In March 1987, at the 59th annual Academy Awards, an interesting and eclectic grouping of movies released in 1986 was up for Oscar consideration. There wasn’t a weak film in the bunch.
Director David Lynch received a surprise nomination for his controversial, now cult classic, “Blue Velvet,” a neo-noir mystery that had divided audiences with its vivid depiction of truly psychotic evil. Lynch also wrote the screenplay, but he did not receive an Academy Award nomination for it.
In the running for best director along with Lynch were Woody Allen for “Hannah And Her Sisters,” James Ivory for “A Room With A View,” Roland Joffe for “The Mission,” and Oliver Stone, the eventual winner for “Platoon.”
“Blue Velvet” had only one nomination. “Platoon” and “A Room With A View” were nominated 8 times each. “Hannah And Her Sisters” and “The Mission” both had 7 nods.
Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” which I think is his masterwork, is a horror movie, but one with serious differences from the usual fright fare. It’s a stark coming-of-age film in which the real horror is sex. The Criterion Collection has issued a new 4K restoration of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray that includes 53-minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes, which have been placed in a section called “The Lost Footage.”
The beautiful cinematography by Frederick Elmes, which vibrates with its stunning compositions, is richly enhanced. Angelo Badalamenti’s music still thrills.
In Lynch’s hallucinogenic vision, which is often wickedly funny and cinematically exciting, the real danger to the characters is sexual awakening and growth. The actions of the residents of the small city of Lumberton, North Carolina, a community that’s both an archetype and a myth, seem to literally float through our senses like a fantasy.
A young man named Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a severed human ear in a field and the film progresses from there. He loves the vivacious Sandy (Laura Dern). However, he is captivated by the allure of a lounge singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Clean-cut Jeffrey fears his own vulgar sexual thoughts. The women represent darkness (Dorothy) and light (Sandy).
Rounding out the quintet of key characters that held moviegoers entranced in 1986 are the abusive psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a gangster addicted to a strangeness that roiled audiences, and the creepy hostage-taker Ben (Dean Stockwell). Detectives are on the hunt.
At its core, “Blue Velvet” is about curiosity, which, as you know, killed the cat. Lynch’s visionary understanding of voyeurism and obsession is still relentlessly watchable.
The new Criterion two-disc set has a booklet and myriad extras, including three extensive documentaries, “‘Blue Velvet’ Revisited,” “Mysteries Of Love,” and “It’s A Strange World,” all of them about the making of the feature. Lynch, himself, reads from “Room To Dream,” the 2018 book – part biography, part memoir – he coauthored with Kristine McKenna.
Directors from the new waves of 1960s and 1970s European cinema are also highlighted with recent Criterion releases.
“Diamonds Of The Night” (1964) is a surreal and poetical Holocaust drama from Jan Nemec of then-Czechosolvakia. “Death In Venice” (1971), by Luchino Visconti of Italy, explores the tragic power and emotional turmoil of obsession. “One Sings, The Other Doesn’t” (1977), by France’s beloved Agnes Varda, is about the importance of friendship between women. All of these great works have received exceptional, well-deserved restorations, with each of them offering DVD and Blu-ray sets filled with welcome extras for movie lovers.
Additionally, the new Criterion Channel continues to add new members to its streaming service.
Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.