Norman Rockwell meets Edvard Munch in Blue Velvet, the strangely moving psychodrama by American master David Lynch. Written and directed by the man who had already logged Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and Dune, Blue Velvet still came as somewhat of a shocker when it screened in 1986, and in the intervening quarter-century, the film has lost none of its gut-level existential terror, deadpan absurdity and beguiling "Mysteries of Love" (the title of a song co-written for the film by Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti).
Lynch's breathtaking command of sight and sound (the latter in collaboration with the late, great designer Alan Splet) entrances from the start, with Badalamenti's insinuating score accompanying billowing blue velvet. Lynch promptly whisks us off to Lumberton, U.S.A., a logging town ostensibly in North Carolina, but actually located somewhere in the Twilight Zone of the American psyche. Blue skies, white picket fences, a cherry-red fire engine with a smiling, waving rider, and better homes and gardens establish a picture-perfect suburbia moving forward in slow-motion calm. But Blue Velvet is all about facades and their decay, and Lynch just as quickly breaks the spell he's cast by giving a suburbanite a stroke on his lawn and thereby drawing the man's son—college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan of Dune)—reluctantly back to his childhood home. As in Lynch's later Twin Peaks, smalltown America has its simple pleasures, but Jeffrey gravitates away from frustratingly inert social norms (like family and the "Polly Purebred" that is Laura Dern's Sandy) and toward the dark shadows his neighbors do their best to banish and deny.
Jeffrey uncovers his first artifact from the seedy underbelly when he happens upon a human ear in a vacant lot. A canal to the town's moral rot, the ear leads Jeffrey to the prototypical Lynchian "woman in trouble"—local torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini)—and the human animal that plagues her, the perverse, sadistic Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper, in a ferociously indelible performance). There's plenty of twisted humor in throwing "Hardy Boy" Jeffrey into the clinches of hypersexual femme fatale Dorothy and the clutches of the wildly profane, ultraviolent Frank, not least because the demonstrably square Jeffrey is so turned on by the mystery, the danger, and the sexual possibilities (for better or worse, the film takes a decidely male point-of-view to make its points). For all its deliciously looney details, Blue Velvet works brilliantly as an allegory of American repression and willful illusion of order, Lumberton's forced-smile '50s sensibility unable to keep down the anarchic, raging id that is humanity's primal drive. The film also functions as a metaphor of lost American innocence, when sex, drugs, and rock and roll somehow seemed to crowd out baseball and apple pie, when Vietnam challenged our national sense of championship.
Blue Velvet wouldn't land with such impact without its astonishing, idiosyncratic style, as orchestrated by Lynch: the lush cinematography of Frederick Elmes (Eraserhead), the kitschy-seedy production design of Patricia Norris, the witty music of Badalamenti (and cannily selected vintage source music like Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbison's "In Dreams"). By casting the likes of Hopper, Dean Stockwell, and Brad Dourif, Lynch also created the paradigm for Quentin Tarantino's career-resuscitating casting coups. Lynch would effectively recreate Blue Velvet as a network television series with the brilliant Twin Peaks, which employed many of the same performers (MacLachlan, Frances Bay, Jack Nance, Julee Cruise), technicians (Badalamenti, Norris, editor Duwayne Dunham), approaches and themes. Like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet stands as a towering cult film, seared in the memory for bizarro tableaux (Hopper huffing nitrous, Stockwell lip-syncing, "The candy-colored clown they call the Sandman..."), strange enthusiasms for blue velvet and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and crazed dialogue ("I have your disease in me now," "Baby wants to fuck!"). At once appealing and repellent, Blue Velvet embodies cultural taboos and the attendant furtive guilt that only feeds bad behavior.
MGM gives Blue Velvet its best release yet in a no-brainer upgrade featuring beautiful A/V and definitive bonus features, including about fifty-two minutes of newly unearthed deleted scenes (long discussed by Lynch fans). The hi-def image has one or two small anomalies from the the source (like a fleeting cheesecloth effect with Jeffrey in the vacant lot) or the transfer (some mild edge enhancement), but on the whole, the image looks fantastic, and certainly never better on home video. Color is beautifully rich, detail is revelatory (though not so much in the deepest shadows), and the oh-so-crucial textures invite the viewer to reach out and touch them. Lynch supervised and approved the sight and sound, which comes in a crisply rendered, nicely full, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that maximizes Splet's sound design and Badalamenti's haunting music, providing strong low-end support.
The "Newly Discovered Lost Footage" (51:42, HD) montage presents the deleted scenes fully finished with music and in hi-def. It looks and sounds fantastic, and I cannot emphasize enough what a treasure trove this is for fans of Lynch and this film in particular. The montage presents the subplot of Jeffrey's college girlfriend Louise (Megan Mullally), restores much of Frances Bay's hilarious performance as Aunt Barbara, and includes a great deal more bizarro footage of the Slow Club (primarily some humorously weird opening acts). There's also a previously unseen sequence in Frank's den of iniquity that gives us a bit more of the late Dennis Hopper's celebrated work. Also included are "A Few Outtakes" (1:33, HD).
Returning are the previously issued DVD bonus features, beginning with the thorough retrospective "Mysteries of Love" (1:10:45, SD), made up of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew, including Lynch.
"Siskel and Ebert 'At the Movies'" (1:30, SD) presents a 1986 TV segment with a split vote from America's most famous movie-reviewing team.
Vignettes include "I Like Coffee Shops" (:22, SD), "The Chicken Walk" (:55, SD), "The Robin" (1:33, SD), and "Sita" (:45, SD), with Lynch, MacLachlan, Rossellini and others deconstructing memorable bits of the film.
Last up are the "Theatrical Trailer" (1:31, HD), "TV Spot 1" (:32, SD) and "TV Spot 2" (:31, SD).
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