Eraserhead (1977) might have been a powerful first artistic statement, and The Elephant Man (1980) an Academy Award-nominated success (the less said about Dune, however, the better), but it wasn’t until Blue Velvet (’86) that David Lynch truly arrived. It was the first time he had both the budget and the creative freedom to bring his vision to life. The outcome? Arguably the most important work of his career.
Sure, the critics now cite Mulholland Drive as his masterpiece, and internet memes have helped resurrect Twin Peaks’ popularity (even willing a third season into existence), but Blue Velvet was Lynch’s first and most “Lynchian” production. In my humble opinion, it is the crowning achievement of a complicatedly oblique auteur.
Back in 1985, German photographer Peter Braatz was enamored of the American director’s work and knew he wanted to be a part of it. So off he went to Wilmington, North Carolina, to be an intern on Lynch’s work-in-progress: Blue Velvet. Super 8 camera in hand, Braatz documented his time with the director, the actors and the crew. That footage, along with countless on-set photographs and audio recordings, were unreleased until the 30-year anniversary of Blue Velvet in 2016, when Braatz unearthed his archival footage and created the documentary Blue Velvet Revisited.
The question is: How do you make a documentary about such a deliberately inscrutable artist without spoiling the mystique? Lynch knows the power of the human imagination, and has always left room in his work for viewers to fill in their own blanks. He seems to know that by explaining himself, he would tip his hand, effectively ruining the mysticism of the work. Furthermore, like Polish director Andrzej Żuławski, Lynch tends to create scenes based on emotion rather than logic. This creates visceral moments that routinely force the film’s narrative structure to take a back seat to the absurd.
Braatz had learned from the master, and when it was his turn, he, too, created a work of art. Blue Velvet Revisited may be a documentary, but it’s not your standard collection of talking heads gushing about each other and the moviemaking process; it’s an experimental film in itself. Braatz immerses the viewer in impressions, making them feel like they are on-set and part of the creative process. To achieve this, he weaves a tapestry of photos, audio cues, Super 8 footage, interviews and music into a narrative-free kaleidoscope of the moviemaking process.
For all its surrealism, the action flows chronologically, sweeping us along with Braatz, from his first day on-set through his last. The soundtrack helps tie everything together into a cohesive whole, too, with ambient pieces composed for the film by Tuxedomoon, Cult with No Name and John Foxx. Indeed, at times, BVR feels like a music video, but when the soundtrack is this good, you can’t really complain.
Be warned: This experimental style of documentary isn’t for viewers who like their moving pictures direct and simple. Then again, neither is the source material. So sit back and let yourself sink into the filmmaking process—or let it sink into you. Blue Velvet Revisited is your ticket to experience what it might have been like to be part of the crew that put together one of cinema history’s most striking films.