Blue Velvet

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Blue Velvet
Directed by David Lynch
Produced by Fred C. Caruso
Richard A. Roth
Written by David Lynch
Starring Kyle MacLachlan
Isabella Rossellini
Dennis Hopper
Laura Dern
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Distributed by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Release date(s) Image:Flag of Canada.svg 12 September, 1986 (premiere at Toronto Film Festival)
Image:Flag of the United States.svg 19 September, 1986 (theatrical release)
Running time 120 min.
Language English
Budget $6,000,000 (estimated)
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

Blue Velvet is a 1986 thriller mystery film written and directed by David Lynch. The film begins with the protagonist discovering a severed human ear, which he takes to the police. He begins to investigate the matter himself, and discovers a seamy underworld within his quaint suburban town. The film stars Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Laura Dern.

The title is taken from a Bobby Vinton song by the same name, which also can be heard several times throughout the film.


  • It's a strange world.


[edit] Synopsis

The film begins with peaceful, quintessential images of suburban living in a quaint lumber town (actually called “Lumberton”), followed immediately by images of creepy insects and bugs crawling beneath the surface of a pristine yard. This begins the movie's theme of good and evil coexisting in the world. A man watering his lawn falls down suddenly and appears to be in terrible pain (probably caused by something such as a heart attack, stroke or seizure).

The man is actually Mr. Beaumont. He is visited in the hospital by his son, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), who has returned home from college to aid his father. While Jeffrey walks home, he strolls through a park and finds a severed human ear in the grass. He takes the ear to an acquaintance in the police department, Det. Williams. While at the Williams house later to talk about the incident more, Jeffrey meets the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern) and the two enjoy a walk together. Sandy tells Jeffrey some details about the ear case – that a woman’s name (“Dorothy Vallens”) and street address (“Lincoln Avenue”) keep coming up in her father’s phone conversations. Fascinated by the fact that his seemingly immaculate town has a seedy underworld, Jeffrey decides to find out what he can about all this; he enters Dorothy’s apartment and meets her, all the while pretending to be a maintenance man. When she is distracted, he takes a spare door key from under a counter. A man comes to the door – a “Yellow Man,” as Jeffrey calls him, because of his suit jacket. The Yellow Man leaves without incident and Jeffrey does the same.

Later that night, while Dorothy is gone, Jeffrey sneaks into Dorothy’s apartment with the stolen key and begins to investigate and look around. Because he flushes the toilet after urinating, he doesn’t hear a car honking outside (actually Sandy’s warning sign that Dorothy has returned). As Dorothy enters the apartment, Jeffrey hides in the closet. Dorothy receives a call and begs the person on the other line to put her son on the phone. She talks to her son briefly before the phone call ends and she sobs. Jeffrey stirs in the closet and Dorothy rips open the doors with a large kitchen knife in her hand. Thinking him a burglar, she threatens to hurt him and Jeffrey becomes frightened. After she takes his wallet and discovers that he is merely a curious neighbor, not a dangerous person, she seems intrigued that he would enter to snoop on her. She then begins to sexually stimulate him while still threatening him with the knife.

Their strange encounter is cut short by the arrival of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Jeffrey hides back in the closet, and Dorothy opens the door. Frank is an extremely foul-mouthed, violent psychopath. When he enters the apartment, he immediately demands bourbon, inhales amyl nitrite and tells Dorothy to expose herself to him. He then proceeds to dry-hump Dorothy until he climaxes in a fit of rage and pleasure. Frank leaves, dropping some hints that concern her son and father. A saddened and desperate Dorothy then tries to seduce Jeffrey, who has emerged from the closet confusedly and wants to console her. After somewhat seducing him, she demands that he hit her. He refuses, and she screams for him to leave her alone. On his way out the door, he sees that Dorothy actually is married and has a son.

Later, Jeffrey follows Dorothy to her nightclub, where she sings “Blue Velvet.” Also at the nightclub is Frank. Using amateur surveillance equipment, he follows Frank around and photographs him making a dirty deal. Two other men are also involved in Frank’s dirty dealings – the “Yellow Man” (whose ID is unknown) and a “Well dressed man” (whose ID is unknown).

Jeffrey meets Sandy and tells her what he thinks: That Frank, a psychopathic gangster, kidnapped Dorothy's husband and son in an effort to use her as his slave. The ear likely belongs to her captured husband. Dorothy is simply complying with the violent Frank’s disturbing requests in the hopes of her husband and son being returned alive. Jeffrey tells Sandy of all his surveillance discoveries, finishing his summary with his belief that Dorothy “wants to die” because of what’s happened. Sandy is shocked but intrigued. Her attraction to Jeffrey grows, and vice versa. This is problematic because Sandy, a high schooler, is dating a large football player.

Jeffrey goes back to see Dorothy, as he is both concerned for her and sexually attracted to her. The two make love – and during the lovemaking, Jeffrey, in the heat of the moment, concedes to Dorothy’s sexually masochistic wishes when he slaps her across the face. After they have made love, Frank shows up again and confronts Jeffrey. Fearing violence from Frank, Jeffrey agrees to go on a ride with him and his gang of thugs (which includes actor Brad Dourif). The men all head to a brothel run by Ben (Dean Stockwell). Ben is a strange man – eccentrically dressed, effeminate looking and odd bedfellow of Frank’s. While Ben lip-synchs Roy Orbison’s song “In Dreams,” Dorothy is told that her kid is alive and well in the next room. She is allowed to see the child for a few minutes offscreen. Following Ben’s house, all continue the ride and stop in an abandoned field, where Frank begins to inhale gas again and sexually abuse Dorothy – perhaps just to get a rise out of Jeffrey. Jeffrey controls his anger as best he can before punching Frank in the face. Frank and his men quickly beat Jeffrey up and warn him he will be killed if he continues to play “good neighbor” to Dorothy. Jeffrey is beaten unconscious while Dorothy screams and one of Ben's prostitutes dances to music on the radio.

After Jeffrey heals from the beating, he finally agrees to take Sandy’s advice and let her father in on the discoveries. (Once again, Sandy is disturbed but fascinated – much like Jeffrey himself, as the two are both losing their innocence together.) Det. Williams is fascinated that Jeffrey found out so much, but chastises him for endangering himself and possibly endangering his daughter. It’s at the police station that Jeffrey sees how Det. Williams’ partner is actually a police officer named Gordon – a.k.a. the “Yellow Man.” Jeffrey begins to see his world in a new light and is having trouble coming to grips that the world is an evil place. Jeffrey and Sandy go to a neighborhood dance together, profess their newfound love and kiss. When Jeffrey drives back to his house with Sandy, they are suddenly tailed by a swerving car. Fearing it to be Frank, Jeffrey is almost somewhat relieved when he discovers it is actually Sandy’s football boyfriend. A confrontation is avoided when all see a naked and discombobulated Dorothy waiting on Jeffrey’s front porch. As Jeffrey wraps a blanket around Dorothy, she alludes to their sexual encounter, which makes Sandy upset.

The next day, Sandy forgives Jeffrey for sleeping with Dorothy. Jeffrey says that Dorothy’s appearance on the front porch was likely because something terrible happened to her. As he fears more horror will come to Dorothy, he tells Sandy that he must go back to Lincoln St. He tells Sandy to send her father there immediately. When Jeffrey arrives back at Dorothy’s apartment, Dorothy is not there. What is there, however, is a gruesome spectacle. “The Yellow Man” is there, dead, but still somehow standing up. Dorothy’s husband is also there – dead, tied up and missing an ear. After picking up the Yellow Man’s police radio, he tries to leave, but sees “The Well Dressed Man” coming up the steps. Knowing he’s trapped, he concocts a plan. Jeffrey talks to Det. Williams over the police radio but lies about his location inside the apartment. The plan works, as The Well Dressed Man – who turns out to be Frank Booth in disguise – enters the apartment and brags about hearing Jeffrey's "hidden" location over his own police radio. Frank heads into the bedroom to kill Jeffrey. Jeffrey is actually hiding in the closet, however, and now has a gun (which belonged to the Yellow Man). Jeffrey emerges from the closet and shoots Frank dead.

Det. Williams arrives on the scene to clean things up. Sandy also arrives and kisses Jeffrey. Days later, we see Jeffrey and Sandy together, with their lives back to normal. Also before the credits we see Dorothy and her son playing in the park together. Sandy talks about a world full of light, love and robins, alluding to the fact that evil exists in the world, but good will always overcome.

[edit] Origins and production history

Welcome to Lumberton, USA.

Blue Velvet's origins may lie in Lynch's childhood, spent deep in the forests of Spokane, Washington, a Northwestern setting similar to that of the film. For Lynch, there was a definite "autobiographical level to the movie. Kyle is dressed like me. My father was a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. We were in the woods all the time. 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." <ref>Chute, David (October 1986). "Out to Lynch". Film Comment, p. 35.</ref> If Lynch's childhood memories inspired the setting of Blue Velvet, the actual story of the film originated from three ideas that crystallized in the filmmaker's mind over a period of time starting as early as 1973, but at that time he "only had a feeling and a title." <ref name="cineaste">Bouzereau, Laurent (1987). "An Interview with David Lynch". Cineaste, p. 39.</ref>

After finishing The Elephant Man, he met producer Richard Roth over coffee. Roth had read and enjoyed Lynch's Ronnie Rocket script but did not think it was something he wanted to produce. He asked Lynch if the filmmaker had any other scripts but the director only had ideas. "I told him I had always wanted to sneak into a girl's room to watch her into the night and that, maybe, at one point or another, I would see something that would be the clue to a murder mystery. Roth loved the idea and asked me to write a treatment. I went home and thought of the ear in the field." <ref name="cineaste"/>

The second idea was an image of a severed, human ear lying in a field that has since become one of the most striking visuals of the film. "I don't know why it had to be an ear. Except it needed to be an opening of a part of the body a hole into something else...The ear sits on the head and goes right into the mind so it felt perfect," Lynch remarked in an interview. <ref>Robertson, Nan (October 11 1986). "The All-American Guy Behind ‘Blue Velvet’". The New York Times.</ref> For the filmmaker, the severed ear was the perfect way to draw Jeffrey into a secret world that lies at the heart of the film.

The third idea that came to Lynch was Bobby Vinton's classic rendition of the song "Blue Velvet" and "the mood that came with that song a mood, a time, and things that were of that time." <ref>Borden, Lizzie (September 23 1986). "The World According to Lynch," Village Voice. p. 62.</ref> This song proved to be such a favorite with Lynch that he not only has Vinton's version in the film but Dorothy also sings it during one of her performances at the Slow Club. The song continues the blue velvet motif that appears throughout the film from the curtain or robe of velvet in the opening credits to the piece of material that Frank carries with him.

Once these three ideas came to Lynch, he and Roth pitched it to Warner Bros. who showed interest in the project. So, Lynch spent two years writing two drafts which, by his own admission, were not very good. The problem with them, Lynch has said, that "there was maybe all the unpleasantness in the film but nothing else. A lot was not there. And so it went away for a while."<ref name="rodley">Lynch, David, Chris Rodley (editor) (March 24, 2005). Lynch on Lynch. Faber & Faber. ISBN 0571220185.</ref> After his experiences with Dune, Lynch returned to Blue Velvet. He wrote two more drafts before he was satisfied with the script. Conditions at this point were ideal for Lynch's film: he had cut a deal with Dino de Laurentiis that gave him complete artistic freedom and final cut privileges with the stipulation that the filmmaker take a cut in his salary and work with a budget of only $6 million. Blue Velvet was also the smallest film on the De Laurentiis' roster and so Lynch was left alone for the most part. "After Dune I was down so far that anything was up! So it was just a euphoria. And when you work with that kind of feeling, you can take chances. You can experiment." <ref name="rodley"/>. Because the material was completely different from anything that would be considered mainstream at the time, Laurentiis had to start his own production company to distribute it.

The finished film was cut down from an original four-hour length to its final 120 minute length. The missing footage was put in storage and apparently lost.

[edit] Blue Velvet as a Lynch film

Blue Velvet introduced several common elements of Lynch's work, including abused women, the dark underbelly of small towns and unconventional uses of vintage songs (Bobby Vinton’s "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbison’s "In Dreams" are both featured in disturbing ways). Red curtains also show up in key scenes, which has since become a trademark of Lynch films. It was also the first time Lynch worked with composer Angelo Badalamenti, who would contribute to all of his future full-length films.

[edit] Reaction

Roger Ebert a film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times praised Isabella Rosselini's performance as "convincing and courageous" but criticized how she was depicted in the film: "degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera. And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film."<ref>Ebert, Roger. "Blue Velvet", Chicago Sun-Times, September 19, 1986. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.</ref> Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post said that
"the film showcases a visual stylist utterly in command of his talents" and that Angelo Badalamenti "contributes an extraordinary score, slipping seamlessly from slinky jazz to violin figures to the romantic sweep of a classic Hollywood score," but claims that Lynch "isn't interested in communicating, he's interested in parading his personality. The movie doesn't progress or deepen, it just gets weirder, and to no good end."<ref>Attanasio, Paul. "Blue Velvet", The Washington Post, September 19, 1986. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.</ref>
Janet Maslin from The New York Times wrote,
"Mr. Hopper and Miss Rossellini are so far outside the bounds of ordinary acting here that their performances are best understood in terms of sheer lack of inhibition; both give themselves entirely over to the material, which seems to be exactly what's called for." She concluded by saying that the movie, "is as fascinating as it is freakish. It confirms Mr. Lynch's stature as an innovator, a superb technician, and someone best not encountered in a dark alley."<ref>Maslin, Janet. "Blue Velvet, Comedy of the Eccentric", The New York Times, September 19, 1986. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.</ref> Looking back in his Guardian/Observer, critic Philip French felt that "The film is wearing well and has attained a classic status without becoming respectable or losing its sense of danger."<ref>French, Philip. "Blue Velvet", Guardian Unlimited, December 16, 2001. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.</ref>

Blue Velvet holds a 90 percent "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.7 rating at the Internet Movie Database with 25,199 votes, which is above average.

[edit] Awards

Isabella Rossellini won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead in 1987.

David Lynch and Dennis Hopper won a Los Angeles Film Critics Association award in 1987 for Blue Velvet in categories Best Director (Lynch) and Best Supporting Actor (Hopper). In 1987 National Society of Film Critics gave the film Best Film, Best Director (David Lynch), Best Cinematography (Frederick Elmes) and Best Supporting Actor (Dennis Hopper) awards. Also David Lynch was nominated for the 1987 Best Director Academy Award.

[edit] Box office

In its opening weekend, the film grossed a total of $789,409 in 98 theaters. As of August 7 2006, the film has grossed a total of $8,551,228 domestically.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Blue Velvet's release on VHS has contributed to its popularity over the years.

[edit] Rankings

In later years, the films villains, Frank Booth was ranked #36 on the American Film Institute's list of list of the 50 Best villains in cinema history, and #96 on its 100 Most Thrilling Movies Ever. It was ranked at #84 by Bravo Television Network in the list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments Countdown.<ref></ref> While not being a box office success, given its very limited release in theaters, the film is now iconic, and has become a cultural icon in the history of cinema, thanks to screenings on cable and VHS and DVD released over the years.

[edit] Frank's drug

Throughout the film, Frank Booth uses a mask to breathe a gas from a tank. The identity of this gas is a subject of controversy. Lynch's script specified helium, to raise Frank's voice and have it resemble that of an infant. However, during filming, Hopper, an experienced drug user, claimed to have insight into Frank's choice of drug and that helium was inappropriate.

"...I'm thankful to Dennis," Lynch said, "because up until the last minute it was gonna be helium - to make the difference between 'Daddy' and the baby that much more. But I didn't want it to be funny. So helium went out the window and became just a gas. Then, in the first rehearsal, Dennis said, 'David, I know what's in these different canisters.' And I said, 'Thank God, Dennis, that you know that!' And he named all the gases."<ref name="rodley"/>

In a documentary on the DVD version of the film, Hopper identifies the drug as amyl nitrite.

[edit] Trivia

A deleted scene from the film.
  • The exterior scenes of 'Lumberton' were filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina. <ref name="imdb">Template:Cite web</ref>
  • When Dorothy is slapped by Frank after the first rape scene, one was supposed to see Frank actually hitting her, instead it cuts away to Jeffery in the closet, wincing at what he has just seen. This was removed in order to satisfy the MPAA concerns about violence. Lynch thought that the change only made the scene more disturbing. <ref name="imdb"/>
  • Lynch's original rough cut ran about 4 hours long. He was contractually obligated to deliver a 2-hour movie by D.E.G. and cut many small subplots and character scenes. To this day, footage of the deleted scenes has never been found and only stills remain. David Lynch's final cut of the film ran one frame under two hours. <ref name="imdb"/>
  • Willem Dafoe was originally considered for the role of Frank Booth, as were Robert Loggia and Richard Bright. [citation needed]
  • In the same year of Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper received an Oscar nomimation for Best Supporting Actor for the film Hoosiers. Some people feel the nomination was more directed towards his portrayal of Frank, but was used by the Academy for Hoosiers because Frank's character was just too evil.[citation needed]
  • The scene where Dorothy appears naked outside after being raped and beaten was inspired by a real life experience Lynch had in his childhood when he and a friend saw a naked woman walking down a neighborhood street at night. The experience was so traumatic to the young Lynch at the time, it made him cry and he had never forgotten it.[citation needed]

[edit] References in pop culture

  • A number of musicians have sampled Dennis Hopper's character, Frank Booth, in this movie:
    • The Mr. Bungle song "Squeeze Me Macaroni" features the sample, "One thing I can't stand is warm beer, it makes me fucking puke!!" dialogue at the end.
    • Anthrax's "I'm The Man '91" has him clearly saying, "Fuck that shit!", which Frank Booth says in response to what type of beer Kyle MacLachlan's character says he likes. The song also contains a sample of Frank Booth saying, "I can still hear your fucking radio, you stupid shit".
    • Pigface's unreleased remix "Sickaspfuck", found on their 2001 best-of album, begins with Frank's shouting of "Let's fuck! I'll fuck anything that moves!"
    • The Louisiana band Acid Bath also samples Frank Booth in the song "Cassie eats Cockroaches", the final track on "When The Kite String Pops".
    • The Ministry song "Jesus Built My Hot Rod" features the sample, "Let's hit the fucking road!" dialogue halfway through.
    • Amon Tobin in turn referenced Blue Velvet and Frank on the 1998 album Permutation, with the song "People Like Frank", which also samples music from Angelo Badalamenti's score.
    • The Hypnotist (Casper Pound) in "The Ride" (Give Peace a Dance, Vol 3) prominently features the sample "A ride... well that's a good idea" spoken by Frank, as well of other lines from that same scene in the hallway.
  • On the radio call-in show Loveline, the engineer will often drop (play) a sample of Frank shouting "Where's my bourbon?!?" when the hosts and/or the (usually female) caller are discussing abusive, alcoholic fathers, boyriends, etc.
  • Blue Velvet is quoted a few times in the Kevin Smith movie Clerks.
  • In the television series Spaced, Tim says that the people in The Rocky Horror Picture Show have too many posters of Blue Velvet, Betty Blue and The Blues Brothers painted on their blue walls.
  • Blue Velvet is referenced in an episode of Arrested Development. Wayne Jarvis comments on Gob's puppet Franklin, asking (in an imitation of Kyle MacLachlan), "Why do there have to be puppets like Frank?"
  • Isabella Rossellini wore a blue velvet dress at the Academy Awards Ceremony the year that Lynch was nominated for Best Director.
  • Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone magazine, named Blue Velvet the best film of the 1980s.
  • Benediction wrote "Dark is the Season", a song about Blue Velvet having lyrics directly referencing the movie. It is recorded on the Dark is the Season EP. The lyrics sheet further states, "See the film Blue Velvet by David Lynch, freak out & blow your mind!!!"
  • In Robocop 2, the drug under development is named "Blue Velvet", and the scientist working on the drug is named Frank. When the drug is tested, Kane gives the Lynchian response, "It's making my teeth wiggle."
  • In Bio Dome, while inhaling nitrous oxide from a tank with a mask, Pauly Shore's character says, "Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet: 'Oh I'm slutty!, Oh I'm slutty!'" referencing Dennis Hopper's character's crude sexual nature and the scene where Dennis Hopper gets high using an oxygen mask.
  • In a brief shot where Jeffrey is clandestinely photographing Frank, the shoebox that the camera is disguised in reads "Jarman" (possibly a reference to filmmaker Derek Jarman).
  • In the Capcom video game Resident Evil 4, a recurring treasure is named Velvet Blue in a subtle homage to the film.
  • In The Squid and the Whale, set in 1986, three characters choose to see Blue Velvet at the theater instead of Short Circuit.

[edit] References


David Lynch
Feature films
Eraserhead • The Elephant Man • Dune • Blue Velvet • Wild at Heart • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me • Lost Highway • The Straight Story • Mulholland Dr. • Inland Empire
TV series
Twin Peaks • On the Air • Hotel Room
Other work
Short films • Industrial Symphony No. 1 • Rabbits • Dumb Land • The Angriest Dog in the World

[edit] External links

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Blue Velvet

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