(1986)5Lucia BozzolaA neo-noir nightmare about a cheery town's "strange world," Blue Velvet (1986) is the quintessential David Lynch film. Delving into the sordid underside of heartland America, Lynch's tale of murder, greed, sexual deviance, and sado-masochism unequivocally revealed his cinematic gift for merging deadpan humor, aching sincerity, and unspeakable brutality. The indelible images of too-crisp suburban picket fences and flower beds and the insect-infested ground beneath are deeply unsettling long before nice boy Jeffrey Beaumont's discovery of a severed ear leads to the Lumberton netherworld inhabited by victimized torch singer Dorothy Vallens and fabric-obsessed, gas-inhaling über-psycho Frank Booth. Beaumont's struggle between the dark temptations of Booth's world and the luminous normality of his blonde girlfriend Sandy sharply divided critics over whether Blue Velvet was perverse filth, or a disturbing mélange of surrealism, noir, and 1950s kitsch that brilliantly punctured the smooth surface of traditional Americana. Still, Lynch's singular vision earned an Oscar nomination for Best Director and a devoted cult following for the box office flop; the National Society of Film Critics gave Blue Velvet several prizes including Best Film and Best Supporting Actor for Dennis Hopper's unnerving, career-resurrecting performance as Booth. By 1990, as Lynch was about to bring his warped version of small town America to TV on Twin Peaks, critical consensus declared Blue Velvet one of the three greatest films of the 1980s, alongside Raging Bull (1980) and Do The Right Thing (1989); traces of its influence can be seen from Quentin Tarantino's arch sadism to Todd Solondz's suburban misanthropy.