Blu-ray Review: Blue Velvet [Criterion] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, December 12th, 2019  

Blue Velvet

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Aug 14, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s a strange world, isn’t it?

Licking his wounds following the critical and commercial failure of Dune, David Lynch struck a deal with Dino De Laurentiis that would give him full creative control over his next feature in exchange for an extremely tightened budget. Working from original materials for the first time since his hallucinatory Eraserhead, Lynch was indeed left mostly to his own devices. The results were Blue Velvet, regarded in retrospect to be among the greater films of the 1980s, one of the unorthodox director’s best works and the codifier of numerous elements that would later be branded as the Lynchian style.

We’ll allow Blue Velvet’s reputation to speak for itself, as so much has been written about the film over the years that trotting out the same, old readings and interpretations will put most cinema fans to sleep. (Besides, Lynch would probably hate that.) From this writer’s perspective, Blue Velvet is Lynch’s masterpiece—it’s an undiluted display of Lynch’s unique vision, free of the outside influences which would muddle many of his works, yet far more accessible than other instances where Lynch has been given free rein to dive into full abstraction. If there’s one movie that can turn a newcomer into a Lynch fan, it’s Blue Velvet.

In a nutshell, Blue Velvet follows clean-cut college boy Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) who returns home to his uncannily wholesome-looking suburban town after his father suffers a stroke. His discovery of a severed, human ear and an unchecked, voyeuristic curiosity lead him and pretty high schooler Sandy (Laura Dern) into an amateur investigation into the involvement of beautiful lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). His unexpected connection with the singer brings him to the dangerous attention of criminal Frank Booth—Dennis Hopper in one of cinema’s all-time frightening villain roles—and deeper into the dark underbelly of his hometown than he ever imagined existed.

Ever since their release of Eraserhead five years ago, it was never a question of if Blue Velvet would join the Criterion Collection, but when. Over the years the movie has already received several nice special editions, and fortunately much of their bonus materials have been ported over here. (This includes the feature-length documentary “Mysteries of Love” and the disc’s 50+ minutes of deleted scenes, which many fans still may not have seen but were unearthed in time for the movie’s most recent, 25th Anniversary edition Blu-ray.)

The most attractive of this version’s new additions is Peter Braatz’s 89-minute film Blue Velvet Revisited. A German film student and fan whom Lynch had corresponded with through the early ‘80s, Braatz was invited to the set of Blue Velvet to document proceedings with a Super 8 camera, still photographs, and audio interviews. Decades later he would edit his materials together with a soundtrack by Cult With No Name, Tuxedomoon, and John Foxx—creating this full-length “meditation” on Lynch’s movie. This is a very strange beast, oddly surreal and nonlinear, but it will ultimately prove a very fascinating piece of behind-the-scenes material to any Blue Velvet fan. It’s an incredible glimpse of Lynch at work (usually without synced audio) with several wonderful moments, like Lynch demonstrating to MacLachlan how to throw rocks, or advising actor Jack Harvey on his character’s bizarre, on screen stroke. Even the captured small talk is fun: Lynch opening up about his feelings on set, discussing Braatz’s girlfriend with him, and MacLachlan laughing over the lyrics to a song the filmmaker had written about his experiences on set. This is about as strange a Making Of documentary as could probably be assembled, but could anything be more appropriate for this particular movie?

Also new and most notable are a 15-minute, 2019 documentary with quick crew interviews and modern-day visits to some of the film’s North Carolina locations; a 2017 interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti; and an 18-minute reading from Lynch’s book, Room to Dream. We must also mention the new, 4K, director-approved restoration, which… might take some getting used to. Compared to prior releases, this Blue Velvet appears much cooler in color temperature; the image is brighter and perhaps more realistic-looking, but the film’s deep reds look less red, its rich blues more faded, like the entire film was run the wrong way through the washing machine. We have to consider, though, that this is what Lynch signed off on, and presumably how he wants it to appear. The new-look Blue Velvet isn’t bad, it’s just different—and probably only needs mentioning to the others out there who’ve seen the movie dozens of times and have become accustomed to the movie’s typically hyperreal colors. 



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