A few years ago I watched my first David Lynch film, The Elephant Man, and I loved it. I knew it wasn’t the kind of Lynch movie that most people associate with him – i.e. the more “Lynchian” Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, “Twin Peaks,” Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire. (Yes, he also made Dune and The Straight Story, but those seem to be in the anomalous Elephant Man category.)
Anyway. I saw Blue Velvet earlier tonight (Sunday evening) at the Museum of the Moving Image. I went with a friend who has seen the movie before (probably many times) and loves it. It seems to me that Blue Velvet is one of those movies that people either love passionately or hate passionately; very few people fall in between, but I am one of them.
I am secretly a big fan of Laura Dern (secretly, I say, because the only other film of hers that I’ve seen is Jurassic Park; otherwise, I just think she’s an interesting woman) so I loved any moment when she was onscreen. I don’t see the appeal of Isabella Rossellini, though. The only other movie I’ve seen her in is Death Becomes Her, in which she’s pretty campy, so I don’t have any other dramatic performances by which to judge her acting. Like Kyle MacLachlan, Rossellini’s acting is beyond over-the-top. (I hope nobody tries to compare her with her mother because of course there is no comparison there.) Even Dennis Hopper, who I knew would be nuts, is more often suffering from a bad case of histrionics. Instead of imbuing his character with depth like in River’s Edge (or even Speed), Hopper comes off as a man struggling through an only partially-developed role. I suppose I shouldn’t mind that Dean Stockwell only has one scene in the film; he escaped the pitfalls of more embarrassingly corny dialogue than he already had.
So what has stayed with me hours after the movie ended? The answer to that question is: the Julee Cruise song “Mysteries of Love.” I was already familiar with her songs “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” and “Falling,” the latter having served as the theme song for “Twin Peaks.” I enjoyed the moment in the film where MacLachlan and Dern dance to “Mysteries of Love,” a song which has a beautifully hymnlike quality. “Sometimes a wind blows… and you and I… float… in love… and kiss forever in a darkness… and the mysteries of love come clear…” I can imagine few other singers singing that kind of song; only Kate Bush feels like a possibility.
I do not hate Blue Velvet, but I do not love it with the same wild abandon that its biggest fans share. I wasn’t terribly “shocked” by it, as many fans claim is the reason why detractors dislike the film; rather, I was disappointed by how unaffecting it is, coupled with an uneven tone. It is a film which lacks the emotional heart of, for example, The Elephant Man. By the end of that particular film, I was weeping uncontrollably. As Roger Ebert wrote in this excellent essay: “Maybe some critics have seen so many movies they have forgotten how ordinary people look at them. For most people, movies aren’t about style, they’re about the characters in them, and what happens to those characters, and what it means. And in Blue Velvet, there are some scenes in which a woman is degraded and humiliated and made to suffer obscenely, and other scenes in which we’re supposed to giggle because the call letters of the local station are WOOD, and they give the time ‘at the sound of the falling tree.’ Sorry, but I just couldn’t get my lips to smile.”