I was working as a movie theater usher in Huntington Beach, California when David Lynch's Blue Velvet was released 25 years ago. No film during my 18-month tenure matched the intense reaction it generated in viewers. Not Full Metal Jacket, not Top Gun, not Leonard: Part 6. Seemed like at least one couple walked out of every Blue Velvet showing, most times before it ended, angered by what they witnessed and demanded their money back. Apparently these folks only knew his Oscar-nominated The Elephant Man and hadn't caught a midnight screening of Eraserhead.
Part of what makes the film so provocative is its jarring clash of tones. The film opens like a Norman Rockwell painting as it presents the idyllic American small town of Lumberton. There are bright red flowers against a white picket fence and blue sky, a friendly wave from a fireman, an old man watering his lawn. But then, the old man has some type of stroke. As he lies on the ground, the camera zooms in close under the blades of grass revealing insects scurrying over each other in the dirt as the soundtrack fills with harsh, grating sounds. Lynch achieves a great bit of foreshadowing with this scene.
College student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to town because of his father's stroke. While walking home from the hospital, he finds a severed ear in a field. He turns the ear over to Detective John Williams (George Dickerson). Jeffrey is fascinated by the case, especially when Detective Williams' daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) informs him that Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be at the center of things. In these early scenes, Jeffrey and Sandy have an innocence about them as they work together as amateur detectives, bringing to mind a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mystery, and grow attracted to one another.