CLOSE
Original image
YouTube

20 Colorful Facts About Blue Velvet

Original image
YouTube

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Wikimedia Commons

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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. 

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES