feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
If one traces the first four films of David Lynch, we see a filmmaker unafraid to push himself. To explore new avenues in order to further experiment his own particular aesthetic. An encapsulation of Lynch’s style can be pinpointed in his debut, Eraserhead, a film that utilises the visual medium to its severe extremes, unafraid to alienate its viewers — much like myself — in order to leave forth a distinct impression. I may not personally be fond of his debut film, but I cannot deny the unescapable impression that it has left on me.
Lynch has tried his hands on different grounds by the time he has created Blue Velvet. We see the filmmaker tread on the period drama with The Elephant Man, a film that has brought him success, notably in the awards circuit, with 8 nominations at the Academy Awards. That success lead him to the ambitious but unfortunately underwhelming science fiction opera, Dune. It was a film that may not possess the same strength in the narrative as what he has demonstrated in the past, but it conveyed a new methods to express his surreal methods of storytelling and allowed him to experience the constricting and conflicting conditions of the studio system.
After the commercial and critical failure of Dune, Lynch has never allowed himself to be placed under similar circumstances, to ensure that the film from then on would be a reflection of his true vision rather than ever compromise for the sake of secure returns. Blue Velvet was the film that had spawned out of that experience, and here one can feel the comfort and confidence behind Lynch’s strokes, crafting a tale of mystery and romance with effortless fashion, carrying the distinct trademarks that would essentially define the rest of his filmography.
Constructed and executed like an effective noir film, we are introduced to a protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), as a young man who becomes deeply invested in the mystery behind Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a local club singer, and the shocking discovery of a person’s chopped ear. This is a film that is best kept mostly hidden from those who have yet to see it. However, unlike many mysteries, it is not in the revelations that would keep its audience engaged. No, Blue Velvet’s power comes from the conveyance it has in a person’s curiosity, to meddle in affairs that may be beyond him, the frightening entanglement that resembles a fly trapped in a spider’s web.
It is the impact that the events leave on Jeffrey, the seduction process that he endures that we, as an audience, are constantly pleading him to elude from. We, ourselves, cannot entirely blame him for his eagerness, as we too would find ourselves eager to discover the mysteries behind the found ear and its connection with Dorothy, but much like in the vein of classic noir, once the bait has been taken, this gained knowledge becomes the motor of one’s suffering. The revelations that Jeffrey stumbles upon would elevate him from the usual conditions of American suburbia, discovering the dark evils of humanity, symbolised by the carnal presence of Denins Hopper’s Frank Booth; a presence that addresses its thematic intention but in Hopper’s performance and Lynch’s execution of the character leaves little to be desired due to either overacting and jarring placement. By the latter I mean, Lynch has created an atmosphere that is sensually surreal, and though I understand that his arrival should cause that sense of unease and friction, it shouldn’t completely abandon that aura that Lynch has created, a quality that I felt solely in the scenes Jeffrey’s initial face to face confrontation with Frank. A flaw that is swiftly redeemed by a strong finale, but one that is necessary to be addressed.
Blue Velvet is a film that embraces the genre that it takes inspiration from, unflinchingly willing to punish the protagonist that both attracts the audience’s engagement and speaks volumes of its criticisms towards curiosity and voyeurism in a manner that highlights the strengths in Lynch’s particular aesthetic. It reinforces the world the appeal of Lynch’s abilities as a filmmaker that may have been lost in the previous film.
Also, I would like to note that Blue Velvet seems very similar to Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, but far less bouncy, and funnily enough, both films were released in the same year.