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Response to Mike/DokBrowne (critics, Blue Velvet, etc.)

by : jeff_v [ email this article to a friend ]
Don’t worry, bud. My little article was actually nothing more than an excerpt from an e-mail I had written a couple years ago. I was cleaning out my inbox and thought that might make for a decent manifesto. Glad to see it struck a chord with you, but I never had you specifically in mind, and certainly don’t mean to piss on your enthusiasm. You’re one of my “Preferred Users,” which should show that I value your opinion. We disagree often, but that makes it all the more interesting when our reactions coincide.

If you want to read a good, persuasive case for “Blue Velvet,” my pick is Michael Atkinson’s BFI tome. It’s in-depth (about 90 pages), but the movie deserves a close reading. And don’t worry about being put off by the film on first viewing. When I saw it for the first time back in the 80s, my reaction was “WTF?” I felt like I’d been had. You’re allowed to disliked the film, and you do good job of providing your reasons.

My reasons for liking it? (I really should change that one-line review I have; I no longer consider “Blue Velvet” the very best film of 1980s. “Once Upon a Time in America” and “Raising Arizona” have superceded it.) Primarily, as with all movies, my initial basis for liking or disliking is my experience of the film. I find “Blue Velvet” spellbinding, funny, sinister and moving. It’s a good film that can provide such a range of reactions, and a great film that intensifies those feelings on repeat viewings. When I see a David Lynch film, I feel like I’m sharing a portal into his brain, sharing his dreams. It’s a powerful experience, being fully in the grasp of a storyteller. Lynch is successful in this regard because he’s an intuitive filmmaker. It’s more important that a scene feels right, than for it to have a logical explanation. “Mulholland Dr.” works not because its fever-dream plot holds together, but because we feel Diane’s heartbreak and betrayal. “Blue Velvet” isn’t about the mystery of the severed ear, but about creating an environment of mystery, of insidious forces crouching behind the every day. I can think of no greater tribute to Lynch’s films (or Angelo Badalamenti’s scoring for them) than when I was listening to the “Mulholland Dr.” soundtrack while driving around in the rain one day. Suddenly, everything seems a little off, a little abnormal. The traffic lights seemed to be glowing unusually bright. A man standing on the corner suddenly took on a strange significance –what was he up to, standing there in the rain without an umbrella? I felt a knot of dread in my stomach.

In addition to the mood and sense of mystery, “Blue Velvet” is a powerful coming-of-age story, and I’m a sucker for a good one of those. It’s about the transition from innocence to experience (much like one of my other favorite movies from the 80s, “Au revoir les enfants” –Mike, I bet you’d like it). Jeffrey Beaumont’s dad has a stroke at the beginning, leaving Jeffrey without a father figure. In steps Frank Booth, the raging id, who wants to fuck mommy. The root scene in the film is where Jeffrey spies Frank and Dorothy perverted sexual ritual. Does this not allude to the trauma of a child seeing his mother and father engaged in the sexual act? I could go on, but I want to keep the film elusive for those who still want to unlock its mysteries. I do want to address Mike’s specific question to me:

“Really though, the bug in the bird's mouth? That's not really supposed to insinuate the small victory of good over evil (as paralleled by the story itself), is it? Is it, jeff_v?”

Well, keep in mind that the bird looks absurdly fake, like a mechanical bird, and that gobbling a worm still has a queasy undertone to it. If it’s a victory, it’s a tenuous one that comes with the realization that nothing will ever seem the same. Sandy had spoken of a dream about robins, a ridiculously naďve scenario of paradise, and now it appears to be true in an ironic sense. Its beauty is now tainted by knowledge; Eden is spoiled.

Anyways, back to the original article. I didn’t mean to disparage anyone who goes to movies looking for a good time. I do, too. I just think there’s more to it to than that. Art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive, and I never suggested they were. Nor did I ever intimate that someone is stupid for preferring mainstream films to foreign films. There are many worthwhile mainstream films (though “You’ve Got Mail” is not one of them –but “The Shop Around the Corner” is). There are many terrible art films (I’ve carped about more than my share of slow, affected exercises in existential ennui on this site). If you can make a convincing case for the film you like, that’s all that matters. Mike, I think you and I are more alike than you realize. I use this site mostly for my own selfish reasons –I need someplace to store my thoughts on film so that if anyone asks me about a movie I saw a year ago I can quickly look up my capsule review and jog my memory. I’m not trying to write exhaustive analyses, or even brilliant one-liners. This might be the longest thing I’ve written on this site. I hope you accept this olive branch and continue seeking out all types of films with an open mind (glad you enjoyed “The Bad and the Beautiful” !) Thanks for reading.

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