Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Blue Velvet.”
The Movie: “Blue Velvet”
Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper
Director: David Lynch
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The discovery of a severed human ear found in a field leads a young man on an investigation related to a beautiful, mysterious nightclub singer and a group of psychopathic criminals who have kidnapped her child.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94 percent
Froemming: For three years I have been threatening to pull the trigger at Brown with a David Lynch movie. Not because I think his films are terrible, not at all. I love David Lynch’s movies. He is one of my all-time favorite directors. Hell, I watched “Twin Peaks” when it aired when I was at the nice age of nine (something that troubled even the co-creator of that show when I told Mark Frost that at a book signing a few years ago). I have always loved his work.
No, I threaten Lynch because his films are uncomfortable, often inexplicable. I first batted around the idea of doing “Eraserhead” after Brown made me sit through (REDACTED) “Charlie St. Cloud.”
But that movie is almost impossible to review.
Then I thought about doing “Wild At Heart” for Nicolas Cage Month, but decided against that because we watched four Cage movies back-to-back in one night, and Lynch might have broke our brains.
It was when Brown decided to make me sit through (REDACTED) “Hackers” I realized I needed to pull the trigger. With one of Lynch’s more accessible films. No, not “The Elephant Man,” that isn’t weird enough. I went with “Blue Velvet,” Lynch’s psycho-sexual 1986 noir about a kid back home from college who ends up getting involved with some weird (REDACTED).
Now before I start huffing some amyl nitrate and yell at you about how great PBR is, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: There is a lot to unravel here.
As far as my David Lynch background, I had seen “The Elephant Man” in a high-school English class because we were reading the play. And, it turns out that he directed the music video for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” So, you know, imagine my horror when this movie wasn’t in black and white.
With that said, I’ve been made well aware about Lynch’s bizarre style to the point where I thought I’d be screaming “NO MORE METAPHORS” at the screen while watching “Blue Velvet.”
Turns out, I was screaming at the screen because of how often the characters put themselves in harm’s way (see: being idiots) than I was for the abject weirdness. Let’s be clear: There is plenty of weirdness.
Froemming, I’ll let you get started as I try to find my bug exterminator disguise.
Froemming: We start off with images of an idyllic Americana town, where the neighbors wave, the sprinklers water the lawns and an old man grabs his neck and falls over to the tune of “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton.
And because this is David Lynch, we never know why the old man fell over and ended up in the hospital looking like he had a stroke. That’s the end of that stuff for the most part.
Brown: OK, so based solely on the old man’s collapse and some of the setup around that, it took me four minutes into this film to write in my notes “I’m already confused.”
Froemming: I wish I was in the same room with you when Ben lip syncs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” into a lamp.
Brown: By then, I was already sold on the idea that I’d have to read about this movie later to get some of those parts.
Yeah, so the old man grabs his neck like he got shot. But, no blood. They show ants on the ground so I think “fire ants?” Nope. That’s a metaphor for this movie. Wikipedia says he had a stroke. Who gets put into a Halo when they have a stroke? That is something that doesn’t require being put in traction, Lynch!
WIth all this said, seeing the dog standing over the old man’s body taking drinks from the hose instead of caring for this man, I chuckled at that.
Froemming: Fun fact: That dog was Lynch’s named Sparky. He is credited in the end credits.
Now we meet some loser home from college named Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) who has returned to care for his dad who had a stroke and went into traction because who knows why. As he is walking home from the hospital one day, he comes across a moldy, severed ear sitting in a field. So he naturally contaminates a crime scene by putting it in a bag and bringing it to his neighbor, who is a police officer.
Way to go man. Cops just love contaminated evidence!
Brown: If this were the ‘90s, that ear would have led to an APB for Mike Tyson. Yes, that joke is terrible and I feel terrible already.
Brown: But you’re right about contaminating the crime scene. Jeffrey is rightfully curious as to why someone Van Gogh’d themselves. So you know what you do if you’re allegedly so close to your house? You leave the ear there and you call the cops!
But no, he bags the ear up like a PB&J and brings it to Det. Williams, who is also nonchalant about this ear. Hey guy, ears don’t show up in nature randomly like it’s a loose cigarette. Also, chastise Jeffrey for contaminating the crime scene instead of being all “Great job, Jeffrey. Here’s a badge sticker. You’re one of our helpers now.”
I’m talking metaphorically there, but seeing how the rest of this movie goes, Jeffrey would interpret a badge sticker as being an actual cop.
Froemming: Jeffrey at this moment becomes a creepy, creepy guy when he befriends high school senior Sandy (Laura Dern), Det. Williams’ daughter. She asks him if he was the one who found the mysterious ear (we learn from the lab that the ear was cut off with scissors, which ouch). After some banter, Jeffrey gets some information Sandy has acquired because her bedroom is above her dad’s office and he must SCREAM his conversations about ongoing investigations like he is Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” hard-of-hearing character Gordon Cole.
So, Jeffrey isn’t the only one messing up this potential crime.
Brown: OK, this is inconsequential, but things like this stuck out to me.
When Jeffrey, who honest to goodness looks like Will Forte, is walking to the Williams’ house, there is a fat man in sunglasses standing alone with a dog in the dead of night… why?
Fast-forward a little bit where Sandy tells Jeffrey about the cops believe the ear could be part of an investigation involving nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini). Jeffrey gets what I can only describe as an investigation erection and walks by Dorothy’s apartment complex. When they get there, you hear some guy yell out “Hey babe!” to Sandy. And… nothing.
Way to liven up the world with such inconsequential moments, Lynch.
Froemming: The thing with Lynch is he doesn’t care if we get stuff or not. I am currently reading his biography/autobiography “Room to Dream” and he sees films as moving paintings. So he puts in stuff he finds either interesting, amusing (to him) or whatever. Sometimes it works. I chuckled at the fat guy in sunglasses because it made me slightly rubberneck. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Brown: Good to know I should interpret Lynch’s art like Joe Pesci interprets his mother’s painting in “Goodfellas.”
Froemming: Anyway, Jeffrey hatches a scheme to break into Dorothy’s apartment with Sandy, thus making a potential minor an accessory to a crime. His plan? Get into this singer’s apartment posing as a bug exterminator, jimmy a window and sneak in later.
The problem right away with this plan: Dorothy lives on the SEVENTH floor of this building. How the (REDACTED) does Jeffrey plan on getting into any window? Fire escape? He would be wide open for people to see.
Brown: Everytime Jeffrey did something stupid in this movie, I’d write in my notes “Nice job, college boy.”
Turns out, he doesn’t need a window to sneak in because when he goes into Dorothy’s apartment as a bug exterminator (and Dorothy gets distracted by a middle-aged man in a yellow coat at her door), Jeffrey steals a spare key for use later.
Now, I can’t sit idly by and not mention how Jeffrey, a college student back in his hometown, is smitten with Sandy, a high schooler.
For this sake, I’ll say OK, maybe Sandy is 18. I was 18 my senior year of high school, summer birthday and all. But the fact is, Jeffrey is the hometown loser who is patrolling the old high school and, later on, actually attends a high school house party. Dude, those things are lame even when you’re in high school.
Froemming: He is basically McConaughey in “Dazed and Confused.”
Brown: He’s probably as high as McConaughey in that movie as well because he cannot pick up any clues that Sandy is smitten with him from jump street. I have not seen a character with (REDACTED)-me eyes that large, possibly ever. Forget your amateur voyeurism, Jeffrey, and forge a relationship with Sandy. Sure, eventually she’ll lead you to an amusement park filled with dinosaurs and will eventually kill herself to help the Rebels escape the Empire, but she is really cute.
Froemming: She is in high school man. He should wait a year or so at least.
Also part of the plan was Sandy was to pretend to be a Jehovah’s Witness to distract Dorothy, but the Yellow Man beat her to the punch.
Now they have a key, they plan a date night where they visit the Slow Club where Dorothy sings “Blue Velvet.” After a couple of Heinekens (add giving booze to a minor to Jeffrey’s list of crimes in this movie), they head to Dorothy’s apartment, where Sandy (rightly) decides to bail on this dumb plan, but will give Jeffrey a notice when Dorothy shows up by honking the horn of his car four times.
Because Jeffrey is a lush, he is too busy peeing in Dorothy’s toilet to hear the warning.
Brown: Dude, when Mother Nature calls, you accept the charges. And poor Sandy, she blew off a date with her boyfriend Mike to help Jeffrey’s breaking and entering. No exaggeration, half my notes are me complaining about this Sandy/Jeffrey dynamic.
Froemming: The other half?
Brown: Random observations, like how Dorothy seems to only sing songs involving the color blue.
Now, not hearing the warning, Jeffrey runs to the closet when Dorothy comes home. We see her get undressed, look at something underneath her couch and receive a bizarre phone call. However, she hears some rustling in the closet and finds our “hero” being the psycho he is.
Froemming: This was all I was thinking during this closet scene.
Brown: I don’t know if R. Kelly got held at knifepoint, but yeah, I could see that.
Now, because Jeffrey saw her get undressed, Dorothy demands that he get undressed. I liked a little turnabout. And then she fellates him. I mean, sure, different strokes for different folks. I’m not here to kink-shame.
And then it gets a WHOLE LOT different when Dennis Hopper comes a-knockin’.
Froemming, I’m going to let you attack this whole thing. The floor’s yours, pal.
Froemming: It is a pretty graphic, disturbing scene where Frank Booth shows up and he rapes Dorothy. He huffs on amyl nitrate and calls her “mommy” and assaults her. And Jeffrey watches from the closet. He hits her whenever she looks at him too.
It’s not a funny scene. Though apparently when they filmed this, Lynch couldn’t stop laughing for some reason. Take that however you like.
Frank leaves and Jeffrey comes to Dorothy’s aid and puts her to bed. She tries seducing him and asking him to hit her, because some people are strange I guess.
But we do figure a couple of things out here.
Frank has kidnapped Dorothy’s husband and child, and uses them as bait so he can abuse her. Frank is a pretty evil guy.
Brown: My main note on Frank in this film: “I don’t know what he loves more… his gas, having sex with Dorothy or saying the F-word.” Like, his foul mouth puts Tony Montana and every Joe Pesci character to shame. And it’s not funny like it is with Pesci. Hopper is legit terrifying.
While Lynch laughed at the rape scene, the only thing I could think to write was I hope I don’t look like Hopper huffing gas when I wear my CPAP at night.
The next day, we see Jeffrey and Sandy together outside what looks like a church. I was hoping they’d go in because what Jeffrey saw the night before, I think it necessary for that boy to find religion. Instead, he gives this teary monologue about the strangeness of the world. Take it easy, college boy.
Froemming: Now, it I was Jeffrey, I would stay far away from all of this, because like you said, Hopper is legit frightening as Frank.
But Jeffrey decides to go back to Dorothy’s, where she is now smitten with this creep who hides in her closet and whatnot.
We then head back to the Slow Club, where Dorothy sings songs with blue in the title and Jeffrey sees Frank getting all weepy-eyed as she sings “Blue Velvet.” A sane person would try to be as far away from a guy like Frank, but Jeffrey decides to follow Frank and his good-time buddies back to their apartment, where he stakes them out and takes photos of them.
Hey, college boy, you are not the cops and frankly, if any of this case went to trial, almost all the evidence would be inadmissible because of how it was attained.
What Jeffrey is to the police is what Michael Cohen is to Trump: A liability.
Brown: In the stakeout, Jeffrey sees two nefarious characters in the Well-Dressed Man and his caterpillar eyebrows. And there is The Yellow Man, which is thankfully that big white guy in the yellow coat from earlier and not a racially insensitive reference from Jeffrey. And our amateur Sherlock Holmes deduces that these two men are associates of Frank’s and are involved with a nearby killing of a drug dealer.
Jeffrey tells these theories to Sandy and the two share a brief kiss before she realizes “Oh yeah, I have a boyfriend that I’ve said several times that I really like.” So of course while stuck at first base with Sandy, Jeffrey goes to Dorothy’s and has sex because he’s a scumbag who is clearly taking advantage of an emotionally unstable woman that really wants Jeffrey to hit her (which he does, inadvertently).
Froemming: People have their kinks man.
Brown: Again, not kink shaming.
Froemming: After having what I assume was James Bond-level of loud sex, the two of them head out and are caught at the doorway by Frank and his good-time buddies.
Now, there is two ways you can look at what follows.
- Frank is torturing Jeffrey and Dorothy with this insane night of drugs, booze and the weirdest bordello I have ever seen on film.
- Or, my way of seeing it. Frank is being a nice guy and trying to give Jeffrey a fun night out with this buddies. Only Jeffrey is kinda rude about everything and ruins the night, causing Frank to be a little stern with him about his attitude.
So Frank and his pals get everyone into the car, and they head out to a bordello run by Ben, who not only does this, but he also helps Dr. Samuel Beckett when he is quantum leaping through time and space, always hoping that the next leap will be his home.
Brown: Sorry man, I never watched “Quantum Leap.” Hopefully our reading audience can laugh with that one.
And yeah, on your analysis of Frank and his party posse, I’m leaning towards option one. Nice guys don’t molest women in a car like Frank does to Dorothy, getting him a rightful punch to the face from Jeffrey.
Plus, it’s one thing to just beat up Jeffrey within an inch of his life to prove a point. But Frank is more (REDACTED) up than the Joker and has to (REDACTED) up with Jeffrey at a psychological level to break him in much the same way he’s broken others.
Now, FINALLY, Jeffrey decides he needs to stop being a gumshoe and let the actual police handle Frank and this whole fiasco like he should have IN THE (REDACTED) FIRST PLACE. Let the arm of the law deal with the Pabst Blue Ribbon-loving psychopath.
Froemming: Well, Jeffrey is in deep and when he is at the police station, he sees that the Yellow Man is also Det. Williams’ partner. So, he has to spill the beans at Williams’ home, where the detective takes the news a little better than he should. He really should be screaming at Jeffrey like Red Forman about his being a dumbass.
Then Jeffrey and Sandy go to a boring-ass high school party, where they profess their love for one another.
Excuse me, Jeffrey? Didn’t you just bump uglies with Dorothy? You are kind of a scumbag.
Brown: Jeffrey is not a good person. Plus, his haircut was treading into dangerous A Flock of Seagulls territory at one point.
And I’m sure you were like me when Jeffrey and Sandy tell each other “I love you,” you said “(REDACTED) you” to the screen.
Froemming: Oh yeah. And during the high school party, this was all I could see for Jeffrey’s future.
Brown: While Jeffrey is driving Sandy home, they are being tailgated/chased by what seems like Frank. In front of Jeffrey’s house, it turns out it’s Mike, who wants to fight Jeffrey for stealing his girl. Can’t say I blame him.
Froemming: I really liked that twist there. By this point, we are so involved with the monster of Frank Booth, we forget that other things have happened, like Mike losing his girlfriend.
Brown: I’m right there with you on that twist. I just hope Mike had better training for a fight than his football team. The football team was practicing on a tennis court. That really bugged me. Cleats are going to ruin that court.
As we’re about to watch these two “They Live” each other, a naked, beaten Dorothy emerges out of the aether. That legit frightened me, and I thought we were getting a moment reminiscent of the climax of “Sleepaway Camp,” which is a movie we need to review in October.
Taking Dorothy to Sandy’s house, Dorothy is basically molesting Jeffrey in front of Sandy and his mother and it’s clear they had a physical relationship. Sandy is upset, rightfully, and AGAIN, has an out to what can only be a toxic relationship with Jeffrey.
Of course, Sandy forgives him because the world makes no damn sense.
Froemming: It’s believable though. People do this sort of thing all the time. Pretty depressing.
Brown: At one point early in the movie, Sandy wonders aloud to Jeffrey, “I don’t know if you’re a detective or a pervert.” You have your answer there, Sandy. I know it’s realistic but I’ll be damned if it still doesn’t frustrate the hell out of me.
Froemming: They get Dorothy in an ambulance, where she hopefully gets years and years of therapy after this whole ordeal. And having not learned a damn thing, Jeffrey decides he is heading to her apartment to end this all and wants Sandy to tell her father to meet him there.
And he enters the apartment, alright, and sees the Yellow Man standing, covered in blood and his brain exposed in a giant hole in his skull. Next to him is Dorothy’s husband, also covered in blood, tied and gagged and has a giant wound were his ear once was. Both are long dead.
This is another moment that really creeped me the first time I saw this movie. Just so unsettling.
And someone does show up, the Well-Dressed man. Only we find this is actually Frank Booth in a weird wig with fake eyebrows and a fake mustache.
This guy is creepy on so many levels, man.
Brown: Jeffrey uses The Yellow Man’s police radio to call to Williams, only to realize that during the joyride that Frank has his own police radio. Using that to his advantage, he says over the airwaves that he’s hiding in the back room and instead hides in the closet that started this whole damn mess. Frank comes in, huffing gas like he’s a douche with a vape pen and shoots up the room, only it’s empty. He starts combing the apartment before setting his sights on the closet. Why he doesn’t shoot at the closet before approaching it is beyond me. And when Frank opens the door, he gets a mind explosivo, courtesy of The Yellow Man’s revolver that Jeffrey grabbed earlier.
Frank is down for the count, Williams tells him it’s over and Jeffrey and Sandy make out outside of Dorothy’s apartment, acting like she didn’t just see her main squeeze spray a man’s brains onto the carpet. I’ma go ahead and kink shame that one, folks.
Froemming: Now, this is actually kinda odd for a Lynch movie because we get a concrete ending. Jeffrey and Sandy are together and Dorothy is reunited with her son. After this movie, Lynch (for the most part) ends his movies pretty ambiguously. The fact it ends like this actually startled me because it had been a while since I saw it and assumed it would end with Jeffrey being sucked into an electric socket where he would talk to a backward speaking giant.
But alas, we get a happy ending after the horror of Frank Booth.
Let’s pop some PBR’s and speed on down to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, this is one of my favorite movies. It is weird, creepy and visually stunning. I saw check it out.
Brown: I’d recommend it so long as you know you’re going to see some weird (REDACTED). It’s worth viewing just for Hopper’s performance alone.