At a 1992 press conference for “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” David Lynch offered one of his many epigrams of the dream state of moviegoing: “We can go into a room and walk into a dream, experiences that would be dangerous for us in real life.” There are lots of confining spaces that are walked into in “Blue Velvet,” reissued this month in a DCP restoration for its thirtieth anniversary. (Thirty years already? “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!”) Having watched the movie many times, but not recently, it’s the dream images that adhere in memory, even more than the brutality and babying compulsion born of impotence by father figure Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) or the masochistic murmurings of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Gestures: ears; hands; bared necks; eyes, held still and fearful. There’s a painting I know that I would stare at now and again before I discovered months later that it was the artist’s rendition of the “Blue Velvet”-era Helmut Newton portrait of Lynch and Rossellini, where she bares her neck to Lynch’s open palm. Just within his grasp. Not clutching, not crushing, not brushing, not bruising. Just imminent.
Lynch’s eye sees similarly: Dorothy Vallens’ bared neck, whether in performance, or in the dark recesses of fear-swaddled apartments, is highlighted by cinematographer Fred Elmes’ boldly color-designed light, as are eyes, ears, hands, the effect not fragmentation, but sculpting. Superficially, it’s a story that has been described as a meeting of The Hardy Boys and Luis Buñuel in the North Carolina outback. But lingering in mind, “Blue Velvet,” perverse nightmare that may be, lasts for the conviction of its cinematic means, of its unblinking stare at strange and troubling dreams, with, yes, imminent eruptions of the mind of fevered night. “Your disease is inside me, Jeffrey,” spoken by a full-length nude, bruised Isabella Rossellini to Kyle MacLachlan is a genuinely disturbing invention, and like so many others, David Lynch’s images are inside me. With the late, ineffable Jack Lynch (“Eraserhead”), the cozily epicene Dean Stockwell (“Here’s to your fuck… Frank.”), Brad Dourif, Hope Lange. Panavision. 120m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Blue Velvet” opens Friday, June 10 at the Music Box in a DCP restoration.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.