1980s >> 1987 >> no-998-october-1987

Film Review: Small Town America

Blue Velvet and Stand By Me are both films about small town America and the ‘end of innocence’. Both. too. strip away the veneer of conventional suburban life to expose a more sinister reality.

David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is much the cleverer, wittily combing genres — psycho-thriller and boy- meets-girl romance — and extending them to their absolute limits. The film opens with a picture of benign American suburban life: white painted clapboard houses, brilliant yellow tulips against a white fence and brilliant blue sky, verdant lawns, cheerful children, serenity and harmony. The spoof becomes obvious when a fire engine, complete with cheery, waving fireman, passes down the street in slow motion. The genre switches to that of thriller when the central character. Jeffrey (played by Kyle Maclachlan) finds a severed human ear on wasteground and sets out to discover who it belonged to. In so doing he enters a sleazy world that he had no idea existed, inhabited by the maniacal mobster. Frank (Dennis Hopper), and the mysterious Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and observes, and becomes caught up in. their sado-masochistic relationship. At the same time Jeffrey is playing his part in the wholesome romance with “girl-next-door”, Sandy.

Blue Velvet is clever, well-observed and at times extremely funny. But there is a serious side to it. Although both sides to the film — apple-pie American and grotesque underworld — are caricatures. they are familiar images. The former could be advertising cornflakes or soap powder, the latter is typical of countless B movies. The fact that reality lies somewhere between the two extremes makes the film no less disturbing.

Stand By Me is less witty but ultimately more subtle. A writer looks back to what was for him two formative days in the summer of 1959. In company with his three best friends, he sets out on a two day hike in search of the body of a child who had gone missing from his home town. The journey begins as a childish adventure but ends with the discovery not only of the missing child’s body but also of the unhappiness and confusion of the twelve year old boys as they confront the reality of their own lives and those of others around them. Stand By Me is evocative of childhood relationships, contains some funny moments, but is, for all that, a painful film.

Janie Percy-Smith