It's a strange world: "Blue Velvet" at the Hollywood Arclight

Courtenay Blog IconSunday evening, I traversed the Oscar landmine of limos, press and looky-loos to attend a special screening of David Lynch’s 1986 film “Blue Velvet” at the Hollywood Arclight Theatre. On my way to the theatre, I spotted a traffic sign that read "Limos use Franklin Avenue." Only in LA. Speaking of Oscars, David Lynch was nominated for an Oscar for directing “Blue Velvet,” but he did not win -- he lost to Oliver Stone, who won best directing for "Platoon." But, consider this: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, and Spike Lee have never won an Academy Award for directing. Unimaginable.

David Lynch was nominated for best director for the 1986 film "Blue Velvet."

Buy or Rent A Voyage To Twin Peaks at Amazon. It is the documentary Scott directed about the 25th Twin Peaks Festival. See the actors, the set locations and interviews with the fans.

I purchased my ticket to see the screening of “Blue Velvet” a while ago not realizing that the Academy Awards were that evening. Why did I choose to give up watching the Oscars live for a David Lynch film I’d already seen? For me it was a no-brainer. I could DVR the Oscars, but when was I going to get a chance to see “Blue Velvet” on the big screen, projected in 35mm film, among Lynch fans? Besides, it was showing at the famous Arclight Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

If you are not familiar with the Arclight, allow me boldly to state that it is the best theatre for movie watching. The tickets are more expensive than a regular theatre, but you can reserve the seat of your choice. The Arclight does not show ads before the film. The patrons are generally film-lovers and, therefore, are respectful during the movie – they don’t talk and they keep their phones turned off. And the concession stand serves high-end goodies like Toblerone Swiss chocolate and chicken sausage baguettes. It is an unforgettable (and quite comfortable) movie-going experience.

Back to the film – as I mentioned above, this was not my first viewing of the film. In fact, “Blue Velvet” was my very first encounter with David Lynch. (I didn’t watch “Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man” or “Dune” until later.) I found out about the film when I was a child during the 1980s. My parents returned from a movie night with another couple. They discussed this strange film in which a man discovers a severed ear being eaten by ants in the tall grass of a small town. My parents looked visibly disturbed by their theatre experience. Immediately, I was intrigued. I was the kind of child who could not read or watch enough horror. I loved art that made people uncomfortable. My parents let me read anything I wanted, but when I picked up a copy of “A Clockwork Orange” when I was 11, they drew the line. They drew the line with “Blue Velvet,” too. I was not permitted to see it. Eventually, I read “A Clockwork Orange” in its entirety, and eventually I pilfered a friend’s VHS tape of Lynch’s 1986 work of art. I was hooked.

“Blue Velvet” is pure Lynchian genius. Jeffrey Beaumont (actor, Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a severed ear in his small town of Lumberton. His curiosity spurs him to investigate the story behind the ear, which leads him to befriend the beautiful blonde Sandy Williams (actor, Laura Dern). He soon encounters the gorgeous but tragic character of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) who is caught up in a dark world of kidnapping, drugs, violence and some surreal characters, including a Freudian gas-masked Frank Booth (actor, Dennis Hopper). As soon as Booth captures Beaumont, the surreal nightmare of the film ensues. Booth leads Beaumont to the abode of Ben (actor, Dean Stockwell), who performs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” while using a lamp as a microphone. The smooth crooning of Orbison played as the backdrop to the brutal violence exerted by Booth and his cronies against Vallens and Beaumont is unsettling.

“Blue Velvet” is a film noir mystery, but what makes it Lynchian is the slow revelation of the dark underbelly of the pristine suburban town of Lumberton. Beaumont declares, “I’m seeing something that was always hidden. I’m in the middle of a mystery, and it’s all a secret.” Angelo Badalamenti’s score adds to the haunting tragedy of the character Vallens, who sings “Blue Velvet” to a despairing Booth in the Slow Club. Isabella Rossellini’s performance as the tragic Dorothy Vallens is imbued with sexiness, tragedy, and vulnerability. It’s also iconic. Check out the Lana Del Rey video in which she covers the song Blue Velvet by clicking here. Very Lynchian, indeed.

Jeffrey Beaumont’s innocence is destroyed by his encounter with Vallens and Booth, but his journey into the darkness is also positive because it results in Vallens being reunited with her son and Frank’s abuse coming to a halt. In the end, innocence is lost but purity is restored when Beaumont and Williams, now an official couple, witness the robin eating the insect on the windowsill of Jeffrey’s kitchen. The appearance of the robin fulfills Williams’ dream mentioned earlier in the film. She tells Beaumont, “I had a dream. In fact, it was on the night I met you. In the dream, there was our world, and the world was dark because there weren't any robins, and the robins represented love. And for the longest time, there was this darkness. And all of a sudden, thousands of robins were set free and they flew down and brought this blinding light of love. And it seemed that love would make any difference, and it did. So, I guess it means that there is trouble until the robins come.” The appearance of the robin is a signal to the couple that order is restored in Lumberton, but the characters are forever changed after their dark encounter with Booth and his ilk.

As far as I could ascertain, the audience in the Arclight theatre consisted of a few Lynch fans and some newcomers to the film. The reactions were quite interesting – Frank Booth’s crazed rants garnered laughs immediately followed by silent shock when he struck Dorothy Vallens across the face. After all these years, the sexual violence in the film is still raw and alarming.

Unfortunately, there was no panel or special guest present at the screening. I was hoping for some insider insight into the film. Part of me was hoping (in vain) that David Lynch himself would show up and engage the crowd in a discussion of his oeuvre. Perhaps he is busy working on a very special project. Journalist Claire Hoffman, in a recent New York Times article, revealed that Lynch was working on a new script. She said, “Bob Roth had told me that Lynch said he was working on a new script and that it was typically dark. When I asked Lynch about this, he paused, annoyed. ‘Bobby’s got a big mouth,’ he said. I asked him if the script was influenced by his work with T.M. [Transcendental Meditation], and he said no, absolutely not. This will be a David Lynch picture, he said, adding, ‘I think people would probably recognize it.’” Read the full article here.

Could this new script be a "Twin Peaks" revival? Or is it something else entirely? We will not know … at least for some time. Either way, I’ll follow that severed ear to the underbelly as long as the robins sing in the end. As Jeffery Beaumont said, “It’s a strange world.” With Lynch, it truly is. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Stay tuned for my blog about the next USC Twin Peaks Retrospective on March 3. The panel includes Frank Byers (Director of Photography); Tim Hunter (Director: Episodes 1.5, 2.9 & 2.21); Piper Laurie (Actor: “Catherine Martell”); Al Strobel (Actor: “Philip Michael Gerard/One-Armed Man”); Mary Sweeney (Editor: Episode 2.7 & “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”); Paul Trejo (Editor: Episodes 1.5, 1.8, 2.3, 2.6, 2.9, 2.12, 2.15, 2.18, 2.21); and Ray Wise (Actor, “Leland Palmer”).

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