Blue Velvet

(USA 1986)

Who hasn’t seen Blue Velvet? Even though David Lynch was already established by the time it came out, it’s the film that introduced me to him. I saw it once or twice in late high school or early college, definitely on VHS. The River’s Edge was the only comparison I had, and that was a weird film but…not on the same level. I found Blue Velvet totally watchable because it’s very dark, very sexual, very fucking weird, and very voyeuristic.

That was then, this is now: Blue Velvet is still all of those things, but I don’t remember it having the sense of humor it does. It’s curiously funny. It marks the start of Lynch’s style as we know it: not just surreal (he had already done Eraserhead), but macabre and perverted underneath the innocuous and mundane premise. Lynch sets up his narrative in pieces that refer back and forth, like a moving puzzle. It’s brilliant, and it’s a formula that’s served him well.

Blue Velvet starts with a severed ear on the ground, bugs crawling all over it. A local college kid turned stalker (Kyle MacLachlan) proves a bit too curious when his minor obsession with a night club singer (Isabella Rossellini) leads him into a sadomasochistic nightmare that neither he nor we viewers can turn away from. The whole bizarre and sordid story goes full circle back to where it started: that ear. 

Dennis Hopper as Frank, the gas-huffing sociopath who ends every sentence with the F-word, colors the mood here. None of it would work, though, without Rossellini’s vulnerability, which is crucial. 

Lynch considered Molly Ringwald instead of Laura Dern and Val Kilmer instead of MacLachlan. Thank goodness it happened how it did; what a different film Blue Velvet would have been. For a movie that relies so heavily on nuance, that could’ve ruined Lynch’s career. It didn’t. 

With Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Jack Harvey, Ken Stovitz, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, J. Michael Hunter, Dick Green, Fred Pickler, Philip Markert, Leonard Watkins, Moses Gibson, Selden Smith, Peter Carew, Jon Jon Snipes, Angelo Badalamenti, Jean Pierre Viale, Donald Moore, A. Michelle Depland, Michelle Sasse, Katie Reid, Sparky

Production: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Distribution: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 20th Century Fox (UK), Transmundo Films (Argentina), AMLF (France), Concorde Film (Netherlands), Concorde Filmverleih (West Germany), Finnkino (Finland), Hoyts Distribution (Australia), Shochiku-Fuji Company (Japan)

120 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B+

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

Wild at Heart

(USA 1990)

“Man, I had a boner with a capital ‘O.'”

—Sailor Ripley


“And this here’s a story with a lesson about bad ideas.”

—Lula Pace Fortune


“Don’t turn away from love, Sailor.”

—Glinda the Good Witch

Wild at Heart is one of David Lynch’s more maligned films. Roger Ebert hated it to the point of indignation ( Vincent Canby seemed perplexed—I can’t tell whether he was bored, annoyed, or just flummoxed ( Jonathan Rosenbaum called it “appalling,” “inept,” and “debasing” ( A host of other critics rolled their eyes and sighed, dismissing it, I suppose, as a violent and exploitive piece of shock fluff.

I never saw Wild at Heart until now. Some of the points raised by its detractors are valid, but I still liked it for the same things that made them hate it. Erratic, vulgar, and really sweet, it’s offputting yet compelling and—surprise!—it has a happy ending.

An atypically straightforward narrative for a Lynch project, Wild at Heart is a decidedly deranged, bloody road movie/romance/thriller based on Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name. Upon his release from a North Carolina prison after serving time for murder—never mind that it was self-defense—Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) exits the jailhouse to find his lover, Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern), waiting for him outside in the sunlight with his snakeskin jacket, the symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom. They spend some time catching up in a motel room and at a speedmetal concert before they decide to blow off his parole and take off for California.

Meanwhile, Lula’s mother, Southern lady Marietta (Diane Ladd), is making plans of her own—and they involve her private detective boyfriend (Harry Dean Stanton) and a hit man (J. E. Freeman) who’s got Sailor as his target. A bad omen detours the starcrossed lovers to Big Tuna, Texas, where they unwittingly plant themselves smack in the middle of a bad situation that looks to be turning deadly fast.

OK, I’ve seen versions of this same story before. The plot is familiar and for the most part implausible—not to mention really, really thin at times. Lynch goes overboard with his depiction of sex, violence, and gore—even though they all have a place here. None of this matters, though, because the characters, which are both the focus and the strength of the film, are fantastic.

As usual, the casting is stellar. Cage is at his best here, working that edgy deadpan earnest manic thing he did so well in his early films. Dern is flawless as a sweet Southern girl who’s found her place with bad boy Sailor, everyone else be damned. Willem Dafoe is super creepy as hayseed bad guy Bobby Peru—those teeth! Above them all, however, is Ladd, who’s fucking fabulous even with her face covered in red lipstick. She’s vengeful at times, remorseful at others; but all the while, a perfect lady. She shines here. There’s a reason she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance ( This film works because the actors give it their all.

Wild at Heart is loaded with Lynch’s trademark what-the-fuck weirdness—a man at a bar quacking like a duck (you read that correctly) and cousin “Jingle Dell” (Crispin Glover) sitting on the floor in the bathroom screaming for Christmas or standing at the counter in the dark making a hundred sandwiches for lunch are bizarre moments even by Lynchian standards. There’s a lot more to it, though. I love the theme of finding a happy place in the midst of horrible things happening. I love all the references to various staples of Americana—cowboys, cars, highways, Elvis Presley, and my favorite, The Wizard of Oz. I love that underneath it all is a touching love story that we can all relate to.

What I find most interesting, though, is that so many things about Wild at Heart scream Quentin Tarantino, yet he had nothing to do with it. In fact, it came out two years before Tarantino’s first major film, Reservoir Dogs. I never thought of David Lynch as an influence on him, but Wild at Heart makes me wonder.

Side note: Wild at Heart is a rated R movie. For the screening I attended, however, I was lucky enough to catch an unreleased rated X version. The X rating was no doubt due to the graphic violence—it wasn’t the sex scenes. The print was in bad shape, all scratchy and beat up, but it was totally worth it to see an X-rated Lynch film.

With W. Morgan Sheppard, Grace Zabriskie, Isabella Rossellini, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee

Production: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films

Distribution: Manifesto Film Sales, The Samuel Goldwyn Company (USA), Palace Pictures (UK), Bac Films (France), Cineplex Odeon Films (Canada), Finnkino (Finland), Hoyts Distribution (Australia), Háskólabíó (Iceland), Meteor Film Productions (Netherlands), Sandrew Film & Teater (Sweden), Solopan (Poland)

125 minutes
Rated X (alternate version)

(Music Box) B

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

Closet Monster

(Canada 2016)

I wish I could play Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” for Closet Monster‘s protagonist, Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup), because the lyrics say something he needs to hear: the answers you seek and the love that you need will never be found at home. Sigh.

When young Oscar (Jack Fulton) is a wee lad of maybe seven or eight, his parents give him a hamster (played by four different actors: Chunk, Mama, Blood Thirsty, and Buffy #1). The gift, it turns out, is intended to take the sting out of their explosive announcement: his mother (Joanne Kelly) is leaving his father, Peter (Aaron Abrams). It doesn’t take long to see why, as Peter is an oppressive loose cannon. Oscar stays with his father and quietly retreats into his own world where his new furry friend, Buffy, becomes his companion and has a way of expressing what Oscar is feeling (Isabella Rossellini, of all people, provides Buffy’s voice).

One afternoon after school, Oscar follows a group of older teenage boys into a cemetery. Unbeknownst to them, he watches from behind a tree as they barbarously attack another boy—presumably a gay one—with a rusty iron rod. Immediately after, Oscar notices his father is a toxic alpha male asshole. Determined to prevent something horrible from happening to him, he jumps into survival mode and starts doing “guy” things.

Cut to a decade later: Oscar (Jessup) is into creating monsters with makeup and prosthetics, practicing in his treehouse on his friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf), an aspiring model who carries a torch for him. They both just finished high school. Oscar bides his time that summer working as a stockboy at a home improvement store while waiting for an acceptance letter from a school with a design program for cinematic special effects to which he’s applied. He’s completely beside himself when a new employee named Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) shows up and asks to borrow his work shirt. Wilder is cool, sexy, and has a way of transmitting ambiguous sexual signs—causing Oscar severe stomachaches and visions of that iron rod.

Writer and director Stephen Dunn’s first feature threw me for a loop, in a really good way. Closet Monster is packed with gay coming of age clichés, but it still stands on its own. Oscar’s homosexuality is more than incidental, but it’s no dark secret; Oscar knows he’s gay and he doesn’t seem to be ashamed of it, even if dealing with it is tricky. The cast here is excellent, particularly the exchanges between Jessup and Schneider (not to marginalize the other actors). Dunn exhibits a dinstinctive style both in how he tells his story and how he shows it. From a narrative standpoint, he concocts a compelling mix of comedy, teen drama, fantasy, horror, gore, and psychological intrigue. The tension between Oscar and Peter is palpable, simmering from a quiet friction to an all-out eruption.

Dunn’s visuals are even better: vivid, surreal imagery of iron rods popping out of Oscar and vomiting nuts and bolts into a sink, they indelibly illustrate what’s going on in his head. Peppered with retro electronica, I pick up a certain late ’80s/’90s vibe here; indeed, Dunn’s aesthetic reminds me of David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and to a lesser extent Anton Corbijn, all of whom started out doing music videos. Dunn’s sensibility is similar to another young director, Xander Robin (Are We Not Cats) (, though Dunn is not as dark. Closet Monster has a few shortcomings, but overall it gels nicely into a totally satisfying film.

90 minutes
Not rated

(Facets) B