To improve or transcend a film scene using popular music is a difficult task - it often comes across as a cheap trick to manipulate or inject a specific emotion into the audience and rarely feels organic or true to the film's essence. David Lynch is a master of sound and the majority of his work includes a musical scene of some sense. Even if you regard or dismiss Lynch's general output as pretentious or over indulgent, it would be difficult to argue against his creative sound abilities.
Blue Velvet (1986) represents a moment of how popular music can be presented from a new angle to create deeper shadings within cinema and the music itself, as we are subjected to supposedly innocent sixties sounds and charmers, which are subsequently turned upside down to reveal a sinister edge.
Following our curious protagonist, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) and his journey into the twisted existence of Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) led and controlled by Frank (Dennis Hooper) has been a series of wickedly surreal experiences and another one is ready to begin: Frank has gathered his gang of outsiders, plus Jeffrey & Dorothy to watch entertainer, Ben (sometimes playfully referred to as the Candy Colored Clown and portrayed by Quantum Leap's very own Dean Stockwell) perform his presentation of Roy Orbison's In Dreams. Below is an embedded video depicting the scene in question and whilst it surely cannot create the same impact as viewing the film as a whole, it will allow you a small taster of it's beautifully strange nature or alternatively (if you've seen the film before) an opportunity to re-examine this short musical moment.
As the song progresses, reflecting upon dreams, lust and the painful sense of the unattainable, the sadist Frank struggles with his inabilities to control such complex emotions. Frank is ashamed of the nude emotion which has briefly overpowered his projected persona - he cannot fathom or handle the exposure of such a public transcendental moment infused by a song's atmosphere. Consequently, despite our previous knowledge that this film is often bewildering, we are yet again (and further) caught off-guard, as we assess what exactly we have just witnessed - why has such an event had this effect on Frank?
Gentleman, Orbison admitted he was initially perplexed by the song's use and understandably protective of it's original intent. Thankfully after further viewings in the Travelling Wilburys tourbus, he appreciated the new lease of life Lynch had given his song. Roy Orbison's ernest vocal performances on the aforementioned In Dreams, Running Scared (a song which so perfectly describes the ultimate fear of rejection), Only the Lonely, Crying and You Got It are for this author, amongst some of the technically greatest and soulfully sung pieces of popular music. Few artists can take previously revered material and propel it to a higher or alternative yet great level and here, David Lynch achieves just that.
For further reading, check out non-Lynch devotee, My Floating Red Couch's largely favourable take on Blue Velvet.
Coming Up: Other than his splendid contribution to Danger Mouse and the late great Mark Linkous' music project, Dark Night of the Soul and other little tidbits, we (hopefully) await another David Lynch feature.
Roy Orbison died in 1988 from a heart attack, aged 52 - a fascinating life including his ability to overcome two tragic events, which killed his first wife and two eldest sons. His humility, vocal range and experimentation with popular song structure were and still are greatly appreciated.
Any thoughts on this iconic moment?
Any favourite uses of popular music within cinema?