In this series, we take a look at the way music choices can enrich a film. For the first entry, Julia Selinger takes a look at the title song from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
The opening sequence of Blue Velvet, David Lynch’s 1986 mystery-thriller, is unsettlingly idyllic. The camera pans down to reveal a row of striking red roses against a white picket fence and clear blue sky. This is followed by a series of picturesque images of suburbia. A fire truck drives by with firemen waving happily; innocent schoolchildren are safeguarded across the street; a proud homeowner waters his yard while his Jack Russell romps alongside him. The scene is accompanied by Bobby Vinton’s 1950 pop ballad, “Blue Velvet,” not to mention with the chirping of birds in the background. Cue the homeowner’s sudden collapse, triggering an eerie, sinister shift in the tone of the song. The camera then crawls under the bright green lawn, revealing a teeming horde of beetles. Vinton’s love song is drowned out by the sounds of beetles crawling over dried thoraxes and eating away at the earth. The first two minutes of the film immediately introduce a typical Lynchian trope: the horrific and seedy underbelly that lurks beneath the halcyon suburb.
The song “Blue Velvet” seems to occupy both layers of the Lynchian society. As the camera roves between idyllic suburbanites and the film’s sordid characters, the sound of Vinton crooning “Blue Velvet” links the two worlds together. If the wide-eyed protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) represents the innocence of suburbia, and the violent sociopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) represents all things sadistic and evil, then they too are linked by the film’s titular song. Or perhaps more accurately, they are linked by the songstress.
Dorothy Vallens, played by Isabella Rossellini,is equal parts maternal and sexually aggressive towards Jeffrey and Frank. She uses “Blue Velvet” as a means to cast a spell over the men. This is particularly evident in the scenes in the nightclub, wherein the song becomes even more mysterious and alluring. During the first performance of “Blue Velvet,” the viewer engages in a back and forth between Vallens’ crooning and Jeffrey’s fixated gaze. As the song progresses, the close-up on Jeffrey becomes more pronounced. The performance maintains transformative powers for Jeffrey, turning him from a naïve Heineken-drinking college kid to a mesmerized observer with scopophilic tendencies.
The next time we hear Vallens singing, Jeffrey is once again captivated. But this time, Jeffrey sees Frank out of the corner of his eye, also staring intently at the performance. Frank, too, is awestruck by the song. As he listens intently, he fondles a blue piece of velvet, indicating his fetishization of the fabric, of Vallens, and of the song itself. By examining the parallel gazes of Jeffrey and Frank, we can view the song “Blue Velvet” as a tool that links seemingly opposite characters and reveals their inner obsessions and scopophilic natures. Ultimately, “Blue Velvet” is not merely a song; it is a gateway to the dark and entrancing underworld of the film.