Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Why are there people like Frank?"

Well, The Mad Hatter correctly guessed the title of the screenshot I posted yesterday. It was from David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986), which I re-watched the other night and got an even bigger buzz off of the second time around.

Blue Velvet is a simply-themed yet strangely conceived dreamscape from the mind of David Lynch – primal, dreamy, ethereal, haunting, etc. Beneath its ugly veneer of sexual vulgarities, it's a mush of borderline saccharine statements and obvious symbolism – yet somehow it all works so extremely well.

The fictional town of Pemberton is, with its homely billboard and its neighborly hardware store, a seemingly flawless and idyllic portrait of small-town suburbia, but just like the carnivorous insects gnawing away underneath the pristine and freshly-mowed lawn of the Beaumont household, evil is lurking in Pemberton.
This juxtaposition of light vs. dark, of good vs. evil is present throughout and the clear theme of this mystery-noir. It exists not only in the way that the villainous Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) terrorizes and threatens poor Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and the humble existence of Pemberton itself, but in the flickering of a reoccurring candle flame or in the way the evildoers so gleefully sing the melodies of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams".

Or most of all, in the way that the film balances purity (Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern) with overt evil (Dennis Hopper) and scenes of schmaltzy philosophy with sadistic repugnance.

The key scene between Jeff (MacLachlan) and Sandy (Dern) in the car, in which she describes her regular dream of robins flying in and ridding the world of darkness wouldn’t work outside of the context of the film, it is after all, maudlin and indulgent. But within the context of the film, it absolutely works. (For some unobtainable reason, I love the scene where Kyle MacLachlan cries, "why is there so much trouble in this world?")

And later, when the robin shows up at the end of the film, perched outside the Beaumont kitchen window, an insect clutched in its beak, as obvious and forced as it may be, it too, somehow works – I love it.

This is partly because of the surrealistic and dreary, indelible images of Frederick Elmes’ noir-ish cinematography and Patricia Norris’ production design which turn Dorothy’s red-carpeted apartment (with its long, threatening hallway) into a character unto itself. But anyone familiar with David Lynch can sense the auteur’s overwhelming fingerprints all over this thing and it is his vision that keeps Blue Velvet on track at all times – tense, provocative and lasting.

I don’t know how he did it, but this is one of the finest American films of the past thirty-plus years and in a way, one of the director’s most accessible and personal – a strange world, indeed.

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