David Lynch’s nightmare-in-a-small-town was one of the key films of the 80s, a classically-styled film noir pulp thriller bookended between images of Norman Rockwell Americana and served up with perfectly-judged tongue-in-cheek post-modern knowingness.
Kyle MacLachlan, an actor whose career never extended much further than Lynch’s Twin Peaks teleseries, plays Jeffrey Beaumont. a nice, blandly normal young man who returns to his hometown to see his father recovering from the stroke in the hospital. On the way back from the hospital he finds a severed ear in a vacant lot and his curiosity finds him soon drawn into the psychotically warped world of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) who is holding a woman (Isabella Rossellini) a prisoner of his violent, fetishistic sexual impulses. Whilst this aspect of the film is certainly unpleasant and probably has innumerable variants in the horror/slasher catalogue, Lynch’s visual flair, intelligent scripting and directorial attention to detail raise it head and shoulders above the wham-bang exploitation style. Hopper’s performance is, of course, the defining one of his career and he has made a very comfortable living playing psychos ever since although none of them have captured a place in cinema history like Frank Booth. Dean Stockwell has a small but also memorable role as the homosexual owner of a crummy brothel who has a deliriously camp scene miming Roy Orbison’s In Dreams whilst both Laura Dern as the girl-next-door who gets caught up in Jeffrey’s bad trip and Isabella Rosellini as Frank’s inexplicably masochistic night-club singer victim are excellent in fulfilling the characteristically noir virgin/whore opposition.
Whilst there are no doubt some, particularly women, who will find aspects of the film hard to take Blue Velvet is one of the rare instances in which a genre film is trans-substantiated into art.
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