into a world of dread, unease, and evocative stylistic choices that stay with you. Exhibit A: The sequence when Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern are walking down the street, and Lynch cuts from a standard 2 shot to a kind of slow dollying point of view shot, as if we are walking just ahead of the characters but cannot see them. Nicolas Winding Refn did something similar in fine style in Drive, when Ryan Gosling is driving Refn positions the camera where the gear shifter traditionally is, and all we see is Gosling looking out the windshield though we cannot see what lies ahead. Exhibit B: The scene when Dennis Hopper vacates Dean Stockwell’s house after Stockwell sings into that garage light, when Hopper just vanishes as he laughs maniacally. Exhibit C: In the beginning of the film, when the man falls dead on his lawn and the camera dips down, down, and into the ground where insects rumble like freighters and the grass towers over us like trees. These surreal elements linger, mixing with the pseudo-thriller nature of the film and making it seem indescribably uncomfortable. Blue Velvet is a film that must be watched with the right kind of eyes, but the rewards of such an experience are vast, indeed.

I also find that Blue Velvet is a good introduction to Lynch for film lovers who are not familiar with his canon. Often, people want to throw a novice right into the deep end with Eraserhead or Inland Empire in a kind of “oh, well you gotta get a load of this” attempt to shock them, or punish them, I don’t know. But Blue Velvet has all of the elements of a classic Lynch film, and it serves well as a starting point for those who want to delve deeper.

BTW Dean Stockwell should have received every award in the book for his tremendous one scene performance in Blue Velvet. It doesn't get much better than seeing him croon a Roy Orbison song into a metal utility light. Bravo, Mr. S.

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