Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Top Ten Pieces Of Art: 7 - 'Blue Velvet' by David Lynch

Blue Velvet written and directed by David Lynch, released in 1986, is one of the most memorable films I have seen. It is darkly funny, and definitely disturbing, on many levels. It is a ‘rights of passage’ story, a modern fairy tale about loss of innocence, about venturing deep into the darkness before finding your way back into the light. Beautiful cinematography – almost any frame makes a well-composed photograph in luscious colour. The story is fantastical, yet at the same time completely and brutally realist in its stilted dialogue, awkward pauses and scary situations. It is one of the few films where I have felt a physical ‘fight or flight’ response - that quickening of adrenalin as if the life threatening situation were real.

Blue Velvet is more thrilling than most crime thrillers and certainly more horrifying than most horror films, whilst remaining totally absorbing and watchable due to its visual beauty, quirky characters and pervasive sense of humour. The story starts off when all-American boy, Jeffrey (played by Kyle Maclachlan), finds a severed human ear and takes it to the local police. He then decides to team up with the police detective’s daughter, Sandy (played by Laura Dern), in order to conduct their own investigation. This leads to a descent into the dark realms of psychotic-middle-class-America and the ingeniously disturbed and depraved world of Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper in a bravura and career-defining performance.

Not only is the film a favourite of mine, I can still clearly recall the experience of going to see it when I was a student in Stoke. Along with a group of friends, we decided to make the journey to Manchester to watch the new film from David Lynch on the big screen.

My friend, James, had a Morris Minor traveller so we piled in and drove up. The cinema was a huge Odeon with thick carpets and dated decor that almost looked like an extension of one of the sets from the film… We were totally absorbed by the movie, and for students it was perfectly satisfying: first and foremost it was an exhilarating and entertaining cinematic experience… it was also arty enough and had plenty of imitable characters and quotable dialogue. After a good film, we enjoyed going for a drink and discussing it at length, so we sought out the legendary nightclub, the Hacienda, nucleus for the Factory Records ‘Mad-chester’ Music scene of the 1980s. I remember someone in the queue was wearing a Teenage Jesus And The Jerks T-shirt – so that was cool! I also remember a girl relentlessly bating me for wearing my blue mirror shades inside – I think the over-sized baseball cap I also wore, continuously, at that time did not really help matters – but she was the kind of person who would never understand why anyone would wear a khaki jacket and pith helmet in the city (to paraphrase the great Dave Graney). Or perhaps I just did not catch on to her inventive, though ineffective, ‘come on’… Besides, hey, I was a pretentious art student… and the strobes were actually quite bright. Anyway, I do not recall the exact series of events, but we ended up back at an all-girl student house and 'crashed' for the night. I remember sleeping on the sofa, waking up still wearing my baseball cap, and finding the whole night out an adventure. Well, at a certain age that kind of freedom can still be a novelty, but the whole thing was lent a certain surreal magic by Blue Velvet and its lingering imagery.

Since then, David Lynch has proved to be a true artistic visionary and I believe that in the future he will be regarded, not only as one of our era’s most important film-makers, but as one of the most important artists of the C20th and C21st. He has an individualistic aesthetic sense and possesses a purity of vision that enables him to dissect the cultural subconscious of modern America. I think it was Jonathan Ross who once described Lynch’s films as being the American dreams and nightmares of the people next door… and this is a good summing-up of how his art deals with reality and everyday anxieties, using the lyrical imagery of dreams counter-pointed with the night-sweat terror of our darkest nightmares… a terrible beauty.

The Official Website Of David Lynch is worth a visit!

This film is also mentioned in Evolution of Western Art

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