Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blue Velvet (1986)

#24: Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

I'm indifferent myself on the issue of spoilers—my thinking is that if the pleasure of a movie is solely dependent on its ability to surprise (*cough* The Crying Game *cough* The Usual Suspects) then it's only more obvious whether it has anything else to recommend it when someone has already tipped me off to the twist. I figure that I get enough surprises in my day-to-day life as it is, so I don't mind the occasional heads-up on my entertainment choices.

That said, however, I do count myself fortunate to have seen Blue Velvet under the circumstances I did. A friend saw it at a press screener, and called and urgently told me to "just go." So I saw it the week it opened, knowing nothing about it, hoping only that it had something to do with the Bobby Vinton song, which I like. I was as unprepared as anyone could be for the roller-coaster ride that starts with Kyle MacLachlan's discovery of a human ear in a field near his home and continues on down into the figurative rabbit hole of this picture.

It's hard to remember now that at the time it was still not clear who or what David Lynch was—the ingenious surrealist behind Eraserhead, the gifted Hollywood dramatist behind The Elephant Man, or the paycheck hack behind Dune. Blue Velvet answered a lot of those questions. Along the way Dennis Hopper, still working on a comeback bid that followed a stint in drug rehab, created one of the great screen monsters with his portrayal of Frank Booth, which is so mesmerizing, disturbing, and right over the top that I suspect it may be the single point most people remember and know best about it. (One of my favorite moments, in fact, occurs immediately after Frank Booth's most titanic rant, a shot of the empty room that he and his cronies have vacated, as if the film crew itself were so paralyzed and overcome by Frank Booth's declarations that it simply stayed behind in the safety of that room and continued filming.)

But I think what makes this picture work is its insistence on making Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern such absurdly vivid innocents, one example of which is in the clip at the link. The scene occurs shortly after MacLachlan's most harrowing encounter with Frank Booth. By exaggerating the representations of good and evil to utmost stretching points, I think Lynch is making his intentions fairly plain. The things that happen in this movie are profoundly affecting and unforgettable, operating on brainstem levels of human experience. Blue Velvet works as a suspense thriller that verges on horror—at times it is almost unbearable to keep watching—but it also works as a fairy tale, populated by good people who mean well, where the terms of everyone's desire for happy endings are ruthlessly laid bare even as the impulse is positively affirmed.

"Why are there people like Frank? Why is there so much trouble in this world?"

Phil #24: Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2004) (scroll down)
Steven #24: Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)

OK, now I know Steven doesn't like David Lynch, and he doesn't like Elephant either (his great review of it here). But I think this actually would be a pretty terrific triple feature. Notwithstanding that I also picked Run Lola Run at #40, so of course I'm biased and everything (and not exactly a huge fan of Elephant myself). But I think this is maybe even the first truly good triple feature I've noticed yet so far between the three of us. As always, with everything, and especially religion and politics, remember, YMMV. Because I have copies of all three, I can schedule myself for this any time. I'll let you know.

And now, the I'm forever catching up dept.:
Alien (1979/2003): Jesus Christ, what a fucking brilliant thing this is. I saw it when it was new, and a couple of times after that, and it always impressed me as a fright fest, meaning it scared the hell right out of me (I'm easy that way). It's amazing how stripped down to basics it all is: lots of long shots and silence with just iconic production design doing the work, lots of tightly shot set pieces with crew members grappling physically with one another, and precious little of the monster. Perfect. Did I say Ridley Scott never did anything within shouting range of Blade Runner? Did I really say that? I don't know if Alien breaks my top 50, but maybe 100. I plumb forgot how much I love this. The '03 redo is useless; disregard.
Aliens (1986/1994). Had never seen this until recently—so I understand better now what the fuss is all about, and also why it was dismissed as an unworthy sequel. Both are true at once—a great by-the-numbers Cameron glistening with money and Sigourney Weaver emerging as monumental, but nowhere near as original as the original, which how could it be, right? It occupies its #2 position well, and it's plenty entertaining. The '94 redo is the one to see. The most striking part of the whole thing for me: I wondered if this were the first time men and women were shown in military combat situations on such an equal basis.
Bottle Rocket (1996): I hate to be the guy who swears by the band's first album before they sold out man, but by what I've seen of Wes Anderson in recent years and days, this is still his best, a Quentin Tarantino crime farce cross-bred with Whit Stillman. There is something kinetic about it I connect with, and Anderson does have a real genius for the exquisitely hand-selected soundtrack—he might be better than Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and P.T. Anderson combined. I have to give him that. But that is all I can give him at this point. Even here he is already exasperating in the ways he exasperates me. How I can like Woody Allen so much and regard Wes Anderson with so many misgivings, when they actually share the same initials, I still don't understand.
The Hurt Locker (2009): This was way better than I hoped—high tension sustained virtually wire to wire, great performances and cameos, very immediate and grabbing. Yes, we all suffer from Iraq fatigue for the moment, but this feels like it could be an important point in development of a genre.
Magnolia (1999): Much better than I remembered from the first time I saw it, when it was new, this time somehow a surprisingly engrossing and almost satisfying three hours. I always thought the rain of frogs worked, and it still does, amazingly so. I just objected to the ham-handed telegraphing of it via the Bible verse symbologies, but I did not notice them as much this time to annoy me. But still, the picture overall is so deeply flawed, from not knowing its characters to not making them believable except in regular but random brilliant flashes. It really is quite a spectacle. The performances can be absolutely spot on, and for long periods, but they are constantly at vectors with one another. I know I want to see it again.
Near Dark (1987): I thought this had a nice look and moved along pretty well, and I liked the various vampire tropes it played with, such as sunlight and immolation, and, more generally, the whole Western look and feel. Cowboys and vampires, pretty cool. This would make a nice match with Trouble Every Day, which has a more cannibalistic take on vampires, or either Let the Right One In or Let Me In. Oh hell, watch all four.

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