Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Blue Velvet (now in revival at the Capitol)

[BLUE VELVET is now playing at the Capitol Theatre.]

Do I miss the old days. For lots of reasons, but mostly for when local college radio would play BLUE VELVET audio clips late at night, especially Dennis Hopper yelling in mad crescendo of lust and murderous, intoxicated rage. Because the internet is family friendly now (at least I think that’s one of the things President Trump is going to be working on), I will refrain from printing the R-rating dialogue verbatim. Just to paraphrase, he screams in bestial fashion, “Let’s MAKE LOVE!!! I’ll MAKE LOVE TO ANYTHING THAT MOVES, HAHAHAH!!!”

Folks don’t remember well today that BLUE VELVET, considered David Lynch’s masterpiece, came right on the heels of his humiliation flop with an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s DUNE, for which Lynch, though bringing some trademark peculiarities, just wasn’t the right guy for the job. But with BLUE VELVET he reunited with tainted DUNE star-discovery Kyle Maclachlan and producer Dino di Laurentiis and turned in what would become the very definition to “Lynchean.”

Boy-Scout-innocent college student Jeffrey (MacLachlan) returns to his all-American hometown of Lumberton to help run his ill father's hardware store and discovers an ant-covered human ear in a field. Jeffrey dutifully alerts the local sheriff but can't resist doing some amateur sleuthing himself - with the help of the sheriff's pretty daughter Sandy (Laura Dern).

Jeffrey finds his own perfect-looking neighborhood conceals a freakish subculture of sadistic outlaws and crooked cops. He winds up caught in the middle of a sordid sexual relationship between a seductive, victimized night-club singer Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and a psychotic, drug-addicted fiend named Frank Booth (Hopper), who answers to a ghoulish/foppish kingpin (Dean Stockwell) who lip-syncs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.”

“You are soooo suave,” goes one of Frank Booth’s more printable lines.

Lynch enjoys a mad-scientist reputation (not undeserved) for his movies, commonly full of grotesque, nightmarish images - often messily violent - and extreme behavior. Considering that the digital-editing era has turned that in to "torture-porn" or slasher-splatter action, it’s worth remembering that BLUE VELVET is a carefully-composed and stately paced tale, almost waltz-like, that still manages to be disturbing on its own only-David-Lynch terms.

The film-noir crime plot, deliberately vague about details, unravels like a slow-motion bad dream with a uniquely absurd internal logic; for example, awful Frank works himself into a homicidal frenzy with gentle, vintage tunes, and somehow that's creepier than if it were the most vile gangsta rap on the soundtrack. Characters all seem exaggerated (icons of either apple-pie goodness or diabolical malice), giving the thing a faintly satirical edge. And while Jeffrey shows suitable disapproval at Dorothy's plight and good triumphs over wickedness in Dudley Do-Right fashion, a sense of perversity and weirdness lingers even past the deliberately hokey happy-ending finale.

I often wonder if this film’s embrace by the critical establishment (especially the foreign press) partially comes about because they perceive a sour critique in the Lynch-eye-view of American society, especially during the Reagan years. Look under the green lawns and quaint Main Streets, and this country is rotten and indecent to the core – especially the churchy small towns and conservative villages outside of the cities. That’s a theme our media storytellers have harped on a lot; read Ben Stein’s The View From Sunset Boulevard for more info.

I’m not saying BLUE VELVET is a political diatribe, just that it came along at the right time and fed into the correct prejudices of the intellectual mafia to rehabilitate Lynch – and point the way to Twin Peaks, Picket Fences and other sardonic dramas of nasty doing here in the sticks. And, considering that whole family gunned down on a private marijuana farm in rural southern Ohio recently, who is to say that this Lynchian attitude is entirely out of line? I could definitely see Frank Booth pulling off that hit. (3 ¾ out of 4 stars) 

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