It was a quarter century ago that David Lynch scored one of the greatest comebacks in cinema history by rebounding from the epic fail of Dune with the art house neo-noir that was Blue Velvet. The creepy crime flick — starring Kyle MacLachlan as a peeping tom amateur detective and Dennis Hopper as a gas-huffing, F-bomb hurling deviant — earned the then 41-year-old Eraserhead auteur an Oscar nomination (the second nod of his career; The Elephant Man gave him his first) and set the stage for the pop culture phenomenon of Twin Peaks. Blue Velvet is full of offbeat, seemingly gratuitous choices, from the celebrated shot of ants grappling with each other in the suburban soil to Dean Stockwell serenading Hopper’s Frank Booth with a licentious lip sync of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” (“Here’s to your f—, Frank.”) And yet, Blue Velvet casts a mesmerizing spell; everything feels essential to the hypnotic whole, nothing feels grossly indulgent… unless you hate the movie. And a few people do, most famously, Roger Ebert.
It’s hard to imagine Lynch’s not-a-(weird)-moment-wasted journey into psychosexual darkness running nearly an hour longer than its 120-minute running time. But in another universe — perhaps the same one where a convicted wife murderer can escape prison by morphing into Balthazar Getty — there exists a very different bolt of Blue Velvet. The 25th anniversary edition of the movie released on Blu-ray last week offers a sense of what-coulda-been via 50 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes, including comic subplots involving a college girlfriend for MacLachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Megan Mullally) and a high school football jock boyfriend for Laura Dern’s Sandy Williams. [WARNING! The remainder of this post will discuss the deleted scenes in detail. So SPOILER ALERT! for those who’d prefer to discover and experience them without the taint of “commentary.”]
In an interview with EW, Lynch explained that the discarded sequences have been missing for years. Seriously? “As lost as lost can be,” insists the director, calling from Paris where he’s currently participating in an art exhibition and celebrating the opening of nightclub called Silencio, inspired by the dream theater featured in the 2001 picaresque puzzler that gave him his third Oscar nod, Mulholland Drive. “The scenes were found in a storage facility near Seattle. I don’t know how come they couldn’t be found, but apparently there were a couple of pieces of paper that ended up being like a Rosetta stone that connected the dots and led right to them. Every single frame. Nothing was lost … It’s a super, super gift, really. I loved these things, even though they weren’t right for the film, on their own, I adore them.” Lynch is particularly fond of the scenes with Jeffrey’s Aunt Barbara, played by Frances Bay. (Remember the lady who fought with Jerry Seinfeld over the marble rye? That’s her.) In one deadpan quirky and vaguely sinister passage, Aunt Barbara goes hunting for termites. The helmer says it’s a “great sadness” to him that the actress, who died on Sept. 15 at the age of 92, “never saw how great she was.”
And yet, Lynch is correct: Not a single one of these deleted scenes feels “right” for the Blue Velvet we know and love (or would improve it for those who don’t)… with maybe the exception of a chilling moment involving Jeffrey, Frank, and a near-wordless phone call. But watching the scenes is an entertaining and illuminating experience for Lynchophiles and armchair cineastes, and reminds us that masterpieces are ultimately made in the editing room. There’s a long scene set in a scuzzy strip joint with Frank being Frank – which is to say, being a brutal, foul-mouthed bully – that feels redundant, given the plethora of other, better scenes demonstrating Frank’s pathology and capacity for evil. (But enjoy the blind blues man who scats a song out of dog barks and the topless woman with light bulb pasties.) Many of the scenes possess that very vibe of gratuitousness that the final cut somehow avoids. There’s a sequence where Jeffrey and Sandy go to a club to watch singer-with-secrets Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) perform, but must first sit through some peculiar opening acts, including a dog that eats from a bowl for a really, really, really long time. There’s also another block of scenes that show Jeffrey attending a party at Oak Lake College and then receiving the news that brings him back to his hometown of Lumberton, the “log capitol of the world.” It’s tempting to imagine where this sequence might have fallen in the movie, but if it would have been placed in the most logical spot — right after the film’s memorable War of the Ants prologue — it would ruined the inspired radio jingle segue (“Logs! Logs! Logs! Lumberton, U-S-AAAAAAA!”) that connects the prelude to the stretch of scenes in which Jeffrey visits the hospital and then discovers the severed ear in the tall weeds of an abandoned lot.
Of course, this analysis presumes to know how Lynch would have used those scenes. Lynch himself doesn’t know, and certainly wouldn’t say if he did: For him, the only version of Blue Velvet that he wants living in our memory is the one he edited together with full control over the final print — a right that he obtained from financier Dino De Laurentiis by agreeing to take less money. “I can’t stop people from wondering,” he says. “I think the secret to me is to enjoy the scenes on their own and let the film be what it ended up being.” Does that mean that Lynch does not like the idea of “deleted scenes” in general? “No, I like sharing that with the audience, as long as the scenes stay separate and are seen on their own,” says Lynch, who expressed a final thought about the footage via a typically offbeat analogy. “Some people flunk out of school, but are still very interesting people. They’re not in the class that goes ahead, but maybe you’d like to go visit them.”
We have more David Lynch for you: Later this week in our Music Mix blog, the director talks with EW about his debut album, Crazy Clown Time, in which the director plays the blues… and sings of bad dentistry.