David Lynch's subversive classic stands the test of time

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A Little Night Music

Dennis Hopper calls it “the first truly American surrealist film”. The novelists JG Ballard and Jenny Diski, speaking on the slender documentary extras that accompany this double-disc set, find parallels with Freudian Oedipal theory. Even the notoriously cryptic director appears in archive footage, attempting to half-explain the inexplicable.

In 1986, David Lynch sealed his reputation forever as cinema’s chief nagivator of the psychosexual subconscious. A brilliant and unsettling trawl through the nocturnal underbelly of an impossibly cheerful small American city, Blue Velvet was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina, here renamed Lumberton. Halfway through the shoot, Lynch’s producers discovered there was a real Lumberton nearby, negotiating use of the name in return for shooting a small section of their movie there.

Kyle MacLachlan flirts winningly with golly-gee parody as Jeffrey Beaumont, a clean-cut hero straight out of 1950s Hollywood who becomes entangled in the twisted sex games between masochistic club singer Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and her psycho-killer lover Frank (Dennis Hopper). Hopper actually changed his demented sex scenes, having Frank breathe amyl nitrate and nitrous oxide rather than helium. In retrospect, Hopper concedes, Lynch’s initial idea would have been even more disturbing.

Using motifs and themes he later revisited in Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, Lynch assails the viewer with black humour and lurid violence. Two decades later, Blue Velvet’s stylised action sometimes plods a little, and the shock value has clearly diminished. But Lynch’s surreal, intoxicating masterpiece is still a darkly hypnotic movie milestone.