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.
The film then takes a very dark turn when Jeffrey gets caught hiding in Dorothy’s apartment. She discovers him in the closet and under the threat of stabbing him with a knife makes him undress and touches him. Before things get too serious, a knock at the door has Dorothy scooting Jeffrey into the closet. Back inside, Jeffrey witness the depravity of psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) as he humiliates and abuses Dorothy for his perverse gratification, which she submits to because Frank is holding her husband and son.
Like a good detective, Jeffrey trails Frank and photographs his action. Like a bad detective, he sleeps with Dorothy who demands he rough her up. Complicating matters, Jeffrey and Sandy feelings for each other are intensifying, although she has a boyfriend. Then one evening after sleeping together, Frank and his gang catch Jeffrey coming out of Dorothy’s apartment. She claims he’s just a friend from the neighborhood, but Frank takes them both on a nightmarish joyride that could very likely result in their deaths and will cause viewers to never think of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Roy Orbison the same way again.
Blue Velvet finds David Lynch at his peak as a filmmaker. He creates a believable dream world where everything is familiar though it’s all slightly off-kilter. Lumberton is a version of Wonderland, filled with meaning but thankfully lacking in explanations that would dispel the magic. As a director, Lynch makes great use of all aspects of production to realize his vision. The writing, acting, and editing are particular standouts, and the cast does a marvelous job fully committing to their roles.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 was supervised and color corrected by David Lynch. The moment the film begins the picture exhibits rich vibrant colors through the blue velvet curtains (or is a close up of Dorothy’s robe). They continue through the opening montage from the rich red roses and the bright white picket fence. Skintones are consistent. Objects are sharply defined, though there are some scenes when softness creeps in, including intentionally when they use a soft focus on single shot of an actress.
The audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is impressive, no doubt helped by outstanding source created by Alan Splet. The track shows great dynamic range, from the soft wisps of water coming out of a house to loud shrieks when Jeffery takes a beating from Frank. Dialogue is always clear, music fills the surrounds, and the LFE augments the sinister sounds. Sounds can be heard moving through channels, like logging trucks passing across front channels.
Thankfully, MGM offers a number of special features with Blue Velvet. “Mysteries of Love” Documentary (SD, 71 min) is a great in-depth look at the film and its creation through interviews with the participants, though Lynch’s appear older than the others. Eleven deleted scenes of “Newly Discovered Lost Footage” (HD, 52 min) will surely delight fans. It’s a shame they couldn’t be seen reinserted back into the film. There are brief features like “A Few Outtakes” (HD, 2 min), four “Vignettes” (SD, 5 min) of Lynch talking, the Trailer and two TV spots (SD, 3 min). Most interesting is “Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies” (1986) (SD, 1 min) where they disagree about the film.
While certainly not for everyone’s tastes, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet on Blu-ray is a spectacular way to celebrate the film’s 25th Anniversary.