Following the critical and commercial failure of Dune, his adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel, David Lynch was determined to make his next film a much more personal endeavor. The result was Blue Velvet, a critically acclaimed neo-noir that begins with the random discovery of a severed human ear, and only gets stranger from there. Lynch earned his third Oscar nomination for the film, which starred Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, and Dennis Hopper in a bizarrely enigmatic role. To celebrate the movie's 30th anniversary, here are 20 colorful facts about Blue Velvet.
1. THE FILM WAS INSPIRED BY BOBBY VINTON’S COVER OF “BLUE VELVET.”
"Blue Velvet" the song was originally released by Tony Bennett in 1951, but Vinton covered it in 1963, which was the version that inspired director David Lynch. According to Lynch, “It wasn’t the kind of music that I really liked. But there was something mysterious about it. It made me think about things. And the first things I thought about were lawns—lawns and the neighborhood.”
2. MOLLY RINGWALD WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE PART OF SANDY.
At the height of Molly Ringwald’s '80s superstar fame, she was reportedly Lynch’s first choice for Sandy. But her mom read the screenplay for Blue Velvet and found it so offensive that she didn’t even pass it on to her daughter to read. The role eventually went to Laura Dern.
3. THE ROLE OF DOROTHY VALLENS ALMOST WENT TO HELEN MIRREN.
Helen Mirren was who Lynch pictured as songstress Dorothy Vallens. Although it didn’t end up working out, she got pretty far along in the process. Lynch has even said, “Helen Mirren really helped me on that script.” Eventually, she turned down the part that would eventually go to Isabella Rossellini.
4. LYNCH DISCOVERED ISABELLA ROSSELLINI IN A RESTAURANT.
Rossellini and Lynch were introduced by mutual friends when they all happened to be dining at the same restaurant in New York City. Lynch learned that Rossellini was both a model and actress. But, during their encounter, they mostly talked about Helen Mirren, as Lynch was still trying to get her to accept the part. Apparently, during a lull in the conversation, Lynch told Rossellini, “Hey, you could be the daughter of Ingrid Bergman.” Of course, she is the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. Two days later, Lynch sent Rossellini a note asking if she would like to read the script.
5. ANOTHER IMPORTANT RESTAURANT MEETING HAPPENED WITH LYNCH, MACLACHLAN, AND DERN—AT BOB’S BIG BOY.
Laura Dern was surprised to learn that she didn’t have to read for the part—Lynch felt she was right for the role upon meeting her. But to make sure that she had chemistry with Kyle MacLachlan, who would play her love interest, Lynch conducted a crucial meeting at the fast food chain.
6. LYNCH INTENDED FOR ROSSELLINI’S BEAUTY TO BE OVER-THE-TOP.
Rossellini once explained, “I was fascinated by the way David Lynch found something comic about my beauty.” As Lynch scholar Martha P. Nochimson has observed, “Lynch covers the extremely beautiful Rossellini with absurdly exaggerated ‘glamour.’” The dramatic blue eye shadow and curly wig aren’t necessarily enhancing Rossellini’s beauty. They are adding something uncanny to the equation.
7. FRANK BOOTH WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO INHALE HELIUM.
They had helium on set while filming the rape scene, but the gas didn’t have the eerie effect that was intended. Dennis Hopper later told David Letterman, “I tried it and I sounded a little like Donald Duck.” So, he talked to Lynch and they decided to choose a substance that wouldn’t be voice-altering. The gas isn’t mentioned by name in the film, but Hopper told Lynch that when he read the script, he imagined the substance as amyl nitrate because that is a disorienting drug, unlike helium.
8. JEFFREY SAYS “I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF A MYSTERY” AT THE FILM’S MIDPOINT.
An hour into the film, Jeffrey says the line. The film is exactly two hours long.
9. LYNCH TOOK A LOWER SALARY IN ORDER TO HAVE FINAL CUT OF THE FILM.
Despite Lynch’s previous film, Dune, being a flop, its producer Dino De Laurentiis showed an interest in Blue Velvet. Lynch was also disappointed with Dune, so he knew he wanted final cut when it came to Blue Velvet. The film’s budget was originally $10 million, but Lynch agreed to cut the budget as well as his salary for complete artistic control. The only condition: De Laurentiis insisted that the film be no more than two hours long. The budget was lowered to $6 million and the film clocks in at 120 minutes.
10. THERE ARE SUBTLE REFERENCES TO ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S ASSASSINATION IN THE FILM.
Lynch fans have found references to Lincoln’s assassination in many of his films, and Blue Velvet is no exception. For example, Frank Booth shares a surname with John Wilkes Booth. At the end of the film, when Don Vallens is shot, there are obvious parallels to Lincoln’s assassination. Then, of course, there’s the blatant fact that Jeffrey must cross Lincoln Street to get to the bad part of town.
11. LUMBERTON IS A REAL PLACE.
The film was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina, which was also the production location for two popular teen series: Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill. Though Lynch didn’t base the town in Blue Velvet on any town in particular, Lumberton, North Carolina exists 70 miles away from Wilmington. The mayor’s office of Lumberton was contacted and the rights to their town’s name were acquired.
Lynch thought that Wilmington was the perfect shooting location for Blue Velvet because he pictured his story taking place in a more northern town (and it also happened to be where the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group's new studios had just been built). Wilmington had the older neighborhoods that he desired.
12. ALL OF ROSSELLINI’S NUDITY WAS INTENTIONALLY NOT TITILLATING.
This was particularly important to Rossellini, as she was portraying a woman who had been abused. According to her, “What I had in mind, you know the butcher shop where you see these carcasses of cows cut in the middle and open. It’s the sort of images you have in Francis Bacon ... you have these images of cows and flesh ... And that’s what I wanted to portray.”
13. ONE NUDE SCENE WAS BASED ON A CHILDHOOD MEMORY OF LYNCH’S.
The scene in which Vallens walks outside naked has roots in Lynch’s past. Rossellini explained, “David Lynch has told me that when he was a little boy, and he was going home with his brother, they saw a naked lady walking in the street. And it didn’t feel titillating. They didn’t say, ‘Ooh, a naked lady.’ They started to cry. They understood that something violent or frightening was happening. And he wanted to convey that idea.”
14. TO LYNCH, THE SCENE AT BEN’S APARTMENT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SCENE.
The scene in which Ben lip syncs “In Dreams” for Frank is what Lynch considers the eye-of-the-duck scene, meaning the pivotal scene in the film. He has said, “The key to the whole duck is the eye and where it is placed. It's like a little jewel … When you're working on a film, a lot of times you can get the bill and the legs and the body and everything, but this eye of the duck is a certain scene, this jewel, that if it's there, it's absolutely beautiful. It's just fantastic."
By the way, in case viewers don’t immediately recognize this as the eye-of-the-duck scene, Lynch gave the bar outside of Ben’s apartment a fairly obvious name: “This Is It.”
15. BUT, THE SCENE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO CONTAIN ANOTHER ROY ORBISON SONG.
During production, Lynch and MacLachlan traveled together from New York City to Wilmington. On their way to the airport, Roy Orbison’s “Crying” came on the radio. Lynch was inspired and said, “I’ve got to get that for Blue Velvet.” When the two arrived in Wilmington, he got ahold of Orbison’s greatest hits. But, when he heard “In Dreams,” he immediately preferred it to “Crying.”
16. DURING PRODUCTION, LYNCH MET ANGELO BADALAMENTI, WHO WOULD LATER SCORE THE FILM AS WELL AS TWIN PEAKS AND MULHOLLAND DRIVE.
Rossellini was not a singer and had been working with a teacher in Wilmington, but there was still something missing. So, producer Fred Caruso called his friend Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti flew to Wilmington and worked with Rossellini for three hours. During that session, they developed an interpretation of the song that Lynch loved. Lynch had been hesitant of this outside help, but really hit it off with Badalamenti and a long-term professional relationship was formed.
They ended up recording the final version the day after Rossellini filmed the scene in which she walks outside naked. She had been up until four in the morning and had a cold, but Badalamenti convinced her to do the recording.
17. LYNCH PLAYED MUSIC ON SET TO INSPIRE THE ACTORS.
While filming the scene in which Sandy is walking with Jeffrey, Lynch played Shostakovich music over loud speakers on a residential street. According to Dern, “He felt that we needed to walk to the music and the mood should feel like that piece of music.” The Russian composer was actually very important to the creation of Blue Velvet. Lynch wrote the screenplay while listening to Shostakovich: No. 15 in A major. He has claimed, “I just kept playing the same part of it, over and over again.”
18. THE PREMIERE WAS PICKETED IN LONDON.
The subject matter of the film is obviously troubling and Lynch is notoriously quiet about the meaning of his films. Audiences didn’t know what to make of Blue Velvet, and they definitely weren’t getting any assistance from its auteur. So the film’s release was met with some pushback. This applied to film critics as well. For example, on Siskel & Ebert, Roger Ebert called the film “cruelly unfair to its actors.”
“Well, I can understand that for sure,” Lynch has since responded about the offensive nature of Frank’s sadism and Dorothy’s masochism. “But without that relationship, there wouldn’t have been a film.”
19. ROSSELLINI’S TALENT AGENCY DROPPED HER WHEN THEY SAW THE FILM.
Rossellini had been working as a model for a while and just before she started working on the film, she signed with ICM Partners. It didn’t last long. According to Rossellini, “When they saw Blue Velvet on a private screen, they asked me to leave.”
And that wasn’t the only group in Rossellini’s life that disapproved of the film. She has also said that the nuns who taught her in high school saw the film and called her up to tell her that they were praying for her every day.
20. ROSSELLINI AND LYNCH DATED FOR FOUR YEARS.
Interestingly, Rossellini had been married to Martin Scorsese for four years until they divorced in 1983. Three years later, after production on Blue Velvet ended, Lynch and Rossellini dated publicly. They split up in 1991, soon after she played Perdita Durango in another Lynch film, Wild At Heart. In Rossellini’s memoir, she claimed that Lynch left her.