Three years after the disappointment of Dune, David Lynch returned to form with Blue Velvet. The film begins, appropriately enough, with the opening credits superimposed over a beautiful piece of blue velvet swaying in the breeze. The tone of Angelo Badalamenti’s score is melodramatic and ominous. The small town of Lumbertown is a fantasy world; a glossy place with a dark underbelly seething underneath. Here, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachan) is a young college graduate who stumbles upon a human ear lying in the grass. He does the right thing and takes it to the police station, where Detective Williams (George Dickerson) bags the evidence and opens an investigation. Still intrigued by the mystery of it all, Jeffrey begins his own Hardy Boys-type investigation into the crime with the help of Detective Williams’ daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). After following a few clues, he finds himself hiding in the closet of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a sultry lounge singer.
Dorothy is involved in an abusive S&M relationship with Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) a mobster and a sociopath, with a taste for torture and rape. Frank has kidnapped Dorothy’s husband and son. Ostensibly, she allows Frank to brutalize her in order to keep her loved ones safe, but in reality, she is a masochist and gets off on being beaten and raped. Jeffrey learns the truth when he begins an affair with Dorothy and finds that she prefers rough sex—rougher than he is initially willing or can provide. It isn’t long though, before Jeffrey is being dragged deep into Dorothy and Frank’s dark world of depravity.
Blue Velvet isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Lynch is a demanding director and doesn’t hold anything back. Frank is a true monster, who destroys people, both physically and psychologically. Nothing he touches is safe. Dorothy is a deeply troubled woman, but it’s not clear whether she’s beyond redemption. Clearly, Frank has corrupted her soul and twisted her idea of happiness.
At first, Blue Velvet plays out like a standard mystery. With two all-American, clean cut detectives involved, it could be mistaken for something out of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew television series. However, Dorothy and Frank are straight out of the sexiest 1940’s film noir thriller—the femme fatale and the killer. By mixing the two genres, Lynch is able to satirize some American clichés while making a dark statement about human nature.
Kyle MacLachlan, who would go on to play Agent Cooper in Lynch’s Twin Peaks series, is the perfect all-American boy. He brings a real sense of innocence to the part. As a result, we can identify with Jeffrey as he begins his descent into darkness. Laura Dern portrays the good girl, embodying the part in every way. For me, Dorothy is the best performance of Isabella Rossellini’s career thus far. She is able to fully capture the complexities of her characters personality—desperation, vulnerability, sadness, hatred and need. Dennis Hopper played numerous villains throughout his career; Frank genuinely scares me. Hopper knows there’s nothing to like about this guy, and he plays it for all its worth.
As in the beginning, the closing frames of Blue Velvet are optimistic—against blue sky, a robin appears. All is well. But wait…the robin has a beetle in its beak, and we know the beetle comes from lower ground. The movie has gone full circle. The American dream is still alive and well, but the dirt and grime of corruption are just beneath the surface…
David Lynch was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the film and now more than thirty years after its initial release, many consider Blue Velvet a masterpiece.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration supervised by the director, looks wonderful. Right off, I noticed Criterion’s presentation shows more information on the top, bottom, and left side of the frame, suggesting that MGM’s 2011 Blu-ray release may have been somewhat distorted. This new transfer boasts a noticeably vibrant image, with appropriately darker moments. Blacks are inky, revealing detail within shadows. Contrast is consistent throughout. Colors look natural and pleasing.
Criterion has included the film’s original 2.0 Master audio, and the 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master audio was supervised by David Lynch. While the 5.1 mix sounds similar to the one that appears on the MGM Blu-ray, it’s very pleasing. Well rendered throughout, the mix adds to the film’s unsettling feeling. The track has some great immersive moments, and great use of LFE. The now iconic uses of “Blue Velvet” and “In Dreams” also sound compellingly magnificent on this track. Dialogue is extremely clear, nicely directional, and the sequences in The Slow Club offer some great surround activity.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- The Lost Footage (HD, 53:16) There’s some expectedly outré stuff here, including several sequences featuring full frontal female nudity. Keep an eye out for a very young Megan Mullally, replete with Farrah Fawcett hair, as Jeffrey’s one-time girlfriend Louise.
- Blue Velvet Revisited (HD, 128:54) Created by German filmmaker Peter Braatz who was invited to document the production, there’s lots of archival materials, raw footage, and original music by Cult With No Name, John Foxx, and others.
- Mysteries of Love (HD, 110:49) This 2002 documentary provides a lot of background on Lynch’s creation of the project. Interviews with Lynch and most of the principal cast are included, along with behind the scenes footage.
- Interview with Composer Angelo Badalamenti (HD, 15: 41) Conducted by Criterion in 2017, the frequent Lynch collaborator discusses his musical style, his experiences working on Blue Velvet and more.
- It’s a Strange World: The Filming of Blue Velvet (HD, 15:57) Produced in 2019, this short documentary features interviews with the crew and visits to some of the filming locations.
- Room to Dream (18:17) An audio recording of David Lynch reading from Room to Dream, the book he co-wrote with Kristine McKenna in 2018.
- Test Chart (HD, 1:16) Testing footage done before the shooting of different sequences of the film.
- Booklet: A 30-page illustrated booklet featuring excerpts from the novel Room to Dream.