DECIPHERING Blue Velvet By WILLIAM RABKIN (1986 Interview with David Lynch)

Don’t ask David Lynch what his films mean. Although they’re filled with enough bizarre imagery to sate an entire art school full of struggling surrealists,Lynch does not insist on understanding his imagery before he sets it to film.The ideas just “pop” into his head and he strings them together without figuring them out. If he already knew what they meant, he says, there would be no point to making the film.

Lynch’s methods have had mixed results. His first film, Eraserhead (1977), is an almost indescribable nightmare. The Elephant Man (1980) is a moving and unsettling film of a very good script (by Christopher DeVore, Eric Bergren, and Lynch).But when Lynch was called on to write and direct the movie version of Dune in 1984, Lynch’s ideas didn’t pop fast enough to keep up with the mammoth story,and he seemed to be floundering in a film that was running out of control.

In his new movie, Blue Velvet, Lynch has returned to the style of Eraserhead. Across between Body Heat and a 1950s “How to Date” instructional film,Blue Velvet is almost as indescribable as his first feature. While it does include all the elements of a film noir, it can’t be called that; while it is one of the funniest movies of the year, it certainly t isn’t a comedy. It has murder, sex, drugs, and some spare body parts lying around in a field; it stars Kyle (Dune) MacLachlan, Laura (Smooth Talk) Dern and Dennis (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) Hopper. Maybe the best way to describe it is: to take Lynch’s advice and say “It’s ! just… Blue Velvet.”

FANGORIA: I was at a sneak preview of Blue Velvet in Tarzana, California, and the audience didn’t really seem to get the film at all.

David Lynch: No, I think it was one of the worst sneaks in recorded history. They hated it. The thing is, I really don’t know what’s going to happen, because so far, the writers. and critics who have seen it, have really liked it. Not lukewarm, but really liked it. Then, we had this screening, and I don’t know exactly what it means, but I know for sure they really hated the picture. I don’t know what it means for the film in places like the Midwest or the Valley.I figure the audience isn’t going to be giant for Blue Velvet, but it strikes people in many different ways, and they have strong reactions.

Fang: I wondered the whole time, what did you say to talk Dino De Laurentiis in to making it?

Lynch:He read the script. I wrote it before Dune. He went for it as a low budget film that I would have control over, as long as it was low budget. It was about $5 million.

Fang: It looks beautiful.

Lynch:We had some fantastic people working on it. You can do a lot with that kind of money. I know how things can get expensive, but I don’t really know why they get so expensive.

Fang: There’s a real fascination with the banal in this film and in Eraserhead. What is it that attracts you?

Lynch: That’s the absurdity of life. It hits me.

Fang: I was wondering how you would tell somebody to go see this movie.

Lynch:First of all, I don’t usually like things I do. Sometimes, after years go by,I’ll like it better. One time I saw Eraserhead fairly soon after I finished it,but I saw it with friends in the middle of the day and I was relaxed, and I just clicked in and I went on this trip and I think I saw it the way some one who wasn’t involved with the film would see it, and I just love it. I’ve seen Blue Velvet in a similar situation, and I just loved watching the picture. And I don’t understand why people wouldn’t just love watching this film. It has so many different kinds of textures, and it takes you into a place where so many things happen-to me, it falls into a true fantasy picture, a daydream I love to go on.

Fang: When you first came up with the idea for Blue Velvet, how much of it came at once? What was the first thought?

Lynch:Sneaking into someone’s room and finding yourself in the middle of something was the first idea, and finding something in a field that led to that.

Fang: It seems like Blue Velvet is an ’80s film noir, with its passive central character, many of the trademark shots of the noir films, you have the person getting involved with something over which he has no control. Did you ever think about that aspect?

Lynch:I love film noir, but this is a neighborhood film in my mind. It’s still dark and still deals with certain themes that noir dealt with, but I didn’t think”I want to do a film noir kind of picture.”

Fang: What do you mean by a “neighborhood film”?

Lynch: It takes place in a neighborhood.

Fango: Are you still trying to do Ronnie Rocket?

Lynch:I would absolutely love to have that be my next picture. I don’t know if I’m going to get the chance this time because it’s too abstract and people don’t think it’s commercial.

Fang: What is it?

Lynch: I never say all of what it is. I just say mainly that it’s about a guy who’s three feet tall, has red hair, and has some physical problems. And it’s also about 60 cycle alternating current electricity.

Fang: There seems to be a similar style between Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, while Dune and The Elephant Man seem quite different.

Lynch:I wrote Elephant Man with two other people, based on a true story set in Victorian England, so it’s going to be somewhat different. Dune, we know about Dune. I lived with it for three-and-a-half years. I’m sort of Duned out. So,there have to be some similarities between Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. Even though they’re a lot different in my mind they’re both original screenplays,and they’re both done in an atmosphere where there were very few restrictions on what they should be.

Fang: You were approached to direct Return of the Jedi.

Lynch: Mm-hm.

Fang: Did you turn that down?

Lynch: Mm-hm.

Fang: Why was that?

Lynch: Because it was George Lucas’ picture.

Fang: Wasn’t Dune sort of Dino De Laurentiis’ picture?

Lynch: No way.

Fang: What is it about a script that strikes you as something you should direct?

Lynch: It has to thrill you so much that you can spend the next year and-a-half of your life working on it. You have to want to go into that world and create it, and it has to fire you up beyond belief.

Fang: What is it about Blue Velvet’s town, Lumberton, that fires you up?

Lynch: I love Lumberton. It’s almost like Eraserhead country. It’s different, but a small American town like that is inspiring to me. There are fantastic characters and many things happening under the surface that we don’t know about.

Fang: Would that be an appealing place for you to live?

Lynch: Yeah, very appealing. Or a factory district like in Eraserhead. I wouldn’t necessarily want to pal around with Frank, but I wouldn’t mind living in Jeffrey’s neighborhood.

Fang: Everything underneath Blue Velvet’s surface looks ugly.

Lynch: It isn’t always that way. This is a story about one such instance.

Fang: Once all these nightmares bubbling under the surface have been exposed, can Lumberton go back to normal?

Lynch: Oh yeah. It’s like saying that once you’ve discovered there are heroin addicts in the world, and they’re murdering people to get money, can you be happy? It’s a horrible sort of thing, but I don’t know. It’s a tricky question. Real ignorance is bliss. That’s what Blue Velvet is about in a way. It’s like sensing something and going in to see it and having to deal with it. It’s sort of like what people are discovering now. For me, when I grew up in Spokane,Washington, it was just like the film’s opening shot, so the world is a pretty shocking place to me. And yet, I’m still very happy.

Fang: Blue Velvet’s last shot of the robin of love with the horrible cockroach in its beak seems to suggest that the badness is always present, and maybe is necessary.

Lynch: You could say that. But you could also say what’s the lifespan of a cockroach in a robin’s beak? Not very long.

Fang: Is the ugliness under the surface the reason why Isabella Rossellini is photographed to make her look so chubby and unglamorous in her nude scenes?

Lynch:That’s the whole thing. Everybody who read the script-all the women who read for this part said, “Thank goodness it’s not like a Playboy bunny.” Maybe 100 women have the perfect body out of 200 million.

Fang: Even the scene in which Jeffrey watches her from her closet is shot in what seems to be a deliberately un-erotic way.

Lynch: Well, it’s a story about Lumberton. It’s not Madison Avenue.

Fang: You dispose of a lot of plot very quickly at the film’s end. Much of what seems to be a very complicated plot is covered with one quick dissolve.

Lynch: That’s not necessarily true at all. You’ve got clues all along, and still it’snot spoon-fed, and there are probably some ambiguities at the end as to what happened, but basically it isn’t all that complicated and you’ve discovered most of it along the way.

Fang: There is a big climax that one expects from this genre of film that happens somewhere off-screen in your movie.

Lynch: No, and besides, you’re saying “this genre of film.” It’s not a genre film in my mind. It’s Blue Velvet.

Fang: But, certainly, it sets up expectations…

Lynch: But the thing is there’s only one expectation.

Fang: Which is?

Lynch: Well, if you talk about the film’s end, then there’s not a whole lot of point to seeing the picture.

Fang: OK, we won’t talk about the ending, but I would still like to know what that one expectation you have while watching the picture is.

Lynch: The question you have all the way through is what’s going to happen to Frank (Dennis Hopper) and Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan).

Fang: You keep saying this isn’t in a genre of films, but…

Lynch: You’re saying it like you find genre to fit every film into. But you don’t have to obey the rules of a genre. There are many things in Blue Velvet that are against some sort of rules or this normal setup, but even that wasn’t done so consciously. These are just ideas that pop into my head, so I made this picture.

Fang: Your story does set up a great deal of expectation which it seems deliberately to twist. Are you conscious of doing this when you’re writing, or do your ideas just pop up?

Lynch: The majority of them just pop. Then, there’s a surface scrambling to see how one pop connects with the pop before it. That’s happening as one scene connects to another, and then there’s some juggling and you start to see something forming that could cause many more pops. For me, there’s not much manipulating of things. It’s more a beneath-the-surface kind of thinking. I know that once a certain strain of ideas get together, the die is cast and all the other ideas must fit into that family. But most things pop up as very unexpected things, and it’s a real thrill.

Fang: Do you ever worry you’ll stop popping?

Lynch: No. It’s like going deep sea fishing and worrying you’ll run out of fish. There are so many billions.

Fang: Is there something else about Blue Velvet you would like to say, or is it just Blue Velvet?

Lynch: It’s totally Blue Velvet..

Fang: There’s something about your films that makes people think you are an intellectual, and will be able to articulate your ideas. I know this isn’t just me, because I remember an interview in the LA Reader in which that interviewer was also frustrated. I guess it’s because everything in your films seems so specific and so fraught with meaning.

Lynch: They are, but not… Some people work in reverse, where they’ve captured ideas about certain things, they can articulate them tentatively with words, and they say, “Now, I would like to write a script, make a film and show these ideas in cinema, to manifest a certain theme in film and to prove a point or something.” They’ve already got the whole thing; it’s just changing forms. It’s not the right way for me to go about it-it has already been done. Why change the form? I don’t get it. There’s no discovery or anything. Film does something so magical that nothing else can do. The whole kick is to get these ideas-don’t worry about putting them in words, worry about putting them into this language of film. And it has to be like a little plop of a sound and a little shot of this in a sequence. And then you’ll have this feeling like this idea you had. It’s not something that ever has to go through words, and a script is what kills more films that could be abstract or different. To first put it into words to raise the money is the killer of cinema, because once you can put it into words, that’s almost the end of it right there.

Fang: Do you know more about your pops after you see the film?

Lynch: Oh yeah. I’m still learning so much about myself from Eraserhead that it’s frightening. Eraserhead is so beneath the surface I didn’t understand it. I felt it was honest, so it could be understood at different levels, but I was only understanding at level four, and now maybe I’m at level six, and it scares the hell out of me, because it’s so much of a thing that’s personal to me. I think if you’re really allowed to be honest with the thing, then it could be understood little by little at different levels and still hold true. I think that life is like that, that you can work it down lower and lower and lower and it will always make some kind of fantastic sense.

Mysteriesof Love – The Making of Blue Velvet Documentary (2002)

The Memories of Dean Jones: Franks Death

“David Lynch was the first legitimate director that I had the opportunity to work with and it was indeed a honor to work for him. The film was Blue Velvet.  Working with a true film visionary such as David Lynch was an influential experience for the rest of my film career.  He is a good man with the mannerisms and quiet sincerity of Jimmy Stewart.

Just as I do, David loved bizarre things and the more grotesque and bizarre the better.  For instance David had said tome on the set of Blue Velvet, “Wouldn’t it be just peachy if we could get a real severed human ear for the movie?” Not wanting to say no to one of my favorite directors, I looked at him straight in the eye and said “I know exactly where to get one.”  He then said “Oh really?” and I said ” Yes, sir.”  I wasn’t lying.  I knew exactly where to get one.*

David then gave specific instructions on how the ear should be cut off. The script describes it as being cut off with a pair of scissors, and leaving some side burn hair on edge of it.   Being on the safe side and film cautious I was prepared. I had produced a pair of realistic silicone ears, complete with hair and fungus growing inside.  This was all just in case the ear did not arrive or there was an issue.

Luckily the ears arrived and I proudly walked it over to the sound stage for a viewing.  David and I sat down on the couch in Dorothy’s apartment set.  He had one of one of those big Jimmy Stewart grins on his face.  I then carefully opened the plastic container.  I then took a pair of forceps and gingerly pulled it up out of the fluid it had been preserved in.  We both looked at each other, and David said “This is nothing like I thought it would be, it looks fake.”  The ear was puffy looking, gray and didn’t look real at all, even though it was. The hair was there as requested but it lacked that magical movie essence. In the end, David stuck with my silicone ear which is the ear you now see in the movie.

As for the Dennis Hopper exploding head, I explained to David that a .357 magnum round would make a clean entry wound and make a huge exit wound on the way out.  To make the effect unique to the movie I explained that I could produce a copy of Dennis’s head in which we could see the brain matter, skull fragments and hair explode out of the back in a realistic fashion.  David again requested that we go to the extreme and include inside the fake head a real human skull and human brain tissue.  I obliged his request. The gag went off beautifully.

Unfortunately. the MPAA deemed it too gruesome and had the film frame-adjusted so that you don’t see the back of the head explode. In the dailies, the head was to the left of frame so that you could seethe brain tissue, skull fragments and hair travel across frame in slow motion.  It was quite a shot.  The ear clearly passed muster however, as it has a huge close-up in the film.

As Dennis Hopper lay on floor for the final shot of the night as a dead Frank, David ask me to place and trail the same brain matter and skull fragments behind Dennis’ head in order to give it a more realistic look.   I honored his request but was reluctant to tell Dennis that he had real human brains and skull placed in his hair for the shot.  So I kept the secret.

I later worked with Dennis Hopper on two other projects after Blue Velvet.  I always wanted to mention it and thought I would have the opportunity some day, as we seemed to cross paths frequently in the business.  But unfortunately he passed away last year.  My guess is that after knowing Dennis for many years he probably would have appreciated the artistic value and our decision and would not have been offended at all.”

*Note:  Dean knew where to get the ear and brains:  a biological supply company which provided things like ears, human brains and real human skeletons in 1986 but no longer does.  The company still supplies sheep brains and plastic human skeletons.

“An Elvacite appliance in Blue Velvet, wow!  Wilmington, NC, summer of 1985, Dino De Laurentiis’ new studio, and makeup effects were everywhere.  Neal Martz and Doug Drexler turning Hannibal Lecktor and Francis Dollarhyde into psycho killers for Manhunter.  Dean Jones creating nasty nightmare images for David Lynch on Blue Velvet.  And I was providing human carnage for Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive. 

DuPont’s Elvacite was introduced to me several years earlier when I was a college intern with Tom Savini on Eyes Of A Stranger.  Tom was generous to share notes and formulas he had received from Dick Smith.  Those same notes eventually grew into Dick’s makeup course which I received one chapter at a time every few weeks in 1985 as he was writing it.  As we know, Dick used Elvacite to create bullet hits to the head in The Godfather II and the blood vein effects in Scanners. 

I used Elvacite for head hits on two actors in Overdrive during the machine gun assault at the Dixie Boy Truck Stop. Those effects suffered the same editorial fate as several other head trauma effects I created for that movie, ending up on the cutting room floor.  Ah, the MPAA ratings and head trauma in the 80’s, how we tried to get it on the screen (not very successfully) and keep an R rating. 

One of the effects guys that loaded the truck stop with squibs was also working on Blue Velvet.  He saw what I did with the bullet hits to the forehead and asked me to try the same effect on Dennis Hopper.  Dean Jones had made a beautiful copy of Dennis’s head with exploding skull and brains out the back and it looks great in the film.  Just before Dean’s head goes through the frame there’s a brief face-on shot of the real Dennis as the bullet hits his forehead.  That’s the Elvacite appliance. 

Dean and I made a life cast of Dennis’s forehead. It was one of those surreal I’m working with a cool actor moments.  Dennis came in, sat down not saying a word and stared straight ahead.  It was as if we were working on Dennis’s character Frank Booth and not the actor.  He was very focused.  I visited the set when they were shooting the scene where Frank visits Dorothy’s apartment for the first time. “Don’t you look at me!”  It was amazing to hear that scene live from behind the walls of the set.

I made the Elvacite appliance and the day of shooting arrived.  The piece went on Dennis beautifully.  The real magic of the material is that it’s translucent and the color comes from inside just like real skin.  It matches and blends on the actor in a way that’s very different than foam rubber.  David Lynch came in and you could tell that he’s an artist.  He was very curious about the color blending and brush strokes on the piece as if he were admiring a painting on the wall of a gallery.  We got the shot in one take. 

It was a busy day.  After wrapping Blue Velvet in the afternoon I ran down to the Maximum Overdrive marina location and shot all night.  I had made a replica of one of the actors who gets run over by the Happy Toys Truck just before it’s blown up.

It was a wonderful experience working on those pictures.  I started a lifelong friendship with Dean and worked with him on lots of great projects over the years.  I got to kill Dennis one more time in the movie Red Rock West, creating the solder statue and rig he gets skewered on at the end.  I’ve used Elvacite applianced many times since those days in Wilmington and they always work great.”


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