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January 02, 2009

BLUE VELVET — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Blue VelvetIn 1986 David Lynch broke the language of cinema wide open in the same way that Jackson Pollock did with the art world in the early '40s. Using a minimalist filmic palate for a neo-noir set in small town America, Lynch blends surrealist elements into a suspenseful story of adult sexual awakening (vis a vis BDSM) juxtaposed against violence, mystery, and mental illness.

Using iconographic character names drawn from '50s Americana iconography (see Frank, Sandy and Ben), and a moody musical score to match, Lynch presents returning hometown boy Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan). After his father suffers a heart attack while watering the family lawn, Jeffrey unearths a severed ear in a field that he crossed thousands of times in his youth. Unspeakable acts are being carried even in America's most seemingly provincial towns. Every city has its "bad side of town." Our curious protagonist finds a willing ally for his impromptu private investigation into the mystery of the ear's owner in the local police detective's romantically inclined daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). On the surface, Sandy seems like natural girlfriend material for Jeffrey, but this guy has a taste for the exotic (if incestuous) that vanilla Sandy can't fulfill. 

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However, Jeffrey is unprepared for the psychological and emotional upheaval that will devour him when he stalks the fetishized life of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a sultry nightclub singer used to playing rough with a very debauched criminal named Frank (Dennis Hopper). The bi-polar Dorothy has a nasty little taste for kink.

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"Blue Velvet" is David Lynch's greatest cinematic achievement next to "Eraserhead." His balance of symbols, and artful use of montage, is at its most poetic and powerful. His metaphoric allusions about the dysfunctional nature of the ideal "American Dream" family incite hellish visions of the abusive father (as embodied in Hopper's character) and the traumatized wife/mother who needs saving from her idealized son.

Every role is perfectly cast. Dennis Hopper's portrayal of a whacked-out crime boss is terrifying. Lynch's haunting small-town mystery carries an indescribable undertow that kicks like a spastic mule in heat. 

"Blue Velvet" is the closest that any filmmaker other than Buñuel has ever come to such a daring cinematic feat.You can bet that Quentin Tarantino took notes from "Blue Velvet" in creating "Reservoir Dogs." Here is a film that alters everyone who sees it. 

Rated R. 120 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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