The Blue (Velvet) Side of Wilmington

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Wilmington's most infamous location shoot - Blue Velvet. With the movie briefly back on the big screen, WHQR's Megan Williams went looking for the film's local legacy...

Wilmington, NC – Two decades after director David Lynch chose Wilmington to represent his idealized American town... two decades after he drenched its sunlit surfaces in noir and nihilism... reminders of the film are often just around the corner.

The corner of 5th and Market - The Carolina Apartments... Front and Orange, the Barbary Coast... The neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Brookwood... After twenty years, the set pieces for Lynch's film have hardly changed at all. It's a little odd to watch such a dark film, and recognize so many pieces of home.

Twenty years on, thing have changed for a lot of the crew who worked on the film. Take, for starters, FX artist Jeff Goodwin, who's career in feature films really started with a certain ear... When Kyle McLaughlin finds the fleshy relic in a field early in Blue Velvet, the film's dark plot really gets swinging.

The latex ear Goodwin sculpted has gone from professional oddity, to collectors item, as Michele Seidman, who worked with Goodwin on the Film Gore Show at Screen Gems Studios, remembers:

"Of course, the famous ears. Now the ears have gotten so famous. There's two ears. A lot of people don't seem to realize there's two. There's the one ear Kyle finds, and there's another ear.

"It's the one that Kyle finds that everybody wants, and the one that everyone claims to be selling on Ebay and other places. So Jeff has had to call Ebay and let them know, no, he owns the ear, he's the only one who has the ear, so that anybody who claims to be selling the ear, it's a forgery, a fake, so they can cease and desist. Plus now the auction houses like Sothebys have contacted Jeff, because people want to buy the ear. And Jeff has yet to sell it. So it's still in his possession. Matter of fact, right now, it's probably in his make-up bag with him as he's traveling around the world, shooting 'War and Peace.'"

From an ear in a field, to an international career. That's one story. But a lot of Blue Velvet memories have stayed in Wilmington... like the big, silent man with the blank face, the vicious eyes who haunts the film's protagonist... The man in the yellow jacket.

Fred Pickler was trying to get a prop contract with the film when David Lynch and the Artistic director nabbed him for the role of the Yellow Man. It was Pickler's biggest brush with fame, but he says he still gets recognized today, by people all around the world.

"Sometimes I'll go downtown and walk back up to the Carolina Apartments during the day, especially when there's a tour around... What I really wish I could find was that yellow jacket again, it was made by Palm Beach. And find that yellow jacket, put it on and walk down the street there and see what would happen. Could cause some wrecks. Some tourist driving through town, looking over the scenes where a lot of the movie was shot. But, yeah, it's enjoyable. I still enjoy it."

Pickler admits Blue Velvet isn't exactly his kind of film. He jokes that he wanted to make an edited version for his mother to watch... but it would only come out to 15 minutes or so. Even at the time of the movie's production, Picker says, people had hints that it was going to be a pretty far out film.

"The people around town when the movie was being made were a little shocked at some of the scenes, some of the graphic scenes that were in the movie. And you know, we just did our thing."

One local Pickler and the crew failed to shock was Brookwood Estates resident, and artist, Lorraine Perry. Perry says Blue Velvet, as one of the first films made in the neighborhood, garnered a lot of local attention. So when they heard a night scene would be filmed at nearby house, Perry took her ten-year-old son over to a neighbor's porch to watch the filming.

The crowd on the stoop was all men and boys and Perry says it wasn't long before assistant producers started hassling them, trying to at least get the kids off the porch. No one budged.

As Perry remembers it, "so then, Isabella herself walked over in a terry-cloth robe, absolutely gorgeous. And she opened her mouth, and all you could hear was Ingrid Bergman. So we were mesmerized. So Ingrid Bergman was talking to us, and she was telling us in this wonderful accent that she thought the parents should be much more sensible and realize this was not the sort of movie made for children.

"So somebody on the stoop asked 'Why?' And she said, 'well...' They were never really articulate about it other than she finally said, 'Well, I am going to be undressed.' So nobody responded. That sounded perfectly okay to us.

"Then she looked at me very closely, because I was the only woman in the group and I was on the bottom step with my son next to me, and said, 'don't you understand? Don't you think it's the parents' responsibility?' And I said, 'I for one, as a parent take no offense at nudity, I draw nudes all the time, and so it's okay with us, if it's okay with you.' And she cinched her terry cloth robe really tight, turned around, huffed, and stormed away, like we were just a bunch of imbeciles."

Perry says as soon as the nude Rossellini did appear, all the older men on the porch covered their sons' eyes... Except for the younger Perry, who's comment on the whole thing still makes his mother laugh: "I don't see what the big deal's about. She looks just like my mom!"

Perry and her son never got around to watching the movie, but if you've seen it, you probably know the punchline. Isabella's not just naked. She's covered in bruises: dazed, humiliated, horrifying.

Blue Velvet... that nice little picture across the street... boost to the local film industry... immortalizer of everyday locations... and a catalogue of nasty connotations.

Let's give Fred Pickler the last word.

"It's really interesting to me that this has lasted 20 years. John Wayne, he's still around too. Clint Eastwood, some of the other famous actors. I guess this will be a cult classic for a certain group of people. Hey I enjoy it."

Megan Williams, WHQR News