Criterion has demonstrated once again their appreciation for the devoted film lover. The picture quality in this special edition Blu-ray of David Lynch’s 1986 feature Blue Velvet looks beautiful. In addition, the accompanying special features will satiate any fan of not only Lynch’s feature but also the director himself. Encased in an attractive slipcase representing the ongoing “blue velvet” theme, this Blu-ray is a must have for the Lynchian fan. The perfect companion to Criterion’s 2017 release of the director’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
Blue Velvet encompasses all the major motifs one comes to expect from a film by David Lynch. These motifs are immediately illustrated in the opening shots through idyllic images of small town life complete with blue skies and white-picket fences. True to his style there is, however, always something sinister to be found if one scratches the surface of this seemingly perfect image. The opening sequence ends with a lurking infestation symbolic of all that we try to cover up with pretty things. Again, these themes are prevalent in the majority of Lynch’s work and would be examined at length in his 1990 television series Twin Peaks.
The main story follows Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a young man visiting his sick father (Jack Harvey). On the way home from a hospital visit, he comes across a human ear in a field. After carrying his unusual discovery to the police department, Jeffrey is given a few details but warned to let the police handle the case. His curiosity is nevertheless peaked and along with the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern), the two soon find themselves intrigued by the mystery of a local singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini).
This feature by David Lynch is full of uninhibited performances bringing to life an array of bizarre characters. The concept that no one is ever whom they appear to be is both symbolic and physical in this neo-noir mystery. One can never know exactly what he or she will find when peeking into the life of another person. Sometimes, he or she will discover themselves capable of actions they never imagined. In particular, Rossellini and Dennis Hopper deliver memorably raw performances that became etched into the viewer’s mind.
On the surface, Blue Velvet (and the majority of work by Lynch) has a misogynistic quality as women are held up as images for the male gaze to be raped and beaten. Rossellini’s Dorothy is not only victimized by the men in her life but even seems to enjoy this behavior. Like the questions posed by Lynch within his films, one has to (attempt) to scratch below the surface to understand what he is trying to say. There are always many layers to everything the director presents to the audience. As one layer after another is stripped away certain revelations occur that shed light on his own worldview. David Lynch is primarily concerned with developing an understanding as to why these terrible things happen in real life. These horrific, sexist images compound many true-life realities.
MacLachlan’s Jeffrey postulates “it’s a strange world” and through his character Lynch is trying to gain perspective as to why women are treated in such abhorrent ways. Society places women in these Madonna-Whore dichotomies of being either pure or impure. Lynch takes these stereotypical ideologies and inverts them to show the complexities that run deeper than what we see on the surface. At the same time, he illustrates the horror inflicted upon these women by way of self-shame or harm from men seeking to force them into the cookie-cutter roles society has carved out. From Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) to Mulholland Drive’s Betty (Naomi Watts), we are shown complex women that are incorrectly categorized by their looks; however, both women suffer at the hands of others and themselves when not conforming to society’s accepted norms.
In Blue Velvet, Sandy is the “Madonna” personification while Dorothy is the “Whore.” At least, from the viewpoints of the male characters, and very specifically, the young male Jeffrey. Jeffrey (like Lynch) struggles to understand how Dorothy can in any way enjoy her suffering and goes beyond his own rational impulses to empathize with her male oppressors. He soon learns that she is the truest form of what it means to be a mother. She is a woman that will do anything to reunite with her child. With Sandy, Jeffrey is shown an All-American teenage girl that is willing to adapt her beliefs when presented with new information. She is also intuitive and immensely clever.
Considering the temperature of today’s social climate, the themes of Lynch’s Blue Velvet remain as relevant now as they did 30 years ago. Sadly, maybe even more so as three decades later we are still falling short in our treatment of women. Criterion’s Blu-ray release succeeds in presenting the film, itself, as a necessary addition to any fan of horror or David Lynch. The supplements only add to making the purchase worth one’s while. This set is a full mix of documentaries, interviews, and retrospectives.
Among the special features are two full-length behind-the-scenes documentaries. The first is the 89 minute Blue Velvet Revisited. German filmmaker Peter Braatz joined the cast and crew during the film’s creation. Through photos, audio clips, and Super 8 footage, he captures a rare glimpse of Lynch’s vulnerable optimism right after Dune (1984). Other aspects focus on Lynch’s take regarding the transitioning technology of the time. Those familiar with the director’s recent works can appreciate how he has utilized now what he could only hope for at the time. The second full-length documentary is 2002’s Mysteries of Love. At a runtime of 70 minutes, this addition is more interview-oriented focusing on the cast and crew.
Other features include an intimate interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti, an audio excerpt of David Lynch reading about Blue Velvet from his 2018 book Room to Dream, and 53 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes. This consists of a majority of footage thought to be lost but now ready for Blue Velvet fans to enjoy. And includes a bombardment of images just as mundane and horrifying as one would expect. These deleted scenes give additional insight into Jeffrey’s voyeuristic nature. There is also a featurette called It’s a Strange World focusing on additional cast and crew.
With this new Criterion release of Blue Velvet, the general fan of David Lynch will find much to enjoy, and the hardcore fans will be happier than any “candy-colored clown.” This Blu-ray will be released on Tuesday, May 28th.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): David Lynch
Writer(s): David Lynch
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, Hope Lange, Brad Dourif
Release: May 28, 2019 Blu-Ray
Studio/ Production Co: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Budget: $6-7 million
Length: 121 minutes
Sub-Genre: Neo-noir Mystery