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FANGO Flashback: “BLUE VELVET”

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When did David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET first enter my consciousness? I had only been in the FANGORIA stable a few months back in 1985, when Dino De Laurentiis genre publicist Paul Sammon (now an author of excellent cinema books like the indispensible FUTURE NOIR: THE MAKING OF BLADE RUNNER) tipped me off that a new film from the ERASERHEAD auteur would be opening in the fall of 1986. The cult movie remains one of my favorite independent films to this day. Those who missed BLUE VELVET then can now catch it on the big screen when NYC’s Film Forum (209th West Houston; [212] 727-8110) unspools this classic from Friday, March 25th through Thursday, March 31st in a gorgeous 30th anniversary restoration, courtesy of Park Circus Films .

The enigma of BLUE VELVET begins when Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan, Lynch muse from DUNE and TWIN PEAKS) returns home from college following his dad’s stoke and finds a severed ear in the fields outside his quiet town of Lumberton. Authorities offer little guidance, so Jeffrey does some snooping on his own, including sneaking into the bedroom of the distraught and vulnerable singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Dorothy’s adolescent son has been kidnapped by local crime lord Frank (an unforgettable Dennis Hopper, just before jumping into TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II), and the drug-inhaling psycho keeps the woman as a sex slave. As Jeffrey digs deeper and engages in his own sadomasochistic relationship with Dorothy, Frank and his cohorts (who include familiar genre faces Brad Dourif and ERASERHEAD’s Jack Nance) take him (and us) on a most dangerous joy ride…

BLUE VELVET serves as the perfect companion piece to Lynch’s 1990’s TWIN PEAKS TV series. The two share many of the same themes: the dangerous underbelly of even the most idyllic small towns (where lumber remains the biggest industry); tragic femme fatales; squeaky clean heroes investigating sordid mysteries; and oddball characters doing oddball things, played by a quirky, to-die-for supporting cast (Dean Stockwell?…wow!). PEAKS’ Angelo Badalamenti also composed BLUE VELVET’s jazzy and haunting score, accentuated by the songs “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton over the opening credits, Rosselini’s own interpretation of same at the Slow Club and Stockwell’s bizarre lip-synch to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.”

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When Sammon first tipped me off to the wonders to come with BLUE VELVET, I did some investigating of my own. I tracked down North Carolina (where the movie lensed) makeup FX artist Dean Jones (today a director of such films as DARK AWAKENING), who said he created the film’s severed ear and other gore gags. (To entice ants to infest the silicone prop, Jones spread honey on it.) Imagine my surprise when the BLUE VELVET rubber ear arrived in the mail one day—I had just asked Dean to send me a few production photos! I pinned that prop, encased in a little rubber baggie, to my bulletin board over my cluttered desk, where it stayed for years. In that pre-eBay-era, we foolishly auctioned off that priceless collectible for pennies during a short-lived 900-line magazine promotion.

Back in fall 1986, I missed the BLUE VELVET press screening. So when the movie rolled into town, I went to see it in Forest Hills, Queens at the now-gone Continental theater. My grammar school/stick ball buddies Vinnie and Joe accompanied me. Now these guys, God bless ’em, were not the usual types accustomed to art-house fare like BLUE VELVET. SLAP SHOT, MEATBALLS and ANIMAL HOUSE were more their speed growing up. But, you know what? Vinnie and Joe loved BLUE VELVET just as much as me! The film’s edgy violence and off-kilter humor won them over.

Lynch himself gave FANGO scribe William Rabkin a most entertaining—and mostly enigmatic—interview in issue 58. The filmmaker refused to pigeonhole BLUE VELVET into any specific genre (not even as a modern film noir), describing it as a “neighborhood film.” When pressed on what exactly a neighborhood film is, Lynch explained, “It takes place in a neighborhood.” When the glorious BLUE VELVET returns to your neighborhood, make sure you check it out.  

About the author
Tony Timpone
FANGORIA Editor Emeritus Tony Timpone helps manage the company’s VOD, DVD and digital divisions. For nearly 10 years he served as a Vice President of Acquisitions for FANGORIA’s three separate home video labels, and co-created FANGORIA’S BLOOD DRIVE short film DVD collection, hosted by Rob Zombie. For TV, Timpone was a Co-Producer of cable’s FUSE/FANGORIA CHAINSAW AWARDS and a Consulting Producer to the HORROR HALL OF FAME special. Since 1998, Montreal’s Fantasia film festival has engaged Tony as Co-Director of International Programming.
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