Saturday, March 14, 2009

Does "Blue Velvet" Near Perfection?

So I was doing a survey of a few films I was considering showing to the Film Club at USC.  As a David Lynch nut, I thought about Blue Velvet, since Mulholland Dr. is a bit too much for anyone to begin to handle on a supposedly relaxing Thursday evening.  Two things are sure after this most recent viewing: I refuse to screen it for people who aren't my close friends, and it may be one of the most perfect and highly misunderstood movies ever made.

While Lynch is probably, next to the Coens but apart from them, the most vital US filmmaker working today, nowhere was his maniacal vision of the world realized more than Blue Velvet.  A lot of people will say Mulholland Dr. And that's fair, because that movie is a dizzying dream, it's pure bliss, but among everything else it ends up a puzzle film.  Blue Velvet is the nightmare to the dreamscape, an agonizingly probing and direly intense film that NEEDS to be seen by everyone before they die.

I refuse to screen it for the general public mostly because of its explicit sex and nudity, its bloody violence, and generally unsettling subject matter, but it's the best BECAUSE of these things.  The first scene alone directly responds the film as a celluloid heaven, a world of small problems and dismissive evil.  For two bleak hours, David Lynch plunges the depths and destroys everything we love about the movies - arousing mysteries become tortured pain, sexual awakening becomes a sadistic affair, pleasant communities are upended by their seedy underbellies.

"It's a strange world," mutters Kyle MacLachlan all too early in the film.  His character, the most identifiable expression of Lynch himself in a film to date, is like Alice trapped in Wonderland, and it's in his earnest pauses, his awkward posture, his strong but fragile face that the film holds itself.  Blue Velvet asks us why evil exists, why we believe the world is inherently good when so many terrible things happen, and condenses it all into that song, that fabric, a symbol of sexuality that gets continually turned around and toyed with, its meaning inverted and reverted, affirmed and denied, pleasant and frightening.

It's a film of strange images, be it the voyeur scene in the closet, the severed ear in the field, the lip-synch of "In Dreams," or the surreal teen dance that unites MacLachlan and Laura Dern in a sublime and almost dread-filled kiss.  Part of the criticism lobbed at Lynch over the years is that his films lack reality, they are filled with unnatural blocking, positioning, and edits that create awkward beats within scenes, not to mention music that always feels too mellow or distinct.  But that assumes Lynch is responding to our reality, for Blue Velvet distills its criticism through constructing television and film plots and images of ideal America.

It's more a thriller or suspense film than anything, but damn if it isn't one of the most terrifying and wholly original views of the vacancies of society ever produced.  The first time I saw it, I literally had no idea what to make of it.  I think I've seen it 4 times now, and having read "Lynch on Lynch," heard interviews, seen documentaries, and pondered through some outside criticism, I think I have a solid grasp on the film.  It's a dangerous pill to swallow, but so rewarding.  Will I show it to friends?  If I want to shake up their world, maybe.

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