Saturday, March 28, 2015

Some Thoughts About "Blue Velvet"

"Blue Velvet"  was a 1986 film by David Lynch that served as a comeback film for brilliant actor/brain-damaged-right-wing-druggie Dennis Hopper. It's what's known as a "cult film."


Some women I knew HATED the film and the villain (played by Hopper) of Frank Booth. Some guys LOVED Frank Booth because he was so fucked-up and evil.


In the film, the character of Frank Booth has somehow had an affair with lounge singer Dorothy Valens, who likes rough sex. She's married though, with a son, so in order to keep her for himself, he kidnaps her husband and child and threatens to kill them if she doesn't continue to satisfy his desires. When she begins to wilt, he slices off her husband's ear as a warning. He throws the ear in a field near the downtown of their small town of "Lumberton, USA" where it's found by young Jeffrey Beaumant, back from college to be with his father who has had a terrible stroke (or something). Beaumant finds the ear while crossing the field on his way to the hospital to visit his father.

He takes the ear to Detective Williams of the Lumberton police, but becomes obsessed with who it might belong to. With the assistance of Sandy, the police detective's daughter, he finds out that Dorothy Valens has something to do with it. He manages to hide in Valens's apartment one night and witness one of Frank Booth's visits.

Frank Booth has a very ritualized sexual life. Before he has sex he's referred to as "Daddy." In order to have sex, candles lit beforehand have to be put out so that it's dark. He then becomes a creepy "Baby" who no one must look at. He breaths a mysterious gas from a mask connected to a small tank* and proceeds to act like a perverted child with "Mommy" (Valens), striking her if she looks at him or if he simply loses control. Upon penetration he becomes "Daddy" again, and, upon climax, is filled with disgust and loathing for himself and Valens, striking her again. Eventually he regains his composure and leaves, first telling Valens to "stay alive" and "Do it for Van Gogh" (her husband with the missing ear).

Beaumant and Valens begin an affair. (Beaumant is also having an entirely innocent affair with high school student Sandy.) At one point though, Valens asks Beaumant to hit her and when he refuses she angrily tells him to leave her bed. Beaumant hits her out of anger and frustration, and when she's clearly aroused, does it again. When he is leaving her apartment after this encounter he and Valens are horrified to see Booth and his goons outside her apartment door.

Booth takes Valens and Beaumant to his friend, Ben's place, where Valens' husband and child are being kept. Valens is traumatized by the visit and Beaumant is subjected to intimidation from Booth and his friends. It's also clear that Booth is deeply attracted to Ben, but unable to deal with this. He hides his homosexual longings under a pastiche of male heterosexual bravado. "I'll fuck anything that moves!!!" Back in the car, Booth breaks out the gas mask and then notices something in Beaumant and sneers at him: "You're like me!" Enraged by Booth's treatment of Valens, Beaumant lashes out and punches Booth in the face. Infuriated, Booth has his men drag Beaumant from the car, goes through a weird, ugly, homoerotic ritual and then punches the shit out of Beaumant, who is restrained by Booth's men.

The next day, Beaumant revives and makes his way back to his parents' house and wrestles with his conflicting feelings of guilt, remorse, and disgust. (He juxtaposes hearing Valens' pleading behind the closed door at Ben's place, trying to tell her son that "Mommy loves you!" with his own hitting her and having sex with her.)

The film has a love triangle with the "dark" Dorothy Valens, and the "innocent" Sandy Williams competing for Jeffrey's affections. There is a llarger plot involving Booth and crooked Lumberton police. The whole story has the feel of a film from out of the 1950s, but it's clearly set in the present (the 1980's). The scenes at the Williams' or the Beaumants' have a calculatedly artificial innocence about them. At times, Frank Booth is a cartoonish 1950's style villain.

Besides it being my first exposure to David Lynch's weirdness (I would later find "Eraserhead" to be terrifying) I also enjoyed the movie for Dennis Hopper's portrayal of Frank Booth. Because you forget you're watching an actor and you think you're really observing this psychopath. And because I've so rarely had a movie villain I loved to hate as much as Frank Booth. He was a pathetic piece-of-shit. He really had so many issues. (It's possible he was molested as a child, given his whole "Mommy, Daddy, Baby" shtick.) He's a closet case. He's a blustering bully. He's a monster. He brutalized Dorothy Valens. He wouldn't be so tough without all his goons with him. I watched it on VHS tape with a friend, and when Beaumant punched him in the face I clapped and cheered.

We did get a laugh out of his use of the word "fuck" while at Ben's place:
Frank: Where's the glasses? That beer's gonna get warm. One thing I can't fuckin' stand is warm beer. It makes me fuckin' puke!
Ben: Darling? Where's the glasses? Here, Frank. Here are the glasses. Here are the glasses.
Frank: Raymond, where's the fuckin' beer man?
Raymond: It's right here Frank. You want me to pour it?
Frank: No, I want you to fuck it. Shit yes. Pour the fuckin' beer.
Given the fact that he was such a sexual screw-up, his determined over-use of the word "fuck" had an element of deep stupidity to it.

Oh yeah, and we knew Booth wouldn't respond kindly to Beaumant's taste in beer:


(I wonder if that's one of the reasons hipster youngsters are drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon nowadays?)

But for the most part, I HATED him. I wished he didn't die so quickly.

I guess if he was the victim of sexual abuse as a child, Frank Booth is somewhat of a tragic figure. Putting that aside, if he could only have embraced his attraction to Ben (besides complimenting him on being "suave") he might have been happy. He wouldn't have subjected Dorothy Valens to that nightmare.

And Jeffrey Beaumant should not have hit Valens in anger. And he realized that. As did she. She wasn't crazy. She knew the difference between right and wrong.

(* The gas was supposed to be helium, that would make Booth's voice high and squeaky while he was "Baby." But nobody on the set could stop laughing when he used it so they kept the tank and the mask but got rid of the helium. Brilliant. Just like the lamp that "Ben" (Dean Stockwell) lip-synchs into. They needed a microphone prop during a rehearsal and a stage hand gave Stockwell the lamp to use. Stockwell turned it on and Lynch decided to incorporate that for the final product.)


greg said...

I'm sure you thought you finally got rid of me. Just checking in. I hope you are well.

thwap said...


I'm not really well at the moment.

Have you been busy?

greg said...

Sorry you are not well. Is it the not well where you wake up in the morning and say "screw this", or is it medical? Or is it both? I'm your online doctor. tell me everything. I can mail you a tongue depressor. I could mail you some tongue. My grandmother used to make it........ IF I had known it was actual tongue, I .....

thwap said...

We only get one shot at this. And to hell with it all.