A Searing First Encounter With David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’


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Tim Robinson

And then the young man picked up the severed ear and stared deeply into its ant-encrusted whorls.

That was the moment I fell completely for – and into – “Blue Velvet,” and I can still feel the excitement of its darkness wrapping around me, like a blanket at bedtime on a night you just know your dreams are going to take you someplace new. I had walked into the theater a naïf, and left bruised and confused and elated. And how I would love to feel that way again about a movie, and to see it in the same state of unsullied expectation.

The day was Friday, Sept. 19, 1986, the opening day in New York for “Blue Velvet,” and I went to the first show at the Bay Cinema in Kips Bay. I had seen some of the earlier work of David Lynch, its director — “Eraserhead” (at midnight, of course, in a theater thick with sweet smoke) and “The Elephant Man” – and liked what I tasted well enough. But I didn’t approach his latest film with the ardor I brought to the offerings from the godlike directors of my college days – Coppola, Altman, Bertolucci or Kubrick.

It was the trailer for “Blue Velvet” that made me feel I had to see it. And it had to be before everybody else started talking about it.

It’s important to note that I saw the ads not on television but in a theater, where big images can reach out and shake you. Whoever assembled the trailers for “Blue Velvet” appeared not to know what to do with this bizarre and wriggly mystery story, which came across as equally ominous and ridiculous, and not something that could be distilled into a minute or two of snappy montage. The ads were framed by stately quotations from magazines, jeweled with words like “masterpiece” and “visionary.”

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