Sunday, 16 January 2011

David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet', 1986

Fig. 1 Blue Velvet Poster
David Lynch's Blue Velvet is a trip into the dark underbelly laying beneath every idyllic 1950's community.  It places itself in the visual time of the fifties but combines this with much more modern fashions, this is interpreted by the audience as an 'anywhere town', a place they can relate to but aren't sure if it could exist.

Fig. 2 Idyllic lifestyle
It is the contrast between the idyllic and the underbelly that makes this film so intriguing.  Todd McGowan described that "The binary opposition that everyone notices while watching Blue Velvet is one between two equally fantasmatic worlds: an excessively ordinary public world of Lumberton that coexists with a similarly exaggerated underworld populated by Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) and his associates." (McGowan, 2007:91) The audience is welcomed into this binary opposite from the opening sequence, a glowing highly saturated image of a garden contrasted by a swarming underbelly of bugs and beetles underneath. McGowan goes on to explain that "If the public world of Blue Velvet represents an American ideal, its underside represents the typical American nightmare." (McGowan, 2007:91) Indeed, this is true as everyone that interacts from the Lumberton community is friendly and cheerful but those from the more city-like areas of Lumberton are dark and cruel.  The idea that such an idyllic America can coexist alongside such a sordid parallel is always a big worry to the public.  Something that can never be escaped is that belief that in order to sustain the good you have to entertain the bad to keep it from breaching the public's safe and homely community  Another point that McGowan goes on to explain is that "in the act of separating and opposing them, Blue Velvet renders visible this similarity between the ideal and the nightmare that fantasies usually obscure." (McGowan, 2007:93)  Blue Velvet, through its juxtaposition of Lumbertown's two faces, allows the audience to see that within both realms there is sexual desire and repression and a law that governs those within it.
Fig. 3 Dorothy and Jeffery's violent interactions.
The theme of sexual desire and repression is possibly the most dominant of all.  There are explicit scenes of sexuality within the narrative that allow the audience to understand the characters that live within the dark corners of Lumbertown.  The most prominent of these characters' is Dorothy.  She is a victim of the Frank Booth, the central villain to the film, forced to be a slave for his violent sexual deviance, she has become unsure about herself and her desires.  Isabella Rossellini, the actress that played Dorothy, expressed her views on the character: "In my mind she was a battered woman - someone who perhaps had Stockholm Syndrome...Dorothy masks herself because she is afraid of what she looks like...she wanted to look like a doll - perfect - to hide her madness.  The more she becomes a victim not to elicit sexuality, the more she does." (Lynch, Rodley 2005:126)  The character is always seen wearing bright red lipstick and blue eyeshadow on top of delicate pale skin.  Much like a doll, she is used for Frank's sexual violence and after is left alone until she's needed again.  The audience see her suffering but also her apparent enjoyment of it.  It is explained that Frank has her husband and son hostage so she has to work for him but, much like victims of Stockholm Syndrome, her sexuality has been warped to that of her abuser.  This is when she discovers Jeffery hiding in her closet.  She's consistently aggressive towards him but what started as anger turns into arousal.  Laura Mulvey points out that "The scene oscillates. Dorothy represents the 'monstrous maternal', the female villain...At the same time she is the vulnerable mother, threatened by the 'monstrous paternal', the male villain who confronts the child in Oedipal rivalry." (Mulvey, 1996:142) She started the scene as the aggressor towards Jeffery, asserting her power over him but the audience is reminded of Freud's Oedipal struggle between the 'monstrous paternal', Frank, and his dominance over the vulnerable Dorothy and his rivalry with Jeffery when he discovers him later.

Fig. 4 Franks sexual aggression and dominance over Dorothy.
David Lynch himself explains that his portrayal of Lumbertown is as truthful to him as any other.  He expressed that  "This is the way America is to me.  There's a very innocent, naive quality to life, and there's a horror and a sickness as well.  It's everything." (Lynch, Rodley, 2005:139)  The sickness which is no more prominent than in Frank Booth's character.  He is a violent, merciless and as mentally unstable as they come.  Martha Nochimson explains that "Frank is Freudian, fearing too much similarity to women, but the spectator is overcome by the horror of too much dissimilarity to femininity in the secret criminal haunts of Lumberton, and of far too much control exerted over women." (Nochimson, 1997:103)  Within the narrative, the audience can see that Frank has some serious childhood trauma that dates back to his parents, most significantly his mother.  This is the reason for his hatred and violence towards Dorothy, a woman that he won't allow to look at him while he uses her body.  She may remind him too much of what he once was, emotional and fragile, an example of this is when he gets extremely emotional over music but once he realises this, he compensates with violent outbursts. Mulvey acknowledges that "Frank represents the 'pre-Oedipal father'. The lifelessness of life in the small-town home contrasts with Dorothy's shockingly direct sexuality... and Frank's horrific restless energy, always torn by violent emotion." (Mulvey, 1996:142)  His violent sexuality has been passed onto Dorothy and his emotional unbalance keeps her there, always changing from incestuous affection to aggression and pain.

Blue Velvet is an excellent example of how a mixture of different elements can merge and create a twisted but fascinating story. Erica Sheen and Annette Davison believe that Blue Velvet creates "a world where secrets and mysteries do exist; a world that so uncannily conflates past and present, image and reality, dream and wakefulness, that a social register of explanation seems absurd." (Sheen, Davison, 2004:68)  It is another example of David Lynch's unshakable ability to portray an utterly real world consisting of completely fictional elements.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Blue Velvet Poster At: (Accessed on: 16.01.2011)

Figure 2. Blue Velvet (1986)  Idyllic lifestyle. At (Accessed on: 16.01.2011)

Figure 3. Blue Velvet (1986) Dorothy and Jeffery's violent interactions. At: (Accessed on: 16.01.2011)

Figure 4. Blue Velvet (1986) Franks sexual aggression and dominance over Dorothy. At: (Accessed on: 16.01.2011)


Lynch, David, Rodley, Chris (2005) Lynch on Lynch. New York: Faber and Faber Inc. 

McGowan, Todd (2007) The impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mulvey, Laura (1996) Fetishism and curiosity. Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Nochimson, Martha (1997) The passion of David Lynch: wild at heart in Hollywood. Texas: The University of Texas Press

Sheen, Erica , Davison, Annette (2004) The cinema of David Lynch: American dreams, nightmare visions. London: Wallflower Press.

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