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Blue Velvet (1986, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini)

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David Lynch’s landmark film begins and ends with small town American icons – white picket fences, perfectly grown roses and tulips waving in the breeze, a passing firetruck complete with waving firefighter and pet dog – but in between is a trip into the heart of darkness that has been much copied but never surpassed.

Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home from college when his father has a stroke and, after visiting him in hospital, walking home through the fields, finds a severed ear. Taking it to the police, he meets Detective Williams (George Dickerson), father of Sandy (Laura Dern), one of Jeffrey’s ex-dates. Later, Sandy tells him she has heard her father talk about cases and in particular, a woman singer whose apartment is close by where the ear was found.

Intrigued, Jeffrey tricks his way into Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini) apartment and steals her spare key. Returning and searching for clues, he is trapped in a closet when she returns. She discovers him and sexually humiliates him but her game is interrupted with the arrival of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Bundled back into the closet, Jeffrey witnesses Frank’s crazed sexual debasement of Dorothy and believes Frank has this power because he holds Dorothy’s husband and son captive.

Determined to find out more, Jeffrey finds himself dragged into Frank’s evil world as well as Dorothy’s masochistic lovemaking. Sucked dry by her, yet falling in love with Sandy, kidnapped and beaten by Frank, he slowly builds enough evidence to present to Detective Williams but through force of circumstance, it is Jeffrey who finally faces the evil that is Frank, alone in Dorothy’s apartment.

Lynch’s skill is to take a simple plot but, in MacLachlan, offer a lead who becomes more and more attracted to the evil that is the opposite of his anodyne life and in doing so, becomes the viewers’ guide to this unglimpsed netherworld. And in gas-sniffing, violence-threatening, sexually crazed Frank Booth, he has created a cinematic icon of evil without a single redeeming feature but who also fascinates and compels. Rosselini and Dern are the two opposites in Jeffrey’s life while the cameo from Don Blackwood as brothel owner Ben gives new meaning to Roy Orbison’s ballad In Dreams.

This was Lynch’s fourth feature film, after Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Dune, and showed his growing confidence to use images ranging from inner-ear journeys to fat red robins to tell his story as skilfully as he used the cast, a trademark to emerge in laters films such as Wild At Heart, Lost Highway and in the Oscar-winning The Straight Story.

production details
cast
Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens
Kyle MacLachlan as Jeffrey Beaumont
Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth
Laura Dern as Sandy Williams
Hope Lange as Mrs. Williams
Dean Stockwell as Ben
George Dickerson as Det. John Williams
Priscilla Pointer as Mrs. Beaumont
Frances Bay as Aunt Barbara
Ken Stovitz as Mike
Brad Dourif as Raymond
Jack Nance as Paul
J. Michael Hunter as Hunter
Selden Smith as Nurse Cindy
Jack Harvey as Mr. Tom Beaumont
Angelo Badalamenti as Piano Player

crew
Writer and Director: David Lynch
Creator: David Lynch

USA | 120 minutes | 1986

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