WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Blue Velvet opens with a disarmingly weird shot of blue-velvet curtains shuffling almost nervously before parting to display several loving slow-motion shots of Rockwellian Americana—bright flowers against a white picket fence, a fireman waving jovially from his truck, schoolkids marching along a crosswalk. A man watering his lawn suffers a stroke under the noonday sun, and we pan down, way down, until we see insects scurrying in a frenzy under the grass, their buzzing and clicking amplified to horrific effect. Gradually we begin to understand that something sinister is going on beneath the all-American façade. Something vaguely disturbing and somehow organically evil. This brilliant opening montage holds the whole of Blue Velvet in microcosm, the contention that beneath the surface of the American Dream festers a malevolent rash of violence and moral decay.
Written and directed by David Lynch (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive), Blue Velvet is a powerful and hallucinatory film that documents a young man's coming of age against a backdrop of perversion, sadomasochism, and violence. This is a film that delves into the black side of human nature in a way that few films have ever accomplished. It's a film that will stay with you—like the stuttery twitch-memories of a nightmare—long after its end credits scroll.
Kyle MacLachlan portrays Jeffrey Beaumont, a college boy called home to visit his father, who's in the hospital suffering from the opening-montage stroke. Wandering toward his childhood home from a brief and difficult visit at the hospital, Jeffrey finds a severed human ear in a field. After taking the ear to the Lumberton town detective, he finds himself irresistibly drawn into a mystery that will lead him deep into a disturbing, depraved underworld that is rendered all the more powerfully because we see only its outward effects. We see little of the undoubtedly hideous underpinnings, the fleshy machinations—we see only the anger and utter strangeness of its top couple of layers. In a key scene toward the end, we see the odd and terrible result of a scene of violence, but we don't see how it played out. The horror remains unspoken, unseen, and because of that, it lingers in your subconsciousness.
The film tells parallel love stories—one young and innocent and the other twisted and horrifying. The first, between Jeffrey and high school girl Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), is something right out of a 50s sitcom, purity and puppy love mixed with a healthy dose of boy-detective-meets-prom-queen. The second, between sadistic psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) and past-her-prime torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) is a study of sexual depravity and misogyny. It's when the love stories interconnect—when Jeffrey gets in over his head by peeping on the seductively horrific goings-on in Dorothy's bleak apartment—that Blue Velvet simmers with raw, exposed-nerve power.
This is a strange and unforgettable film, in which abhorrent violence and evil coexist dreamily with good old-fashioned American values and iconography, waking us up to the fact that evil has always throbbed beneath our pretty surfaces—and always will.
The performances are terrific. Hopper steals the show as Frank, roaring his way through the part in a way that will quicken your pulse. Rossellini is sad and unforgettable as Dorothy, in a humiliating role that received negative press from Roger Ebert. MacLachlan and Dern are appropriately young and naïve in their roles.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Frankly, I was hoping this new special edition would look better than it does. A direct comparison with the original DVD shows a subtle improvement in image quality, but nothing earth-shattering. Both DVDs provide a nice anamorphic transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. The image quality of both shows source-element age, a general softness, and some murkiness. Detail is somewhat better on the new release, but colors seem more accurate on the older release. I wouldn't buy the new version in hopes of a dramatically better picture.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
Again, my expectations were a bit dashed by the advertised Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Of course, I realize that the original elements were stereo, and a 5.1 recreation would be a dubious pleasure (particularly if such a remix were to occur against Lynch's wishes), but I still found myself looking forward to the dynamic track promised on the packaging. I noticed absolutely no activity in the rear soundstage—false advertising in my book. Why advertise a surround experience when you get nothing of the sort (regardless of Lynch's audio preferences)? As is, this is a perfectly serviceable stereo track that accurately captures the original theatrical experience, but it certainly ain't a 5.1 track.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The main draw of this new release is the inclusion of supplementary materials. First up is a nice 70-minute documentary titled Mysteries of Love, an talking-heads look at the making of Blue Velvet. Many members of the cast and crew are featured in recent interviews, including MacLachlan, Dern, Hopper, and Rossellini. We also get words of wisdom from producer Fred Caruso, cinematographer Frederick Elmes, and editor Dwayne Dunham. Unfortunately, the one missing link among the recent interviews is Lynch himself, although the piece features many late-80s interview segments with the director. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these people reminisce about one of my favorite films, but even at 70 minutes, the film could have probed more deeply into the film's mysteries.
Next is a Deleted Scenes Montage, which is not a collection of scenes so much as a collection of stills edited together to give you a sense of what was deleted from the original cut. Apparently, the full scenes are lost. Ten scenes are reconstructed here, albeit in a frustrating way. I've never been much of a fan of still galleries, and this definitely has that feel. Had the scenes been complete, some of these would have been fascinating, particularly the grim A Gift From Frank.
Next is a 2-minute snippet from the original Siskel & Ebert review that aired on TV. It's an entertaining but obviously brief debate, showcasing the decidedly hot-and-cold public reception of the film. This piece made me realize what a terrific critic Gene Siskel was.
You also get a photo gallery, a theatrical trailer, two TV spots, and few amusing Easter eggs that are very easy to discover. You also get a chapter-selection menu!
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Blue Velvet is David Lynch's best film, a straightforward narrative bloated with Lynchian weirdness and horror. You need to own this film. But if you already do, you need to ask yourself whether the supplements and marginal imrovements in image/sound quality are worth the extra money.