Blue Velvet (1986) writ. and dir. David Lynch cine. Frederick Elmes music Angeleno Badalamenti star. Kyle MacLachlan (Jeffrey Beaumont), Laura Dern (Sandy Williams), Dennis Hopper (Frank), Isabella Rossellini (Dorothy Valens), Dean Stockwell (Ben), Hope Lange, George Dickenson, et. al.
David Lynch: the Mystery Of His Wet Dreams
The "play within" is the dramatic focus of this film, so it's the demons within Jeffrey Beaumont's dream that we remember, rather than the sentimental frame, normal folks in good old normal Lumberton, U.S.A. The sexual theatre in Dorothy Valens' (Rossellini) seventh floor apartment is the real action and you are in the closet with that determined innocent Jeffrey (MacLachlan) watching the Kraft-Ebbing machinations of its leading man, the psychopathic dealer Frank (Hopper) with his leading lady, the torch singer in the blue velvet gown.
"Let's fuck! I'll fuck anything that moves... ah ha ha ha!" (Frank)
Like the majority of characters used in Theatre of the Absurd, Frank is a mistake, of sort half-man with no beginning and no future. His vocabulary is limited to Freudian barks and obscenities that begin with fuck, end with fuck. His rage is continuous, like the emission of the Dodge Charger he drives, another experiment gone bad. He's an artist of the nightmare, and like Van Gogh, an amputated ear is his testament.
As Frank he's always convincing... but in disguise as "the well-dressed man with the alligator briefcase" he's a script writer's invention, a "character within", like something borrowed from another movie.
The layered action is often like that -- one moment it's a fifties sit-com like Leave It To Beaver, the next a Hitchcock thriller like North By Northwest. The narrative decor is a telescoping history of forties, fifties, sixties within the confused present (the seventies or eighties). It's difficult to say if this is just a style without a purpose or a commentary on American culture.
Beaumont Snr. is watering his garden. The hose gets knotted on a rose bush, a pain stabs his ear and he falls down as if stricken by a heart attack. Later his son Jeffrey discovers a severed ear in the grass of a nearby meadow. Jeffrey takes it to a neighbour, Detective Williams, where he meets his daughter, Sandy. Jeffrey becomes obsessed with the mystery of the severed ear. Sandy becomes his accomplice and spiritual advisor -- with her inside info on police gossip and her solid girl-next-door values, how can he go wrong?
Jeffrey masquerades as a pest-control man, enters the apartment of Dorothy Valens, a night-club singer the police have under surveillance. He steals a key, returns at night, hides in her closet, watching through the slattes as Frank and Dorothy act out their brutal sado-masochisms. While Jeffrey prefers to believe that Dorothy is the victim in this Roman burlesque, her sexual persona soon corrupts Jeffrey. When Frank exits, she discovers him in the closet -- then, at knife point, orders him to undress, and proceeds to fellatio.
"Hey -- who is this fuck?" (Frank)
Hereafter Jeffrey's motives become suspect. Like all men whose dicks have been caressed by a woman, he moves like a patsy in film noir. He's discovered by Frank and his gang of fifties rockers, abducted in the Dodge Charger, taken to an amateur club run by a Queen called Ben. They're all stoned and homicidal, narcissists who demand submission, attention, stimulation... and, apparently, entertainment. In this theatre of humiliation, mimicry is valued as much as pain. Between toasts of "Let's drink to fuck" and "Here's to Ben", Jeffrey is punched and kicked like a trophy before the kill, although he's still together enough to overhear Frank conduct a drug deal.
"Know what a love letter is? It's a bullet from a gun, fucker." (Frank)
They drive to a wasteland near a sawdust burner where Jeffrey is beaten as a drunken slattern from Ben's speakeasy dances the Fellini dance on the roof of the Dodge. Jeffrey regains consciousness the next day and crawls back to his bedroom where he endures a montage of weeping, beatings and D.V. eroticism.
On it goes. Jeffrey takes his surveillance photos to Detective Williams -- who, by this juncture, is more like a Freudian godfather than a real cop. Jeffrey is involved with his daughter, and, as it turns out, his partner is involved with Frank. It all gets sorted out in the usual Hollywood fashion when Jeffrey returns to Dorothy's apartment, finds her missing husband bound and gagged to a chair, guarded by The Yellow Man who is literally dead on his feet. Frank appears in his disguise as "the well-dressed man", armed with his cylinder of nitrous oxide or oxygen (or whatever) and a pistol with a silencer. He hunts the rooms of the apartment looking for Jeffrey and finds him -- where else? -- in the closet. Jeffrey shoots him through the forehead with a 38 he borrowed from The Yellow Man.
"It's a strange world." (Sandy... a la Jeffrey)
And with this homily life goes back to normal in good old Lumberton, U.S.A.
Between the satire and the voyeurism, this film is close to being silly -- one half of the Hardy Boys teams up with Nancy Drew to solve the Mystery of His Wet Dreams. It masks its inadequacies with its influences in a pastiche of American pop culture and art school desperation. While we can excuse a dreaming man of confusing the fifties with the forties, and the sixties with the seventies, tell me why the hero has a diamond earring?
When it succeeds, it does so because of the absurdity of its setting and the energy of Dennis Hopper. Actors often become "cut and paste" characters in movies that are made just for the sake of making movies. We've seen crazy Dennis often enough over the years, although his role as Frank in some ways defines not only his own method but also the Hollywood hoodlum. Like Cody Jarret in White Heat (1949) his Oedipal regression contains his madness... and his charm.
It's unfortunate that in the end, alas, he's just another Hollywood clown with a gun.
The Wasp mind-spell was so entrenched that people failed to recognize that American culture was inherently surreal until the counter-culture of the sixties and seventies. Lynch exploits this new consciousness. As an auteur his formalism is fairly obvious in its movie education, but always subversive within the industry.
© LR '86/'99
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