And Pee-Wee wore Blue Velvet.

January 10, 2010

Blue Velvet is considered by many to be David Lynch’s masterpiece. Here‘s what we wrote:

Mixing sheer terror, creepiness, and humour, Lynch refashioned American children’s adventure stories into an exploration of the psyche, sexual fetish, and pure evil. Indeed, the way Lynch reenvisions the Hardy Boys recalls Hemingway’s branding of W.H. Hudson’s The Purple Land as a “sinister book” in The Sun Also Rises; the “innocent” adventure is rare at best, and one can never predict how it will be interpreted. Although there are many harrowing sequences in the movie, one of its most chilling and daring segments features a naked but wounded Isabella Rossellini waiting on Kyle Machlachlan’s porch. Like much of the movie, the scene exists on the boundaries between action and voyeurism, and attraction and repulsion. The scene is beautifully incomprehensible to all involved, largely as a result of Rossellini’s powerful performance. Her body is hardly the only thing laid bare for all to see.

And also here:

Lynch and Hopper managed to create one of cinema’s greatest villains in this movie, on a par with Nicholson’s Joker or McDowell’s Alex DeLarge. But while those characters exist in worlds of pure imagination (to borrow Willy Wonka’s apt phrase), Hopper’s Frank is all the more terrifying because of its realistic tendencies. Though no-one would ever accuse Lynch of playing by the rules of verisimilitude or David Simon level realism, Frank very well could exist. He’s the perfect combination of the mundane and outlandish, vividly realized through Hopper’s divination of his own demons. Also one of cinema’s greatest explorations of the question, nay, theme of voyeurism.

Blue Velvet is a singular film. Nothing quite resembles it. And yet, watching TV today, I realized that there is a very strange companion piece to Blue Velvet: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Tim Burton’s first film is maybe his most disturbing, alternating jarringly between moments of innocence and brutality. Grotesque imagery surrounds elements of 1950s kitsch and suburbia, and Pee Wee is perpetually menaced by forces of evil and miscomprehension. Obviously there is a severe difference in the tone of the two films. In Pee Wee, the menace is the superficial element, with scenes frequently revealing the danger to be unjustified, or quickly alleviated by Pee Wee’s wiles. Blue Velvet, of course, engages the opposite aesthetic as the innocence dissolves into terror and unmediated evil.  And yet the end result is similar: a horrific reconsideration of the world surrounding us. This is nowhere clearer than in Pee Wee‘s climax on the Hollywood backlot. Nothing is as it seems; instead, everything is significantly emptier, hollow.

This is not to say that Pee Wee’s Big Adventure isn’t significantly less disquieting than Blue Velvet; obviously it is. But the difference between the films is that Pee Wee gives us the chance to laugh at the menace, moments to release. As realized by Burton, Pee Wee’s dream sequences are no less traumatic, and refract no fewer psychoses, than any of Lynch’s classics.  It’s a very short journey to the gothic horrors of Batman Returns.

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