Blue Velvet


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blue Velvet
"One of the great masterpieces of modern cinema"

Returning home from college for the holidays, young Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) gets a job in the local hardware store and starts romancing policeman's daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). But when the discovery of a severed ear leads him to start spying on the beautiful singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), he finds himself drawn into a dangerous underworld. As if finding himself torn between his feelings for Sandy and a passionate but dangerous relationship with Dorothy isn't enough, he also falls foul of Dennis Hopper's psychotic Frank Booth, one of cinema's all-time classic villains. And in discovering this dark side to his all-American community, he also discovers an unexpected darkness in himself.

Blue Velvet opens with cinema's most remarkable bizarre gardening accident, cutting away from the roses to show us the dark earth beneath, with all the things which squirm in it. It's packed with iconic imagery - the red-breasted robin (which David Lynch insisted was real for years, though it's not even a good model); Frank puffing away at nitrous oxide through his gas mask; Jeffrey peering out through the bars of the closet door; and of course the eponymous dress itself, worn by Dorothy onstage and later in the squalid moments of her secret life.

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It also makes elegant use of music, notably Roy Orbison's In Dreams. Working with a rich colour palette and lush soundscape, Lynch creates a world which is almost hyper-real, a world which draws heavily on Jungian archetypes and which carries a much more powerful weight of meaning than the narrative alone would suggest.

This is very much a modern folk tale, a story of two children who stray from the path and encounter monsters. Lynch's genius is to treat his monsters with sympathy, so that even the brutal Frank comes across less as a moral agent than as a force of nature. On one level it can be seen as a coming of age tale, but in entering adulthood Jeffrey must accept a certain ambiguity about his own moral stance - in a film which is visually very neat, there is no neat moral or emotional resolution.

There's a simplicity about Blue Velvet - almost an innocence - which contrasts markedly with Lynch's later work. As such, it makes a good introductory film through which to get to know his various obsessions. With its powerful narrative, finely tuned performances and an unmatchable style, you will find yourself drawn in as surely as Jeffrey is. This is one of the great masterpieces of modern cinema, a film which you will never forget.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2007
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Blue Velvet packshot
A young man befriends a woman in trouble and discovers a sinister side to life in his small town.
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Chris *****

Director: David Lynch

Writer: David Lynch

Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Jack Harvey, Ken Stovitz

Year: 1986

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Karlovy 2016
EIFF 2019

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