What Does the Lost Footage Add to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet?

51 minutes of lost footage were found for David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Will these fabled deleted scenes change my perspective on one of my favourite films?...

David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is one of my favourite films. It’s a remarkable piece of work, one I vividly remember my first time watching. I’ve tried to maintain that experience throughout the years, the sense of unease it created on first watch, and a strong sense of atmosphere never fails to envelop me. It’s for that reason that I’ve stopped myself from watching the lost footage of Blue Velvet for years now. I’ve just never felt that I’ve needed to watch it.

The 51 minutes of deleted scenes reappeared in 2011 and, as bizarre as it might be for a David Lynch fan to refuse to watch some of his unseen work, I’ve never wanted to mess with my understanding and appreciation of the film. Deleted scenes are deleted for a reason and the film speaks for itself. I don’t want my experience altered or informed by cut material. But I decided my opinion was too extreme, that I should stop being so precious, so I took the plunge and watched the lost footage for the first time.

Much of the deleted material comes from early in the film, including offering a completely new introduction to Jeffrey. In the footage’s first shock, Jeffrey is introduced at college watching a rape begin to take place. He eventually shouts out and puts a stop to it, but only when someone calls his name and he has to go, with the implication being that if he didn’t, perhaps he’d let it continue. The scene certainly sets up his dark sexual obsession but I don’t like the scene at all. It’s not needed and is too dark too fast. The Jeffrey of the finished film come across as quite sweet and innocent initially before slowly being drawn into the dark, corrupting world beneath the seemingly bright surface of Lumberton. I like the idea that him finding the ear is the inciting incident, the threshold to darkness, rather than him already having one foot across.

However, the idea that Jeffrey is not just taking a break from college to visit his ill father, as it is in the film, but is actually forced to leave altogether because his mother can’t pay and needs him to work is an interesting insight from the deleted scenes. He’s angry about it and it feels like another element pushing him down a darker path. It’s a quick, unexpected end to his childhood and he’s suddenly forced to enter the adult world, which nicely informs the rest of the story.

Much of the additional scenes have a more stilted feel in a classic Lynchian way, more so than the core film. There’s an awkwardness to many of the interactions that’s difficult to parse which are intentionally like that and which aren’t. Kyle MacLachlan is great in Blue Velvet, as he is in pretty much everything, but his performance in a few cut moments is the weakest I’ve seen him. Specifically in scenes with his college girlfriend, a relationship not in the film. Their chemistry is non-existent, as The Arm would scream in Twin Peaks. The relationship is interesting, though, in that they both immediately cheat on each other. It adds another layer of darkness and secrecy to Jeffrey, that’s he’s got a girlfriend the entire time he’s seeing Sandy and Dorothy, and also creates a scene of comedy when he reacts to discovering his girlfriend has spontaneously married another guy.

The lost footage reveals many more problems at home for Jeffrey, further peeling back the bright façade of the opening scene. His mother is ill, receiving unspecified injections from a doctor and has a bedside table covered in pill bottles. I always thought Jeffrey had a happy home life but these scenes certainly dispel that notion. His mother is also controlling, staying up late to chastise him when he gets home. It almost borders on a Psycho relationship.

I do like the lost footage’s sense of Jeffrey being stuck in a house with two old women, enforcing his need for adventure and escape. As well as his mother, we get additional moments with Jeffrey’s aunt Barbara, played by Frances Bay. More Frances Bay is a plus for any film, particularly one by Lynch, and I was always disappointed by how little she was in Blue Velvet. We see that Barbara has dementia and is a quirkier character than previously thought. In one interesting scene she kills a fly in their home and leaves it out with a note for Jeffrey to see. She’s deranged but it’s a thematically insightful moment. Bugs are used at the beginning and end of the film to represent the hidden, dark nature of the world, with the insects in the ground at the start and the robin eating a bug at the end to show how goodness has vanished evil. This scene adds an additional beat to this idea in the film’s middle.

From the film I’d almost thought The Slow Club was a seedier location than what the deleted scenes present. Rather than just watch Dorothy sing, we get to see much more of Jeffrey and Sandy’s date at the club, including getting seated by the waiter like a proper restaurant. I prefer the vibe the finished film offers more but the sequence is certainly interesting. We see a dog eat dinner on the stage, with everyone unsure whether it’s an act or simply a bizarre place to feed a dog. Then comes a terrible act combining music, comedy, and dance, complete with a big visual gag in the background. It felt like something from the talent show in David Byrne’s True Stories. I can see why it was cut; there’s no easy transition from that to Dorothy singing Blue Velvet.

There’s very little Frank Booth in the lost footage. The one major scene featuring him is another location he drags Jeffrey and Dorothy to, likely after the brothel in the film, and it’s not very good. A bit too repetitive for Frank, simply threatening another person, when there’s already plenty of that. All while a woman sets her nipples alight in the background and an impromptu blues song is performed. The other Frank moment is much better and truly terrifying. Jeffrey calls Dorothy but Frank answers, complete with a sudden music cue from Angelo Badalamenti. Lynch is a master at the scary phone call, with Lost Highway featuring another in a classic scene.

“Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” This is one of the most memorable quotes from Blue Velvet and people love to dig deep into why different characters like the different beers. But it’s only really the one moment in the film which has been spun out to be something bigger than it is. However the lost footage adds far more meaning to these beers and it turns out this one moment is part of a running gag that was cut down. Throughout the deleted scenes the beer choices reprise. Both Jeffrey and Sandy order Heinekens at The Slow Club, Brad Dourif’s Raymond orders a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon for Frank’s crew, and even Detective Williams enters the debate with his preference for Budweiser.

Sandy’s boyfriend Mike is barely a character in the released film. Little more than a trivia answer as a precursor to Mike from Twin Peaks (the high school kid rather than the one-armed man). But the deleted scenes feature much more of him, and while it’s an unnecessary diversion, I did enjoy it. There’s an awkward dinner scene between Sandy, her family, Mike, and Jeffrey. It’s not on the same level of awkwardness as the Eraserhead dinner scene but what is? He takes vitamins at the dinner table to improve his fitness and the scene of Mike, Sandy, and Jeffrey watching TV together afterwards is Lynch at his most realistically uncomfortable. It also gives us MacLachlan eating a heavenly slice of pie three years before Twin Peaks.

Outside of Jeffrey’s new introduction, which I just don’t like and is always going to be in my mind now when I rewatch the film, the lost footage is mainly composed of scenes that are nice to see as a fan but are largely unnecessary. Lynch made the right call in removing them. The film cut all the fat for a tight noir thriller. We get little moments like Jeffrey’s mother explaining that she needs the car so he’ll need to walk to the hospital, leading to him finding the ear, which is just unnecessary over-explanation. We also gets additional details and scenes, like The Yellow Man also trying to extort Dorothy for sex, and Jeffrey preventing her from jumping off a roof, which aren’t bad but feel superfluous, a little melodramatic, and like the film trying to get across a point it already succeeded in making.

Edited into its own little film, the 51 minutes of lost footage also has a post credits scene, with a woman telling Jeffrey “well, it’s about time you came”. It’s a meta joke regarding the reappearance of the deleted material in 2011. Although, the more fittingly descriptive quote for the lost footage is probably “would you stop trying to explain everything and just do it!”

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