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Blue Velvet

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Following the critical and commercial failure of Dune, Lynch was ready to return to a more personal story, in the form of Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet as a formal project dated back to around the time of the completion of the Elephant Man, though Lynch started having ideas for it as far back as the 70's. "I started getting these ideas for it in 1973, but they were just fragments of interesting things. Some fell away, others stayed and began to join up."1 "The first two or three ideas were a neighborhood, kind of green lawns with shadows like, lit at night from a light bulb and red lips and the color blue. The song Blue Velvet, Bobby Vinton's version, influenced it a lot."2 Jack Nance remembered Lynch talking about Blue Velvet during the editing of Eraserhead: "He showed me this little drawing he'd done...of this rustic roadhouse or saloon, out in the countryside. It was just by the side of the road with this big neon sign on top of the place that said: 'Blue Velvet.' He showed it to me and said: 'How do you like it, Jack?' I said: 'It's beautiful.' He said: 'We're going to do that someday.' I said: 'Do what?' And he said: 'We're going to do Blue Velvet someday. It's a movie.'"3

After Lynch finished shooting the Elephant Man, he tried to interest various investors in his script to Ronnie Rocket. Producer Richard Roth (Julia, Manhunter, In Country) turned down Ronnie, but was interested in what other ideas Lynch might have. "I told him I had always wanted to sneak into a girl's room to watch her at night and that, maybe, at one point or another, I would see something that would be a clue to a murder mystery."4 Roth liked the idea and helped Lynch pitch the film to Warner Brothers, who gave the project a go.

Lynch wrote two treatments of Blue Velvet at Warner's request, but they hated both versions. The film was dead until Lynch finished filming Dune, and was asked by producer Dino De Laurentiis if he had any projects he'd like to do next. Lynch pitched Blue Velvet, with one condition - he had to have final cut. De Laurentiis agreed in exchange for Lynch cutting his salary and the film's budget in half. Some questioned if it was wise for De Laurentiis to fund Lynch's new project given the poor box office of Dune. According to Paul Sammon, former DEG vice-president of special promotions, "Dino appreciated David's rather bizarre gifts, and besides, Dino's system was to always presell everything through his European and international contacts, so he never lost money."5

With the project a go again, Lynch completed two more drafts of the screenplay to Blue Velvet. The catalyst to set the story in motion was Jeffrey's discovery of the ear. "The ear is like a canal, it's like an opening, little egress into another place...It's like a ticket to another world that he finds. If he hadn't found it, you know, he would have kept on going home and that would have been the end of it. But the fascination with this, once found, drew him into something he needed to discover and work through."6 It was on the fourth and final draft that Lynch finally came up with the ending to the film. "I was sitting on a bench and I suddenly remembered this dream that I'd had the night before. And the dream was the ending to Blue Velvet. The dream gave me the police radio; the dream gave me Frank's disguise; the dream gave me the gun in the yellow man's jacket; the dream gave me the scene where Jeffrey was in the back of Dorothy's apartment, sending the wrong message, knowing Frank would hear it. I don't know how it happened, but I just had to plug and change a few things to bring it all together."7

Cast in the role of Jeffrey is Kyle MacLachlan, whom Lynch first discovered when casting Dune. "When I saw Kyle I could see Jeffrey. He's intelligent and he's handsome, so he goes good with the girls. And he can get this curiosity factor going. He can play naive and innocent and obsessive, and he can reason. With some actors, when you look in their eyes, you just don't see them thinking. Kyle can think on screen."8

The part of Dorothy Vallens proved to be one of the hardest to cast. Lynch showed the script to several actresses, who liked the film but felt the part wasn't right for them. "I got some of the most positive feedback from actors who didn't end up being in the film. Helen Mirren really helped me on that script."9 Lynch met Isabella Rossellini at a restaurant in New York and a few days later decided to offer her the part. Rossellini wanted to do the part and understood it right away. "It was a wonderful way to portray sexuality and the darkness of it. And I played a femme fatal who was femme fatal just because she was kind of beautiful and she was singing and she had the features of somebody beautiful but yet she was completely destroyed inside. That's a pretty good role. Most of the time the femme fatales are portrayed as women who know exactly what they want and completely. And sex is portrayed as something that you go out there and choose for yourself. But we know the reality is it just happens to us and we don't know what to do with it or what to make of it. I thought that this woman, who had so many torments in her mind, became the victim of the that when she did get the first blow, the first punch...her tormented thoughts could stop. And that's why she asked to be beaten."10

One of the last parts cast was that of Frank Booth. Dennis Hopper had been considered, but was passed over due to his past history of alcohol and drug abuse. But Lynch received assurances that he was on the wagon and heard from people on Hopper's last few films that there were no troubles working with him. Hopper even went as far as to call up Lynch to help reassure him. "I didn't have a problem with Frank. I just understood him. I called David - I'd never met David and he'd given me the part and I called him - he was down in North Carolina already, they'd begun filming - and I said you don't have to worry about this. I am Frank. I really understand this role. So he got off the phone and told Isabella and Kyle MacLachlan and Laura. He said 'My god, I just got off the phone with Dennis Hopper and he said he was Frank. That may be great for the movie but how are we going to have lunch with him.' But I just really meant that I understood the role. And I do understand Frank. I've known Frank. I've known a lot of guys like Frank...I understood his sexual obsession."11

Blue Velvet was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina at the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) Studios with outdoor shots being filmed in the town itself. Apparently some of the towns folk didn't realize the nature of the film being shot in their town. The night of the shooting of the climatic scene where Dorothy appears to Jeffrey and Sandy, almost the entire town had shown up to watch. Rossellini remembers, "People came out with blankets and picnic baskets, with their grandmothers and small children. I begged the assistant director to warn them that it was going to be a tough scene, that I was going to be totally naked, but they stayed anyway...I apologized to them in a loud voice, knowing they were going to be upset, and concentrated on my scene...Once David called, 'Cut-we have it,' someone came with a robe for me to wear and my attention returned to our surroundsings. Everybody had left. The next day a notice from the police told us we would not be given any more permits to shoot in the streets of Wilmington, North Carolina."12 Horror and terror were just what Lynch and Rossellini were aiming in that scene however: "He (Lynch) wanted Dorothy to walk in the street of Wilmington, where we shot the film, naked and convey a sense of terror instead of sex appeal. And when he was talking to me, there was a photo of Nick Ut's that I remembered ("Vietnam Napalm"). It was a photo of a young girl in Vietnam. She has been a victim of an napalm attack and her clothes have been completely torn off her body and she has skin hanging and she's completely naked. She walks in the street with the arms outstretched. It's such a helpless gesture. I couldn't think of anything else but this absolute helpless gesture and walking like that. See, if I would have walked covering my breasts, or covering myself, it meant that Dorothy still had some sense of pride, still had something in her to protect her. That woman had to have lost everything. And so she had to walk completely exposed, just saying help me. I took the gesture from that photo and used it. I hope that I conveyed the same sense of despair. I wanted to be like raw meant. My nudity was like raw meat, like a butcher, like walking in a butcher and seeing a cow hanging, you know, a quarter of a cow hanging."13

It was during Blue Velvet that Lynch would form one of his greatest collaborations that continues to this day. Lynch didn't like the way Isabella Rossellini's performance of Blue Velvet was turning out, so producer Fred Caruso suggested they bring in his friend Angelo Badalamenti as Rossellini's voice coach. Lynch was reluctant, but eventually agreed. "Isabella was staying at this small hotel that had a lobby with a piano in it. So at ten o'clock in the morning or so, Angelo gets together with Isabella, and they begin working. Around noon we were shooting in the Beaumont's back yard, and I remember Angelo walking down the path...So Angelo says, 'We did a tape this morning with Isabella, and it is what it is. Listen to it.' So I popped on these headphones and Angelo's playing the piano and Isabella's singing. And I took off the phones and said, 'Angelo, we could cut this into the movie right now - it's so beautiful! It's fantastic!'"14

Upon the film's release, the critical reaction to Blue Velvet was mixed. Pauline Kael wrote in The New Yorker, "This is American darkness - darkness in color, darkness with a happy ending. Lynch might turn out to be the first populist surrealist - a Frank Capra of dream logic."15 J. Hoberman wrote in The Village Voice, "There hasn't been an American studio film so rich, so formally controlled, so imaginatively cast and wonderfully acted, and so charged with its maker's psychosexual energy sing Raging Bull."16 Other critics weren't so kind. Roger Ebert stated in his review, "...those very scenes of stark sexual despair are the tipoff to what's wrong with the movie. They're so strong that they deserve to be in a movie that is sincere, honest and true. But "Blue Velvet" surrounds them with a story that's marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots. The director is either denying the strength of his material or trying to defuse it by pretending it's all part of a campy in-joke...Blue Velvet is like the guy who drives you nuts by hinting at horrifying news and then saying, 'Never mind.'"17 Rex Reed on At The Movies called the film , "the sickest wallow in filth and sleaze."18 Some feminist and women's groups were upset at the portrayal of Dorothy's masochism and thought the film encouraged violence towards women. Lynch responded, "But what isn't right is to assume that a character like Dorothy Vallens is every woman. Then you can't just do a story about these characters. Suddenly, if it's a black man, he represents all black men. If it's a woman, she represents all women. If it's a kid, it's all kids. And they just go to town on you. The films are about these particular characters, this kind of situation, this little corner of the word. Relax! It goes on, you know..petty soon you won't be able to make movies. There are so many different groups out there that are going to be upset about something."19 Commercially, the film wasn't a huge box office success. It took in just over $8 million domestically, not much more then it's $6 million budget. The marketing department of DEG wasn't even sure how to sell the film or if they should bother putting any effort into it. It wasn't until it started gaining a buzz at various film festivals that they decided to get behind the film.20 But combined with overseas grosses the film made back De Laurentiis a respectable return on his investment. More than that, not only did it earn Lynch his second academy award for directing, but cleared the way for what was to become his biggest commercial success to date, Twin Peaks.

1. Chris Rodley (editor), p.135 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
2. Fresh Air Radio Show, David Lynch Images interview, NPR, 1994
3. Charles Drazin, "Blue Velvet: Bloomsbury Movie Guide No. 3", Bloomsbury Paperbacks, 1998
4. Chris Rodley (editor), p.135-136 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
5. Michael Atkinson, p. 15, "BFI Modern Classics: Blue Velvet," British Film Institute Publishing, 1997
6. Fresh Air Radio Show, David Lynch Images interview, NPR, 1994
7. Chris Rodley (editor), p.136 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
8. Chris Rodley (editor), p.141 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
9. Chris Rodley (editor), p.142 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
10. Fresh Air Radio Show, Isabella Rossellini Some of Me interview, NPR, 1994
11. Fresh Air Radio Show, Dennis Hopper interview, NPR, 1990
12. Isabella Rossellini, Some of Me, Random House, 1997
13. Fresh Air Radio Show, Isabella Rossellini Some of Me interview, NPR, 1994
14. Chris Rodley (editor), p.131-132 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
15. Pauline Kael, "Out There and in Here," The New Yorker, Septmeber 22, 1986
16. J. Hoberman, "Return to Normalicy", The Village Voice 1986
17. Roger Ebert, "Blue Velvet", The Chicago Sun-Times September 9, 1986
18. Rex Reed, At the Movies, September 1986 19. Chris Rodley (editor), p.152 "Lynch on Lynch," Faber and Faber, 1997
20. Michael Atkinson, p. 16, "BFI Modern Classics: Blue Velvet," British Film Institute Publishing, 1997

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