Monday, September 19, 2016

"Now it's Dark" - Return to Blue Velvet

 Written & Directed by: David Lynch

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper & Laura Dern

Original Release Date: September 19, 1986


"Why is there so much trouble in this world?

Often revered as one of David Lynch's best films, Blue Velvet sheds a light on the underbelly of evil taking place in an otherwise charming small American town called Lumberton. When a naive young man named Jeffrey Beaumont discovers a severed ear it leads him to a sinister killer whose sole purpose appears to be wreaking havoc and violence on all that encounter him. The killer's atrocious behavior is fueled by bizarre drugs and sexual obsession. Set to a haunting, almost Hitchcockian, musical score by Angelo Badalamenti and loaded with emotionally powerful and surreal scenes, Blue Velvet calls into question the darkest elements of the human condition. 

Blue Velvet

After his father has a heart attack while watering the lawn, Jeffery Beaumont discovers a severed ear in the grass on his walk back from the hospital. He decides to take the ear to the police where he speaks with a Detective Williams. Together they bring the ear to the coroner who says the ear was cut off with scissors and the person who it belongs to is likely still alive. Later that night Jeffrey decides to go to Detective Williams house to discuss the ear. The detective says he can't tell him any details about the case and asks Jeffrey for his discretion. On his way out Jeffrey meets Sandy, Detective Williams daughter, who is waiting outside. They talk and stroll down the sidewalk. Sandy tells him that there is a woman of interest in the case named Dorothy who lives not far away. Then she walks Jeffrey to Dorothy's building and shows him where she lives.

The next day Jeffrey decides to pick Sandy up from high school, impressing all her friends. He takes her to Arlene's Diner where he tells Sandy he wants to sneak into Dorothy's apartment to observe and learn more about her. Sandy thinks it's a scary idea, but Jeffrey runs down his plan for them to get into Dorothy's place. He plans to pose as an exterminator and wants Sandy to pose as a Jehovah's witness who will knock on the door causing a distraction that will allow him to unlock a window. Jeffrey hopes to use that window to enter Dorothy's place later that night.

He convinces Sandy to try his plan out so they head over to Dorothy's apartment building. Jeffrey puts on a uniform and makes his way up to Dorothy's unit. She allows him inside under the guise of him spraying for pests in her kitchen. While there Jeffrey manages to swipe a spare key when a man wearing a yellow suit knocks on the door thus distracting Dorothy. After Jeffrey meets back up with Sandy who tells him the man in the yellow suit knocked on Dorothy's door before she could do her part in their scam. Jeffrey shows her Dorothy's key and tells Sandy he's going to sneak back into Dorothy's place later that night. Sandy agrees to cancel a date she has so she can help him.

That evening they head over to The Slow Club where Dorothy works. They drink Heineken beer as Dorothy Vallens takes the stage and sings a sultry version of the song Blue Velvet. Jeffrey is clearly impressed with her performance. Later that night in front of Dorothy's building, Sandy agrees to honk the horn for Jeffrey so he'll know when Dorothy is coming home. Jeffrey then makes his way inside Dorothy's apartment and discovers a child's bedroom. He ends up going to the bathroom and happens to flush the toilet just as Sandy is beeping the horn warning him that Dorothy has come home. Then Sandy drives away thinking she did her part. However Jeffrey is startled when Dorothy walks in and quickly hides in her living room closet.

He watches as Dorothy undresses and then receives a disturbing phone call from someone named Frank. After she takes a blue velvet robe from the closet where Jeffrey is hiding, but somehow doesn't see him. However she does hear him make a noise so Dorothy grabs a knife from the kitchen and pulls the closet door open. When she sees Jeffrey, Dorothy insists that Jeffrey get undressed so she can see him as he saw her. She insists that he look away from her and not touch her or she'll kill him. Dorothy makes Jeffrey get on the couch naked and she begins to kiss him. Then someone knocks on the door. 

Dorothy tells Jeffrey to return to the closet and orders him to be quiet or she'll kill him. She opens the door and Frank walks in. Dorothy is obviously nervous around him. He calls her a shithead, demands Bourbon and makes her spread her legs for him. He orders her not to look at him while he inhales some gas. He stares are her vagina and says, "baby wants to fuck." Then Frank smacks Dorothy when she looks at him unintentionally. To calm him, she feeds him a piece of her blue velvet robe. Then he puts some of the robe in her mouth and violently attacks/rapes her on the floor. After Frank repeats the phrase, "now it's dark." He orders Dorothy to stay alive for "Van Gogh" before he finally leaves.

Once he's gone, Jeffrey tries to comfort Dorothy. She asks him to hold her, because she's scared. Then she asks him to feel her breast and hit her. Jeffrey is uncomfortable and decides to leave, but not before he looks at a hidden picture of Dorothy's husband and child from under the couch. When he goes home he has a disturbing dream about his experience. Later that night he meets up with Sandy again and tells her, "it's a strange world." Then he goes on to tell Sandy that he believes Dorothy's husband and son have been kidnapped by Frank. He believes Frank cut her husband's ear off as a warning to Dorothy to comply with him. Jeffrey gets upset and spouts, "why is there so much trouble in this world?"

Sandy goes on to tell him about a dream she had with robins flying and a light of love. Jeffrey thinks she's a "neat" girl and seems to feel better from her words. After he returns to Dorothy's place. Dorothy allows him inside and asks what he wants. She says she likes him and liked being with him. Jeffrey feels the same. Later we see Dorothy singing again at the club as Frank watches her with emotion and strokes a piece of her blue velvet robe. Jeffrey decides to follow Frank and a group of his associates, which include Jack Nance, and finds out that Frank's last name is Booth. 

The next day he picks Sandy up from school again and her boyfriend Mike sees her get into his car. They head back to Arlene's Diner where he tells Sandy about staking out Frank's place while taking pictures and observing the actions of his associates. Jeffrey notes there was a murder in the distance that he believes Frank is involved with. Sandy asks why he's doing this. Jeffrey answers that he's seeing something that is hidden and feels like he's in the middle of a mystery. Then he kisses her.

Jeffrey ends up back at Dorothy's place later that evening where she takes him into her bedroom. She asks him if he wants to do bad things and says she wants him to hurt her. Jeffrey says he doesn't want to hurt her, he wants to help her. He says they should involve the police, but Dorothy freaks out and starts slapping him. Jeffrey ends up hitting her back and they tussle naked on the bed. Later on Jeffrey's way out, Frank and his men see Jeffrey with Dorothy. Frank asks, "who is this fuck?" Dorothy tells him that Jeffrey is just a friend from the neighborhood. 

Frank insists that Jeffrey come for a ride with him and orders Dorothy to get her robe. Then everyone squeezes into Frank's car for a nerve wracking drive. Frank takes Dorothy and Jeffrey to an apartment, where Frank insists the only beer worth drinking is Pabst Blue Ribbon. Inside the apartment, there is an eclectic group of people. The leader, Ben, is called "so fucking suave" by Frank. They toast, "here's to fuck!" Frank and Ben then each punch Jeffrey. Ben takes Frank aside and they talk about the murder Jeffrey saw earlier. Frank also allows, "tits" aka Dorothy to see her kid in the back bedroom.

Then Ben lip syncs the song, In Dreams, for the rest of the group. Frank is particularly effected by his performance. After he orders everyone back to his car. Frank screams, "let's fuck!" Everyone piles in the car again and Frank speeds off. He gets angry at Jeffrey for staring at him, slams on the breaks and orders him not to look at him. Then Frank inhales more of his drug as he violently pinches Dorothy's nipples. When Jeffrey protests, Frank pinches her harder. Jeffrey ends up punching Frank so they drag Jeffrey from the car as Dorothy screams for Frank to leave him alone. Frank says he'll send Jeffrey a love letter, which is a bullet that will send him straight to hell. He has the song In Dreams played in the car's tape recorder and then he and his gang attack Jeffrey. 

The next morning Jeffrey wakes up beaten and abandoned in a lumber yard. He goes home and flashes to his encounter with Dorothy when he hit her. Jeffrey cries at the memory. Then he calls Sandy and she advises him to tell her father everything. After Jeffrey tells his aunt Barbara (Francis Bay) and his mother not to worry about him. Jeffrey then heads down to the police station and sees the yellow suited man again. Jeffrey realizes his name is Detective Gordon and he works with Frank. Later Jeffrey heads to Sandy's house and speaks with her father. Jeffrey shows him the pictures he took of Frank and his men. Her father seems upset when he sees Detective Gordon in the photos, but doesn't say anything. All he's worried about is that Sandy isn't involved.

The following Friday Jeffrey picks Sandy up for a date and notices Detective Gordon there. Sandy's father insists that Jeffrey not worry about it. Then Jeffrey and Sandy go to a party and share a sweet dance. They kiss and say they love each other. When they leave the party Sandy's boyfriend Mike follows them and chases them down the road. Mike wants to kick Jeffrey's ass, but right then Dorothy shows up naked and beaten up. Jeffrey puts Dorothy in his car and takes both women to his Sandy's house. Dorothy insists that Jeffrey hold her. Sandy watches horrified realizing that something is very wrong. Dorothy says that Jeffrey put his "disease" inside of her. Sandy's mother calls an ambulance for Dorothy and when they arrive, Sandy smacks Jeffrey.

Later Jeffrey calls Sandy from the hospital. They say they love each other again and Jeffrey asks Sandy to have her father meet him at Dorothy's apartment. Then he heads to Dorothy's place where he finds Detective Gordon shot, but somehow still standing up, and Dorothy's husband dead with a piece of the blue velvet robe in his mouth. Jeffrey decides to leave the scene as he found it. Then we get a montage of the police taking down Frank's men in a shoot out nearby.

As Jeffrey leaves Dorothy's building he sees Frank dressed in a disguise and coming up the steps. Jeffrey hurries back into Dorothy's apartment, grabs Gordon's walkie talkie and calls for help. He realizes that Frank is listening so Jeffrey says he's hiding in the bedroom and then hides in the living room closet instead. When Frank comes in he calls to the bedroom telling Jeffrey he's coming for him. Frank goes into the bedroom shooting. Jeffrey steps out of the closet and takes Gordon's gun. Then he returns to the closet and waits. When Frank finally opens the closet door, Jeffrey shots him in the head. Right then Sandy and her dad burst in and Sandy kisses Jeffrey. Then we flash to a future scene where Jeffrey is the backyard sleeping. He opens his eyes and sees a robin watching over him. The robin eats a bug and sits in the kitchen window as Sandy, Jeffrey, his aunt and mother watch. Then we see Dorothy embracing her son at the park and the song Blue Velvet plays in the background.

The End

There is something unique about this film that makes it impossible to forget the images within it. I think there is a point to consider that Blue Velvet's Lumberton has a symmetry to the mysterious town of Twin Peaks. There are many theories out there about David Lynch's work all taking place in the same universe. I think there is likely some truth to that. Even if that theory is never literally verified, in my opinion, most artists' work is a reflection of something within themselves or something they were influenced by. 

Often I think artists are revisiting the same influences over and over in their work, just with different variations. The need to create something is driven by what is interesting to that creator so of course there is a pattern to all of Lynch's work. David Lynch seems to favor themes that explore disillusionment, sexual jealousy and abuse, especially packaged in a dream or idealistic place that is harboring mysteries and secrets. Within all the films he has written and directed this seems especially so. 

I often giggle at this scene in the film, but in its simplicity, it's a very apt question. The world is scary. Chaos is all around us. Deep inside I believe we're all scared in some way. We have no control. Sometimes we get hurt badly and other times we hurt others badly. The cycle goes round and round. In this moment, Jeffrey's deviant curiosity has been harshly sobered and he's frightened by it. I think Kyle played the character of Jeffrey Beaumont with a lot of innocence and heart. There are shades of a young Agent Cooper in this character that I just love.

Dennis Hopper as the crazed Frank Booth is just plain intense. Like a lot of Lynchian bad guys, Frank was equally terrifying as he was amusing. His awful treatment of Dorothy, manic inhaling of drugs and wild eyed stares were hard to watch yet he also possessed a highly entertaining and impossible to look away from element. In addition, his character offered some of the film's most memorable dialogue. 

Ben singing Roy Orbison's 'In Dreams' in the above scene is definitely one of Blue Velvet's most surreal and fun moments. It is both weird and cool. It also offers a stylized pleasurable distraction to the horror that will follow it. Plus I love Dean Stockwell. Quantum Leap was one of my favorite shows growing up. 

When Jeffrey wakes up in his backyard to see a Robin sitting in a tree above him, I like the ironic sense that everything will be okay. It might be a little corny, but after all the darkness in Blue Velvet I think a happy ending fits well. Blue Velvet isn't my favorite Lynch film, but I still think it's a great movie. It definitely gives you a lot to think about and each time I watch it, I appreciate it more and more. 

Enjoy Siskel & Ebert's review of --> Blue Velvet

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