Prior to Blue Velvet, David Lynch was recognized as a talented young director but I think there was still some uncertainty about what his legacy would wind up being. Eschewing potentially lucrative offers from Hollywood that likely would have established him as a commercial name (George Lucas even considered offering him the director’s chair on Return of the Jedi), Lynch worked sporadically. In 1986, he only had the fascinatingly weird indie Eraserhead, the commercial hit The Elephant Man and mega-budget box office disaster Dune under his belt. A mixed bag if there ever was one.
Blue Velvet is the film that truly announced David Lynch’s arrival and cemented his status as one of America’s premiere auteurs. It really showed the world what Lynch was capable of and introduced a lot of preoccupations and motifs that still color his work to this day. Without Blue Velvet, there wouldn’t have been insanely influential, cult TV sensation Twin Peaks. I don’t think its overstating it to say that Blue Velvet opened the art house doors for a lot of young filmmakers who followed.
Blue Velvet is quite simply a masterpiece and a touchstone of modern American cinema. If you have yet to see it, you do yourself a disservice every moment you allow yourself to persist in that state. If you have seen it, there’s no better time to revisit Lynch’s audacious masterpiece than with this 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray.
A deep blue sky. Roses framed by a white picket fence. A friendly fireman waving from a fire engine as it passes by. Children crossing the street as a happy crossing guard watches over them. Wholesome tableaux of small town America and yet, beneath the veneer of Rockwellian purity there lurks something sinister. Mr. Beaumont (Jack Harvey) has a stroke while watering his lawn. As he keels over a dog angrily drinks from the hose clutched in his hand and below him, under the grass, insects scurry about. The message couldn’t be clearer: idyllic life in a small town is a sham. Lurking just below the surface are insects, indifferent and uncaring, wallowing in the mud. For the next two hours, David Lynch will part the rich green grass of the well-manicured American lawn and take you down into the mud to meet some of these insects. Prepare yourself, it’s a wild ride.
Upon hearing of his father’s stroke, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home to Lumberton from college. On his way home from visiting his incapacitated father in the hospital, Jeffrey finds a served human ear in an abandoned field. He bags the ear up and takes it straight to the police. Kindly Detective Williams (George Dickerson) accepts the evidence and promises to investigate the origins of the ear. This doesn’t sit well with Jeffrey who, for whatever reason, can’t shake his obsession with the ear. He’s warned away by the detective but the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern) is a wellspring of overheard information. She clues Jeffrey into a key figure in the mystery of the ear, lounge singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini).
Jeffrey concocts a silly, Hardy Boys-esque plan to insinuate himself into Valens’ apartment to steal a key so he can return when she’s not home. The unlikely plan works and later Jeffrey returns, though when Valens arrives home unexpectedly, Jeffrey finds himself hiding in her hall closet. Valens is paid a visit by murderous sexual deviant Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper in what is arguably his signature role). What Jeffrey sees between the slats of Dorothy’s closet marks the beginning of a dark and twisted descent into the foulest depths of depravity lurking beneath the surface of the seemingly innocuous town of Lumberton, and even within Jeffrey’s own heart.
Blue Velvet really shouldn’t work at all, much less as well as it does. That it does is a testament to Lynch’s skill as a director and his singular vision as an artist. I can’t recall a film that has such seedy, confrontational content dealing with rape, sexual deviances, drugs and murder yet is able to effectively juxtapose that with the veneer of small town civility. On top of that, Lynch peppers the entire film with his trademark, offbeat (and pitch black) sense of humor. That the film is able to switch tones so radically, to movie between elements so seamlessly and still feel like a coherent whole is nothing short of amazing.
At the centre of Blue Velvet is the most twisted love triangle in movie history. This is really where the film could have stepped horribly wrong and become an unwatchable, exploitative slog. Lynch was careful with his casting, and it makes the movie. In the scenes dealing with the relationship between Dorothy, Jeffrey and Booth, there’s never a false note or wrong step. Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Kyle MacLachlan give pitch perfect performances in these scenes. It’s uncomfortable enough to watch Rossellini get physically abused by Hopper, but it’s orders of magnitude more uncomfortable to see her turn around and beg MacLachlan to do the same to her. Yet, because Dorothy is such a well drawn and genuinely tragic character we are able empathize with her decidedly bizarre plight – that she feels guilt over enjoying a certain level of abuse gives the audience an out to avoid feeling guilty for sympathizing with her. Some might say this is a cheat. I say it’s absolutely essential for Blue Velvet to work.
Even if it weren’t for Lynch’s mastery of tone and the brilliant performances of his cast, Blue Velvet would still be worth watching purely for the beautiful visual tableaux on display. There’s a level of visual craft that has slipped from Lynch’s more recent films, culminating with the muddy handheld photography of Inland Empire. And enough praise cannot be heaped upon Angelo Badalamenti’s score, which channels the best of Bernard Herrmann’s collaborations with Hitchcock without feeling like an affectation. Watch the scene where Sandy first appears to Jeffrey; the cue wouldn’t feel out of place in Vertigo, yet it doesn’t sound like it was lifted from or deliberately trying to emulate Vertigo.
As much as I love Blue Velvet, there are some problems with the plot: the conclusion of the crime plot is rushed in the waning moments of the movie with the resolution of Booth’s arc being particularly unsatisfying. To this day, I’m still not sure if Hopper’s Martin Scorsese disguise is supposed to be funny; if it’s meant to be taken seriously it is an extreme miscalculation in a movie that’s otherwise so meticulously crafted. And Sandy’s abrupt 180 from being disgusted with Jeffrey to forgiving him in time for a saccharine sweet final shot rings seriously hollow. These are piddling flaws, though. Blue Velvet is, above all else, about Jeffrey’s journey and how he’s forced to confront the darker half of his nature. On that level, it is a complete success.
The iconic opening shots are amazing. Shot with a soft filter casting a dreamlike haze over picaresque Americana, these shots nevertheless show a great amount of detail and boast bold colors that don’t smear, bleed or pixelate. Later scenes, especially interior scenes don’t come off quite as well. Exterior night scenes, however, look fantastic. Grain is strong and well reproduced throughout. Lynch’s intentional blurring of the periphery of the frame to create depth of field should not be looked on a failing of the transfer. I’ve seen Blue Velvet projected n 35mm and this transfer almost beats that experience.
When I read the specs on the package, I was lamenting the lack of the original theatrical mix. Turns out I needn’t have worried. Blue Velvet is ostensibly given a 5.1 DTS-HD re-mastered soundtrack but it sounds anything but. The surrounds are so quiet that the mix sounds like it is confined entirely to the front channels. Dialogue, music and sound effects are all well balanced: Lynch populates Blue Velvet with scenes of almost total quiet and then quickly slams the audience with deep, rumbling bass. It’s disconcerting and extremely effective, but a great re-mix probably could have amped up the tension of those moments. I’m not unhappy with the mix as it is but it definitely promises something it fails to deliver.
2002’s Special Edition DVD was packed enough with features to satisfy all but the hardest of Lynch’s hardcore followers, but this Blu-ray has one huge trump card up its sleeve…but we’ll get to that soon enough.
Firstly, the feature length behind the scenes documentary Mysteries of Love (1:10:45) is carried over from the 2002 Special edition DVD. It’s not given an HD upgrade, which is not terribly surprising. This is a fantastic documentary that covers all aspects of production from conception through to release, blending archival footage and new interviews to provide context, insight and perspective. Conspicuously absent from the new footage is Lynch himself; his participation is limited strictly to archival footage. Lynch is notoriously reticent to talk about his films and the meaning behind them, but he didn’t have the luxury of skipping pre-release press junkets back in 1986, which makes the footage included an absolute treasure. It’s also more than a tad bittersweet to hear the recently passed Dennis Hopper talk about his one of his most memorable roles. 1986 was a banner year for Hopper between Velvet, Texas Chainsaw 2 and Hoosiers. I doubt we’ll ever again see another actor quite like him.
A quick technical note: if you select the “play all” option for Mysteries, neither the pop up menu nor the menu button function will be available to you during the feature. You will have to skip through all the chapters to get back to the pop-up menu or main feature. Annoying.
Also ported over is the short clip from Siskel and Ebert At the Movies (1:30) where the two luminaries discuss their reactions to Blue Velvet. To this day, if I recall correctly, Blue Velvet is the only film for which Ebert has published two print reviews during its initial run. Ebert’s great and even when I don’t agree with his take on a movie, he usually still raises great points. He’s so far off base in his evaluation of Blue Velvet, though, it’s almost mind-blowing that he wasn’t shit-canned after this clip aired. Siskel quickly, and correctly, slaps him down. Fun.
A series of four short, typically Lynchian, Vignettes - I Like Coffee Shops (0:22), The Chicken Walk (0:55),The Robin (1:33) and Sita (0:45) – are just little tidbits of information peripheral to the film itself. My favorite is Coffee Shops, wherein Lynch professes his love of the Filet o’ Fish from McDonald’s. I really like that sandwich, too.
The Theatrical Trailer (1:31) and the two TV spots (0:32 and 0:31, respectively) from the 2002 special edition have been included, with the trailer receiving an HD upgrade.
Okay, enough with the dawdling. I know what supplement you really want to know about…
The crown jewel of this edition, one that fans have been pining over for 25 years since the film’s original release, is some Newly Found Lost Footage (51:42). Amazingly, this footage is presented in HD and given a full 5.1 mix. Considering how long this footage was AWOL for, it’s amazing that it’s included at all, much less given a presentation that puts some newer Blu-rays to shame.
There are fifteen minutes of scenes cut from the first act that set up why Jeffrey comes home. One scene establishes his voyeuristic nature from the get-go as he witnesses an attempted rape at college, but hesitates to stop it. These are all interesting scenes, but they’re not salient to the main point of the film so it’s easy to see why these scenes were cut; one of the reasons Blue Velvet works so well is that it slowly draws you into the seamy underbelly of Lumberton. These scenes cast a pall over the first act that would set you up to expect something dark and undercut the effectiveness of the second act. In its theatrical version, Blue Velvet approaches perfection like few other films have. None of the embellishments included could possibly improve it. That’s not to say that fans shouldn’t rejoice at the opportunity to see these scenes at all, never mind so well presented. Along with some more background on the main characters, there’s a lot of Lynchian weirdness on display to soak up (or wallow in, if that’s your preference). These scenes also confirmed my suspicions that there’s a Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive-level masterpiece rattling around somewhere inside of Inland Empire just waiting for the shears of a judicious editor to set it free.
If that weren’t enough, there are also A Few Outtakes (1:33). These brief clips, line flubs, bloopers and alternate takes, are also given the HD treatment. The audio is location sound but is still given a 5.1 mix. I usually abhor gag reels but these clips really seem to complement Lynch’s offbeat sense of humor. Inconsequential, but still worth a watch.
David Lynch is one of the most original voices in American cinema and Blue Velvet is him working at the height of his skill. Even twenty five years on, it has lost none of its power. It’s still divisive as hell but love it or hate it, you cannot ignore Blue Velvet once you’ve seen it.
MGM could have just half assed this 25th Anniversary Edition and it still probably would have made my top ten Blu-ray catalogue releases for 2011. The fact that they’ve gone the extra mile and located and restored the missing footage expressly for inclusion guarantees Blue Velvet the top spot on that list. Blue Velvet is essential viewing for cinephiles and the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is this year’s must-own catalogue release.
don't have a region free BluRay player, so i hope this gets releases as BluRay B as well
Blue Velvet is region-free.
Wow, I want this one. I have the standard Dvd edition and this one looks brilliant. It is a classic. Thanks for a great review.
I saw this the other night. It's good but not my type of film. I can't see myself re-watching this one.
Plan on watching this tonight!
I would say the disguise is definitely meant to be comical.
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