'Blue Velvet' fans, lend an ear. You may think you know all there is to know about David Lynch's twisted classic -- which effectively launched the careers of Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern and relaunched those of Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell and Roy Orbison -- but there's plenty of forgotten lore hidden in the movie's dark corners, some of which is coming to light only now with the Nov. 8 release of the 25th anniversary edition on Blu-ray. So crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a cylinder of nitrous oxide, and read on for 25 little-known facts about 'Blue Velvet,' from its unlikely connections to Helen Mirren and Carol Burnett, to the shocker that a nude Rossellini delivered to Hopper, to the legendary lost (and found) flaming-nipples scene.


1. How did Lynch ever conceive of such a bizarre movie? He has said the inspiration came from several ideas that had been floating in his head as far back as 1973. One was the image of a severed ear in a field. Another was a saloon with a neon sign out front. Another was the 1963 Bobby Vinton song that became the film's title and was included on its soundtrack.

'Blue Velvet' - A Human Ear (h/t The HD Room)

2. Another inspiration, for the look of small-town Lumberton, was the imagery of small-town Americana he'd known as a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest. "My father was a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. We were in the woods all the time," Lynch once recalled. "I'd sorta had enough of the woods by the time I left, but still, lumber and lumberjacks, all this kinda thing, that's America to me like the picket fences and the roses in the opening shot. It's so burned in, that image, and it makes me feel so happy."

3. Most notoriously, the scene where Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) appears naked on a neighborhood street was inspired by a similar incident Lynch and his brother witnessed as children. The event was so traumatic it had made Lynch cry.

4. It was Lynch's massive critical and commercial failure with 'Dune' that, paradoxically, gave him the chance to realize his vision for 'Blue Velvet.' Despite the poor reception for the sci-fi epic, Lynch had maintained a strong working relationship with its producer, Dino de Laurentiis. The Italian film-industry veteran asked Lynch if he had any more ideas for movies, and Lynch pitched him 'Blue Velvet.' De Laurentiis agreed to give Lynch complete creative control on the condition that the director halve his salary and keep the budget below $6 million.

5. Lynch was also on good terms with Kyle MacLachlan, who had made his film debut as the messianic hero in 'Dune.' Lynch said he felt that the 27-year-old actor could play Jeffrey, the much more naive teen sleuth at the center of 'Blue Velvet' because MacLachlan could convey the impression of someone thinking on screen.

6. Helen Mirren almost took the role of Dorothy, the lounge singer trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship with the man who kidnapped her husband and son. Indeed, Lynch credits her with helping him work out some difficulties in the script before they parted ways. A meeting at a New York restaurant with Rossellini -- then best known as a Lancome cosmetics model, who'd worked on only one English-language movie ('White Nights') -- could handle the part.

7. Filming had already begun in Wilmington, N.C. before Dennis Hopper was cast as sadistic villain Frank Booth. Hopper had seen the script and had phoned the director, demanding to be cast, saying, "I've got to play Frank! I am Frank!" Indeed, the star had famously lived on the edge for years, and while he'd finally gone to rehab and been drug-free since 1983, Lynch still had some trepidation about hiring him. "Dennis had to have been through experiences on the dark side to have owned that character," Lynch recalled in a 2007 interview. "When Dennis called me and said that to me, he had been clean and sober for about a year-and-a-half, and had already made another film clean and sober, but he had held all that he had learned from his suffering. He could bring that now in a very strong way to characters without screwing everything up"

8. Hopper certainly brought his knowledge of hard drugs to bear on his portrayal of the gas-huffing Frank. Lynch's script had called for Frank's cylinder to be full of helium, but Hopper knew that helium doesn't get you high, it just gives you a squeaky voice. He suggested he play Frank's scenes as if he were inhaling amyl nitrate or nitrous oxide and called upon his own sense-memories to replicate the experience. Years later, Hopper told Bob Costas in a TV interview that he almost wished he'd stuck to the script because a chipmunk-voiced Frank might have been even more freakish and disturbing.

9. Hopper and Rossellini met for the first time on the day they were to shoot a scene of Frank raping Dorothy. Under her robe, Rossellini wore no panties because the camera would have captured them when the robe came off. Hopper didn't know this and was surprised during shooting to find himself up close and personal with the actress he'd just met.

10. Wilmingon locals had no idea of the nature of the movie Lynch was making until the filming of Rossellini's shocking public nude scene. In her memoir, she recalled,

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 surroundings. 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.

11. Lynch had hired musician Angelo Badalamenti as Rossellini's singing coach for her cabaret scenes. He was so pleased with the results that he commissioned Badalamenti to write a song ('Blue Star') for her to sing. (He also appears in the movie, as the piano player.) Eventually, Lynch had Badalamenti compose the movie's entire score. Thus began a partnership that made Badalamenti Lynch's composer of choice for the next 15 years.

'Blue Velvet' - Dorothy Sings

12. Dean Stockwell has said he based his performance as Ben, the face-painting, lip-synching pimp, on a character from a Carol Burnett comedy sketch. He also came up with the idea of using a work light as a mock microphone. In rehearsal, he picked the light up and sang into it, assuming it was a prop, and Lynch liked the way that looked.

13. Roy Orbison did not grant the filmmakers permission to use 'In Dreams' for the lip-synch scene, but they got permission elsewhere. Orbison didn't even know that his song was in the film until he watched it in the theater. Nonetheless, Lynch and Orbison collaborated on a music video for the song, using images from the movie. A late career comeback for the operatic rockabilly crooner followed, including his stint with the likes of Bob Dylan and George Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys.

'Blue Velvet' - 'In Dreams' (NSFW)

Blue Velvet by David Lynch from oastronauta.tumblr.com on Vimeo.

14. According to Jeffrey's love interest Sandy (Laura Dern), the robin eating a bug in the final sequence represents the triumph of love over evil. Many 'Blue Velvet' fans think the scene is supposed to be ironic and hollow because the bird is so obviously a mechanical fake. Lynch has said, however, that the crude mecha-robin was simply the best the filmmakers could do on short notice with a limited budget.

15. The MPAA initially thought the film was too violent to earn an R rating, citing a scene where Jeffrey watches Frank slap Dorothy. (Really? Of all the movie's extreme content, that was the straw that broke the camel's back?) Lynch agreed to amend the scene so that the slap occurs off-screen, but Jeffrey is seen wincing when he hears it. Lynch thought this edit actually made the scene even more disturbing than it had been before.

16. Altogether, Lynch trimmed nearly half the footage from his rough cut, in order to deliver a film under two hours, as his contract stipulated. Most of that footage was assumed to be lost forever, but Lynch announced at the beginning of 2011 that fifty minutes of footage had been found and would be released as deleted scenes among the extras on the new Blu-ray.

17. One legendary lost scene, one of Lynch's favorites, invoved an actress who performed a trick that involved setting her own nipples on fire. The scene, which took place in Ben's brothel, was part of the found footage and is included on the Blu-ray. You can watch the (obviously NSFW) scene at Slashfilm.

18. When Lynch presented de Laurentiis with the completed film, the producer wasn't sure what to do with it. He thought of trying to release it as a midnight movie. No distributor would touch it, and de Laurentiis eventually founded his own distribution arm, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, to put the film in theaters.

19. DEG never managed to book a release wider than 188 theaters in North America. It grossed only $8.6 million domestically, though de Laurentiis eventually made a profit from overseas screenings and home video.

20. Critics were sharply divided over the film. Some hailed it as genius, others found it repellent. It earned only one Oscar nomination, for Lynch's direction.

21. 'Blue Velvet' is widely credited with launching Hopper's comeback, proving his enormous gifts and setting him on the path of playing baroque villains that would mark the rest of his celebrated career. It also marked a comeback of sorts for Stockwell, leading to his casting as a flamboyant mafia don in 'Married to the Mob' and as Scott Bakula's sidekick on the hit TV series 'Quantum Leap.'

22. Rossellini has said that her performance earned her plenty of attention, much of it negative. She said de Laurentiis was embarrassed for her, having known her since her childhood and having been a friend of her legendary parents, director Roberto Rossellini and actress Ingrid Bergman. Italian reviewers speculated that she must be so desperate to be a movie star like her mother that she'd act in anything, even this piece of semi-pornographic trash. Her agents at ICM dropped her. And the nuns who had taught her in school told her they were praying for her soul. Nonetheless, the film put the model on the map as a serious thespian.

23. 'Blue Velvet' launched what became the Lynch repertory company. Along with composer Badalamenti, there was MacLachlan,who went on to star in Lynch's TV drama 'Twin Peaks' and its movie prequel 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.' Dern went on to star in Lynch's 'Wild at Heart,' and she starred in and co-produced Lynch's most recent movie, the surreal 2006 epic 'Inland Empire.' And of course, there was character actor Jack Nance, who'd been a Lynch regular since starring in Lynch's first movie, the notorious 'Eraserhead.'

24. After 'Blue Velvet,' Lynch and Rossellini became a couple and lived together for five years. They acted together in Tina Rathborne's 1998 family drama 'Zelly and Me' (Lynch's first real acting role), and Rossellini appeared in 'Wild at Heart' before the couple split in 1990.

25. Yeah, Frank Booth uses the F-word in nearly every sentence, but he's the only one in the movie who uses it. (Except for Ben, when Frank goads him into saying it.)

[Photo: MGM]



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