After his father has a stroke, Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his small town in North Carolina to help with the family hardware store.
He’s standing in a field after visiting his father one day and comes across a severed human ear, which he puts in a small paper bag and takes to the police station. As you do with evidence of a crime.
[As Bean said: It was the 80s, they didn’t know.]
Being a small town, Jeffery already knows the detective’s daughter from before he moved away, Sandy (Laura Dern), and they become reacquainted. Sandy thinks a woman named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may know something about the ear and tells him why she thinks so. Sandy explains the woman is a singer at a local club.
Jeffery is one of the those nosey types so he just has to find out more. He concocts a scheme to get into the woman’s apartment when she’s there by posing as an exterminator and he will then leave a window open so he can come back when she’s on stage.
Things don’t go exactly to plan.
Oh, he gets in and back out again fine. He and Sandy go to see her sing at the Slow Club then leave early so he can sneak back into her apartment.
He’s in her apartment when she comes back, though, and winds up hiding in the closet. While in there he overhears a conversation and learns someone has kidnapped Dorothy’s son and husband. Then a scene plays out that I’m pretty sure people reenact in its entirety. There’s voyeurism and forced stripping at knife point and the beginning of something sexual and then someone shows up and it’s back into the closet with Jeremy, but now he’s naked as the day he was born.
Probably with an erection.
The person who comes in is Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Frank has a few kinks. He takes several huffs from a mask—I’d guess some loopy juice that makes you horny like amyl nitrite—then we get into the good stuff. Sadomasochism, verbally controlling her—including saying things she’d said to Jeremy—calling her Mommy then later referring to himself as Daddy and the baby. There was a rattle (he just shook it in her face—considering what he could have done with it, that was rather gentle of him.) Of course he hit her, because this is the kind of guy who probably wants to hit everyone including himself.
Frank’s a real pistol.
Eventually he leaves and Dorothy tries to get Jeremy to resume their amorous interlude from earlier, except she wants him to hit her. Jeremy’s boring and isn’t into that.
I just know there are people who reenact the entire scene with all three characters and probably have all sorts of slash fiction versions of the way the scene ends. There is far too much to work with.
For some reason, even after seeing what sort of element he’s dealing with, Jeremy is still intrigued by the case and continues his own investigation, including surreptitiously taking photographs with a homemade camera in a box. (Again, it was the 80s.)
It’s always a good idea to do things that will tick off on an insane character played by Dennis Hopper. Particularly one with sadomasochistic urges and a raging drug habit, so things get worse (and a little trippy) before they get better.
It is not a dull film.
I mean, it has a rather dodgy looking lobotomy in it. How frequently do you see those in classic cinema?
While trying to solve the case, Jeremy is torn between the mysterious, masochistic Dorothy and the sunny, simple Sandy. They are each alluring in their own way, and even Sandy has her own complications in the form of her boyfriend, Mike, who plays on the high school football team. Because of course he does.
Personally, I thought Jeremy should get the hell out of dodge ASAP. Small Southern towns are Bad News. Particularly in film. Run, Kyle, run!
Blue Velvet is a cult classic. And a regular classic, really. Several lines (Hopper’s usually) were familiar to me and I had those, ‘So that’s where that comes from!’ moments.
I don’t mind ambiguity in film, but surrealism isn’t my thing, so I’m not the biggest Lynch fan. However, Blue Velvet happens before Lynch embraces his full Lynchianness of later films—there are just some dream sequences that made me think, ‘Oh right. There’s our guy.’ So if you’ve been avoiding this one out of fear your brain was going to explode and leak out of your ears, fear not. This one is coherent to those of us without a degree in cinema.
Fun fact: I live in the city where they filmed this and worked for the answering service for the apartment building Dorothy Vallens lived in. They shot the interiors and exteriors at the same building. The elevators of that building were always out. We’d get called about it all the time. The old guy who owned the building never fixed anything. People wanted to live there because the building looked really cool, though.
Anyway, when Kyle MacLachlan gets inside the place he sees a sign that says the elevator’s out. Her apartment is on the seventh floor. It’s a useful plot device, for what it supposed to happen so I don’t know if it was written that way or if the elevator was actually out since it nearly always was. Also, Jeffery’s house is currently for rent. It’s 5 bedrooms and in a very decent area of town. It’s on the same street as a couple of good friends of mine, so there’s that, too.
The cast is top-rate, it’s Lynch so the directing is excellent and the script is outstanding. It’s a sort of a noir mystery type thing. There are laugh out loud moments as well as, ‘Well, what the hell is going to happen now,’ moments. And a soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti that perfectly suits the film.