Criterion Review: BLUE VELVET (1986)

David Lynch’s haunting descent into a suburban underbelly gets the Criterion treatment

Lynchian. A catchall descriptor for films that lean into the surreal. Even with this moniker floating around, Lynch remains defiantly unique, and while each of his creations are iconic, there are some that stand out. Enter Blue Velvet, a voyeuristic descent into the underbelly of suburbia and the sex and violence within. Having recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, fans have further cause to celebrate with a top quality restoration and release by the fine folks at Criterion.


Home from college, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) makes an unsettling discovery: a severed human ear, lying in a field. In the mystery that follows, by turns terrifying and darkly funny, writer-director David Lynch burrows deep beneath the picturesque surfaces of small-town life. Driven to investigate, Jeffrey finds himself drawing closer to his fellow amateur sleuth, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), as well as their person of interest, lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) — and facing the fury of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a psychopath who will stop at nothing to keep Dorothy in his grasp. With intense performances and hauntingly powerful scenes and images, Blue Velvet is an unforgettable vision of innocence lost, and one of the most influential American films of the past few decades.

With an iconic opening “picket fence” sequence, we become introduced to the picturesque town of Lumberton. Like Lynch’s more well known locale Twin Peaks, something dark lies beneath the idyllic surface. Young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), home from college for the summer, discovers a severed human ear in a meadow. The lack of response from a local police detective prompts him to solve the mystery himself, recruiting the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), into his investigation. Driven to intrigue and with a predilection for voyeurism, he ends up immersed in an underworld he had no idea existed in his town, first meeting the intoxicating nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and later her depraved, psychopathic lover Frank (Dennis Hopper). A noir mystery takes on a nightmarish quality. The filth and perversion he uncovers seep into his life and the lives of those close to him.

Blue Velvet feels like it embodies so much of the technique and artistry that Lynch is known for. There’s a calculating precision to how the film descends into this darker fare, perfectly balancing the chilling with more amusing moments, twisted fetishistic turns with more tender moments, and a narrative that unfolds while remaining deeply enigmatic. It’s disorienting and unnerving, but holds your gaze throughout. As Jeffrey is unable to pull back from the darkness, so too does the film holds your gaze. It’s embedded in the ‘80s but a distinct vision in its own right, with an aesthetic that balances both splendor and decay, enlivened by stunning cinematography from Frederick Elmes, with the mood capped off via a phenomenal score by long-time Lynch collaborator, the legendary Angelo Badalamenti (Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive). The leads turn in some career standout work, with even the smaller supporting roles standing out, off-beat characters perfect for this twisted venture. Every aspect of the film combines to justify the reverence bestowed upon it.

The Package

Criterion offers up a transfer sourced from a new 4K scan of the film, with supervision from Lynch himself. The results are superb. Having seen the film last year on 35mm, much of the texture of the film remains, while bringing impressive levels of definition, saturation, and contrast. Colors are natural and deep, as are blacks. It’s one of the best looking transfers/releases I’ve seen so far this year. Extra features are equally impressive:

  • Alternate original 2.0 surround sound­track
  • The Lost Footage, fifty-three minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes assembled by Lynch: Outtakes from the film that were unearthed back in 2011 are presented here. Footage ranges from alternate introduction scenes, longer cuts of existing ones, and footage that was excised completely. It’s a fascinating collection of footage that is best watched after revisiting the film to see how the pieces might have come together differently
  • “Blue Velvet” Revisited, a feature-length meditation on the making of the movie by Peter Braatz, filmed on-set during the production: A large compilation of raw footage and on set filming captured during the original production. An immersive piece.
  • Mysteries of Love, a seventy-minute documentary from 2002 on the making of the film: An archival effort, but its inclusion is very much welcome. Cast and crew reflect on their experiences on set, with Lynch and each other, notably from MacLachlan, Rossellini, Dern, Hopper, and Elmes.
  • Interview from 2017 with composer Angelo Badalamenti: Not just touching on Blue Velvet, the composer discusses his whole career, notably his relationship with Lynch, and also some of the collaborative efforts with Rossellini.
  • It’s a Strange World: The Filming of “Blue Velvet,” a 2019 documentary featuring interviews with crew members and visits to the shooting locations: A brand new documentary that is one of the highlights of this release. Starting with the film’s conception, development, and casting, with contributions from a host of production staff too. Insightful as well as an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
  • Lynch reading from Room to Dream, a 2018 book he coauthored with Kristine McKenna
  • PLUS: Excerpts by McKenna from Room to Dream
  • Booklet: Enclosed booklet which details the restoration of the film, stills, and more excerpts from Room to Dream.

The Bottom Line

Blue Velvet remains as accomplished and impacting today as it did upon initial release. Alluring and enigmatic, sleazy and sumptuous, it perfectly encapsulates David Lynch’s ideals and artistry in one mesmerizing noir. With extras that only serves to deepen the appreciation for one of the director’s best films, it’s a must buy from Criterion.

Further reading:

Blue Velvet is available via Criterion from May 28th, 2019.

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