“Much of the film is dark and mysterious. David, as a painter, has these images in his head, and we were there to support that and get it on film,” offers cinematographer Frederick Elmes, ASC, reflecting on his work with director David Lynch on Blue Velvet. On this film’s Blu-ray debut, Elmes and others offer insights into the production of Lynch’s surreal drama and its noir-flavored, incandescent visual textures.
Blue Velvet introduces college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), an eerie doppelganger for the director himself, as an instant outsider in the seemingly idyllic small town he once called home. Jeffrey’s father is ill and has been hospitalized, bringing the young man home for the semester. Within hours of his arrival, he finds a human ear in the woods. He reports it at the local police station, where he speaks with Det. Williams (George Dickerson).
As evening falls, restless Jeffrey walks to Williams’ home to see if more information is available. The detective stays mum on any developments, and warns Jeffrey not to talk about the ear. Moments later, as Jeffrey walks home on the deserted street, a figure emerges from the darkness and calls to him, “Are you the one who found the ear?”
The figure is the detective’s fetching, young daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). Having overheard details about the crime at home, she is eager to explain. The high-school senior instantly likes the curious college boy, and fills him in on a mysterious local chanteuse, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who lives in an apartment building nearby and performs at a club across town.
Intrigued, Jeffrey asks Sandy to help him spy on Dorothy. Their combined efforts ultimately allow him to sneak into Dorothy’s apartment, where he witnesses a frightening nocturnal visit from the vicious Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who beats and rapes Dorothy. Jeffrey learns that Dorothy’s husband and child are being held hostage by Booth, who is dangerously obsessed with her. When Jeffrey later tells Sandy what he witnessed, she wonders, “I don’t know if you’re a detective or a pervert,” to which he replies, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
On the heels of the big-budget disaster Dune, Lynch, who at the time was best known for his lurid “midnight movie” Eraserhead and the more polished drama The Elephant Man, was given the opportunity to produce his screenplay Blue Velvet. Elmes, an Eraserhead collaborator and longtime friend, understood Lynch’s vision, and the two had an easy shorthand. The cinematographer used an anamorphic canvas for the first time, and he loved the experience, noting it was “a beautiful shape to compose in.” Elmes, who received awards from both the National Society of Film Critics and the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards for his work on Blue Velvet, would soon collaborate with Lynch again on Wild at Heart.
This Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment offers rich and incredibly vivid colors that are solid and stable in even the lowest light; the image should generally impress the film’s many fans. Elmes carefully layered blacks look consistent with the film’s theatrical version, and the image quality has a vibrant, very pleasing, film-like consistency throughout. The only image problem — a brief one — is a pair of soft, white blemishes that appear in the center of the frame just after the final opening title card and remain visible through most of the first sequence. (The dots are visible from 1:47-3:45.) An identical problem appeared in the 2002 DVD release. These distracting imperfections mar this otherwise-solid image transfer. The 5.1 DTS HD audio is clear and makes good use of the surround front stage of right, center and left channels, with a particularly strong bass line.
Most of the excellent supplements on this disc first appeared on the 2002 DVD, including Mysteries of Love, a 70-minute documentary featuring key cast and crew and the Siskel & Ebert At the Movies debate about the film from the 1986 broadcast. The standout new supplement in this package is a collection of recently discovered outtakes from the film. There is nearly an hour’s worth of scenes that offer fascinating glimpses of dropped subplots and lost characters, particularly Jeffrey’s college girlfriend (played by a young Megan Mullally).
This new HD treatment of Lynch’s beautifully realized, erotically charged and completely unique vision of suburbia’s dark corners has long been anticipated. The inviting and incandescent images still radiate exceptional power, and it takes little more than a brush with Blue Velvet to understand why it is a modern classic of American cinema.