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Blue Velvet: An Interview with David Lynch

by Laurent Bouzereau
Cineaste 3/1987
with many thanks to J.D. Lafrance


With Eraserhead (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980), David Lynch gained a reputation as a filmmaker with a unique vision and style. In the following interview, Lynch discusses his latest film, Blue Velvet (1986), which won him an Academy Award nomination this year as Best Director.

Cineaste: How did you get the idea for Blue Velvet?

David Lynch: I started to get ideas for it in 1973 but it was all very vague. I only had a feeling and a title. Then, when I finished The Elephant Man, I met Richard Roth, the producer of Julia. We had coffee and he told me had read my script for Ronnie Rocket. He had liked it but, truly, he said, it wasn't his cup of tea. He asked me if I had any other scripts. I said I had only 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.

Why an ear and not a finger, for example?

It had to be an ear because it's an opening. An ear is wide and you can go down into it. It goes somewhere vast. I wrote two scripts but none of them had a good middle, so they were rejected. Then I got involved with Dune and it was only after the movie was released that I went back to Blue Velvet. Strangely, all the right ideas came to me right away, as if they had been on my mind all that time. Then Dino De Laurentis got involved and the project took another turn. I could have total artistic freedom if I kept the budget down and took a cut in my salary. Of course, I took the deal.

Blue Velvet has a lot of graphic sex scenes. The word žfuckÓ is said repeatedly and the relationships between Jeffrey, Dorothy and Frank are quite sadistic. Were you afraid the film might have been rated X?

People told me to understand that the sex in the film might be a problem. I never really wanted the film to be so graphic. I wanted it to be more mental, more subconscious. Luckily, the MPAA didn't cause me any trouble because all the situations were justified and wrapped in a context.

Did you have any problems with the actors during the shooting of the sado-masochistic sex scenes?

For those scenes we had a closed set. We only had the people that were needed. The actors were really good about everything. They were as comfortable as they could be and they found a lot of understanding. I think the reason we reached such an achievement is because we spent a long time rehearsing. The actors got turned into the mood of the film gradually. We solved all the problems. They broght a lot of fresh ideas to their roles without trespassing on my ideas and my vision of the film.

Blue Velvet is closer to Eraserhead than it is to The Elephant Man or Dune. Which style do you prefer?

Blue Velvet and Eraserhead are more personal and also more subconscious. There are certain desires that color your ideas and make them personal. I'm attracted by certain concepts. Once they start coming, I start to link them. I also like to do other people's work because the ideas are already organized. I have more confidence, though, in my own concepts. I understand them better and therefore can get more out of them.

Do you think everything in art has to have a meaning, a reason?

If you could put into words the symbolic equivalent to most of my visual concepts, no one would probably want to produce my films. I don't know what a lot of things mean. I just have the feeling that they are right or not right. My work is full of abstract ideas but they are ideas I know about. My first inspiration is life, therefore everything makes sense because it is linked to life.

Why are the colors in Blue Velvet so important?

The colors in the film are part of the mystery. One of Frank's accomplices, for example, always wears a yellow suit or raincoat. Blue is also my favourite color and I wanted it to be in contrast with the red lipstick worn by Dorothy.

All your films feature monsters or freaks. They're either physically or mentally deformed. Why?

The story of the Elephant Man was about someone who was a monster on the outside but who inside was a beautiful and normal human being you fell in love with. He was a monster who wasn't really a monster. I like human conditions that are distorted. It makes the undistorted stand out. I like psychological twists, too.

Which one of your characters represents you the most?

Henry from Eraserhead and Jeffrey from Blue Velvet definitely have a lot in common with me. They are both very special to me, but I can't really explain why.

Is Ronnie Rocket going to be your next project?

Precisely. It's an absurd comedy, the story of a midget with red hair and physical problems. It's the absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence. Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell will probably be in it. I don't think Kyle MacLachlan will be in Ronnie Rocket because he looks too normal for that film.


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© Mike Hartmann
mhartman@mail.uni-freiburg.de