Friday, June 16, 2006
Blue Velvet (USA, David Lynch, 1986)
Ben and I disagree over the film's merits, or lack thereof.
Not me. Jacob. Before I could get it out. Jacob. The minute the credits came up. Before they started to roll. "What a piece of shit!"
And after I concurred, he nails it again. "The only good part is the bad guy."
That's what everyone was talking about when it was first released. Oh, Dennis Hopper is back! It's been so long. We missed him so. What a great villain. How cool. So sick and menacing. Neato.
Fine, fine, fine, shut the fuck up. I get it, but it don't impress me much. Sure, the performance is effective but honestly, the concept is hardly novel. The guy is Darth Vader 'sall. Darth Vader on drugs with a strap-on dildo dripping with piss, cum and blood. Next.
And make no mistake about it, the perversion in the character and in the film as a whole is not an inversion of Andy of Mayberry. Critics impressed by filmic chops and proud of passing an English test while high on pot may think it is, but it's not. All of the seedy stuff is merely juxtaposed against the red fire engine with the dalmatian dog, not really intertwined, stapled together for the fun of making a siamese twin out of a dichotomy, not dialectically related to create a new thing of value.
In other words, decadent junk. Again, out of the mouths of babes, Jacob: "Like Pulp Fiction except not as good." Correct. Pulp Fiction is funny and unpredictable and running on the fumes of adolescent irreverence. In short, it wins on punker points at least. But BV, with all it's sophisticated style and pretentious allusions, it's high-art sex appeal and ironic pseudo-meaningfulness - bite me! Real garbage. Worse than Mulholland Drive even, itself a footnote to BV in the first place and better simply because it taps into the same premise as Memento, (cool movie), and because of one truly great scene, the one in the theatre, fantastic. But BV has nothing to recommend it. Take out the perversion and the movie is exposed for what it is, Encyclopedia Brown in a film noir, Sam Spade at age 17 down at Pop Tate's Chocklit Shop, Bogart with braces - yuck! Oooooh, it's deep because Main Street and Skid Row have been pushed right next to each other in Middle America. Bullocks, bullshit, baaaaaaaa!
Cough, cough, calm down Ben, calm down. Address the obvious question please. Is this the same David Lynch who made The Elephant Man? How can it be? Take a breath Ben, take a breath.
I guess I have to go with the Jardine line, the man is multi-faceted. But this is tough for a dialectician. For dialectics is not just based in contradictory opposition. It is first based in - indeed the contradiction is to begin with of - the whole. Dialectics is holistic, yes much to the horror of the postmoderns, it totalizes. So this multi-faceted thesis is not satisfying for me. Taken at face value, it smacks of a pluralistic cop-out. Look at Kubrick. Talk about variety, wearing different hats and so on. But at the same time, we can recognize consistent approaches, recurring themes, essential ingredients, we can identify a whole. What about Lynch? I am too enraged at present to try this in good faith. All I can offer is that The Elephant Man also makes us confront the degenerate, the degraded, the diseased, all those "d" words I might be able to spin off. It too scraps the bottom of the barrel. But Jesus if it ain't a different kettle of fish.
And Dan Responds:
First off, don't get me started on your misreading of Mulholland Drive. I believe that I suggested to you an avenue into this film (a vicious expose of the cruelty of the dream factory that is Hollywood) that reveals that it is MUCH more than a simplistic piece of debauchery.
You may ignore such a reading at your own loss, I guess.
I see Blue Velvet is a surreal neo-noir. As such, it follows a standard noir mode of attack by peeling back societal facade in order to reveal cruelties and inhumanities beneath. What distinguishes Lynch's film is not this, but rather how Lynch manages to shoehorn this genre into a film that is as much Luis Bunuel (especially Un Chien Andalou, but also, to some degree, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) as it is Raymond Chandler. That is, Blue Velvet is much more about his obsession with obsessions, perversity and other matters of the subconscious than it is with the systemic illnesses of the society. Now, that's most certainly a distinct limitation of Lynch's cinematic world view, but it's one I'm willing to grant him because he creates such a peculiar and distinctive world of comic 50s Leave it to Beaver-ville suburbia and freaky 80s urban decay that the fact that he forgos a deeper understaning of the mechanics of the systemic rot in favour of what can only be described as a repulsive portrait of personal perversity doesn't bother me nearly as much as it probably should have. And, on that note, on a purely technical level, the film creates a thoroughly unforgettable pair of worlds. The way he uses set designs, colour palettes and Badalamanti's wacky score to contrast the urban and suburban is all evidence of pretty accomplished filmmaking. No, Lynch doesn't deal with the causes of the wide gulf between these worlds. But, then again, he's not interested in that stuff. As stated above, Lynch is keen on turning his gaze inward, not outward.
Like Hitchcock's Rear Window, the film's a thinly disguised examination of filmmaker as voyeur (Jimmy Stewart is Hitch's proxy, Kyle McLachlan is Lynch's), as well as questioning the effect on the action of the supposedly benign observers on the action being observed (and vice versa). Unike Rear Window, the protagonist here is a young man on the verge of adulthood, a pubescent Beaver Cleaver, so the film can take on the added joy of giving us a glimpse into Lynch's depraved and confused concepts of male sexuality, with Mclachlan (seemingly) starting at one end of the continuum and Hopper at the other, only to have the two move towards one another, as the search for sexual happiness takes us from the virginal and platonic to the fetishistic (and back again). Again, that Lynch does not more clearly explain how this movement towards and away from depravity is a product of the dichotomous and kodachromal world he sets this in could be construed as a failure of the film, but I'm content to let my imagination run in the film's shadows in this regard. As for the performances, well, Hooper and later in a smaller role, Dean Stockwell, as both first rate. Other than Twin Peaks, where he is first rate, I've never been much of a McLachlan fan, but he's all right as the nerd. I guess the most troubling role is that of Rossellini a the femme fatale. This is a complex role in some ways, objectified by both male leads, yet a woman in dire straits who may in some sick way enjoying what happens to her, this is not a PC part she plays, but I think Rosselini gives a damned brave performance.
Anyways, I think that the film is a fascinating glimpse into Lynch's darkened id, and it is stylish as hell. Blue Velvet is a beautiful film about sickness, a funny film about degeneracy; I forgive the film its limitations because what is here is plenty good enough for me.