Blue Velvet’s influence is perhaps most apparent in the films of Quentin Tarantino. The director picked up on how Blue Velvet not only stylized violence but created a new tone for it—one that was as fascinated with the minutiae surrounding perverse lives as it was in the brutal acts themselves. The infamous scene in Reservoir Dogs in which Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde cuts off a kidnapped cop’s ear while listening to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ’70s is a not-especially-subtle nod to the ear discovered early in Lynch’s film.
Reservoir Dogs and to an even greater extent Pulp Fiction intersperse their grisly set pieces with amusingly mundane dialogue, visual riddles, and hints at fetishism. Pulp Fiction’s infamous pawn-shop scene is a jolting play on the seedy-underbelly motif so thoroughly explored in Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Much like with Lynch, Tarantino’s early films are so compulsively watchable because all the subversive behavior takes place in a landscape of cultural conformity. With its Flintstones and Speed Racer T-Shirts and ’50s film posters, Pulp Fiction serves up the life of crime garnished with beloved artifacts of American culture. If this responsiveness to—and playful attitude toward—popular culture seems ideally primed for television, then it’s only fitting that Tarantino recently said he’d consider making a TV series as his next project.
Most importantly, Blue Velvet changed the way both directors and audiences think about small-town American life. The unassuming setting of suburbia and the atmosphere of film noir, once worlds apart, became inextricable after the movie’s release. The synthesis has influenced the work of the Coen Brothers (most notably Fargo, which later spawned an acclaimed anthology TV series), cerebral crime films like Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, and even shows like Mad Men, The Fall, and Bates Motel. In its own way, Blue Velvet rewrote the American mythos, pointing to the depravity that lurks behind idyllic picket fences.
This “interactive” subtext, in which Lynch’s work entices viewers to question their own desires and moral compasses, is part of what makes the possibilities for the upcoming Twin Peaks so exciting. With television arguably serving as today’s dominant medium for carving America’s self-image, Lynch is returning to a platform more well-suited than ever to his penchant for toying with the zeitgeist.
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In 2001, 15 years after Blue Velvet and a decade after Twin Peaks, Lynch made what many consider to be his masterpiece. Mulholland Drive was originally conceived as a TV series for ABC in 1999 and was intended to be the director’s triumphant reappearance on television. But after fighting over creative control with network executives, Lynch finally decided to wrench Mulholland Drive back into his own hands and turn it into a film. The result is a celluloid sphinx of a movie—a Hollywood noir that’s exquisite and menacing and that does away with the dualism of light and dark Lynch explored in Blue Velvet and Eraserhead in favor of a more sophisticated dynamic. The morbid tone and moral ambiguity of the film lives on today in shows like True Detective, The Knick, and The Leftovers, all of which draw from the same well of existential confusion and disturbed protagonists.