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Blue Velvet – 4K

by Glenn Erickson Jun 15, 2024

David Lynch’s dark vision of vice and cruelty beneath a quiet rural town solidified his rep as The Most Out-There big-studio director. Kyle Maclachlan’s curious Jeffrey can relate to Laura Dern’s sweet teenager, but he’s also drawn to Isabella Rossellini’s disturbed victim of sexual tyranny. With his tank of amyl nitrite gas, Dennis Hopper’s Frank became the decade’s slimiest, most deranged villain. Lynch’s creepy balance of wholesomeness and horror has not diminished, especially when remastered in 4K Ultra HD.


Blue Velvet 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray
The Criterion Collection 977
1986 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 120 min. / available through The Criterion Collection / Street Date June 25, 2024 / 49.95
Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Jack Harvey, Frances Bay, Ken Stovitz, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance.
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Production Designer: Patricia Norris
Film Editor: Duwayne Dunham
Sound design: Alan Splet
Costumer: Ronald Leamon
Original Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Executive Producers: Dino De Laurentiis, Richard Roth
Produced by Fred Caruso
Written and Directed by
David Lynch

We still marvel at the freshness and ‘filmmaker authenticity’ of Blue Velvet, David Lynch’s first feature in a contemporary setting. The semi-rural town of Lumberton is still a place where fantasies and nightmares lie just below the surface. The Lynchian version of a ‘coming of age’ story sees a young man investigating a sensual, deadly underworld that exists side-by-side with high school romances and everyday neighborhood niceties.

At first glance, Lynch seems obsessed with the conflict of things wholesome and horrible. Yet his approach is essentially healthy. Luis Buñuel would applaud the film’s irruptions of the surreal into everyday reality. It happens right from the start, when the slo-mo spectacle of sunny suburban lawns and fire trucks suddenly dives into  Shrinking-Man mode, revealing insectoid monsters in combat on a different plane of existence. Lynch’s worldview was consistent: the cosmic mystery – plus poetic horror angle is basically unchanged in  an avant-garde limbo,  the world of a beautiful soul in a freakish body, and  a Sci-fi fable set in a Galaxy far far away.  In Blue Velvet Lynch brings his sense of beauty and terror back to haunt Hometown, U.S.A…. What if that other Dorothy, Dorothy Gale, returned to find Kansas overrun with criminals from the Land of Oz?

College comes to an abrupt halt for Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) when his father suffers a heart attack. Returning home to Lumberton to work, Jeffrey finds a severed ear in a vacant lot. Detective Williams (George Dickerson) tells him to curb his curiosity, but Jeffrey nevertheless investigates on his own with the help of Williams’ daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). Like a Hardy Boy ashamed of his own dark thoughts, Jeffrey plays a dangerous game. He sneaks into the apartment of sultry singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and shadows the verminous criminal Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).

 

Jeffrey finds himself fascinated by this horrible new underworld of drugs and crime, with its extremes of vice and cruelty. He gets involved with the traumatically disturbed Dorothy, a sexual prisoner. But then he falls into the clutches of the wildly unstable, murderous Frank, and may pay dearly for his morbid curiosity …

David Lynch has always been provocative, even in his movingly humanistic The Elephant Man and the deceptively placid  The Straight Story. Some compared his work to what one might find on the underside of slimy rocks, but others applauded Lynch as an antidote for the Rambo series. Blue Velvet still has the power to disturb, and Dennis Hopper’s ferociously perverse villain is still terrifying. What sets Lynch apart is his equal commitment to sweet side of his fantasy equation. ‘Un-hip’ family life is cherished, not mocked. Jeffrey Beaumont’s clash with underworld chaos would make anyone appreciate middle-class peace and security. The TV sensation Twin Peaks adapted Lynch’s world for the small screen, adding deadpan humor and staging that suggests The Ozzie and Harriet Show on drugs. But the two formats are very different.

A reluctant college dropout, Jeffrey is an interesting audience surrogate — thoughtful, slightly disaffected, and keen to explore sensations not found in his comfortable but predictable home life. Jeffrey is also courageous, and eager to challenge his own senses. I can imagine David Lynch shouting, ‘YES!’ at at a scene in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Ian Hendry sees a dead body in a bathtub. He recoils from the sight, shudders, and then leans back in close, slowly, to give it a good look. Jeffrey Beaumont doesn’t want to be afraid of life. If we can take a good hard look, and see disturbing things for exactly what they are, they don’t have to be become nightmares.

 

Inside this seamy underworld Blue Velvet assembles a scary vision of human obscenity, centered mainly on the unstable, demented Frank, a villain whom actor Dennis Hopper claimed he was born to play. Spouting vicious profanities and reacting with rattlesnake violence, Frank magnifies his mania with hits of amyl nitrite — ‘poppers.’  Frank is a supercharged bad guy impervious to all influences, let alone the law … he’s the guy you don’t want to meet up with even in broad daylight. The nice, positive-minded Sandy can regain her equilibrium with the conclusion that “It’s a strange world.”  But she never had a face-to-face encounter with the monstrous Frank.

Lynch manages to keep Dorothy and Jeffrey from becoming pornographic ciphers. Isabella Rossellini’s performance as the tortured, suicidal sex slave Dorothy Vallens is truly fearless. Her sexual confusion and crumbling mental state elicit contradictory feelings: we know this is something of substance, not exploitation rubbish. The proceedings never devolve into grindhouse trash.

 

Yet Blue Velvet is in no way a picture to bring home to Mom. It’s the mother lode of Lynchian lore, especially for fans of the television show  Twin Peaks, a serialized extension-expansion of the Velvet universe. Lumberton has its logs, its coffee shop, its squeaky-clean High School and its ultra-shady nightclub. Garish grotesques stalk the periphery, chief among them Dean Stockwell’s painted, primping, Roy Orbison-singing Ben.    He and the Frank cohorts played by Lynch regulars Jack Nance and Brad Dourif seem to inhabit a different planet altogether.

Then there’s Laura Dern, whose Sandy ends up sharing Jeffrey’s nightmare without losing sight of her rosy, joyful fantasies. Sandy’s detective father has adapted himself to the strange horrors of his profession, four years before Scott Glenn’s serial killer specialist Jack Crawford in Jonathan Demme’s  The Silence of the Lambs. Sandy’s mother (Hope Lange) is also a distinct characterization, a ‘sheltered housewife’ strong enough cope with her husband’s world. Under extreme provocation, she doesn’t panic.

 

Blue Velvet always had its own distinct look and feel. The slow-motion inserts, the almost two-dimensional graphic of flowers against a picket fence, and the langorous close-ups of Isabella Rossellini’s red lips become hypnotic. The lush audio track features the music of Angelo Badalamenti and the voices of Isabella Rossellini and Roy Orbison. The title song by Lee Morris and Bernie Wayne actually made debut in 1951, sung by Tony Bennett. The movie transforms Bobby Vinton’s 1963 cover version into something multi-dimensional.

Lynch’s finale uses visual signifiers to suggests that the survivors of the ordeal are changed, but not destroyed. Is Jeffrey cured of his morbid curiosity?  Will he become like the slightly ghoulish Detective Williams?  When Jeffrey and Sandy welcome the red, red robin at their window, Lynch seems to be pushing the EGBOK button with two fingers … but the tone is still earnest, pointedly un-ironic. Is the clearly mechanical bird a comment on the artificiality of Sandy’s robin miracle? Is the insect in its beak a reminder of the corruption that may resurface?  We’re talking semaphore-flag symbolism here, but it seems a good fit in Lynch’s dream universe.

 


 

The Criterion Collection’s 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray of Blue Velvet is a two-disc set with a stunning widescreen encoding. The UHD image lets colorful scenes pop and preserves the relative darkness of Dorothy Vallens’ drab apartment. The UHD format keeps it and other murky scenes from turning into video mush. The Panavision framing is a standard 2:35, but Lynch and cameraman Frederick Elmes’ compositions make the screen feel even wider.

Criterion’s specs call out a 5.1 surround track, plus a 2.0 stereo track, listed as original. The full set of extras is below, which picks and chooses from older items but follows the same list as appeared on Criterion’s 2019 Blu-ray edition.

Hand it to Mr. Lynch. He’s a believer in the theatrical format. I remember well every occasion when I was able to see one of his pictures with a large audience. This disc encoding follows his previous wishes with  Mulholland Drive — the feature has no chapter stops, to wean viewers away from the ‘skip forward’ button. The 4K disc barely needs a menu — all the extras are on the Blu-ray disc, with a standard HD encoding of the feature …

… which also does not have chapter stops. We confess that we rather like the idea of an artist taking charge of his own work, trying to retain a little control over its exhibition.

 

The first Blu-ray release of Blue Velvet was partly inspired by David Lynch’s eagerness to reassemble a selection of then newly-found outtakes and ‘legendary’ scenes that were deleted from the final cut. They were the subject of a 2011 Guardian piece with the title  “I’ve got to find the flaming nipple!”  Cath Clarke’s article happily called out the contribution of Darren Gross, whose work with the MGM Technical Services Department located a cache of missing original negative that Lynch had been seeking for decades. For those that care, I’ve preserved a 1997 DVD Savant article  Blue Velvet Mysteries about MGM Home Video art department investigator Gregor Meyer’s search for the missing outtakes, as described by Bret Wood in the 4th issue of Video Watchdog.

The 50 minutes of recovered scenes do not include some business about ‘a second ear,’ or a very Twin Peaks- like ‘Psycho wrap-up’ scene with the main characters sitting around a Lumberton log decoration. The scenes are in script order, except that Lynch has moved the violent billiards room scene with the notorious ‘flaming nipples’ up front. The cut college scenes are not missed at all — they depict Jeffrey as an unlikable voyeur-pervert. A long scene of an avant-garde stage show looks like something from Lynch’s later work. As was reported long ago by Bret Wood, we see more of Sandy’s jock boyfriend. Sandy’s mother may be trying to encourage a relationship with Jeffrey over the rather foolish football player.

As I understand it David Lynch re-cut the deleted scenes from scratch. Darren Gross also found more Angelo Badalamenti music in the boxes of stored negative, giving the director more variety in the music cues available for cutting. The recovered scenes play like an experimental short feature, with no narrative through-line.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Blue Velvet 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements:
Alternate original 2.0 surround soundtrack
The Lost Footage, deleted scenes + alternate takes assembled by Lynch (53 minutes)
The feature-length Blue Velvet Revisited, filmed on the set by Peter Braatz
Making-of documentary Mysteries of Love (2002, 70 minutes)
Interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti (2017)
Crew interview documentary It’s a Strange World: The Filming of Blue Velvet (2019) with visits to the shooting locations
Lynch reading from Room to Dream, his book with Kristine McKenna
Illustrated insert booklet (30 pages) with a text excerpt from McKenna’s book.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
June 11, 2024
(7144velv)
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Text © Copyright 2024 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Scott Raile

The outtakes from BLUE VELVET taught me loud and clear that genius can be found not just in what is in a movie, but also what was left out of it. Like you rightly note, the outtakes make Kyle’s character very unlikeable, and I think the movie would have been fatally damaged by presenting him like that. The contrast of his innocence with the corruption in Frank’s world is what makes this movie so striking. Nothing made me appreciate Lynch’s genius more than seeing what he didn’t include, as opposed to what he did.

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