By Missak Artinian
Sometimes a single scene can encapsulate both the promise and downfall of a film. David Lynch’s cult-classic, “Blue Velvet,” has one such scene.
In this scene, the protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont, tells his friend, Sandy Williams, “There are opportunities in life for gaining knowledge and experience. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a risk…I bet someone could learn a lot by getting into that woman’s apartment.” This quote represents the promise, the intrigue, and mystery of “Blue Velvet.”
In response to Beaumont’s idea, Williams says, “I can’t figure out if you’re a detective or a pervert.” Beaumont comes back with, “well, that’s for me to know and you to find out.” This exchange represents the downfall.
The film has a strong opening. An old man is watering his front lawn in Lumberton, an idealized American suburb, when he suddenly experiences a stroke. We learn that the old man is Beaumont’s father, so Beaumont returns home from college to visit him.
Once home, Beaumont explores his hometown and stumbles across a human ear lying in a grass field, covered in larva and dry blood. Beaumont decides to take matters in his own hands with the aid of Williams. The investigation leads them to Dorothy Vallens, a nightclub singer whose husband and child have been kidnapped.
In a scene that could have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock himself, Beaumont breaks into Vallens’ apartment, hides in the closet and witnesses the sadomasochistic brutality of Frank Booth, a character Freudians will no doubt psychoanalyze and come up with conclusions to prove the validity of the Oedipal Complex.
Booth’s shocking, often disgusting behavior is the heart of “Blue Velvet’s” promise, intrigue and mystery. Isabella Rossellini’s stunning performance as Vallens is also exceptional. But for a film that with such a serious, heavy plot, it’s baffling that the dialogue isn’t up to the same standard.
How are we expected to grant this film the respect it deserves when its characters sound more at home in a bad adult sitcom and conversations are rarely deeper than expressing preferred brands of beer. The poor dialogue culminates with the line, “Don’t toast to my health, toast to my f**k!”
If “Blue Velvet” is remembered for anything, it’s for what it could (and should) have been. Instead, it’s an ambitious attempt that could have been a masterpiece. Many critics still consider it to be a masterpiece, but for all the wrong reasons.