FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

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Snarfyguy
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FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Snarfyguy » 20 Nov 2009, 05:34

“Baby wants to f#ck!”

Have these words lost any of their power to shock in the 23 years since David Lynch’s Blue Velvet hit the screens? I think not.

Is Lynch’s depiction of suburbia as a flimsy mask hiding a mechanistic, amoral world now itself as much a trope or cliché as the ‘burbs themselves? Perhaps.

I was fortunate enough to see Blue Velvet on its initial theatrical run, where many people promptly got up and left the theater mere minutes into the movie (when Jeffrey finds the ear - just as well, I suppose, in light of what Lynch had in store for his audience). Keep in mind, though, that this was in New York City, not Peoria. I think that says something about the kind of buttons Lynch was pushing, and how hard he was pushing them at that time.

I think it’s a cinematic delight from start to finish. Time hasn’t dulled its spikes, although it has made it funnier. Equal parts corn, porn and God-knows-what, it really puts the viewer through the ringer.

Of course, Dennis Hopper’s force-of-nature portrayal of Frank Booth is the film’s centerpiece (note especially his reactions to performances by Isabella Rossellini’s and Dean Stockwell’s* characters -- really quite amazing). Hopper allegedly freaked out his co-stars during filming by proclaiming loudly “I AM Frank Booth!” I can’t recall another screen performance so over-the-top yet so brutally effective. You really just can’t take your eyes off him. Certainly one of cinema's greatest and most terrifying villains.

The movie’s simultaneously a fable, a mystery, an erotic thriller, a morality play and any number of other things. Hard to pin down, it’s just pure chewing pleasure from my perspective. So rich with visual detail, not to mention the incredible sound design (I have my DVD audio out going through my hi-fi; not exactly a home theater, but it sounds way better than built-in TV speakers). The ominous rumblings and rustlings are truly the stuff of nightmares and they underscore the visuals so well, especially when Lynch breaks from the narrative to show you some sort of inexplicable, semi-representational imagery.

So many other elements to discuss, but let me just say I was really happy with this one 20+ years later. I really think we're in the hands of a young master with this one.


* Can a tour de force last only a minute? Dean Stockwell's performance itself has all the power of a cultural touchstone. The hallucinogenic magnetism of his Roy Orbison mime act, and indeed the entire sequence, is simply unheralded in cinema and undeniably, ferociously compelling. Is there any precedent in the movies for this total headfuck of a scene?


Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be an essay, but just some ruminations. Your thoughts, if any, etc.
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Davey the Fat Boy
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 20 Nov 2009, 22:14

I intended to get back on the horse with film club for this selection, but there are not many acknwledged classic films that I dislike as much as I do "Blue Velvet". It seems to shoot it's wad as far as insight goes in that first sequence in which a human ear is found in the midst of bucolic suburbia. After that it seemed to content itself by making the audience squirm in interesting ways for the rest of it's length.

File under: not for me.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Sneelock » 21 Nov 2009, 00:39

I'm having a hell of a time sitting down to watch it. I don't have my movie bunker anymore and I'll need to wait until I'm by myself to watch it. otherwise I need to concern myself with who else might walk in on it and then trying to explain what they are watching when they do.

so, I'm still trying to watch it so I'm not just going through the motions. still, I must say that I think it's one of the very best films of it's decade. Our hero isn't concerned with the lady or her situation at the end - he's happy in his fifties kitchen ogling a fake bird. I don't know if Lynch intended to press so much of the 80's into this movie like dead butterflies in an old book but I think that's pretty much what he did.

I too had a wonderful night at the movies when this was new. thankfully Hollywood had it's share of weirdoes because Dino Delaurentis sold the damned thing as a sex movie and I think most of the people there were expecting a very different sort of movie.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby The Modernist » 21 Nov 2009, 01:16

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:I intended to get back on the horse with film club for this selection, but there are not many acknwledged classic films that I dislike as much as I do "Blue Velvet". It seems to shoot it's wad as far as insight goes in that first sequence in which a human ear is found in the midst of bucolic suburbia. After that it seemed to content itself by making the audience squirm in interesting ways for the rest of it's length.

File under: not for me.


I'm watching it again tomorrow (well today actually) night, but I've seen it enough times to know how I feel about it (I rate it very highly), so I'm interested to hear why you dislike it so much. Of course I also understand it's sometimes very hard to expand your thoughts when you just take a visceral dislike to something (I've had this on here myself when discussing Lost in Translation and Stroczec). Is it just too dark, or is there something specific about its construction you dislike?

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby brotherlouie » 21 Nov 2009, 08:28

I watched this a few weeks ago after a long break. At the time I saw it a couple of times quite quickly which cemented it pretty firmly in my head.

Some thoughts, then:

Frank is one of the very great bad guys and kudos to Rosselini for allowing herself to be so compromised in order for us to understand, or at least witness, Frank's madness. The scene at the end where she appears from the bushes naked and bruised and broken is one of the most self-effacing pieces of acting I've ever seen. People laud Sigourney Weaver for not trading on her looks, but Rosselini takes the cake.

The nudity at the end and the capacity for the film to be weird and realistic (For weirdness, think of the scene when Hopper DISAPPEARS in an ostensibly realistic narrative), locate this in a European tradition. It sits with Betty Blue and Unbearable Lightness Of Being in terms of narrative and strangeness. That is, the logic makes sense, but when compared to real life, it really doesn't.

I haven't seen everything Lynch has done, but this when people talk of "Lynchian" this is what they mean. There's a sort of small town underbelly that he never gets more right. Of course Twin Peaks plays almost entirely on this. Seen in one sense Blue Velvet is a dress rehearsal for Twin Peaks, but equally Twin Peaks looks like a bloated version of Blue Velvet.

Final thought, for now: Years later I saw "In The Mood For Love" by Wong Kar Wai, and it seemed to be channeling a non-violent version of Blue Velvet. The cinematography was elegiac and calm without being boring and the characters followed a line of enquiry which drive the plot along with its own sense. Recommended as a strange comapanion piece.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 21 Nov 2009, 15:58

Dr Modernist wrote: Is it just too dark, or is there something specific about its construction you dislike?


Too dark? For me? Nah. I don't find it offensive, nor does the subject matter bother me in the least.

I simply find it boring.

I've seen it several times over the years. For a while I was convinced that I rated it highly based on my appreciation for the idea of David Lynch exposing the dark underbelly of suburbia. I liked it in the 80's the way I liked Tom Waits' impression of Howlin' Wolf doing Kurt Weill,,,the way I liked Hal Willner's compilation albums - In other words, I thought the idea was interesting, but the actuality of all of those things fatigued me.

Blue Velvet is just a hard slog for me. I want to scream at the screen, "I get it. He is insane. They are all insane. Suburbia is odd. Got anything else to tell me, or can I hit the showers now?"

Like Eraserhead before t, Blue Velvet seems to belong to that school of filmmaking that seems to find its highest aspiration in making its viewers uncomfortable. I'm all for artistic subversiveness, but Lynch's brand of it has always struck me as empty calories.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Goat Boy » 21 Nov 2009, 16:17

One of my fave films. I'll come back to this when I've got more time.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Sneelock » 21 Nov 2009, 17:04

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:Blue Velvet Like Eraserhead before t, Blue Velvet seems to belong to that school of filmmaking that seems to find its highest aspiration in making its viewers uncomfortable.

that may the result, I'm not convinced it's the intention.
I'm all for artistic subversiveness, but Lynch's brand of it has always struck me as empty calories.

I've eaten a lot of very fine meals that consisted mostly of empty calories. if the waiter brings cherrie jubilee to the table you don't eat the fire - you look at it. when the fire is gone it's changed the taste of the food. I'm not saying you have to like the taste Davey, only that I do.

I doubt David Lynch thought about the meaning of this movie very much at all when he made it. He went with his gut instincts and I think what many see as drastic overpraise of the movie when it was new was because of this. I think criticism that the movie is 'pretentious' or 'superficial' might be fair. I just happen to think that these are things that movies can do well.

nobody expects a potboiler or an action movie to enrich the viewer. I think 'art films' deserve a similar flexibility. it's just a movie. I happen to think it's a very good movie.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Sneelock » 21 Nov 2009, 17:21

Davey, I remember that many critics at the time compared and contrasted "Blue Velvet" with the Jonathan Demme directed "something wild". did you see that one? did you have the same problem with it or did that movie's emphasis on character make it less boring for you?

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 21 Nov 2009, 17:21

Forget "meaning" for a moment snee. I'm cool with "Ants in Your Pants of 1939" if that is what a film has to offer. But Blue Velvet doesn't engage me on that level. I find it tedious. I'm willing to accept that the deficiency is possibly mine, but I don't think I'm completely alone in my assessment.

Is it fair to say that you don't believe that Blue Velvet aspires to make its audience react, not to put across any specific meaning - but rather to operate at the level of dreams? I can buy that, but the film is laden with little nods and winks to the sophisticated movie goer that would seem to undermine that goal. It strikes me as too clever to allow itself to fully invest in the nightmare at it's center.

Whatever. It works for you and not for me. What else is there to say?
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Sneelock » 21 Nov 2009, 17:24

u suk and I rok. :lol:

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 21 Nov 2009, 17:28

sneelock wrote:Davey, I remember that many critics at the time compared and contrasted "Blue Velvet" with the Jonathan Demme directed "something wild". did you see that one? did you have the same problem with it or did that movie's emphasis on character make it less boring for you?


Less boring, certainly. But "Something Wild" falls squarely int he category of '80's art that seemed daring and important at the time, but tedious to me upon returning to it. I like it better than "Blue Velvet" because it allows me to buy into it in ways that Lynch's film does not. Blue Velvet keeps you at arms length via both its snarkiness and its excesses. "Something Wild" at least offers a fairly linear progression - allowing you to involve yourself.

But again...repeat viewings did it no favors either. I knew the ending, so I wasn't shocked anymore. I found my mind drifting.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 21 Nov 2009, 17:28

sneelock wrote:u suk and I rok. :lol:


A given.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Sneelock » 21 Nov 2009, 17:31

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:But again...repeat viewings did it no favors either. I knew the ending, so I wasn't shocked anymore. I found my mind drifting.


maybe you should take up knitting?

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 21 Nov 2009, 17:52

As long as I can pick the films I watch while doing so.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby PENK » 21 Nov 2009, 18:43

I didn't like the film when I saw it, and I think Davey's done a good job of summing up my own reaction. I remember that it felt like nothing so much as intruding upon Lynch's own private fantasy - an odd little world caught between being shocking and realistic, and instead being neither. It felt peculiarly flat; maybe I'd been expecting something wilder or more bizarre and instead I was presented with this awkward mixture of mundanity and unpleasantness.
I do intend to watch it again, though, now that it's been brought up here, so maybe I'll revise my view.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby The Write Profile » 21 Nov 2009, 22:21

Even if you discount its influence- and it's impossible, really, no American film in the 80s, for better or worse, had a more profound effect on modern cinema and television- what makes Blue Velvet such a crazed delight is the sheer energy of the piece. Of course, you could go on about its "dark reimaginings of Suburbia", but that would miss the point, almost totally. In fact, the two films it's probably closest to are actually the ones that Lynch keeps on returning to again and again in his work: The Wizard of Oz and It's A Wonderful Life. (Lumberton is Beford Falls and Pottersville)

It's there in the push-pull between frenzy and placidity, it's there in the cast of characters who all seem to have their own little soundtrack or catchphrase or tic, it's there in the fact that pulls its protagonist right down to the bottom and then expects you to believe that it's all okay at the end, and it's especially there in the haunting, dreamlike feel of the picture. I haven't had time to rewatch my DVD yet, but what strikes me every time I see the film (and I've seen it about a dozen times), is that it's not so much the characters, but the aggressively melodramatic tone which makes it seem so weird. Think about Laura Dern's simpering girlfriend, with her speech about the robbins and the way it's referred to in the ending almost as a "fuck you" to the audience*, or Angelo Badalamenti's score, which is at once sinister and nostalgic (but for what I'm not sure).

I'm not going to get into the messy aspects of the film, most notably it's curious depiction of family and the female in general. That will wait for when I see it again and can remember more about it. What I will say, though, is that works better than almost everything it's influenced because it throws absolutely everything into every frame. There's some great interviews with David Lynch about the movie and what comes out in almost all of them is that he never wanted to make the viewer uncomfortable per se, which Davey seems to suggest, I just think he wanted the audience to be taken on a similar sort of "joyride" to the one Frank takes on Jefferey.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby the masked man » 21 Nov 2009, 23:06

I need to see this again, and will do so when I get hold of a DVD. But my one recollection from seeing this at the cinema is how incredible Frederick Elmes' cinematography is. All those deep blues were just so visually overwhelming, and I doubt this will translate to the small screen at all.

Maybe this is one film you need to see in a movie theatre.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby Snarfyguy » 21 Nov 2009, 23:13

sneelock wrote:I doubt David Lynch thought about the meaning of this movie very much at all when he made it. He went with his gut instincts and I think what many see as drastic overpraise of the movie when it was new was because of this. I think criticism that the movie is 'pretentious' or 'superficial' might be fair. I just happen to think that these are things that movies can do well.

nobody expects a potboiler or an action movie to enrich the viewer. I think 'art films' deserve a similar flexibility. it's just a movie. I happen to think it's a very good movie.

I think you're conceding way too much here. Lynch's movie doesn't need this kind of defense. Good art is the most enriching thing there is and Blue Velvet is solid nutritional value.

Having said that, it's refreshing to hear alternate opinions from Davey and Penk. It would be boring if we all felt the same way.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Blue Velvet

Postby PENK » 22 Nov 2009, 00:45

I don't have a good relationship with Lynch. Twin Peaks was wonderful for one series, and occasionally good for another, but the only one of his films I've seen that I thought altogether successful was Inland Empire. It's perhaps because he just went for it with that one; much of his other film work has seemed oddly underwhelming to me, as if it were straining to be weirder than it actually was. When he finally gave in to his own urges completely, he made his most satisfying (in its absolute, compelling lunacy) film to date.
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