David Lynch was eighteen years old when Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) was released. Of course, he was no longer a child, but he was a teenager with a marked artistic inclination who would end up directing his first experimental short film a few years later, Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) (David Lynch, 1967). That famous musical fantasy film had to produce a considerable impact on the future director, as can be seen from the reflection that said film will have at a given moment in his cinematographic work, as we will see in the textual analysis of Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) that is presented in this article.
The film produced by Walt Disney, based on the series of novels of the same name by Pamela Lyndon Travers, with music by the Sherman brothers and starring Julie Andrews, enjoyed enormous success in its time. In addition to being the highest grossing film of the year, it was nominated for thirteen Oscars, collecting five statuettes, and has been considered by many the culmination of Walt Disney’s career. Mary Poppins is, on the other hand, a magnificent example of the highly stylized –and some would say stagnant– film produced in the Hollywood of the era that preceded the so-called New Hollywood. The story of the magical nanny –kind and compassionate, just as her charges, Jane and Michael Banks, had wished– remits to a sweetened universe of childhood innocence that is wonderful, endearing, and somewhat artificial at the same time.
Obviously, the register of David Lynch’s fourth feature film, a neo-noir thriller titled Blue Velvet, is quite different. Of the two generic labels used to define this film, the first refers to the English expression thrill, which could be translated as emotion, shudder or shock before an impressive stimulus. As Martin Rubin has explained, «the thriller seeks to arouse fear, suspense, excitement, vertigo and movement. In other words, it emphasizes the visceral, the primary, instead of more sensitive or cerebral aspects such as tragedy, grief, compassion, love or nostalgia» (2000, p. 14). This same author specifies that the thriller, more than a genre in itself, «can be conceptualized as a “metagenere” that encompasses other genres under its cloak and as a band in the spectrum that colors each of those particular genres» (2000, p. 12). For its part, the neo-noir label refers to an updated recreation of the universe of the classic genre known as film noir—or film noir—characterized, among other aspects, by narrating crime stories that take place in environments dominated by corruption, cynicism and violence. As Mark Conard has defined:
The term neo-noir describes any film after the classic film noir period that contains film noir themes and sensibility. […] It is very possible that these later films are not shot in black and white and that they do not contain the play of light and shadow that their classic precursors possessed. However, they contain the same alienation, pessimism, moral ambivalence and disorientation (2007, p. 2).
Blue Velvet is a film that has influenced the cinema of the post-classical period like few others. Among other things, this film redefined from already fully postmodern coordinates the mannerist-inspired thriller that Alfred Hitchcock had popularized at the end of the 50s and of which he had been the undisputed master. At the same time, this fiction written and directed by Lynch laid some of the aesthetic and thematic foundations of the cinema that was to be made in the following two decades at least. The mark left by Blue Velvet can be verified, for example, when observing that an institution such as the American Film Institute (AFI) considers it one of the ten best American films of all time in the mystery genre, a category that in this case includes the thriller (AFI, 2008). Or that the British Film Institute (BFI) and its prestigious magazine Sight and Sound –both in the survey carried out among critics, documentary filmmakers, and academics, as well as in the one carried out exclusively among film directors– place this film among the hundred best in history (BFI, 2022).