Sunday, 9 January 2011

Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet is a crime mystery written and directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle Maclachlan as Jeffrey, Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy, Dennis Hopper as Frank and Laura Dern as Sandy. Jeffrey returns to his home town of Lumberton when his father has a stroke. After visiting his father in hospital he finds a severed ear in a field and takes it to the police station giving it to Detective Williams (George Dickerson) who is a friend of his father. A forensic test is carried out on the ear and the detective launches an investigation, cordoning off the field. David Lynch’s film is primarily about Jeffrey’s private investigation into the events surrounding the ear, with the assistance of Sandy, the detective’s daughter, who initially provides him with confidential information that her father did not.
The film documents the rollercoaster ride of terror in which Jeffrey finds himself. The rollercoaster starts with information provided by Sandy on the whereabouts of a suspect, Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), who the police have been watching and who might be involved with the severed ear. Jeffrey and Sandy decide to stake-out Dorothy’s apartment. With Jeffery as a pest exterminator and Sandy as a Jehovah’s Witness, the two plan to enter the house and ajar a window in order to re-enter the flat at a later time. The plan does not go exactly to plan, with Jeffery gaining access and stealing a spare set of keys, but unable to ajar a window, because Sandy does not make it to the flat to distract Dorothy. Nevertheless Jeffrey and Sandy secure a set of keys and the two budding detectives begin their descent into the underworld of Lumberton. The town of Lumberton has two faces. The first face is portrayed at the start of the film as a small white picket fence community, of wholesome upright families who uphold the all-American ideals of virtue and hard work. The other face is the one in which Jeffrey is about to be emerged, a world of sexual deviants, violence and crime. Roger Ebert highlights the duality of Lumberton, “The movie has two levels of reality. On one level, we're in Lumberton, a simple-minded small town where people talk in television cliches and seem to be clones of 1950s sitcom characters. On another level, we're told a story of sexual bondage, of how Isabella Rossellini's husband and son have been kidnapped by Dennis Hopper, who makes her his sexual slave. The twist is that the kidnapping taps into the woman's deepest feelings: She finds that she is a masochist who responds with great sexual passion to this situation” (Ebert, 1986). Ebert’s description of the seedier side of Lumberton has two main antagonists Frank and Dorothy, where Dorothy is the victim perpetuating Frank’s sadistic behaviour by her masochistic submission. Dorothy’s Stockholm syndrome is explored further with her relationship with Jeffrey when he is discovered hiding in her closet and is subjected by her to enact the same sadistic behaviour metered out on her by Frank. Dorothy and Frank are two sides of the same coin Dorothy becomes the dominant partner forcing Jeffrey to act like Frank. Jeffrey, Dorothy and Frank continue in these roles until Frank meets Jeffrey, thereby bringing a new dimension to the film. Frank takes an uncanny liking to Jeffrey. When he meets him coming out of Dorothy’s apartment, he immediately recognises what is going on despite Dorothy’s explanations. However, instead of killing them or severely beating them he takes Jeffrey on a joy ride and into the bosom of his crime organisation to meet one of his criminal colleagues. (Frank saw something similar in Jeffrey something that Dorothy could have turned him into). Frank’s attraction to Jeffrey is compounded when Jeffrey attacks Frank in Dorothy’s defence. This fuels Franks rage and ignites his homosexual desire in which he dons lipstick, kisses Jeffrey on the mouth and vents his sexual frustration through physically beating up Jeffrey.
Jeffrey has now reached the darkest depth of Lumberton having fallen victim to Frank and his cronies and he needs to pull himself out of this abyss and back into the light of the first simple face of Lumberton and this he does through Sandy. Jeffrey uses Sandy to elevate himself back to the light through her father Detective Williams, who he presents evidence about Frank’s illicit business and colleague, a dirty detective working in the same precinct as Detective Williams. Jeffrey’s evidence allows Detective Williams to set up a sting for Frank, his cronies and the dirty policeman, allowing Jeffrey to witness the uncanniest scene in the film. Detective Williams and the force instigate the sting while Jeffrey rushes to Dorothy’s apartment to see the corrupt detective standing over Dorothy’s husband dead and bound to a chair. What Jeffrey does not realise at first sight is that the detective might also be dead, Jeffrey looks again and believes both men to be dead, with the husband missing an ear. This scene leaves the audience guessing - we see one man dead in a chair and the policeman standing, who instinctively overturns a lamp when his radio goes off; however, is he dead. The audience is just as bemused as Jeffrey, who killed who, and why is the bad policeman still standing over the husband? Jeffrey pauses for a while and realises the complexity of what he has just seen, and says, “I am not doing anything, I am going to let them find them on their own”. Them, being the police.
Blue Velvet is more than just a detective film it follows the duality of the uncanny in places and people that lay beneath the surface. The old saying of never judge a book by its cover is the moral of this story, but using characters like Dorothy and Jeffrey to navigate through the separate terrains and exploring the consciences and actions of each. The opening scene of the fire truck with its crew cruising down a suburban picket fenced street, waving at the camera provided the clich├ęd example of small town Lumberton. During that scene Jeffrey’s father collapses and the camera focuses on the lush top layer of grass then delves beneath showing bugs burrowing down and fighting for space, which is symbolic of the true nature of Lumberton. Nevertheless, Jeffrey along with Dorothy has risen from the darkness of the small town with the help of Sandy. David Lynch conveys this with Dorothy’s reunion with her son, and Jeffrey’s new found love with Sandy, as the birds sing and eat the bugs that were once grappling for control and concluding shots of a picket fence and a fire truck, thereby relaying that all is back to normal. Cole Smithey summarises Blue Velvet in this highlight, “Lynch blended surrealist elements into a story of adult sexual awakening juxtaposed against violence, mystery, and mental illness. Using character names drawn from '50s Americana iconography, and a moody musical score to match” (Smithey, 2009)
1. Blue Velvet poster (2010), Download Movies On, Blue Velvet, Time 14.35 18/12/2010. 

2. Jeffrey finds ear (2010) Cinematic Duske, Blue Velvet, Posted 1/10/2010, Time 14.55 18/12/2010.
3. Dorothy, Frank and Ben (Dean Stockwell) (2010) Polls Boutique, Blue Velvet, Time 15.15 18/12/2010.

Ebert, Roger (1986) Chicago Sun-Times, Blue Velvet Review, Posted 19/9/1986,  15:09 20/12/2010
Smithey, Cole (2006) Cole Smithey, Review Blue Velvet, Posted 11/5/2006, 15:17 20/12/2010

1 comment:

  1. You're ahead of the curve, Kolade! And a nifty review too - great choice of quotes - and a truly great movie! Showed The Shining today in L1 - and it absolutely rocked! Looked fabulous in all its chilly, widescreen glory!