As Videodrome was to David Cronenberg, Blue Velvet is fixed into film history not necessarily as David Lynch’s first masterpiece (that would be Eraserhead), but as a kind of prototype, a box that contained a large number of components of the director’s vision, and out of which the myriad, future permutations of his subsequent work would stream. Cut and dried, Blue Velvet rolls together Lynch’s two diametrically opposed, but indivisible, views of American life: One is the “white picket fences” façade, the other its grimy, badly infected underbelly. While images of noir and effervescent Americana are at least as old as the cinema itself, Lynch ushered in a new era of movies and TV programs that attempted a similar (or identical) rot-beneath-the-small-town dichotomy, like Picket Fences, American Beauty, The Truman Show, Hot Fuzz, The Mist, South Park, Dogville, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among countless examples.
None approach Lynch’s film in terms of tone and control, the fusion of unlike halves mastered with a kind of honest-faced plainness that was, in some ways, the one truly unprecedented part of Lynch’s personality, up to that point expressed most freely in the organic perversions of Eraserhead and the claustrophobic industrial cityscapes of The Elephant Man. A conventionally appealing quality of Blue Velvet is the way its “plunge” into dark territories from unambiguously bright ones (played out twice, once in montage, then more gradually in narrative) is hitched to a character (played by Kyle MacLachlan) by two classic dramatic hooks: the plucky young detective trying to solve a mystery and the good-faced young boy who’s trying to win the heart of the town’s prettiest girl. But these things, in fact the whole dramatic trajectory, seem incidental to the way the images of Lumberton and its various inner zones are a lot like Lynch’s work sculpture and painting, ever infused with the inner life of nightmares, with an exploded chicken here and a baby-doll head there. Like almost everything Lynch has ever laid his hands on, Blue Velvet couldn’t work without the trust its wholesome American Eagle Scout director places in the ability of his topsy-turvy subconscious to produce useful material.
It's hard to find much fault in this Blu-ray presentation, as it was approved by Lynch himself and, frankly, looks better than it's ever looked, short of a newly struck 35mm print seen at a large, theatrical venue. If you've only ever seen the movie on VHS or DVD, you probably have always felt that its countless ingredients (suburban Lumberton's violently vibrant tones, Dorothy's dilapidated apartment, the mix of chanteuse-pop and Angelo Badalamenti's neo-Peyton Place score, etc.) were always just a wee bit amiss in terms of integration. With the miracle of Blu-ray, that perception will be dashed to bits in ways only 35mm spectators will hitherto have been able to understand.
It's mostly a clean print, not 100% dirt-free but 99.98%, the kind of thing you'd expect to see at a repertory screening if the programmers made sure to get a great archival print, instead of splurging on a new one. What's most praiseworthy is that at no point is there any evidence that the transfer is unduly brightened, or had its contrast levels mucked with; as with only a few other feature films, Blue Velvet absolutely needs to be seen in a darkened space, the better for the eye to be pulled into the inky, enshrouded flow of nightmarish images, accentuated alternately by "cartoonish pastel" and "cheap and scandalous" color palettes, and shaped to a wrap-around-your-field-of-vision enclosure by Frederick Elmes's Scope photography. The sound mix is clean and sharp, a lossless, 5.1 DTS preservation of the late Alan Splet's deceptively elemental design. The centerpiece of the movie's aural landscape is its shrewd balance between sensual, supple whispering and low-toned conversation on the one hand, and hysterical shrieking and cursing on the other. Each interwoven thread of musical and vocal track and dream/effects sound is kept in the same, conservative range—preserving the crucial, traumatic dissonance without causing you to lunge for the remote.
If nothing else, it's high time you were able to watch Blue Velvet under conditions that do justice to its image and sound, without worrying that anyone will start cackling during the "Why are there people like Frank?"/day-of-the-robins scene.
This is where the money is. One of the most newsworthy items in this year's home-video calendar is the recent discovery of a horde of deleted material, long thought lost, that Lynch cut from Blue Velvet to bring it from its rough length of four hours down to two. About 50 minutes are included here. Not only is this a Holy Grail for Lynchians, but these scenes can help to enrich anyone's appreciation and understanding of the film as we've come to know it over the past 25 years. With the exception of the legendary "flaming nipples," which appears first, these excisions are in script order, so that anyone familiar with the movie can "place" them without trouble. For the most part, you will find yourself agreeing that Lynch was right to take them out, as they tend to make clear what should remain unstated or understated, like why Jeffrey is walking when we first see him, instead of taking the family car, or whether or not he has a history of voyeuristic behavior. Other bits weigh down ancillary characters (such as Jeffrey's mother) with burdensome dialogue and psychology. Having said all that, these scenes are, in fact, beautifully directed, often with elegant, elaborate camerawork, and the same ingenious sense of color and texture that governs the rest of the movie. The "flaming nipples" bit is prefaced by some non-sequitur banter between two blues musicians, like a bit of Border Radio intruding on a Hitchcock film—maybe not the best fit, but appealing nevertheless.
Other extras include a short blooper reel, some odds and ends about Kyle MacLachlan's "chicken walk" and how Lynch likes coffee shops more than McDonald's restaurants, as well as the now-famous Siskel & Ebert At the Movies segment in which the two critics duke it out over Lynch's provocations and his treatment of actors (Isabella Rossellini in particular). The single-disc Blu-ray also includes the 2002 making-of documentary "Mysteries of Love" (not in HD).
A terrific, finely-tuned presentation of a landmark American movie, complete with flaming nipples, minus cackling audience members.