Blue Velvet: 25th Anniversary Edition
November 10, 2011
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Hope Lange, Jack Nance, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay,
By 1984, director David Lynch was on top of the world. He had received critical acclaim and eight Academy Award nominations for The Elephant Man in 1980 and was on the verge of releasing his next film, Dune (1984), an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel. Many speculated on how this young auteur would be able to translate such a complex text to film. Dino De Laurentiis, who poured over $50 million into the project, was hoping that it would become the next Star Wars (1977). If anyone could pull it off, it was the man who brought us that cult classic, Eraserhead (1977). Dune promptly flopped. Critics despised it and crowds stayed away in droves.
Drained from such a harrowing ordeal and frustrated over the whole mess, Lynch took some time off to develop a more personal project that he had been working on while filming Dune. Surprisingly, De Laurentiis decided to give Lynch another chance, but only with the stipulation that he take a cut in his salary and work with a reduced budget of only $6 million. In return, the young director could have total artistic freedom and control over the final cut of the film. Lynch surprised everyone with his hauntingly beautiful ode to small-town America, Blue Velvet (1986).
The brilliance of this film is apparent right from the opening montage that begins with the image of blood red roses in front of a stark white picket fence and continues with a fireman waving from his truck, to a crossing guard motioning children across a street. Everything is heightened in color and slowed down to an almost surreal level, which invokes the feeling of being in a dream. Lynch reinforces these romantic images of 1950’s Americana with Bobby Vinton’s classic version of “Blue Velvet” playing on the soundtrack. By using colors and music to create a dreamy, nostalgic mood, Lynch draws us into his strange world.
Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) has returned home from college after his father suffers a stroke. While walking home from the hospital one day, he finds a severed ear lying in a field. The ear draws Jeffrey into a mysterious world of intrigue and dangerous characters. There is Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini), an exotic looking singer who is involved in a bizarre, sadomasochistic relationship with local psycho, Frank Booth (Hopper), a man of truly frightening proportions. To aid Jeffrey in his adventure, he enlists the help of Sandy Williams (Dern), the beautiful girl next door, whose father just happens to be the detective in charge of investigating the severed ear. As the film progresses, Jeffrey is torn between the dark, seductive world of Dorothy and the safe, wholesome world that Sandy represents. The mystery culminates when these two worlds inevitably collide.
Blue Velvet clearly demonstrates Lynch as an artist at the top of his form. This is due in large part to the exceptional crew he assembled for this film. Long time collaborator, Alan Splet (who had worked with Lynch ever since Eraserhead) contributed the complex sound scheme that ingeniously complements Lynch’s images. This is evident in the unsettling “moaning hallways” of Dorothy Vallens’ apartment building that seem almost organic in nature due in large part to Splet’s disturbing soundscape. Splet also shines in the film’s surrealistic montages where sound and image are distorted to a nightmarish level.
Frederick Elmes’ lush cinematography is also a crucial element to the unique look that permeates Lynch’s films. This look is Lynch’s trademark style and harkens back to his other fascination: painting. His background lies in the fine art of painting and as a result Blue Velvet contains scenes that have a still life quality to them. In contrast, Elmes’ technique evokes classical Hollywood cinema in the way scenes are lit and staged and yet they effortlessly slip into surrealism with the aid of Lynch’s often absurd situations. The perfect example of this blend is the famous “joyride” sequence where Frank takes an unwilling Jeffrey and Dorothy to Ben’s (Stockwell), a place where obese women sit passively while Ben, complete with Kabuki white make-up and “suave” demeanor, lip-synchs to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” In this scene, Elmes combines film noir lighting with a dark color scheme that enhances and establishes the eerie, dream-like mood synonymous to all of Lynch’s films.
Blue Velvet also marked the first time Lynch worked with composer Angelo Badalamenti who provides a seductively lavish score. To complement Elmes’ classical Hollywood look, Badalamenti’s score mimics the melodramatic soundtracks of Douglas Sirk’s films with its dramatic swells during intense moments and calm lulls with romantic interludes. Blue Velvet would mark the beginning of a long-lasting partnership with Badalamenti who has since composed the music for every subsequent project that Lynch has done.
It has been twenty-five years since Blue Velvet shocked and divided audiences with its peculiar vision of America. Many critics loved the film, some declaring it one of the best films of the 1980’s. Almost the same number hated it. For every Pauline Kael who gave it a favorable review, there was a Rex Reed who thought it to be “one of the sickest films ever made.” Yet for such vehemence, Blue Velvet has endured. Its legacy is widespread. Many articles and essays have been written about Lynch’s film since its release in an attempt to unlock many of the film’s mysteries and symbols that are buried throughout. Its look and mood has influenced many films since. One only has to look at Lynch’s own career with Twin Peaks, a tamer, televised version of Blue Velvet, to see the auteur’s continuing fascination with perverse, small-town mysteries. Blue Velvet established Lynch as a masterful director with the ability to create an atmospheric world with fascinating characters that eerily mirrors our own.
Good news for fans of this film, Blue Velvet has never looked or sounded better than on this new Blu Ray version with the transfer personally approved by Lynch himself. All of the extras from the previous special edition have been included as well as several hidden Easter Eggs that featured additional interview soundbites not included in the documentary under the title, “Vignettes.”
“Documentary: Mysteries of Love” is a fantastic, in-depth 70 minute retrospective documentary that takes us through the making of the film, from its origins to its enduring legacy. It mixes archival interviews with David Lynch with new ones with MacLachlan, Dern, Rossellini and Hopper who all talk about how they were cast and what it was like working with Lynch. Hopper, in particular, talks about how, at the time, he had just come out of rehab and had no career. His agent even warned him not to do it but he wanted to work with Lynch. This is a detailed look at the various aspects of the movie, including the texture cinematography and the layered sound design with all sorts of great anecdotes told by cast and crew who are clearly proud of this being involved in this masterpiece.
“Siskel and Ebert ‘At the Movies’ 1986” features the two famous film critics sounding off on the film. Ebert hated it and felt that it was cruel to the actors, in particular Isabella Rossellini while Siskel defends it, comparing it favorably to Psycho (1960).
Arguably, the greatest addition to this edition and the Holy Grail for Lynch fans is a collection of deleted scenes that run 50 minutes. Long thought lost with only stills surviving, they were included in the last DVD incarnation. However, this footage has recently been discovered and included. There is a lot of fascinating stuff, here, including more of Jeffrey’s backstory and more of Frank’s weird habits. One can see why they were cut but it is great to finally see them and how much more light they shed on this mysterious film.
There is a photo gallery of behind-the-scenes pics and posters.
Finally, there are two T.V. spots and a trailer.