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USA 1986
Directed by
David Lynch
120 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Blue Velvet

David Lynch’s nightmare-in-a-small-town was one of the key films of the 1980s, a classically-styled 1940s B-grade (basically anything with Dan Duryea from that period) book-ended between images of Norman Rockwell Americana served up with perfectly-judged tongue-in-cheek (or as it was then known, "post-modern") irony that created a memorably disturbing portrait of the dark side of life.

Kyle MacLachlan, an actor whose subsequent career never extended much further than Lynch’s Twin Peaks teleseries, plays Jeffrey Beaumont. a nice, blandly normal young man (at time he is reminiscent of Matthew Broderick's Ferris Bueller) who returns to his hometown, Lumberton, to see his father who is recovering from a stroke.  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, having kidnapped her child and husband.

Whilst the subject-matter is certainly unpleasant and has innumerable variants in the horror/slasher catalogue, Lynch’s intelligent script, visual flair and directorial attention to detail raise it head and shoulders above the exploitation film.

Hopper’s performance is, of course, the defining one of his career and he made a very comfortable living playing psychos ever after 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 Rossellini as Frank’s masochistic night-club singer victim are both excellent in fulfilling the characteristically noir virgin/whore opposition. Lynch regulars, composer Angelo Badalamenti and cinematographer Fred Elmes round out the talent pool.

Whilst there are no doubt some, particularly women, who will find aspects of the film hard, if not impossible, to take Blue Velvet is one of the rare instances in which a genre film transcends its limitations.




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