GUEST COLUMN: Webs in David Lynch’s Closet? by R.W. Watkins

Spider-Man-Blue-Velvet-001.jpg

Here is an unusual essay that argues that the screenplay for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” was lifted from classic “Amazing Spider-Man” comics. Republished with permission, this essay originally appeared in The Comics Decoder by poet/cultural subversive R. W. Watkins:

Webs in Lynch’s Closet?
Similarities Between Blue Velvet and Early Spider-Man
by R.W. Watkins

Like the classic Stan Lee-era Amazing Spider-Man comics (1963-c.1972), the films and television series of David Lynch depend on a precise combination of suspense, melodrama and jet-black humour amidst a cast of extreme and offbeat characters. This is certainly more true of Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet than any of his other celluloid creations for the big and small screens. In fact, one can make a reasonably sound argument that Blue Velvet not only resembles early Amazing Spider-Man in its tone and aberrant dynamics, but indeed also owes a great deal to the actual early plots and characters of the classic comic magazine.

Blue-Velvet-Jeffrey-001

To begin with, Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont resembles the 1960s Peter Parker physically, as well as in dress (e.g., blazer, casual trousers), and is sometimes seen walking in the same slouching melancholic manner often associated with the hard-luck comics character. Similar to Parker (starting in 1965), he is a university student who once attended a secondary school called Central High (Parker attended ‘Midtown’ High). The Beaumont family home is reminiscent of the Parkers’ two-storey abode in Forest Hills, Queens, and is situated in a similar quiet uptown neighbourhood. The soundtrack music (Bobby Vinton, Roy Orbison, etc.), clothes, motor vehicles (including a vintage ambulance and fire truck), and flower-hemmed white-picket fences reek of early to mid ’60s Americana.

In the opening scene of the film, Jeffrey’s mother (Priscilla Pointer) is seen watching a crime drama on television, featuring a close-up of a gun in a person’s hand moving stealthfully about a darkened room. Meanwhile, outside, Jeffrey’s father is about to suffer an apparent stroke while hosing the lawn. There is no sign of Jeffrey. Although Mr. Beaumont doesn’t die, this is reminiscent of the murder of ‘Uncle Ben’ Parker, who is shot to death in the first Spider-Man story (from Amazing Fantasy No. 15, 1962) after startling a burglar in his and ‘Aunt May’ Parker’s home while their orphaned nephew Peter is out for the evening. As the scene ends with Mr. Beaumont lying unconscious on the lawn, the camera zooms in for a shot of some stag or ground beetles fighting. Although beetles are obviously not arachnida, it is the first in a series of references to small, creeping organisms that may symbolise spiders.

In the aftermath of his father’s hospitalisation, Jeffrey moves back home from university to help run the family hardware store. This is comparable to Peter Parker’s situation following his Uncle Ben’s death, when he considers easing the financial strain by quitting high school to find a job, and putting his plans for university on hold indefinitely (Amazing Spider-Man No. 1, 1963). As well, Jeffrey’s Aunt Barbara (Frances Bay) moves in with his mother and him, not unlike Peter’s Aunt May, who eventually moves in with her neighbour Anna Watson (in No. 46, 1966), the aunt of Peter’s future girlfriend, Mary-Jane. The presence of an ‘Aunt Barbara’ may also suggest Aunt May herself. In an early scene, Jeffrey comes downstairs at twilight and announces he’s going out for a walk, drawing an Aunt May-like warning from his Aunt Barbara about going “down by Lincoln [Street].”

At that same moment, his mother and aunt are watching what appears to be a suspense or noir film on the living-room television set; on the screen, a pair of feet creeps stealthfully up a staircase, suggesting the treachery that accompanies Jeffrey’s newfound sleuthing—á la that of the early Peter Parker. In a later scene, Jeffrey walks downstairs in the morning with a black eye to be subtly ‘interrogated’ by his aghast mother and aunt. The scene reminds one of the comics panels dedicated to images of Parker, after battling a deadly supervillain overnight, dragging himself downstairs, through the front door, or into the Daily Bugle offices to confront a worriedly inquisitive Aunt May, Mrs. Watson or Betty Brant.

Jeffrey-with-injury

Peter-Parker-with-injury

As for the lovers in Jeffrey’s life, the fair-haired Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) is analogous with both of the two blondes closest to Peter Parker in the 1960s. Like Liz Allen in the earliest comics (1962-’65), she is still a high-school pupil, and is officially dating Mike, the star of the varsity football team, making him comparable to Liz’s usual date, Flash Thompson. Like Gwen Stacy in the somewhat later issues of Amazing Spider-Man (Nos. 31-122, 1965-’73), she is the daughter of a major police officer (Detective Williams, played by George Dickerson). Just as Peter Parker befriends Captain George Stacy (in the line of police investigations into Doctor Octopus [Nos. 53-56, 1967]) without the captain ever knowing Peter’s Spider-Man identity, Jeffrey, following his discovery of an ant-infested severed human ear on a shortcut through a neighbourhood field, befriends and consults with Detective Williams without the officer knowing the full extent of his involvement with the suspects until the latter scenes of the film. Also, like Gwen, Sandy eventually develops a long and lasting relationship with the young male protagonist. Very similar to Liz’s situation, her estranged boyfriend responds by attempting to pick a fight with Jeffrey as the new couple drive home from a teenaged dance party, recalling the occasional fisticuffs between envious Flash Thompson and Peter during high school and university events, parties, etc.

Gwen-Stacy-Spider-Man-Blue-Velvet

Blue-Velvet-Spider-Man-R.W.-Watkins

The other woman in Jeffrey’s life, dark-haired singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosellini), is also analogous with two of Peter Parker’s favourite females: the spicy, multidimensional Mary Jane Watson (a redhead) and, to a lesser extent, Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant (a brunette). Like Watson in the comics, Vallens has a dark and unclear past (although more of it is revealed than that of Watson’s—at least Watson’s in the original 1960s comics storyline). Vallens is a night club singer at The Slow Club. This is also quite similar to Watson, who is a budding actress/dancer/model, and for a few issues in 1968 (Nos. 59-61), worked as a go-go dancer at a ‘hip’ nightclub known as The Gloom Room A-Go-Go. In regards to nomenclature, Dorothy Vallens’s missing husband’s name is Donald James Watts—‘Watts’ is strikingly resemblant of ‘Watson’.

face-it-tiger-you-just-hit-the-jackpot

Also, the manner in which Jeffrey first meets her is amusingly comparable to the way in which Parker finally meets Watson. Vallens opens the door to find Jeffrey hiding in the closet of her apartment; somewhat similarly, after months of ‘ducking’ and hiding from Mary Jane (since No. 15 in 1964), Peter finally comes face to face with the ravishing young woman in the doorway of her Aunt Anna Watson’s, after he agrees to a Sunday dinner arranged by Mrs. Watson and his Aunt May (No. 42, 1966). Similar to Betty Brant—who faces extortion from The Enforcers over a debt to a loan shark, and is blackmailed by jailed gangster Blackie Gaxton into arranging (with Doctor Octopus) his prison break after her brother Bennett ‘welches’ on a gambling debt (Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 10-11, 1964)—Dorothy Vallens is forced to perform sadomasochistic acts with gangster Frank Booth, who, with the assistance of his offbeat cronies, has abducted her husband and young son. Like Brant’s brother, Vallens’s husband is later murdered.

Editor’s Note: You can read the rest of R.W. Watkins’s essay in its original form at The Comics Decoder.

About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, David Lynch, Essays, film, Guest Column, movies, pop culture, Spider-Man, Stan Lee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s