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Film

Revisit Dean Stockwell's magnificent Roy Orbison scene in 'Blue Velvet'

Over the course of his illustrious career, celebrated actor Dean Stockwell appeared in some of the greatest films and shows of the 20th century. However, in the memories of most fans, one particular moment from Stockwell’s oeuvre is embedded deeper than any other because of the sheer brilliance of the scene as well as the surreal nature of Stockwell’s performance.

That moment came in David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet which conducts a psychosexual examination of suburban America through the story of a young boy (played by Kyle MacLachlan) who stumbles into a strange mystery. Although it was subjected to critical dismissal when it first came out, almost everyone agrees now that Blue Velvet is one of the most important American films of the last century.

Lynch explained: “My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning aeroplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast”.

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Although he is often hesitant to discuss his work, the director also noted: “Kyle is dressed like me. My father was a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. We were in the woods all the time. I’d sorta had enough of the woods by the time I left, but still, lumber and lumberjacks, all this kinda thing, that’s America to me like the picket fences and the roses in the opening shot. It’s so burned in, that image, and it makes me feel so happy”.

Blue Velvet has a wide range of memorable images which remain in the audience’s mind for years, especially the haunting performance by Dennis Hopper who expertly handled the role of a depraved, psychotic criminal. In order to complement Hopper’s insanity, Lynch also brought in his former collaborator Stockwell for a particular scene where he is introduced as an eccentric co-criminal.

In that magnificent scene, Stockwell exists in a heterotopic space that does not follow the logic of the normal world. He lip-syncs to the Roy Orbison song In Dreams which actually transports us to the landscape of dreams for a second. Stockwell was supposed to hold a microphone for the scene but Lynch asked him to do it with a work-light after seeing him holding one during a lighting session.

Orbison initially denounced the use of the song but later praised Lynch’s vision: “I was mortified because they were talking about the ‘candy coloured clown’ in relation to a dope deal… I thought, ‘What in the world…?’. But later, when I was touring, we got the video out and I really got to appreciate what David gave to the song, and what the song gave to the movie – how it achieved this otherworldly quality that added a whole new dimension to In Dreams“.

Watch the unforgettable scene from Blue Velvet featuring Dean Stockwell below.