The opening sequence, aside from being absolutely brilliant in its simplicity it’s also very important to understanding the film. It essentially tells us everything there is to know about Blue Velvet and the ideas it looks to convey. Lynch starts things off by showing off the town of Lumberton, where the film takes place, with its series of white picket fences and the serene landscape where a fireman waves at us from the side of his fire truck. We see a man watering his flowers with a hose, his dog hovering in the background, but as we draw closer the man grabs at his head and falls to the ground. The audio becomes a sound-scape of odd pitches and noises, as the dog bites at the water firing from the water hose. The camera then zooms into the wet grass, where we discover that underneath this serene image lies a cavalcade of insects. A chaotic scene of violence, as we see these beings all fighting and snapping. All of this beneath the dull scenery. From there David Lynch expounds on this allegory and takes it into different and perverse directions, exploring the human existence and ultimately making one of the best films of his career.
Blue Velvet is a film that deals in slow revelations. Following in the foot steps of that opening shot, the entire movie could be seen as a larger version of the same metaphor. When we first meet Jeffrey Beaumont, he’s tossing rocks while walking through a country shortcut. He is the perfect snapshot of Americana. Tall, dark, handsome and full of boyhood naivete. When he discovers the dismembered ear, just lying in the dirt, it’s a confrontation for him unlike anything he’s ever faced up close and personal. I enjoy these early scenes with Jeffrey more as I’ve grown as a viewer, because I see now what Lynch was doing. Generally, in the first thirty minutes of the film – everything seems a bit ‘off”. The performances come across as shelled and lacking in emotion, stilted even. There’s a scene where Jeffrey brings the ear he has found to the sheriff who simply looks at the piece of flesh and comments “Yes. That’s an ear.” without the slightest bit of hesitation or surprise in his voice. This is a bizarre Ozzie & Harriet style universe that we’re introduced to early on in the film, but as we root along through the underbelly of this city – things become more realistic the darker things get; presenting the abnormality and falsehood that the pleasant and wholesome outer surface of Lumberton truly is.
Blue Velvet is ultimately a film about themes, dealing with the faces we hide from the public and there’s certainly some commentary within about repressed sexuality and desires. That is actually one aspect up until this point I haven’t talked about, as the sexuality in my opinion is needlessly considered “controversial”. Roger Ebert was actually very offended in his initial review for the film upon its release, saying that Isabella Rossellini was exploited and brandished about with no decent reasoning. I could not possibly disagree more and I’d like to hope that Roger has changed his mind on the film at this point, seeing just the type of filmmaker that David Lynch has went on to become. Truthfully, if you’ve ever seen a naked woman or a man before, then there’s really nothing that shocking within Blue Velvet. The sex isn’t graphic and generally the violence isn’t either, but it most certainly is cold and rather disturbing. Much like the mad man that is Frank Booth.
Really, you have to comment on Dennis Hopper’s performance here. The character of Frank Booth is not three dimensional or well rounded, but what he lacks in emotional depth he more than makes up for in explosiveness. When Hopper steps in a scene, the screen is blown apart by violence. He tears the film apart with his manic presence, bringing chaos to every scene he is in. Every conversation the character has is awkward and ultimately ends with him shouting or going insane, before taking a deep inhalation from his oxygen mask. What is he inhaling? I have no idea, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just another one of these perverse elements that bring us the creature that is Frank Booth. The rest of the cast are all equally great in their roles, especially Rossellini, who manages to not be overshadowed by the insanity that Hopper delivers.