'Blue Velvet,' A Subversion Of The '80s Teen Movie
Start writing a post
Entertainment

'Blue Velvet,' A Subversion Of The '80s Teen Movie

David Lynch's noir is a cautionary tale to the ordinary world, showing that the world is stranger than it seems.

210
'Blue Velvet,' A Subversion Of The '80s Teen Movie
Paramount Pictures

The '80s were a very uninventive time for cinema. The rise of blockbuster had weeded the auteurs out of the system, so much so that only a few were left. Of them, there included Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch. David Lynch's fourth film, "Blue Velvet," was released in 1986. A year earlier, "The Breakfast Club" was the epitome of the American teen zeitgeist. It did not have the time travel of "Back To The Future" or the lasso-whipping "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." It took place in a modern day high school; yet, it still had archetypal characters and a Karla DeVito soundtrack (because The Smiths would be just too depressing). This film was the thing in the 80s, but why is that? It's the movie every millennial is shown by their parents, interspersed by the occasional "now, that was what high school was like when I was your age."

"The Breakfast Club", dir. John Hughes, 1985"

If there's one thing to know about David Lynch, it's that he is all about subversion. He subverted the idea of parenting in "Eraserhead" and he would come to subvert the LA fantasy in "Mulholland Drive." However, what separates "Blue Velvet "from the other two is something that makes works like "The Great Gatsby" and "The Catcher In The Rye "some of the greatest art of the 20th century: they subverted a piece of culture out of the very time period they were released in. For "Blue Velvet," it was the '80s teen movie.

After his father suffers a stroke, recent high school grad Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MachLachlin) comes back home to manage the family hardware store in the quaint, little town of Lumberton, North Carolina. The Lumberton has a creepily idealistic landscape. Over the tunes of Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet," we are shown a fireman warmly waving, children crossing an empty road, and a radio jingle that goes "At the sound of the falling tree," just as the sound of falling tree ensues, "it's nine-thirty!" The town is so quaint, in fact, that the only crime shown is the image of a gun shown within the safe confines of a TV screen.

Jeffrey is very bored in Lumberton; so bored, in fact, that it's his curiosity that gets the story started. On the walk back form visiting his father at the hospital, Jeffrey sees an abandoned shed and feels compelled to throw pebbles in it. In conquest for the third pebble, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear. He puts the ear in a paper bag and hands it to the town detective and Jeffrey's neighbor, John Williams (George Dickerson) as evidence. A night later, the still-curious Jeff goes on a late-night walk to the Williams household to check up on the investigation. Williams discloses that there's a real story here, but, as a detective, he can't give away the details. "Must be great," Jeffrey says, in his morbidly curious state. "It's horrible, too," Williams counters.

It's on the same walk back that Jeffrey crosses paths with Sandy (Laura Dern), Detective Williams' daughter and the obvious "girl next door" type. Her name beckons Olivia Newton John's character in "Grease," and it turns out that Brat Pack royalty and "Breakfast Club"star Molly Ringwald was Lynch's first choice for the role of Sandy. Jeffrey and Sandy's chemistry is of sheer novelty. Jeffrey indulges her about the kid who lived next door who had a big tongue, and he demonstrates to her the "chicken walk." Surely, Lynch's sedated dialogue can be misconstrued for the innocence that comes from an 80s teen film.

"Blue Velvet', dir. David Lynch", 1986

This is why the character of Sandy represents the "ordinary world" of "Blue Velvet." She is trapped in the uneventful, so much so that the only problem she has is the jealousy of her quarterback Mike (Ken Stovitz, given the vaguely appropriate character name) when he sees Jeffrey picking up Sandy after school. It is this boredom that spurns Jeffrey and Sandy to investigate the mystery of the missing ear.

After a failed attempt in which Jeffrey impersonated a pest control worker, Jeffrey vows to break into the apartment of Dorothy Valance (Isabella Rosselini) after he steals her spare key. After Dorothy arrives at her apartment unexpectedly mid-break in, Jeffrey is relegated to hiding in her closet. There, he witnesses the arrival of a mysterious man named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) who abuses Dorothy. Frank and his men have Dorothy trapped and her son captured, only to be seen again in short, supervised visits.

This is why the character of Dorothy represents the "strange world" aspect of "Blue Velvet." She is trapped in the underground crime that seeps under the grass of the US. She is in the inside-looking-out, and she'd do whatever she could to be in the position of someone like Sandy. The reason why Dorothy loves singing "Blue Velvet" in The Slow Club every week is that the song is the quixotic pop kitsch that reminds her of a simpler life. The name "Dorothy" beckons Judy Garland's character in "The Wizard Of Oz", a film in which curiosity gets the best of a character that later learns that "there's no place like home." It's interesting to note that Lynch's contemporary, Stanley Kubrick, deals with a similar theme in his final film "Eyes Wide Shut," a film that also makes discreet references to the L. Frank Baum adaptation.

"Eyes Wide Shut', dir. Stanley Kubrick (1999)"

These two characters, Sandy and Dorothy, represent the torn nature of Jeffrey; he is certainly on the outside, but he wants to be on the inside--until he sees Frank, of course, the evil of the inside (by the way, this film and "Donnie Darko" make "Frank" the scariest villain name ever.) Jeffrey sees all of this through a closet blind, a voyeuristic achievement on the scale of "Rear Window," and it is through just seeing this happen that he instantly wants to go back to the ordinary world. The character of Jeffrey is the point-of-view character, here (not too far off from "Gatsby"'s Nick Carraway.) Seeing only low-stakes teen movies has made the viewer bored, and curiosity needs to be pursued. However, it is through simply watching the strange world that one sees the virtues of the ordinary world.

Lynch uses this to demonstrate the power of art. My Shakespeare professor would say "we like violence in theater because it's not real." This is because it's amicably exclusive; we don't have to experience it in real life. This exposure can quell our curiosity, and Jeffrey is a cautionary tale of someone who could have had the same if he had stayed and watched violent TV with his grandmothers. Instead, he went out for "a walk around the neighborhood," and the grandmothers stayed safe and content.

Lynch does not criticize 80s teen films in "Blue Velvet." In fact, qualities of those films make for the best scenes in this one. Sandy's "dream of robins" monologue would be the scene that wins Laura Dern an Oscar in a parallel universe. On the other hand, this film is a one of caution to the ordinary. The last scene takes place in Jeffrey's house; a bird perches on a window with a beetle in its mouth. "It's a strange world; isn't it?" Sandy muses, looking lovingly into Jeffrey's eyes. As we see final images of flowers, the fireman, and Dorthy reunited with her son, we can agree that the world is strange, but it's a beautiful one, too.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
the beatles
Wikipedia Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have been listening to The Beatles. Every year, my mom would appropriately blast “Birthday” on anyone’s birthday. I knew all of the words to “Back In The U.S.S.R” by the time I was 5 (Even though I had no idea what or where the U.S.S.R was). I grew up with John, Paul, George, and Ringo instead Justin, JC, Joey, Chris and Lance (I had to google N*SYNC to remember their names). The highlight of my short life was Paul McCartney in concert twice. I’m not someone to “fangirl” but those days I fangirled hard. The music of The Beatles has gotten me through everything. Their songs have brought me more joy, peace, and comfort. I can listen to them in any situation and find what I need. Here are the best lyrics from The Beatles for every and any occasion.

Keep Reading...Show less
Being Invisible The Best Super Power

The best superpower ever? Being invisible of course. Imagine just being able to go from seen to unseen on a dime. Who wouldn't want to have the opportunity to be invisible? Superman and Batman have nothing on being invisible with their superhero abilities. Here are some things that you could do while being invisible, because being invisible can benefit your social life too.

Keep Reading...Show less
Featured

19 Lessons I'll Never Forget from Growing Up In a Small Town

There have been many lessons learned.

70910
houses under green sky
Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Small towns certainly have their pros and cons. Many people who grow up in small towns find themselves counting the days until they get to escape their roots and plant new ones in bigger, "better" places. And that's fine. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought those same thoughts before too. We all have, but they say it's important to remember where you came from. When I think about where I come from, I can't help having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my roots. Being from a small town has taught me so many important lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Keep Reading...Show less
​a woman sitting at a table having a coffee
nappy.co

I can't say "thank you" enough to express how grateful I am for you coming into my life. You have made such a huge impact on my life. I would not be the person I am today without you and I know that you will keep inspiring me to become an even better version of myself.

Keep Reading...Show less
Student Life

Waitlisted for a College Class? Here's What to Do!

Dealing with the inevitable realities of college life.

132487
college students waiting in a long line in the hallway
StableDiffusion

Course registration at college can be a big hassle and is almost never talked about. Classes you want to take fill up before you get a chance to register. You might change your mind about a class you want to take and must struggle to find another class to fit in the same time period. You also have to make sure no classes clash by time. Like I said, it's a big hassle.

This semester, I was waitlisted for two classes. Most people in this situation, especially first years, freak out because they don't know what to do. Here is what you should do when this happens.

Keep Reading...Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments