Hear Isabella Rossellini Sing “Blue Velvet” in Its Entirety

Blue had a big moment in 1990’s Euro­pean art­house cin­e­ma, in films like Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue and Derek Jarman’s auto-ele­giac Blue, the last film the direc­tor made before his death in 1995; blue as a col­or of impos­si­ble love, loss, and death — moods and themes deeply inter­twined with music in both films and both direc­tors’ oeu­vres. But where would the col­or blue in art house cin­e­ma be with­out David Lynch’s 1986 Blue Vel­vet, the sur­re­al neo-noir that intro­duced Lynch to Brook­lyn-born com­pos­er Ange­lo Badala­men­ti, and thus began one of most cre­ative of art house rela­tion­ships between cin­e­ma and music?

Badala­men­ti first joined the film’s pro­duc­tion not as a com­pos­er but as a voice coach for star Isabel­la Rosselli­ni, who played a risky role not only because of Blue Vel­vet’s sado­masochism and nudi­ty, but also because she was cast as a lounge singer, even though, as Rosselli­ni admits, she could­n’t sing. “My friend Peter Run­flo said Lynch was shoot­ing in North Car­oli­na and Isabel­la Rosselli­ni wasn’t hap­py with the peo­ple teach­ing her to sing,” Badala­men­ti tells Spir­it and Flesh mag­a­zine.

“I said, ‘You can get any­body for that. I got­ta wash my car.’ [laughs] I was more into arrang­ing and orches­trat­ing and didn’t know who David Lynch was. But he con­vinced me by say­ing it’s a Dino De Lau­ren­ti­is movie – I knew that name. I met with Isabel­la and after a cou­ple of hours with a piano and a lit­tle cas­sette recorder, we got a decent vocal.”

Lynch want­ed Badala­men­ti to stick around and write a theme that sound­ed like the Cocteau Twins’ “Song of the Siren,” his favorite song at the time, which he could­n’t afford to license. The result was “Mys­ter­ies of Love,” sung by anoth­er stal­wart Lynch musi­cal col­lab­o­ra­tor, Julee Cruise. But it was the vocal stylings of Dorothy Val­lens that gave the film its title and its pre­vail­ing mood. “Adorned in blue eye­shad­ow, carmine lip­stick and a cheap wig, Dorothy sings in a joint called ‘The Slow Club,’ ” writes The New York Times’ Lau­rie Win­er, “Per­form­ing only bal­lads with the word ‘blue’ in the title, she man­ages to put togeth­er a tat­tered glam­our, like a rem­nant from a 40’s movie, that is pal­pa­bly dis­tress­ing when her stare floats out into the smoke-filled club.”

Lit in lurid blue light, Rosselli­ni sings the film’s “Blue Velvet/Blue Star” med­ley in a smoky con­tral­to, recall­ing Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky’s obser­va­tion, “the col­or blue can even cause a tem­po­rary paral­y­sis.” In the video at the top, a YouTube user has recon­struct­ed Rossellini’s full ren­di­tion of the tit­u­lar song, a Num­ber One hit in 1963 for Bob­by Vin­ton and a break­out hit in 1951 for Tony Ben­nett. “Par­don the huge qual­i­ty dip (and total mono for aur­al con­sis­ten­cy),” the video’s cre­ator notes, “but short of a new sound­track release using the mas­ter, this is the most com­plete ver­sion of this we’ll be get­ting.”

The images and audio were cob­bled togeth­er from the orig­i­nal 1990 sound­track, Ger­man Film­mak­er Peter Braatz’s 2016 doc­u­men­tary, Blue Vel­vet Revis­it­ed, a VHS copy of the film, and the orig­i­nal film audio. Like Nico, anoth­er heav­i­ly-Euro­pean-accent­ed for­mer mod­el whose monot­o­ne defined a new art move­ment, Rossellini’s tune­less lounge act announced a new sur­re­al­ist aes­thet­ic that would reach the main­stream with Blue Vel­vet’s promi­nence upon its release. The last­ing impact of Lynch’s love of blue on the fol­low­ing decade’s cin­e­ma deserves a study all its own, and we should always mark Blue Vel­vet as the first meet­ing of two artists (two “broth­ers,”  Badala­men­ti says) who did more to mar­ry cin­e­mat­ic col­or and musi­cal mood than per­haps any two col­lab­o­ra­tors in the art form.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

David Fos­ter Wal­lace Explains How David Lynch’s Blue Vel­vet Taught Him the True Mean­ing of Avant Garde Art

The Sur­re­al Film­mak­ing of David Lynch Explained in 9 Video Essays

David Lynch Posts His Night­mar­ish Sit­com Rab­bits Online–the Show That Psy­chol­o­gists Use to Induce a Sense of Exis­ten­tial Cri­sis in Research Sub­jects

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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