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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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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
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The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
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Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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