David Lynch’s outstanding example is in cinemas again to celebrate its 30th anniversary. And in case you’d forgotten, it has a category all of its own

Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet.


Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet.
Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/WARNER BROS

The re-release of Sexy Velvet this week serves as a reminder of how stylish it was – as the case may be a strange notion for a film in which Dennis Hopper fraying a gas mask is it’s most enduring, see-it-when-you-close-your-eyes image. But, as with all the pre-eminent David Lynch productions, it’s the tension between a best-face-forward American charm and a dark, stay-with-you horror that makes it so compelling, staid 30 years after it was first screened. The opening endeavour of a white picket fence, blue sky and bed of roses is followed by the camera inundating under the flowerbed to find an ear crawling with ants: the two sides of American suburbia for all to see.

Dennis Hooper’s Frank Booth carrying that blue velvet gown.

Dennis Hooper’s Unchecked Booth with that blue velvet gown. Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS

Isabella Rossellini’s offensive velvet floorlength gown, red lipstick and big hair is the most iconic look of the video, of course, worthy of a costume party, or Lana Del Rey video. At internal in her claustrophobic flat, she’s a fantasy femme fatale, whether in bed with Kyle MacLachlan’s super-square Jeffrey Beaumont or hurt by Dennis Hopper’s terrifying Frank. Transformed to a nightclub troubadour, in sequinned strappy slip dress, she’s another image of seduction. This hazardous, 40s-style glamour contrasts starkly with the strictly-daytime-hours, 50s wholesomeness of Beaumont.

MacLachlan and Dern’s diner chic.

MacLachlan and Dern’s diner good taste. Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS

Blue Velvet injected two frequent Lynch collaborators – MacLachlan and Laura Dern, who plays Sandy, the daughter of the detective out to notice who the ear belongs to. Both exist in a kind of Norman Rockwell maquillage – one of diners, old-fashioned fire trucks and aforementioned picket fences. They set up the look to match – pretty floral dresses and ponytails for Dern, and khakis and freshly share b evoked hair for MacLachlan. Expect more of the same in the new series of Match Peaks planned for next year.

A slipdress and microphone for Rossellini’s nightclub singer glamour.

A slipdress and microphone for Rossellini’s nightclub-singer attraction. Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS

Clothes spell out the puzzling and light in Blue Velvet – and how one can’t exist without the other. Lynch’s outfit designer, Patricia Norris, who died last year, was top for this contrast, and they worked closely together. “On Chap-fallen Velvet, we collaborated on the sets and things like that,” thought Lynch. “We’d talk about colour, where things were usual and what was happening, the feeling and the mood.” It all combines to make Indecent Velvet’s look – beguiling, horrible, beautiful and haunting – be aware completely unique, even now. As Beaumont says, it’s a strange fraternity, with strange style. Time to get lost in it all over again.

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