1986 / Best Director

Film #524: Blue Velvet (1986)

I continue my trawl through the career of David Lynch by journeying back fifteen years before Mulholland Drive to arguably the director’s best known work, Blue Velvet. I do feel that Blue Velvet incorporates elements of the two Lynch films that I’ve seen before as it has macabre segments to rival The Elephant Man and a film noir-esque plot line similar to that of Mulholland Drive. However, despite some incredibly bizarre moments, I think that Blue Velvet is the most accessible of Lynch’s Best Director nominated films.

Blue Velvet centres around college student Jeffrey Beaumont who returns to his picturesque home town after his father suffers a stroke in the film’s opening scene. Despite the town of Lumberton seemingly being one that typifies the American dream secrets lurk behind the white picket fences some of which come to light after Jeffrey discovers an ear during one of his walks home. Although he does report the incident to the local police detective, he decides to do some amateur sleuthing himself alongside the detective’s daughter Sandy. They soon track the incident to exotic nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens who soon finds Jeffrey in her house which leads to a rather bizarre sexual encounter. However the film is soon dominated by Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth, a psychopathic criminal who runs the town and is holding Dorothy’s family hostage. After witnessing Frank’s brutality first hand, Jeffrey learns more secrets about his associates and walks a fine line as he tries to bring the criminal kingpin to justice.

Unlike Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet has a fairly straight forward narrative arc albeit one that is populated by strange characters. Chief amongst these is Frank who goes into an almost childlike state during his liaisons with Dorothy and also is prone to sucking on a gas canister at random intervals. Dennis Hopper is absolutely fantastic in the role of Frank and completely steals the show from the moment he appears on screen at the half hour mark. The only other member of the cast who made any sort of impression on me was Isabella Rossellini who played her femme fatale role of Dorothy perfectly and marked herself out as an actress who should be taken seriously. Meanwhile Lynch again got to realise his unique vision on the big screen with use of bold colour schemes, interesting editing and some odd close-ups with the aforementioned ear receiving a lot of screen time early on.

Once again though I can’t quite see Blue Velvet in the Best Picture category as its one of those films that’s a little too obtuse for the Academy as a whole. In that year’s Best Director category, Lynch took the spot of Randa Haines whose Children of a Lesser God was possibly the weakest nominee at the 1986 ceremony. That being said, with its themes of disability and long lost families, Children of a Lesser God felt every inch the Oscar film whilst Blue Velvet didn’t. It’s personally been interesting to me seeing both of Lynch’s Best Director films that haven’t received Best Picture nods primarily as for the first time I can sort of see the academy’s reasoning behind the two decisions. While it’s clear that both Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive are well-directed films that have been crafted with a unique vision neither are particularly straightforward films. Therefore I can see why Lynch was nominated for Best Director for both of these films while the movies themselves were not. However I do feel that Lynch is the exception rather than the rule and I still believe that directors should be nominated if they have a film in the Best Picture category and vice versa.

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