"Blue Velvet"

As disturbing and sensuous on DVD as it was in 1986 -- with a great sick joke to boot.

Published June 27, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Blue Velvet"
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell
MGM; widescreen 2.35:1
Extras: Theatrical trailer

Fourteen years can be enough to lessen the shock of any movie. But you don't have to go any further than the first image of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" -- a billowing blue velvet curtain that pulses like a thin membrane separating us from a subterranean world -- to feel in your bones that the film's disturbing and sensuous hold hasn't lessened a bit since 1986. "Blue Velvet" -- finally on DVD in a gorgeous Cinemascope transfer that retains the vibrancy and rot of Frederick Elmes' cinematography -- paved the way for other filmmakers who trade in shock and strangeness, but none has come close to the originality or heart of Lynch's vision.

What makes "Blue Velvet" so exhilarating -- and, to some viewers, so repellent -- is that Lynch arranges the movie so that we experience it through the skin of Kyle MacLachlan as his boy-detective hero. The superiority of a charlatan like Todd Solondz is alien to Lynch. There's humor in the white-picket-fence perfection of Lumberton, but there's love, too. This isn't a movie about ripping the veil off of suburbia; it's about wanting to hold on to its reassuring safety even as you descend into the netherworld. Sunlight on tree-lined streets has never looked so golden and rich; nighttime on those same streets has never looked so velvety black. The weirdest moments are absolutely uncalculated (which is not true of all Lynch's work) because surrealism is his natural language. "Blue Velvet" is an amazing balance of naiveti and sophistication -- a boy's book mystery that is also the most genuinely erotic film since "Last Tango in Paris."

Apart from the standard scene selection and language options, the only extra on this DVD is the film's original theatrical trailer, but there's also a great sick joke. Every feature is introduced by a snippet of dialogue from the movie. Press "play movie" and you hear the breathy and desperate voice of Isabella Rossellini's Dorothy Vallens saying, "Mommy loves you."

Of seeing "Blue Velvet" for the first time, Roy Orbison (whose "In Dreams" provides perhaps the most unnerving scene) said, "There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it." Lynch's gift is to make the characters' gee-whiz banalities tremble with the urge to express the inexpressible. After landing on Lynch's familiar and alien American planet, what else is there to say but "It's a strange world"?

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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