“A Ride! Now That’s a Good Idea!” Blue Velvet (1986)
“I don’t know whether you’re a detective or a pervert.”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out…”
I think I was too young when I started watching David Lynch. Not only were subtle little things more than likely lost on me, too many of the wrong elements were those that stuck. I convinced myself that were my hair jet black, my lips a perfect cherry red, and my smoking technique sexy enough…I would attract the right sort of people and life would be exciting. It may get dangerous, but the boredom level would be extremely low. My obsession with the femme fatale and experimentation with sexual dynamics began with David Lynch.
Anyway, enough of my wasted youth. On to Blue Velvet.
A young man wakes up to the strange world around him via his own natural curiosity and a chance encounter with a severed ear.
The façade of the small town Jeffrey Beaumont knows begins to crack, letting the insects out to play as, pulled like a moth to the beautiful flame of Isabella Rossellini’s tortured singer Dorothy Vallens, Jeffrey sees what until now has been hidden. Within a short space of time, he goes from college boy to private investigator, and his journey into the underworld gathers speed.
Blue Velvet swings between dark and light. Kitschy diner one minute, dimly lit nightclub the next. From the perfect home of a local detective, to the shady dealings of his partner. Familiar suburban harmony and safe streets, leading to a seedy underbelly just down the road. Lynch’s cosy start of white picket fences and happy families makes way for sexual perversion, flick-knife wielding freaks, and the movie villain to top all movie villains: Frank Booth.
The star turn of Dennis Hopper’s career, Frank is a celluloid monster. A fucking psychopath. There’s no better way of putting it. Kidnapping a man and his child then threatening their lives in order to gain gratification from said man’s wife – taking the form of violent molestation and degradation. Hang on though, it involves dry-humping, baby role play and gas inhalation? On paper it sounds like it could turn into a joke, but in the hands of Hopper, that was never going to happen. Can you find anyone who acts crazier without overstepping the fine line heading into parody?
Even smeared with lipstick, kissing Jeffrey to the sound of Roy Orbison before beating the hell out of him, there is no room for laughter. Maybe after repeated viewings, yes, but initially, there’s just something uncomfortable about it. You get the feeling you don’t know where Frank Booth ends and Dennis Hopper begins. The atmosphere gets so intense during the scene that, bizarrely, I half expected Frank to rape Jeffrey the first time I saw it. Well, he is such an erotically charged maniac, anything could have happened, and probably did. We maybe just didn’t get to see it. So I chose to focus my eyes, when possible, on Brad Dourif’s Raymond just in case. I choose to focus on Dourif regularly anyway. Long story for another time.
Just as the film itself swings from dark to light, so does Kyle MacLachlan in the role of Jeffrey. As his fascination with Dorothy grows, he wrestles with feelings for both her and his all-American princess, Sandy. Sandy brings out Jeffrey’s lighter and more playful side – see the comedy “chicken walk” he uses as a method of charming her. Sandy takes Jeffrey to high school parties and recounts her dreams to him. Innocent dreams of robins representing love. Dorothy serves to not only bring out tenderness in Jeffrey, but also provokes repressed violence he may never thought himself capable of. Violence that of course pales into insignificance when confronted by Frank. Again, can you find anyone who says the word “fuck” with more vitriolic hatred than Frank Booth? A man who hates everyone and everything.
Except Ben, another classic Lynch creation. Frank doesn’t hate Ben, he seems in awe of him. Played to smooth perfection, Ben lip synching to “In Dreams” with a work light in place of a microphone will probably go down in history as the defining moment of Dean Stockwell’s career. The result of a happy props accident that became instantly iconic. I’ll admit my first reactionary thoughts on seeing it were not “Whoa there! Now there’s a scene that’ll live forever.”
More along the lines of “Holy Hell! It’s Al from Quantum Leap wearing makeup!”
Without a doubt, Jeffrey’s entire meeting with Frank is burned into my memory. Tattooed on the back of my eyelids forever. Every last detail.
In the end, good triumphs over evil. With Frank dead and Dorothy reunited with her son, all returns to normal for Jeffrey Beaumont, his misdemeanours with another woman forgotten by Sandy. The skies are blue and a robin eats a bug on the windowsill. Pure love that kills the insects daring to venture out from the cracks of Lumberton.
Blue Velvet is a strange beast you’re either repelled by or drawn to, reeling you in with sticky sweetness and fucking you over once it’s trapped you. It invades the mind and kind of infects everything subconsciously.
I loved Roy Orbison, but he’s never the same after Blue Velvet. I don’t drink Heineken, not on purpose, but because I always instantly think “Heineken? Fuck that shit!” Riding through Birmingham in an ambulance in 2004 with gas and air on tap, I didn’t worry. All I could do was giggle and think was “Don’t you fucking look at me!“ I always look for the horror beneath the surface. I’m distrustful of anything that looks too perfect. Seeing a robin makes me smile for more reasons than it already did, even if it is just for the memory of the limited animatronics.
Blue Velvet will always stay with me. David Lynch’s sultry heroines and fucked up creatures of the night had more of an effect than I would have liked them to at a far too impressionable age, and it’s yet to wear off. A sinister tap on the shoulder when least needed that‘s left an uncanny ability to see darkness in the most innocent of things, whether it‘s present or not.
Once you may have found me with my wig torn off, in black satin underwear, drinking cheap red wine and leaving lipstick trails on a Marlboro menthol. These days it’s more likely I’ll be wearing a shit silver suit jacket with a blade in the pocket. I won’t be pouring your beer though, Frank. I’ll be fucking it.
I’ve never owned a blue velvet robe, but if it helps, I’ve dyed what’s left of my pubic hair into a deep indigo hue. This is how much I love David Lynch.
“You know what a love letter is?”