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Blue Velvet (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

A nightmarish quest into the underbelly of suburbia. Info

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Blue Velvet seems a surprising choice for the wholesome Central Library. Director David Lynch laced this 1986 masterpiece with psychological terror and graphic sexual violence. But fortunately, the Madison Public Library's Cinesthesia series is undaunted by difficult subject matter. While many cinema fans already enjoy Blue Velvet, this is a rare chance to watch Lynch's attack on the American collective unconscious in a public setting.

The film's protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), is a college boy drawn home after his father’s stroke. Dressed like a 1950s Cure fan, Jeffrey plods through uncanny references to Hollywood's golden age. In an early landscape shot, an unkempt field with a rotting shed hints at humanity's perverse relationship to nature. As Jeffrey tosses stones at this symbol, bored with nostalgia, he finds a moldy, severed ear at his feet. This discovery awakens Jeffrey's need to understand an irrational crime. As the mystery begins, Lynch deploys noir tropes that are initially hilarious. Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) first appears from shadows with a backing orchestra, as if for the final romantic kiss. Violins swell as the camera rests on a "Lincoln Street" sign, which serves as a subtle civil war reference, not a mind-blowing plot revelation.

Postmodern playfulness turns serious when Jeffrey hides in suspect Dorothy Vallens' (Isabella Rossellini) closet, and witnesses a shocking sexual attack, committed by the terrifying kidnapper Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). The town's criminal underworld and Jeffrey's own sexuality unravel through surreal scenes that would appear random if Lynch didn't signpost symbolically, with allusions to Freudian power dynamics bolstering the nightmarish quest. —Reid Kurkerewicz

Earlier Event: October 3
Death Cab For Cutie, Charly Bliss
Later Event: October 5
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