Blue Velvet, which is on Sunday at 23:15 on Film4, is David Lynch’s early, eerie masterpiece. It is the story of a young man (Kyle McLachlan, who was later to appear in Twin Peaks) who becomes obsessed with a nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini), who is herself in the grip of a gang of criminals who have kidnapped her child. Dennis Hopper’s performance as the psychopathic gang leader, Frank, almost defies description and there is a strong cast of supporting characters, played by Laura Dern, Dean Stockwell, Hope Lange and Jack Nance. Rich Cohen of Rolling Stone described McLachlan as ‘the boy next door, if that boy spent too long in the basement’. Certainly smalltown America would never look the same again.

Lynch said he was inspired by Bobby Vinton’s rendition of the song that gave the film its title, and the image of a severed human ear lying in a field, which made it through to the final cut. He was largely left to his own devices during the making of the film.

Both McLachlan and Rossellini were unknown at the time. Rossellini, the daughter of the Italian neorealist director Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, was a model for LancĂ´me when Lynch met her in a restaurant. After the film was released, she was dropped by her agency and the nuns in the Italian school she attended called to say they were praying for her. McLachlan had worked on Lynch’s disastrous Dune (1984). Hopper was a bigger name, but only got the role after both Steven Berkoff and Harry Dean Stanton turned it down as too violent.

Blue Velvet‘s extensive and aestheticised sexual violence divided the critics. Pauline Kael, Janet Maslin and Peter Travers all praised the film highly. Roger Ebert gave it one star. Mark Kermode walked out, but subsequently reconsidered: ‘I didn’t walk out on Blue Velvet because it was a bad film. I walked out on it because it was a really good film. The point was at the time I wasn’t good enough for it.’

Here’s an interesting take from, of all things, Business Insider Australia, called Watching David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ as a survivor of sexual trauma and a member of the kink community gave me a new appreciation of its depiction of BDSM.

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