I want you to try and contain your shock as I state this, but I've never seen 'Blue Velvet' until last night. This is mostly a result of a love/hate relationship with all things David Lynch. While I enjoy 'The Elephant Man' the rest of his work, even those movies I do like, make little to no sense. It's difficult to broadcast such feelings to other film geeks as Lynch fans defend his work with a religious zeal. Most, if they spoke with any honesty, look down upon me as one who 'doesn't get it' or use it as a direct attack on my intellect.
It pains me to feel as if I'm missing the party. As with any overrated product in any medium I feel like the kid who happens to hate the current game being enjoyed by everyone else on the playground. Hate may be a strong word as highly regarded pop culture works usually have at least something redeeming about it. I try to avoid conversation with Lynch fans about his work as it's similar to a debate with an evolutionist vs a creationist. No matter how many facts and figures are thrown into the discourse neither side will bend.
'Blue Velvet' is a difficult movie to review as I'm late to the party. It's a noir film set in the 50s concerning a young college student, Jeffery, returning to his home town when his father falls ill. He comes across a human ear laying in a field and reports it to the police. Frustrated with the cops seeming incompetence with their investigation he decides to be his one amateur sleuth with the assistance of the lead detective's daughter.
He follows the trail to a nightclub singer's apartment, where he finds a twisted plot that involves a sadist, drug addled Frank Booth. Ever the seemingly invincible villain typical in noir films, Frank has kidnapped the singer's husband and child so she will engage in S&M acts. As Frank leaves Jeffery is engulfed in the drama in manners you might expect from a story of this nature.
The opening scene of the film is shot deep in symbolism, but the problem is I enjoy images steeped in allegory when it's subtle. In this film the editor decided to hammer into the audience what each visual was about, which I found a little insulting. Maybe at the time it was released in 1986 audiences, at least American movie goers, needed that to be done, but I quickly became bored seeing shots of grisly looking bugs beneath the soil of a perfectly manicured lawn that seemed to go on for what felt like forever. We get it. Let's move on.
What's bizarre about this film is the scenes taking place in the picture perfect town of Lumberton uses cliched, wooden dialogue that would best be used in an old pulp novel, but when Lynch delivers us the underbelly of the city the actors are forced to take on a new method of speech resembling little of what we saw previously. Consequently the acting suffers greatly.
I'm sure the violent scenes, especially when the nightclub singer was humiliated in any number of ways sexual and otherwise, were very unpleasant at the time (1986) and in a way it still is, but the way it's portrayed here feels uneven, especially given the fact that we're asked to accept it coinciding with the facade of a town that only exists in old sitcoms. We all know Lynch likes to see the dark side of humanity, especially when society presents itself in an almost perfect manner, but it seems a bit heavy handed in both manners.
All that being said there's a lot to like about this film. I really enjoyed it, flaws and all. It became a very interesting noir story, a genre I do find as a guilty pleasure. Even though the acting isn't great, it's convincing enough and Dennis Hopper has a lot of fun with the role of the madman Frank. The dialogue, while silly at times, is very quotable. If you don't have a weak stomach I can recommend this, but upon first viewing I don't get why it's received so many accolades. My only guess is that most viewers back in 1986 have never seen anything like it before.
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"Weird for weird's sake isn't enough; there has to be something more." - David Nusair