Skirball Cultural Center’s The Noir Effect exhibition explores the far-reaching influence of film noir

ROUSE & JONES, Dead End, 2009, courtesy of the artists.

ROUSE & JONES, Dead End, 2009, courtesy of the artists.

Pick up a glossy magazine and there’s a good chance you’ll see a fashion layout or an advertisement featuring a mysterious, glamorous woman, dressed to kill, shot in high-contrast black and white. She’s retro but cutting-edge contemporary as well.

Scroll through a Netflix menu and it won’t be long before you find a slew of crime movies with archetypal characters: the private eye, the corrupt cop, the vicious gangster and the woman who lures men to lust and doom.

Why does noir – a term that covers much more than movies – continue to intrigue and delight? My theory is that film noir’s strikingly elegant style, moral ambiguity and political awareness put the pictures way ahead of their time when they were made in the 1940s and ’50s. Not surprisingly then, they still resonate with audiences of today.

Page from You Have Killed Me. Illustrations by Joëlle Jones and story by Jamie S. Rich, 2009.

Page from You Have Killed Me. Illustrations by Joëlle Jones and story by Jamie S. Rich, 2009.

At the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles, running in conjunction with the Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 exhibition, The Noir Effect examines how the film noir genre gave rise to major contemporary trends in American popular culture, art and media.

The show, which runs Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 to March 1, 2015, highlights noir elements such as the city, the femme fatale, the anti-hero and moral codes.

As Skirball Cultural Center Assistant Curator Linde Lehtinen says: “Noir remains a powerful approach and style because its dark, urban sensibility and its perspective on identity, morality and the shifting nature of the modern city continue to be relevant and timely.”

Bill Armstrong, Untitled (Film Noir #1401), 2011.

Bill Armstrong, Untitled (Film Noir #1401), 2011.

In addition to clips from neo-noir films such as “Chinatown” (1974, Roman Polanski) and “Brick” (2005, Rian Johnson), the exhibition will feature contemporary art, literature, photography and fashion advertising as well as children’s books, games and comics, including Luke Cage Noir and Spider-Man Noir.

Featured artists include Bill Armstrong, Ronald Corbin, Helen K. Garber, David Lynch, Daido Moriyama, Karina Nimmerfall, Jane O’Neal, Alex Prager, Rouse & Jones, Ed Ruscha and Cindy Sherman.

The Noir Effect will allow visitors to reinvent noir for themselves. A costume wall and portrait station invite visitors to pose for their own noir-inspired “museum selfie,” while writing materials encourage on-the-spot noir narratives. The Skirball Cultural Center will also hold an online photo contest as a way to gather visitor snapshots of L.A. neighborhoods captured in classic noir style.

Ed Ruscha, 51% Angel / 49% Devil, 1984, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Graphic Arts Council Fund.

Ed Ruscha, 51% Angel / 49% Devil, 1984, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Graphic Arts Council Fund.

Additionally, the site-specific installation Café Vienne pays tribute to the important cultural role of the Viennese coffee house. In the early 20th century, female artists and writers embraced these coffee houses as places for debate, networking and inspiration.

Contemporary visual artist Isa Rosenberger (b. 1969) uses this historical setting to address the life and work of Austrian- American Jewish writer Gina Kaus (1893–1985), once known in literary circles as “Queen of the Café.” A best-selling novelist before she was driven from Europe by the Nazi regime, Kaus eventually emigrated to the U.S. where she became a Hollywood screenwriter.

We at FNB are very excited about this terrific programming and can’t wait for it to start. We’ve long been captivated by film noir and it’s gratifying to find so many others who share our passion.

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‘Laura’ and ‘Blue Velvet’ to screen at the Egyptian Theatre

Laura 1944 posterThe delightful, urbane and unapologetically posh film noir “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger) screens tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, part of the American Cinematheque.

“Laura” makes me nostalgic for a life I never led — the adventures of a 1940s career girl living in Manhattan: landing a job on Madison Avenue, buying suits and silk stockings for work, renting a place for $40/month, meeting handsome men, dinner and drinks at the Stork Club, weekend trips to the country.

Of course, “Laura” does have a few downsides — murder and mistaken identity, for starters. Seems that turning every head and being the toast of the town, as is the case with the charming and lovely Laura (Gene Tierney), may prove very dangerous. In a series of flashbacks, we learn the details of Laura’s life and it appears that in addition to having many admirers, she attracted an enemy or two as well. You can read the full review here.

Blue Velvet posterAnd Thursday night: Thomas Ethan Harris presents a seminar on deconstructing writer/director David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986). This detailed look inside Lynch’s masterpiece takes place in the Spielberg Theatre of the Egyptian.

In “Blue Velvet,” Lynch dazzles and disturbs us as he probes the evil beneath the surface of sunny small-town Americana. Twenty-eight years later, its trippy shimmer has not dimmed, reminding us of Lynch’s auteur power. You can read the full review here.

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‘Partly Fiction’ is fully compelling, beautifully shot

Partly Fiction/2013/Adopt Films/77 min.

Partly Fiction posterAt 87 years old, Harry Dean Stanton is just as interesting to watch as he was 50 years ago, when he first started appearing on movie screens.

Perhaps that’s because the actor and veteran of neo noir has a look — like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones — that ages for sure but never really gets old, no matter how many decades pass. Classically handsome, not so much but Stanton’s rugged, weathered face is singularly expressive. Or as Sam Shepard puts it in a wonderful new documentary on Stanton: “His face is the story.”

Directed by Sophie Huber, “Partly Fiction,” is an of-the-moment glimpse into an iconic actor’s oeuvre and a mysterious man’s heart. Through interview footage, clips from some of his 250 films and his own renditions of American folk songs, we see a loner, an artist and a Hollywood survivor. Stanton is someone who has been steadily successful on his own terms in a cut-throat industry famous for using, abusing and discarding talent. Maybe his secret is he doesn’t seem to take Tinseltown or himself too seriously.

At least that was my impression as Stanton discussed his early days, working with his friends, acting greats Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. We see him at home and at a longtime hangout, Dan Tana’s in West Hollywood as he talks a bit about his roots in West Irvine, Ky., the craft of acting and a relationship that left him “broken-hearted.”

Offering their takes are on what makes Stanton tick along with Shepard are David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Kris Kristofferson and Debbie Harry. Seamus McGarvey provides luminous camerawork (black and white at Stanton’s home, color when he ventures out).

“Partly Fiction”’s  story is rich, resonant and real.

“Partly Fiction” opened Wednesday in New York. It opens today in LA with select cities to follow. Director Sophie Huber and Harry Dean Stanton will be doing a Q&A tonight (Friday, Sept. 13) following the 7:30 p.m. show at Landmark’s The Nuart in West LA.

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Susan Andrews to introduce ‘Laura’ at the Egyptian Theatre

The delightful, urbane and unapologetically posh film noir “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger) screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Here’s a quick synopsis from the event organizers: Investigating a murder, chain-smoking Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with the dead woman, only to find out it wasn’t she who was murdered. The brilliant cast includes Gene Tierney as the gorgeous Laura, Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker and Vincent Price as Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter. The film is said to have been an inspiration for David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.”

You can read my full review of “Laura” here.

Dana Andrews’ daughter, Susan Andrews, will introduce the movie. Author Carl Rollyson will sign copies of his book “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews” at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby. (“Laura” was recently released on Blu-ray and is a great addition to your film library.)

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On the radar: photo l.a. show returns to Santa Monica, Lynch and Sirk films at the Aero, Carole Lombard classics on DVD

© Julius Shulman, Case study number 22, Playboy Image, C-print, 1960, Courtesy of Be-hold

Focus on style: photo l.a., now in its 22nd year, opens Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Work from 70 galleries and photography dealers from around the world will be on display. The show closes Jan. 21.

Auteurs at the Aero: On Friday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m., the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica has a cool double-feature: David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir “Blue Velvet,” starring Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper, and “All That Heaven Allows” (1955, Douglas Sirk), a subversive love story about the romance between a lonely widow (Jane Wyman) and her gardener (Rock Hudson).

The Carole Lombard DVD set

Lombard love: TCM is bringing three early and rarely seen Carole Lombard performances to DVD. Carole Lombard in the ’30s will be available exclusively through TCM’s online store beginning Monday, Jan. 21.

With her sparkling presence and sharp timing, the stunning Lombard delighted audiences in some of the greatest screwball comedies ever made, but she spent the early part of her brief career playing dramatic roles and romantic ingénues. (Lombard died in a plane crash in 1942.)

Highlighting her lesser-known films, this DVD set includes fully restored and re-mastered editions of “No More Orchids” (1932), “Brief Moment” (1933) and “Lady By Choice” (1934).

The collection also features an introduction by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and bonus materials, including production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards and movie posters.

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FNB holiday gift guide 2012: Part One

The sharing and caring of the season is swell, but some of us get joy from coveting stuff. With that in mind, we present part one of our holiday gift guide, highlighting vanity-table delights as well as snacks and sips. Tomorrow: Books and DVDs.

Henri Bendel New York Minute silk scarf, $68. The pattern comes in three colors. Also cute is the NYM Iphone 5 phone cover, $38.

Brian Atwood gloves for Target + Neiman Marcus, $50.

Marc Jacobs/Dita Von Teese cotton T-shirt, $35. All proceeds from the sale of this shirt will be donated to NYU Skin Cancer Institute.

Nest body cream, $50, in Amazon Lily. Also comes in Midnight Fleur and Passiflora. The fragrance line was inspired by the botanical artworks of 18th Century artist Mary Delany.

Lady Gaga Fame soap, $15.

Kilian’s Good Girl Gone Bad perfume, 1.7 ounces, $245. Each bottle includes a white clutch embellished with a goldtone snake detail.

The latest from Chanel: 1.7 ounces, $98 and 3.4 ounces, $130. Available at department stores and online.

Givenchy Noir Couture Mascara is formulated to improve shine, suppleness and strength, $32.

Tom Ford Beauty Lip Color in Crimson Noir, $48.

Bobbi Brown Rich Caviar Eye Palette, $47.50.

Lalique pétillante ring in silver/black crystal cabochon, $925.

Gifts for him from Tiffany: Original design by Paloma Picasso. Cuff links in stainless steel and midnight titanium, $425.

Dom Pérignon by David Lynch limited edition champagne: Dom Pérignon Vintage 2003 and Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2000. Starting at $175; prices vary depending on vendor.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat by Katrina Markoff is sure to please. Try the Caramel Marshmallows, four pieces, $13. The hot cocoa sold in Vosges boutiques (Chicago, NYC, LA and Vegas) boosts energy while shopping.

McConnell’s peppermint stick ice cream, $7 per pint. The company was founded in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1949 by a World War II veteran who was inspired by the ice cream he tried while stationed in Europe.

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‘The Woman in the Fifth’ is a mystery thriller in disguise

The Woman in the Fifth/2011/ATO Pictures/83 min.

A hypnotic story set in Paris. A creeping sense of dread, hints of dark memories and damaging secrets about to unfold. Dream imagery and sleight-of-hand shots. Shadowy criminal types and a formidable, cryptic seductress. Excellent acting. “The Woman in the Fifth” has the ingredients for a first-rate psychological thriller, in the tradition of Roman Polanski or David Lynch.

Ethan Hawke plays Tom, an American writer trying to repair his relationship with his ex-wife (Delphine Chuillot) and daughter (Julie Papillon) in Paris. His wife wants nothing to do with him though, as per the restraining order against him.

Broke, frustrated and forlorn, he takes a job at a warehouse and finds solace from a distinguished, domineering translator who lives in the 5th arrondissement (Kristin Scott Thomas) and a young Polish barmaid (Joanna Kulig). But, when a fellow resident at Tom’s grim hostel is murdered, he struggles to retain his tenuous grip on reality.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (his last work was 2004’s “My Summer of Love”) describes “Woman,” based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, as a mystery thriller in disguise and more precisely as a nightmare about “a man who fails to pay attention to the outside world, who lives in his own head and is totally incapable of understanding his true motives.”

But the film is at its best and most interesting before the anything-goes twist; once that’s revealed, the tension seeps out and we’re left deflated as the story sputters to the end.

“The Woman in the Fifth” opens today in select cities and on June 22 in LA.

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On the radar: Revel in noir at the Aero, Egyptian and Lacma

There’s so much to see on the big screen this month in Los Angeles. See you at the movies!
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AT THE AERO THEATRE
1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; shows start at 7:30 p.m.
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Saturday, March 3: A sneak preview of the thriller/horror flick “Silent House” starring Elizabeth Olsen followed by 2003’s “Open Water,” a nerve-wracking story about a couple left stranded in the Caribbean after a day of scuba diving. There will be a discussion between films with co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers on a Train"

Wednesday, March 7: One of my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, “Strangers on a Train” (1951) stars Robert Walker as a psycho playboy intent on committing a double murder with tennis champ Farley Granger. As Hitch shows us in the opening shot, never underestimate the importance of footwear.
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Wednesday, March 14: Another Hitchcock work that draws on his lifelong love of trains, “The Lady Vanishes” from 1938 takes place on a train en route from the fictional country of Bandrika to Western Europe. Passengers Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave attempt to find a mysterious Miss Froy.
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Thursday, March 15: In “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) the great Robert Mitchum gives an unforgettable performance as a warped preacher with a knack for seducing trusting souls. Also starring Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. At 6:30 p.m., author Preston Neal Jones will sign his book “Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter.”
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Laura Harring, director David Lynch and Naomi Watts of "Mulholland Dr."

Saturday, March 24: A top-notch double feature, starting with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece noir and scathing look at Hollywood, “Sunset Boulevard” (1950). William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim star in this must-see flick. Next up: Naomi Watts and Laura Harring lead the cast of David Lynch’s mesmerizing and surreal portrait of Tinseltown’s latent evil, “Mulholland Dr.” (2001).

Wednesday, March 28: Yet more Hitchcock! Joel McCrea plays reporter Johnny Jones, who encounters intrigue and danger in “Foreign Correspondent” from 1940.
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Thursday March 29: “The Manchurian Candidate,” starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Superb direction from John Frankenheimer.
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AT THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE
6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; shows start at 7:30 p.m. with multiple showings and one matinee for “The Snowtown Murders”

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man."

Wednesday, March 7: Carol Reed directs Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles in 1949’s “The Third Man,” one of the finest thrillers ever made. Don’t miss it!
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Wednesday, March 14: Orson Welles as auteur and actor. In “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), an outstanding noir, he co-stars with Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane. In “Confidential Report” (1955), Welles plays a dad in deep denial about his murky past.
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Thursday, March 15-Sunday, March 18: Justin Kurzel makes his directorial debut with “The Snowtown Murders,” the story of Australia’s most infamous serial killer. Plays at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.
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Wednesday, March 28: More brilliance from Orson Welles in this knock-out double feature. “Touch of Evil,” a tale of corruption, is widely considered the last great work of classic film noir. Its unbeatable cast: Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Mercedes McCambridge. “The Trial” (based on Franz Kafka’s novel about paranoia and conspiracy) also boasts amazing talent: Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.
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AT LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8: As a tribute to Wim Wenders, “The American Friend,” a stand-out neo noir from 1977 is paired with 1982’s “Chambre 666,” a doc with A-list directors about the future of filmmaking.
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At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9: Film noir is partly rooted in French Poetic Realism and these two examples of the genre make an excellent night at the movies. To start: Cinematic genius and master of poetic realism Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” (1939) followed by Jacques Becker’s “Casque D’Or” (1952). Becker assisted Renoir on “Rules” and “Grand Illusion” (1937).
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Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" from 1944.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944) is one of the defining films of the noir genre. Femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck lures insurance agent Fred MacMurray into committing murder for a big payoff. Edward G. Robinson shines as MacMurray’s boss and friend.
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At noon Saturday, March 24: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Biennale, is a 24-hour single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments of cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. Begins at noon Saturday and ends at noon on Sunday, March 25.
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At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 27: Another prime example of classic film noir, Robert Siodmak’s “The Killers” put Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster on the track to super-stardom.
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Film noir gifts for the holidays: Books

Last week, I was beauty-product happy. This week, it’s all about pages.

Here are my book-buying suggestions and descriptions from their sellers/review highlights.

Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark” by Brian Kellow, $27.95
Says fellow film critic Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter: “Kellow … writes beautifully and dexterously interweaves the story of a career long-thwarted with a sensitive reading of his subject’s youthful enthusiasm and intellectual growth. … Kellow admirably brings Pauline’s wit, insight and passion to life on the page and has made at least one critic nostalgic for the days when heavyweight critical battles raged and at least one of us lived a life worthy of a biography.”

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories” by Dame Daphne du Maurier, $15
Writing in ElleKate Christensen says of du Maurier (who wrote “Rebecca,” “My Cousin Rachel” and “Jamaica Inn”): “It’s all here: her fascination with the interplay between ingénue and femme fatale, her caddish male characters and the clinging females they devastate, and the inevitable disillusionment of innocence. … The stories are not all equally well realized – a few of them feel more like sketches – but the best ones are astonishingly good.”

Maigret at the Gai-Moulin,” a novel by Georges Simenon, $8
Belgian writer Simenon (1903-89) published his first novel at 17 and wrote more than 200 novels, many featuring a detective named Commissaire Maigret. Says People magazine: “Maigret … ranks with Holmes and Poiret in the pantheon of fictional detective immortals.”

Marilyn: Intimate Exposures” by Susan Bernard/Bruno Bernard, $35
Hollywood photographer Bruno Bernard’s iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate in a billowing white dress is synonymous with Hollywood glamour. Many of the images in this volume have never before been published.

Gary Cooper

Also includes forewords from Jane Russell, Marilyn’s co-star in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and Lindsay Lohan as well as excerpts from Bruno’s journal and a frameable print. (Next year is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death.)

Gary Cooper: An Enduring Style” by Maria Cooper Janis and G. Bruce Boyer, $60
The first monograph focused on the timeless fashion and allure of this leading man who was a fashion inspiration to his Hollywood peers, clothing designers and generations of stylish men. Unpublished, never-before-seen personal photographs, shot primarily by his wife Rocky.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, $55
From Town & Country: “Before there was Daphne Guinness, before there was Lady Gaga, there was the original style setter. A new book takes a look at the career and influence of the woman who made fashion modern.”

Lisa Immordino Vreeland runs her own fashion design and production consulting business. She is the producer of a documentary film about Diana Vreeland, and is married to Vreeland’s grandson Alexander.

Christian Louboutin,” $150
Red rules in more than 300 pages of the legendary designer’s work. Read more about him and his career here.

Works on Paper” by David Lynch, $195
A collection of more than 500 drawings, dating from the 1960s by the renowned American film director, offers a unique glimpse into the artist’s creative process.

If you are in the LA area, treat yourself to a trip to Dragon Books, 2954 Beverly Glen Circle, 310-441-8545. There, you’ll find an inscribed first edition of 1984’s “Things I Did … and Things I Think I Did” by director Jean Negulesco (“The Mask of Dimitrios,” “Humoresque,” “Johnny Belinda” and “How to Marry a Millionaire,” along with many others); $150.

Also: a first edition of Don Allen’s “François Truffaut” from 1974, signed by Truffaut; $1,500.

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Suspenseful, subversive ‘Blue Velvet’ continues to beguile

Blue Velvet/1986/MGM/120 min.

David Lynch

In “Blue Velvet,” writer/director David Lynch dazzles and disturbs us as he probes the evil beneath the surface of sunny small-town Americana. Twenty-five years later, its trippy shimmer has not dimmed, reminding us of Lynch’s auteur power. (The film was released last month on Blu-ray.)

Setting the action in Lumberton, N.C., a real-life city with a retro vibe, Lynch introduces us to Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student with an Eagle scout vibe. Jeffrey stumbles into a sordid mystery when he discovers a human ear lying in a field.

As he investigates, he’s aided by cute, cheerful Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), who is also the police chief’s daughter, always a plus when you’re short on clues. Jeffrey quickly finds that the bloody trail of badness traces back to Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a psychotic abuser you’ll never forget.

Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern

Top on Frank’s list of victims is a sad and broken nightclub singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who sees death as her salvation. As Jeffery is pulled into Frank’s world, he finds himself falling for both Dorothy and Sandy, slowly spiraling until he meets the ugliest side of his soul.

The nightmarish world of “Blue Velvet” is a perfect melding of sly, suspenseful tone, subversive storytelling and marvelous, beguiling images that only painter-turned-filmmaker Lynch could concoct. There is baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. There are also curtains, stages, disguises, halting juxtapositions.

Jeffrey finds the rank, insect-infested ear just seconds after a beautiful shot of brilliant color – red roses, a white fence, pure blue sky. Savage violence co-exists with moments of buoyant charm. (Compare the slow-motion shots of friendly firemen waving at us with Dorothy’s unrelenting degradation.) Lynch ferrets out the good guys’ guilty secrets and furnishes warped humor – such as the camp comic relief from Frank’s bisexual friends, including a twisted impresario played by Dean Stockwell.

The performances are particularly haunting. Fresh out of rehab, Hopper shrewdly saw that the role could launch a comeback for him. In the DVD extras, Rossellini recalls being moved by Hopper’s talent as he let tears fall down his face.

Rossellini brings uncommon depth and richness to her breakthrough American role. (Lynch originally wanted Helen Mirren). Ideally cast, MacLachlan and Dern nail their parts as well – soft-spoken and gentle straight-shooters who spend much energy suppressing their turbulent, darker desires.

Now 25 years old, “Blue Velvet” remains weird, wild, risky and wonderful.

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