I have to admit something. Up until 1990, and the debut of a certain television show involving a murdered girl, an FBI agent who loved pie, and a backwards talking little-person, my exposure to the work of David Lynch had been limited to Dune (a film I hated upon its initial release, but have grown to appreciate in the years since) and about fifteen minutes of Eraserhead, which I’d viewed during the height of a particularly intense acid trip that, later, saw me shrieking like a small girl and repeatedly slamming my arm (which, in my altered state, appeared to be morphing into a slimy, tentacle-like appendage) against a brick wall whilst my madly-cackling friends looked on.
Needless to say, I wasn’t fan.
Then Twin Peaks happened, and, suddenly, “weird” was all the rage. I remember going to Twin Peaks “viewing parties” where dowdy middle-aged women dressed like the Log Lady while their younger, fitter counterparts donned bikinis and plastic tarps to emulate the deceased Laura Palmer (I did my “Pacific North westerner” role play in flannel, which, seeing as how it was the pre-dawn of the grunge era, I’d usually be wearing anyway).
With Twin Peaks mania in full swing, I decided I’d go back and give Lynch’s films another look, starting with a sober viewing of Eraserhead, a second (and much more appreciated) viewing of Dune, and, the film that, to this day, I consider his finest achievement, 1986’s Blue Velvet.
After his father suffers a stroke, college kid, Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), returns to the small mill town of Lumberton to look after his mother and help run his family’s hardware store. While walking home from work one evening, Jeffery stumbles upon a grisly find in an abandoned lot; a severed human ear. Both repulsed and excited by his discovery, Jeffery brings the ear to the local police, where he discusses the matter with Detective Williams (George Dickerson), who also happens to both his neighbor and the father of young Sandy (Laura Dern); a high school girl who has an obvious crush on Jeffery.
As the days pass, Jeffery – feeling somewhat unchallenged by his small town environs – finds himself obsessing over the case, and pays another visit to Detective Williams, but the detective discourages Jeffery from getting involved, which only makes him that much more curious. Enlisting the aid of Sandy, Jeffery begins to investigate the case himself, following a trail of evidence that ultimately leads to an emotionally unstable singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Jeffery decides to break into Dorothy’s apartment while the woman is singing at a local club, but, when she comes home early, Jeffery tries to hide in her closet, but is quickly discovered, and forced to let Dorothy perform oral sex on him at knifepoint. The disturbing liaison is soon interrupted by a knock at the door, and a panicked Dorothy forces Jeffery back into the closet where he witnesses a bizarre and brutal exchange between Dorothy and a nitrous-huffing maniac named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Jeffery learns that Frank is holding Dorothy’s husband and little boy hostage, but, knowing he can’t count on the police, he decides to try and help her on his own.
Like most of Lynch’s films, Blue Velvet is something of a genre mash-up, with elements of horror, suspense, and romance melding together to form a dreamily surreal, deeply engrossing, and occasionally shocking meditation on the pale white underbelly of small town USA. Lynch’s Lumberton is a seemingly timeless place populated by impossibly wholesome characters whose “aw shucks” demeanor belies the horrors that lay beyond their immaculately sculpted bushes and white picket fences. Frank Booth (easily one of the cinema’s most memorable screen villains) is the Big Bad Wolf incarnate, given free reign over dark side of Lumberton once the sun sets and the blissfully ignorant denizens are safe in their beds. He’s the town’s dirty little secret that no one talks about except in hushed voices. Even when Detective Williams utters the man’s name, he does so with no small measure of fear and even a touch of reverence. Frank Booth is a bad, bad, baaaaaaaaad man. Jeffery, one of the few, it seems, to have experienced life beyond Lumberton, is the only person in town with the stones to stand up to a monster like Frank, and, in the tradition of all good fairy tales, it’s Jeffery’s compromised innocence that ultimately gives him the power to bring the beast to his knees.
Blue Velvet comes to Blu-ray courtesy of MGM with a very pleasing 2.35:1 transfer that was supervised by director David Lynch. The image quality is exceptional, with rich and vibrant colors and a surprising level of fine detail given that the film has the oftentimes dreamy/hazy aesthete of many 80’s productions. The transfer is complimented by an expertly mixed 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track that’s boasts an almost organic sense of warmth thanks in great part to frequent Lynch collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti’s, synth-heavy New Age score.
Most of the extras are carried over from previous DVD releases, and are presented in standard definition. These include a feature-length retrospective entitled Mysteries of Love (SD), which runs nearly as long as the movie, itself, and offers a compelling look at the making of the film and its impact through interviews with cast and crew, clips from the film, and behind-the-scenes footage. Also included are several short extras, including a series of Vignettes (SD and most under a minute long), a clip from At the Movies in which legendary critics Siskel and Ebert give the film a mixed review, a few TV spots (SD), the theatrical trailer (HD), and a very short “gag reel” entitled A Few Outtakes (HD). The real treasure here, however, is the “Newly Discovered Lost Footage” (HD) which consists of nearly an hour’s worth of good stuff culled from the cutting-room floor. Much of the footage is stuff that was most likely cut to secure an R-rating (including a lot of extra nudity), but there are some real gems in here, as well, and Lynch fans will applaud their inclusion.
Blue Velvet is really nothing short of a masterpiece, and it hasn’t lost a bit of its edge in the quarter century since it was first unleashed on an unwitting public. MGM’s 25th Anniversary Blu-ray presents the film in top form, looking and sounding better than ever before, and the inclusion of great new extras as well as the best bonus features from previous releases makes this edition the definitive release. This one gets my highest recommendations!