A person doesn’t have to dive too deeply beyond the total mainstream of cinema to come across the works of David Lynch. Whether it be through his nightmarescape Los Angeles in “Mulholland Dr.,” or the odd Pacific Northwest small town of “Twin Peaks,” or the factory-world subconscious of “Eraserhead,” the works of Lynch are always some of the most admired in film. However, none of his works stand out anywhere near as much as his 1986 masterpiece, “Blue Velvet.”
Now nearing its 30th birthday, the film’s opening images still resonate: a bright blue sky dangling over white picket fences and vibrant red roses, here Lynch establishes a romantic image of small town America that has only ever been realized in our dreams. But what makes Lynch and his works interesting, is what lies under the surface, and as the camera descends into the grass it is revealed that there is a horrific world of bugs beneath our idealized small town images. This is just one of many immediately tangible themes in “Blue Velvet” that make the film so engaging.
“It’s not a powerful, resonant, enduring film simply because it means one thing,” said Andrew Nelson, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Film and Photography. Nelson quickly dispelled the claim that what makes “Blue Velvet” great is its portrayal of Americana or its supposed critique of Reaganism, but the fact that Lynch allows the audience to see that and much more in his film.
It is hard to discuss the film and not get lost in a train of thought regarding Dennis Hopper’s career before and after the film (and how he became synonymous with Pabst Blue Ribbon) or end up thinking about the sounds in the film for hours, and how everything you hear creates this world that goes even deeper than the images. Nelson discussed this issue of how easy it is to get lost when discussing the film, but also acknowledged that this was a big reason why “when we think of Lynch, we think of ‘Blue Velvet.’”
And after thirty years, we are still thinking of “Blue Velvet” that way. While it opened to passionately mixed critical reception, with some hailing it a masterpiece and other critics, like Roger Ebert, thinking it abhorrent. Maybe its greatest accomplishment over time is the fact that its distinct ability to make us uncomfortable, to laugh and be horrified at the same time, has now earned mainstream acceptance. The film pushed the bounds, and now the boundaries have actually moved. Nelson points out that to this day “it is a rich, complex text that people at different times are able to look at and say ‘Yeah, this still means something.’”
People are going to continue to write about Lynch, and his work, especially with a third season of “Twin Peaks” coming out next year, and for that we have to thank “Blue Velvet.” The film is, as Nelson put it, “Certainly for Lynch, the most important film.” Until that next season of Lynchian weirdness hits TV, kick back (not with a Heineken) and watch “Blue Velvet.” And if you have already seen it—watch it again.