Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper
Credit: Everett Collection

Blue Velvet is a film directed by David Lynch. It is about a young boy’s journey into manhood. It features such spectacles as a severed ear, Al from Quantum Leap creepily lip-syncing “In Dreams”, some incredible Oedipal sex, Isabella Rossellini in various states of undress and mental health, and young love. Golly!

Keith Staskiewicz: Hey, Darren, what’s that you’re chewing?

Darren Franich: That chewing gum I like is coming back in style. Hey, Keith, what’s that you’re drinking?

KS: Heineken!

DF: Heineken? F— that s—! Pabst! Blue! Ribbon! Now let’s talk about Blue Velvet, David Lynch’s fourth feature film, after Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and, of course, Dune, which is widely recognized as being the only terrible movie that no one has even enjoyed ironically. My question for you, Keith, is: Is Blue Velvet the most Lynchian movie David Lynch has ever made? Or is it one of the least Lynchian movies David Lynch ever made?

KS: Lynchian is one of those words like Altman-esque, Kafka-esque, and Jim Belushian, that people throw around without necessarily having a real definition for them. I’ve always associated it with dreams, merging and splitting identities, and midgets, none of which really feature in this film.

DF: I compare “Lynchian” to “Fellini-esque,” in the sense that both words really just mean “weird.” In popular usage, “Fellini-esque” means weird like a naked circus orgy, and “Lynchian” means weird like a blonde and a brunette who are completely different but also the same person. And scary lampshades. And red walls. Blue Velvet was the first film by David Lynch I ever saw, one summer long ago that I don’t really want to talk about. So it was interesting coming back to the movie, after seeing Lynch’s other movies. Because, really, Blue Velvet is not as weird as Mulholland Dr., or Lost Highway, or Inland Empire. Yeesh, when you consider that Lynch’s other “normal” movies are about an elephant man, sandworms, and an 80-year-old driving a tractor across the country, Blue Velvet looks like his most normal film.

KS: .decnad I emit tsal eht rebmemer t’nac I. But that’s a whole ‘nother Rewind. Blue Velvet is interesting because it’s probably one of the last Lynch films, The Straight Story notwithstanding, that is at least on the surface straightforward enough that the performances can be judged on their own terms. Do you know what I mean, Keith?

KS: I think I do, Keith. I mean Laura Dern and Naomi Watts are great in their films, but it’s hard to really ground a character who is maybe just the dream of a notion of another character who’s also a dog in a rabbit costume. There’s a reason why everyone calls their performances “brave,” which I think is just a code word for “God bless ’em, because I don’t think they have any more idea than me what’s actually going on, narratively speaking.” In Blue Velvet, MacLachlan and Rossellini are able to give really good performances that are based in some sort of context. And Dennis Hopper gives pretty much the best Lynch performance ever as Frank, who is essentially a real-life, suburban Darth Vader, breathing mask and all. Plus it’s shot beautifully like most of his movies before he turned to video because he’s such a big technophile.

DF: You’re right: The performances feel rooted in some sort of dramatic reality beyond their inherent movieness. The one exception might be Frank, actually, who’s such a strange compilation of incredibly evil traits that you can’t help but just laugh at him, at a certain point. Like, he’s supposed to be some sort of mega-criminal, but he’s the sort of guy who screams, “Let’s f—! I’ll f— anything that moves!” He seems like a villain in a Spaceman Spiff cartoon. It almost seems like…seems like…[Is crying] I’m sorry, I get very emotional when I can’t finish sentences.

KS: Can’t finish sandwiches?

DS: Kant Finnish sandwiches?

KF: Chant Franich Staskiewiczes?

DF: That’s what I thought you said, bucko. But I want to get back on point here for a second. I happened to rent Blue Velvet earlier this week while I was staying in a hotel. I found it at a Blockbuster, which I didn’t think still existed. Unfortunately, I was leaving early the morning after I watched Blue Velvet, so I couldn’t return it myself. My parents were staying in the hotel for a few more days, so I set the DVD case outside of their room when I left early in the morning. As I was walking away, I looked back at the DVD case. I tried to imagine what someone would think if they were walking down a hotel corridor and suddenly found a copy of Blue Velvet lying on the carpet. It would be like finding an ear, or hearing a voice you don’t recognize mumble “Jack Durant is dead” over the intercom, or being an elephant man.

KS: Sandworms.

DF: But that’s a whole ‘nother Rewind.

KS: Hey, Darren, what’s that you’re chewing?

Next Week: In honor of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who leaves office on January 3, we’ll be watching three of the films that defined Schwarzenegger’s long-ago career as a movie actor: Conan the Barbarian, Commando, and Predator. Join us for the Official PopWatch Rewind Festival of Vintage Schwarzenegger, Non-Terminator Edition. Come on out!