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20 Colorful Facts About Blue Velvet

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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