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Blue Velvet at 20

Can it be 20 years since fresh-faced college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) first peered through the slats of those louvered closet doors and fell under the thrall of troubled chanteuse Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), following her down a yellow-brick road of kidnapping and murder and kinky sex that leads to an overly oxygenated fabric fetishist called Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper)? Has any movie since created such a stir (by which I mean a sea change in the way we look at movies — Breathless, Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather — and not just a Passion of the Christ–sized controversy)? Will any movie ever again? What dazzles still about David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is its total authority: Not a single false gesture. No shock delivered solely for its own sake. And that sense of something precognitive, something that calls to you in your gut. Though it was his fourth feature-length film, Blue Velvet was and remains Lynch’s Rosetta stone, his Astral Weeks — the glossary of ideas and images to which he has repeatedly returned over the past two decades, an ever-flowing wellspring of lipstick and fishnet, of lost highways and women in distress, of good Christian values at odds with the depths of human depravity. Few movies have deeper roots in the primal allure of mystery and our thirst for those things dangerous and unknown. But equally, there is Lynch’s unironic yearning for the superficial simplicities of life in iconic small towns like Blue Velvet’s Lumberton, with their thick shellac of apple-pie diners and crossing guards and white-picket fences. Indeed, the Missoula-born director grew up in such places, and his movies are like the work of the quiet, unassuming neighbor kid who, by virtue of his anonymity, winds up knowing everybody’s dirty business. This is David Lynch’s America, and for two hours, it’s a surreal-creepy-funny privilege to return there. (Nuart)

—Scott Foundas

Blue Velvet is a disturbing picture — it puts its madness into you — but it’s also an exhilaration. In its power to infuriate, agitate, sicken and delight, Lynch’s perfervid brainchild hearkens to the Buñuel-Dali collaborations of the late ’20s. Contradictory and nasty though it sometimes may be, Blue Velvet is clearly one of the few great films of the ’80s, could be the most sensational work of cinema since Last Tango in Paris. It has been years since a film reached me this deeply.

—John Powers


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