Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Overrated Part 2 Blue Velvet
In this series, I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. Perhaps it's like this: Instead of "The emperor has no clothes," I'm saying "He's just not that well dressed." (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Overrated Part 1.)
These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures.
(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)
Blue Velvet (1986, U.S.A.)
Director: David Lynch
Like Blade Runner (1982), the first film in this series, Blue Velvet has become a cult favourite. It's abstract, strange and highly regarded by some prominent film critics and historians such as Mark Cousins, who praises the film in his 15 hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). David Lynch certainly has a command of the medium and is the sole writer, besides being the film's director. He made an auspicious feature debut with the striking and surrealistic Eraserhead (1977), and with both films his collaborators are clearly in service of his unique vision. Being an accomplished painter, he maintains a distinctive visual approach and begins Blue Velvet strongly, especially in the way he keeps directing our attention to the menacing undercurrents of an outwardly simple and peaceful small American town.
Blade Runner often symbolically refers to eyes. In Blue Velvet the reference is ears by way of a severed one that begins its main character's descent into darkness. And it's depicting this darkness where the movie excels. Jeffrey Beaumont, played by Kyle MacLachlan (who's really a stand-in for the director), is discovered hiding in a closet belonging to the subject of his voyeurism, Dorothy Vallens, performed by Isabella Rossellini. Here, the actress is the personification of her mother Ingrid Bergman, particularly the latter's Ivy in 1941's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The closet scene is shockingly revealing of deep and provocative emotions rarely explored in the arts. If that wasn't disturbing enough, a follow-up occurrence adds more perverse Freudian complexity by introducing us to one of evil's finest representatives: Frank Booth (devilishly portrayed by Dennis Hopper). Booth's a dynamo whose psychopathic insanity is so twisted, he seems to suffer the most excruciating emotional pain when he's experiencing pleasure! This is evident in the film's most electrifying scene where Booth and his gang visit his friend Ben (Dean Stockwell) in which the latter mimes Roy Orbison's song "In Dreams" with a lamp used as a faux microphone.
The Vallens and Booth characters are fascinating. Their relationship becomes beguilingly insidious as the story progresses and yet so much between them is left unexplained. Lynch has most clearly identified with MacLachlan's Beaumont character, a cipher, who's as perplexingly "in the dark" as we are. Beyond the story's introduction, Jeffrey seems naive, vague as to his motives and full of behavioural contradictions: one minute objectively investigating the nefarious drug dealings of Booth and company, the next crying over his own involvement and how horrible things are. One moment he tells everyone he's through involving himself in this criminal underworld, the next he's at Vallens' apartment exploring a very dangerous situation for some unknown reason. His precarious involvement with Vallens seems justified in the beginning but its continuation isn't. He tells others how threatening Booth is but makes no effort to stay out of his way. What is he looking for? Why does he take such extreme risks? The character and therefore the audience, are clueless. It appears Lynch has moulded himself into Jeffrey who prefers "to watch" rather than commit to following through with his ideas. This leaves the director unable to explain, let alone resolve, the emotional instability of his characters. When things get too intense, both Jeffrey and Lynch back off, only to get just a wee bit back in when curiosity comes a callin'. When events become overwhelmingly unclear regarding Jeffrey's involvement, and Lynch seems in over his head, we get scenes with Jeffrey's ethereal girlfriend Sandy (played by Laura Dern) that are so trite and insipid, they take banality to a whole new level. That or the director just veers off into weird abstraction. Either way the narrative stalls and the subject matter becomes a "hot potato." We are left as Jeffrey and Sandy are, naively wondering "Why are there people like Frank?" and "Why is there so much trouble in this world?" I for one was hoping to get some kind of answer.
If Lynch's intention was to depict a struggle of good vs. evil he should have taken a page out of one of its best cinematic treatments namely The Night of the Hunter (1955). In this earlier film, the terrifying evil of Robert Mitchum's preacher Harry Powell meets his match in his nemesis: Lillian Gish as Rachael Cooper, a formidable protector of innocents. In Blue Velvet, Booth's evil has no visible opposition. Only at the very end does Jeffrey muster the resources to stop Frank, but by then it seems like a matter of coincidental luck, to him and us. Other than that there's some vague, wishful dream about robins coming... a very intangible and unsatisfying conclusion to the story.
Next time: Top Ten Fool's Gold #3 Casablanca (believe it or not).
Blue Velvet can be purchased on Blu-ray here:
It is also available on DVD here:
It also features a distinctively brooding and atmospheric score by Angelo Badalamenti that can be purchased on its original soundtrack here: