The Robins Return: A Guide to the Lost Footage of Blue Velvet

“I’m seeing something that was always hidden,” Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) says, trying to explain the compulsion behind his ethically questionable forays into amateur investigation. Speaking of the unearthed, and mysteries brought to light, when David Lynch’s Blue Velvet made its North American Blu-ray debut in 2011, the superb package included 51 minutes and 42 seconds of theretofore lost deleted scenes, thought to be missing until located in a Seattle warehouse in 2010 and given a final polish by the director. The Blu-ray remains worth seeking out for its own A/V merits, but for the curious, this most remarkable bonus feature has inevitably surfaced on YouTube, making it available for the masses to peruse and dissect.

In 1986, Blue Velvet was something of Lynch’s coming-out party, as the cult director turned Oscar-nom wunderkind stepped up to greet his new mainstream audience with his first original material since Eraserhead (1977). The result remains Lynch’s most renowned film, and for many the quintessential summary of his work. Any additional footage is almost automatically of interest.

With the blessing of producer Dino De Laurentiis, Lynch enjoyed de facto final cut on Blue Velvet, a deal struck with the intention of avoiding the frustrations the filmmaker experienced on Dune (1984). A rough assembly of three hours, 28 minutes was pared down to a contracted running time of two hours, with tweaks made to appease the MPAA, but the original presentation of the film is to be considered the director’s cut. The deleted scenes are delivered in one long chunk (the Blu-ray has chapter marks). Unlike the amorphous unused footage that has been released from Wild at Heart and Inland Empire, it is generally apparent to the Blue Velvet–adept where scenes were intended to fit.

The lost footage begins with one of the more notorious cuts (00:08 – 03:11). Set in This Is It, the dive bar that serves as the entryway to Ben’s (Dean Stockwell) backroom brothel, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) accosts a patron whom he accuses of having lost his “lucky” swatch of blue velvet, sliced from the robe of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). (In a later snippet at 38:15, Detective Williams tells Jeffrey that the lost fetish object was found by the police.) The scene closes with a topless woman, her nipples very literally on fire, drawling “Motherfucker, you’re really goin’ up in flames this time, ain’t ya?”; she’s addressing the man whom Frank has just threatened with a trademark “love letter,” but effectively foreshadowing Jeffrey’s impending trip to hell.

Perhaps just as interesting as flaming nipples, though, is what opens the scene: In one of several lost musical performances, a guitarist jams on a half-spoken song with an elderly bluesman type (00:08). The improvised lyrics describe a dog chasing a rabbit, which is trying to eat honeysuckle. There’s a minor “dog” motif that runs throughout the deleted scenes, most traces of which have been excised from the film — only the pup snapping at a spraying hose in the opening, and a fireman’s dalmatian, remain. The single-minded tenacity of dogs, and their potential for sudden, startling ferocity, make them touchstones throughout Lynch’s work. The unused, hilarious, absurdist opening acts for Dorothy Vallens at the Slow Club (22:45 – 28:45) include a dog doing nothing but eating from a bowl onstage, accompanied by a cracked arrangement of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on snare and fife, while a rabbit-shaped neon light glows overhead. Lynch once explained the comic tragedy inherent in Frank Booth: “Frank was completely obsessed. He was like a dog in a chocolate store. He could not help himself. He was completely into it.”

(An outtake not included in lost footage adds another grace note: After picking up Jeffrey at the airport, stepping into the Beaumont driveway, Aunt Barbara was to have exclaimed “smell that honeysuckle!” The scent is in the air, and the Angriest Dog in the World is coming.)

A lengthy sequence (03:39 – 14:18) introducing Jeffrey and getting him from college to Lumberton begins with the most famous and important of the deleted scenes. Kids in sweaters dance out of rhythm to Badalamenti slow jazz at a college party. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is away from the wholesome fun, hiding in the shadows in the basement, witnessing a sexual assault in progress. He stares in fascination, until he is summoned to the telephone, giving him an excuse to muster the courage and/or moral fortitude to intervene. But all Jeffrey can manage in his confused arousal is to blurt “Hey! Leave her alone!” and run away.

It is fairly common to understand Jeffrey as a naif who stumbles into a corrupt world and finds himself seduced out of innocence into darkness, but his capacity for perversity and transgression is introduced early here. As Dorothy will later accuse, he already wants to be a Bad Boy, to do Bad Things. In the finished film, the seeds remain — Pauline Kael picked up on this, noting that Jeffrey wears an earring that seems to signal an alluring potential danger to good-girl love interest Sandy Williams (Laura Dern). In an excised moment from their trip to the Slow Club, Jeffrey asks what Sandy thinks of the bar (24:10) and gets another comic variant on the celebrated line “I don’t know whether you’re a detective or pervert.”

Sandy: Kinda strange.
Jeffrey: I dunno, I feel right at home!
Sandy: I know. I was gonna say. That’s a big problem, Jeffrey.

If the lost footage fleshes out anything missing entirely from Blue Velvet, it is Jeffrey’s relationship with his mother (Priscilla Pointer). The phone call that pulls him away from his introductory act of voyeurism is from her, and she not only summons him home, but orders him to drop out of school. In a later deleted scene (28:46), Jeffrey arrives home after his first night at Dorothy’s apartment to find Mom waiting up. Chastising him for staying out till all hours, she insists, “There’s got to be some order, Jeffrey.” But he’s been out where chaos reigns, and now he threatens to track that business all over the house. The thrill of seeing the unseen, of knowing the secret, draws Jeffrey to the flame of Dorothy and Frank’s world; the tainted air around this underworld seems to smell like liberation, and the idea is bolstered by the deleted domineering mother, and the frustration of finding himself a Lumberton townie when he thought he’d escaped.

One of the pleasures of the lost footage is in spending time in previously unseen, meticulously arranged Lynch environments, all of which would have been important links in Blue Velvet‘s image chains: lamps, bugs, wood, birds. Mom calls Jeffrey from a bedroom featuring a (ceramic?) bird on a nightstand, and the scene ends with the camera panning off to investigate a crack in the wall and a shadow in the corner (a signature Lynch move largely absent from Blue Velvet). Another knickknack bird perches tabletop in the Beaumont’s entryway. A lamp fashioned from a stuffed bird under a glass dome appears in the Williams house, and the lost footage reveals a similar lamp in the rec room. We get a better look at a pair of burl lamps and log folk art in Jeffrey’s room. On his first night home, in this domestic cocoon, Jeffrey parts the Venetian blinds and stares out at the night world. The shot perfectly duplicates the light-through-slats shots inside Dorothy’s closet.

So we move through this lost footage, seeing something that was always hidden, in the middle of a mystery, finding concrete clues — Jeffrey had a college girlfriend, who is married by the second time he calls to check up on her (29:45) — and sensing others, the importance of which we cannot quite articulate (on the flickering television: Jennifer Lynch gazes into a mirror, applying lipstick, a pre-echo of Josie Packard in the opening shot of Twin Peaks). The hints of dropped subplots are enticing but inconsequential — sawdust on the workshop floor — and many had to go, for the sin of overarticulation. Still, the true substance, the secret of Blue Velvet, can be found in every one of these discarded scenes, in the way each shot adds some image, association, or idea to the textured network of the whole. Perhaps most striking of all:

(48:05 – 50:05) Dorothy’s gone all spacey again, asking why she can’t simply die, begging Jeffrey to “come with me.” On the roof of the Deep River apartments, smoke illuminated by lightning wafts out of steel chimneys against the starless black sky. She tosses a shoe off the roof and threatens to follow it over. Jeffrey halfheartedly makes to stop her but watches, enthralled, as she precariously balances on the ledge. Will he come with her? He pulls her back and they fall to the ground, kissing under the strobing lightning.

The lost footage closes with a nice little post-credits flourish (51:14). Disguised as an exterminator so that he may infiltrate Dorothy’s home, Jeffrey mounts the Deep River stairs and runs into an old neighbor lady. “Well,” she grouses, “It’s about time you came.” About time, indeed.

Chris Stangl lives, writes, paints, draws comics, and drinks coffee in Los Angeles. He blogs on film and television at The Exploding Kinetoscope.