Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #4

4. Blue Velvet, 1986
Director: David Lynch

Blue Velvet is David Lynch's best film because it's the perfect representation of Lynch's vision and yet it works so well on its own. You don't have to be a Lynch fan to enjoy it and yet you will like it enough to wanna see his other films. It also has a wonderfully naive performance by Kyle Mclaughlin, as well as Laura Dern, and the very sexy Isabella Rosselini (who plays Dorothy Vallens). But their performances would mean nothing without the completely deranged, monstrous, dominating performance by Dennis Hopper. Frank Booth is easily the best character Dennis Hopper has ever played. He's so good at being so deranged, it wouldn't surprise you to know that he once told David Lynch, while lobbying for the role, that he was Frank Booth. Frank Booth's manic behavior will make you laugh as much as it will make you afraid. For every "Heinken? Fuck that shit!" quote delivered by Frank, he'd be huffing gas and calling Dorothy "mama."

But the real star of the film is David Lynch who keeps his style completely controlled, leaving enough of his surrealism on the screen to keep you guessing and yet allowing the story and the characters to grow to keep you from being confused. In fact, Blue Velvet is territory that David Lynch has never again gone back to. He's either made films that were either extremely "Lynchian" or films that only featured a little bit of his trademark style. He's made great films in both categories (Mulholland Drive and Elephant Man, respectively), but there's something to be said about a film like Blue Velvet. It's such an odd yet healthy mix of weirdness and conventional thrills. There are also some really beautiful moments and a great use of music, including Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbinson's "In Dreams." Both songs, for me, will always be associated with this film.

In the film, Kyle Mclaughlin plays Jeffrey, a college student who returns home to visit his father in the hospital and shortly after his visit, he discovers a severed, human ear in the middle of a field. He takes it to the local detective and that's where Jeffrey meets the detective's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). Sandy tells Jeffrey about the case and the woman that may be involved. As Jeffrey and Sandy seem to form a romance with each other, they both decide to solve the mystery together which ultimately leads to Jeffrey winding up in Dorothy Vallens's closet. Jeffrey is both attracted to her, or at least intrigued by her, but also terrified of the man who comes into Dorothy's apartment, huffs gas, and acts violently towards her. This dark, dangerous side of the town entices Jeffrey and he eventually gets caught by Dorothy and, ultimately, becomes seduced by her and becomes deeply involved with Dorothy's issues.

Blue Velvet is one of the darkest, strangest, oddest, and greatest thrillers of all-time. It has a little bit of everything. Trademark twisted Lynchian humor, great performances, sex, drugs, danger, graphic violence, scenes that will make you laugh, scenes that will shock you. The film was mostly critically lauded at the time it came out, but one of its most vocal critics was Roger Ebert who objected to Lynch's handling of Isabella Rosselini in the movie. Lynch used her in ways that made Ebert feel uncomfortable. While on some level, I felt what Roger Ebert felt when I first watched Blue Velvet, I didn't wind up having the same reaction as he did. I feel that Blue Velvet has moments that are truly terrifying and uncomfortable, but I completely trust David Lynch's intentions with the film.

Lynch can be a little bit eccentric and strange himself, but he's always in complete control of the films he makes. I've never gotten the sense in a Lynch film that he didn't know what he was doing, I may not have always followed or understood his films at some points, but I always had this feeling of trust when I watch a Lynch movie that whatever he's putting up on screen is exactly what he envisioned. What my reaction turns out to be is the reaction he wants from me, or anyone who watches his films. Blue Velvet, for me, elicited the strongest reactions because the fact that it is conventional in some places actually makes the surreal nature of the film feel even more surreal. Because when you're put in a normal environment and suspect that something is slightly off-kilter, it messes with your mind. This is opposed to making a film whose whole environment is surreal. Your mind just adjusts to the surreality and it's not as gripping.

Blue Velvet is one of the top five greatest films of the 1980s because as surreal and as Lynchian as it is, I also feel like it represents the '80s better than any other film to come out in that decade. Looking at the '80s from a mostly outsider point of view, there's this cold neutrality that I get from the decade. The Reagan/Bush Sr. era, the attempt to return to normal family values... but like Blue Velvet, there's that dark undercurrent to the decade which makes you feel like nothing is quite as it seems. Small towns may have been safe and happy, but the more urban areas were starting to decay thanks to the crack epidemic and the AIDS outbreak. Blue Velvet is a great film on the surface and works completely on its own, but watching it as many times as I have, I feel there is a lot to it than what initially meets the eye, hidden layers that David Lynch himself may not have known were there. Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, the man is a mystery.

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