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Savant Preview Review:

Blue Velvet
MGM Home Entertainment
1986 / Color / 2:35 (16:9) / Dolby Digital English and French Stereo Surround
Starring Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Jack Harvey, Frances Bay, Ken Stovitz, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance
Cinematography Frederick Elmes
Production Designer Patricia Norris
Film Editor Duwayne Dunham
Sound Designer Alan Splet
Original Music Angelo Badalamenti
Produced by Fred Caruso and Richard A. Roth
Written and Directed by David Lynch

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Now it is finally possible to see Blue Velvet on DVD the way it should be seen. It's a stunning film, perhaps David Lynch's best. Other filmmakers have imitated Lynch's disturbing mix of Americana and unspeakable evil, but the Lynch World remains compelling because of its truly artistic attitude. Even his maligned blockbuster Dune is an artistic triumph on the personal level. Blue Velvet, with its name cast and genre roots, is still the work of an experimental filmmaker.


College comes to an abrupt halt for Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) when his father suffers a heart attack, and he returns to his hometown of Lumberton. After finding a severed ear in a vacant lot and being warned not to be curious by Detective Williams (George Dickerson), he nevertheless investigates on his own, with the help of Williams' daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). Jeffrey sneaks into the apartment of sultry singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and opens the lid of a horrible underworld of human evil. Soon he is shadowing the verminous Frank (Dennis Hopper). The extremes of vice and cruelty he witnesses from afar become an addiction - and he gets himself personally involved with the traumatically disturbed Dorothy. Then Jeffrey falls into the clutches of the murderous Frank, and must pay for his curiosity with a harrowing ordeal ...

For many viewers, David Lynch is the movie equivalent of turning over a rock in search of obscene horrors that have never seen the light of day. It's also certain that for many another viewer his films are just twisted freak shows, good for a sick laugh. Savant tends to get serious with movies I find disturbing. The weird thing about Lynch is that, while somewhat glamorizing the vice and ugliness that inhabit his fantasies, he is clearly equally inspired by the 'sweet side' as well. There's a disillusion factor to Velvet, in that Jeffrey Beaumont's introduction to the perverse underworld is seen as necessary for him to both appreciate and understand the misleadingly 'normal' straight world.

A reluctant college dropout, Jeffrey is an interesting audience surrogate - thoughtful, slightly disaffected, and curious to see more of the truth in life, especially the underworld of sin and sensations that just aren't to be found in his comfortable but predictable homelife. For Lynch, a hero is somebody eager to challenge his own senses. I can imagine David Lynch shouting, 'YES!' when seeing Ian Hendry in Repulsion, recoiling from the sight of a dead body, shuddering, and then leaning in close, slowly, to give it a good look. Jeffrey Beaumont doesn't want to be afraid of life, of the horrors that become nightmares if we don't take a good hard look to see them for what they are.

Inside this seamy underworld, Blue Velvet presents a scary vision of human obscenity, centered mainly on the unstable, demented Frank, a villain whom actor Dennis Hopper claimed he was born to play. Spouting forth with frighteningly vicious profanities and rattlesnake violence, Frank is what we in the straight world call one sick puppy. Monsters roam the earth, Lynch says, committing horrible acts to indulge cruel desires. Frank represents that bad guy so terribly bad he's somehow impervious to the law ... the guy you don't want to meet up with, even in broad daylight.

"It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion." It is by talent and style alone that Lynch keeps Blue Velvet from becoming pointlessly exploitative. Isabella Rossellini's performance as the tortured, suicidal sex slave Dorothy is truly remarkable. Her crumbling mental state and sexual confusion elicit contradictory feelings: her 'affair' with Jeffrey is a fearful mix of desperation, rage, and erotic hope. You know you're seeing something of substance, and not explotation rubbish, and Lynch manages to keep Dorothy and Jeffrey from becoming pornographic cyphers. For it seems clear that Lynch's aim in expressing his own sick sex fantasies, is to find their humanity.

That doesn't mean that Blue Velvet is meant for any other than viewers equally adventurous as Jeffrey - this is not one to bring home to Mom. For Lynch-0-philes, it's the mother lode of Lynchian Lore, especially for fans of the television show Twin Peaks, which is clearly a gloss on the Velvet universe. Lumberton has its logs, its coffee shop, its squeaky-clean High School and its ultra shady nightclub. Garish grotesques like Dean Stockwell's painted, primping, Roy Orbison - singing Ben stalk the periphery. He and the inhuman creatures played by Lynch regs Jack Nance and Brad Dourif seem to inhabit a different planet altogether.

On the moral side there's the delighful Laura Dern, whose Sandy ends up sharing Jeffrey's nightmare without losing sight of her rosy, joyful fantasies. But there's also her detective father, who comes off as negatively affected by his profession's horror quotient. Sandy's mother (Hope Lange) is also a distinct characterization; a 'sheltered housewife' strong enough cope with her husband's world and yet find a friendly smile for guests like Jeffrey. I knew several women with her resiliance, but they don't show up often in movies.

The most mature thing about Velvet is how Lynch handles Jeffrey's attitude toward his traumatic adventures. Surely we question Dorothy's ability to recover. Is Jeffrey cured of his morbid curiosity? Will he become like the slightly ghoulish Detective Williams? When Jeffrey and Sandy welcome the red, red robin at the fadeout, is Jeffrey's smile untroubled? Or do the horrors he's seen keep him in exile from the emotions of simple happiness? Is the clearly mechanical bird a comment on the 'artificiality' of Sandy's robin miracle? Is the worm in the bird's beak a reminder of the corruption that may resurface?

MGM Home Entertainment's DVD of Blue Velvet has a lot going for it. It is the first really acceptable transfer of David Lynch's wide, wide visuals. The telling 'headlights' shots, which were cropped in half on the old Warner laserdisc, are intact here. Ditto the extremely wide composition when Jeffrey brings the stricken Dorothy into the Williams' home - the narrow sliver on the far right containing the kitchen door and Mrs. Williams is no longer cropped away.

The picture is bright, the colors are pure (unlike the grainy laser) and the soundtrack rich. The review copy, however, exhibited a few odd compression artifacts. Here and there angular patterns show up briefly in solid colors, at least on Savant's player. The wide 16:9 picture has excellent clarity, but at least at one point (the very beginning of chapter 5) a big compression error is distractingly evident. Hopefully Savant got a bum copy and the Lynch faithful can breathe easier.

For extras, there is a theatrical trailer of some interest. I was told by MGM archivists that David Lynch was investigating elements for Blue Velvet in March (2000), but that inquiry doesn't seem to translate to an interest in DVD commentaries or other Home Video involvement. Please see my previous DVD Savant Blue Velvet article, on a search for elusive cut scenes.

Blue Velvet remains as morbidly fascinating a movie as the perverted world it explores, thanks to the emotional complexity of David Lynch's skewed, but human, fantasies. MGM's DVD is a chance to see it properly, especially if you've never been exposed to its ultra-widescreen dimensions. But think about it good and hard before you turn it into a date movie ...

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Blue Velvet rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good, Excellent, if the compressions flaws in the preview disc were anomalies.
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Alpha case
Reviewed: April 17, 2000

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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