Two weeks ago, I drove to Wilmington, North Carolina, for the Cucalorus Film Festival. Having just spent a grueling week in Nashville working on the Silver Jews doc (note to self: you’re not an editor), I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend watching movies and hanging out with friends. But what began as an innocent, fun time turned into one of the more memorable experiences of my life. First, let us begin with the festival itself.
Here’s Dan Brawley, the director of Cucalorus, who knows how to treat his filmmakers right (can you say free chilled Tuaca machines 24-7? I can!).
Todd Rohal, one week before picking up his Best Director award at the Torino Film Festival, delivering another hilarious and insightful Q&A. The post-film set-up in Falvey Hall was one of the strangest I’ve ever seen, yet Todd kept his composure.
Robin and Rory Muir, two of my favorite new friends of 2006, screened their crowd-pleasing documentary, DOWNTOWN LOCALS, to another packed house.
A meeting of the Jacksonville Filmmaker’s Alliance: Cucalorus Edition, starring Josh Bolton (DRAWING LINES) and the one-and-only Damian Lahey (my partner-in-crime on COCAINE ANGEL and writer/producer of the upcoming A CHILD IN THE DARK).
On Friday at 5, there was a special party for filmmakers at the historic Bellamy Mansion, where we ate a ton of amazing food and drank gallons of free drinks.
The interior of the mansion was beautiful but spooky, especially when you got to the upper floors. For a minute I thought Todd was going to hack us all to pieces, but he snapped out of it once he got his ass back out of the rocking chair.
Todd tried to warn Robin and Rory that the upstairs attic was haunted, but they didn’t believe him. They’re from LA, dude.
The Legion Production Services guys are true heroes. I don’t know how I managed to not snap a picture of Damian Smith, but he’s the miggity-miggity-man (thanks for letting me crash, Damian!).
Here are Kenneth Price (left) and M. Shawn Lewallen (right). Kenneth color corrected COCAINE ANGEL, and he did a damn fine job. He also makes incredibly dope beats in his spare time, onto which I one day hope to spit some rhymes. Shawn shot COCAINE ANGEL. It’s because of him that we had such an amazing festival run this year. Thank you oh-so-very-very-very much, Shawn, and congratulations on your new son!
Julia (I don’t know her last name), Damian, and fellow Legion-er (and all around cool dude) Neil Boone await our post-film Q&A, which went very well. Our screening was absolutely packed. We have Legion to thank for that, who threw an ass-kickingly great party on Friday night and hung up CA posters all over town.
I’d like to say thanks to all of the volunteers and staffers who helped to make this year’s festival such a fun time for the filmmakers (Rob, Cathy, Steve, etc.). I can say, without hesitation, that Cucalorus is the hardest partying film festival I have ever attended. You guys are fucking hardcore.
Which leads us into the monumental portion of the weekend. For those of you who don’t know, David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET was shot on location in Wilmington, back when Dino De Laurentiis had established a film studio there. Before arriving in town, Todd and I decided that we needed to embark on a mission to track down as many exterior locations as possible (since all the interiors were shot on a soundstage—or so we thought). Our first destination was the Carolina Apartments, home of Isabella Rossellini’s tortured Dorothy Vallens.
There it was, the only difference being that the actual building has only six floors (Dorothy supposedly lived on the seventh).
Here’s a shot of it at night. But wait, who is that person standing on the corner? Is that the weird fat guy who was walking his dog in Sandy’s neighborhood? Is it the Yellow Man in a blue disguise?
That afternoon, as I was trying to process the incomprehensibly surreal fact that I was staring at Dorothy’s apartment building in three-dimensional reality, Todd got my attention. He was standing around the corner, and something had caught his eye. THIS had caught his eye:
It was the actual stairwell! I would have bet a million dollars that the stairwell was a match and was nowhere near the actual Carolina apartments, yet there it was, right in front of my face. I wish Todd had my reaction on video. I was like a twelve year old on ecstasy.
Somehow, we never managed to dork out all the way and buy a DVD of the film itself to take stills that matched the film exactly, yet I trusted my instincts with this shot of The Well Dressed Rohal.
This is the church across the street from Dorothy’s, where I’m positive they were parked for at least one scene of the film.
Our next destination was the high school, which even those of you who don’t remember the film that well should recognize.
Something that has always confused me about BLUE VELVET is Ben’s place. I always thought it was supposed to be an apartment, but I wonder if it was actually supposed to be a weird bar. Anyway, here’s the exterior, setting of the infamous “Heineken? Fuck that shit! PABST… BLUE… RIBBON!” line.
“This is it” is right. More proof that the weekend was blessed: COCAINE ANGEL’s editor extraordinaire, Dave Lahn, had randomly driven into town that weekend, so we met up at The Barbary Coast for a PBR. Most of my early twenties were spent driving around Salisbury, Ocean City, Baltimore, and Columbia (MD) at 4am with Dave, blasting the BLUE VELVET soundtrack, so this was an especially fitting place to reunite.
I’m 99% sure that this Port City Java is the spot where Jeffrey and Sandy ate, yet local authority (and Cucalorus technical director) Rob Hill assured me that this building hadn’t even been built in 1986. I haven’t had time to watch the film yet to confirm or deny my suspicions, but I plan to this week.
Inside the Port City Java, Todd tracked down a still from the film, which we tried to recreate. Again, a viewing of the film will confirm if this is an exact match, but I think that it is.
This is the building that Rob swears was the actual diner location. Watch the movie for yourself and see who’s right. I actually trust Rob, yet my gut tells me differently.
The hardware store where Jeffrey worked is now a shady mini-mart. Boo hoo.
Another mind-blowing discovery was the warehouse where Frank Booth had his hideout. As we drove around tracking down these locations, the miracle of Lynch’s achievement became even more profound. This was a lesson in movie magic like nothing I had ever experienced. To be able to take an ordinary American landscape and turn it into a terrifyingly bizarre world unto itself, this was something that should be taught to aspiring filmmakers everywhere.
As soon as I’d stood in the stairwell at the Carolinas, I became obsessed with the realization that I was walking around in Lynch’s Lumberton. Todd and I asked everyone we came into contact with if they had any tips, and most people did. At one point, while waiting in line for a drink at the Bellamy Mansion party, the bartender said, “Who’s the BLUE VELVET freak?” It turns out her brother was the special effects artist and still has the ear, which, unfortunately, is now in Italy, where he lives. But those sorts of connections were popping up everywhere. We even had a lead to the Yellow Man himself, yet it never panned out. I think I’m glad that didn’t happen. Meeting the actual Yellow Man might have sent me into Lynchville forever.
One of the few locations we were told had an interior and exterior match was the police station.
Yep, that’s it, alright.
At this point, my sister Colleen had arrived in town to be our driver, as I was wigging out a little too hard to be behind the wheel. While the other 23 of Filmmaker’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film 2006” were working hard on becoming new voices on the American cinematic landscape, Bozo 1 and Bozo 2 were busy taking pictures of…
Again, I wish to God we had some actual video of this stop on the tour, as it would have made for some of the most embarrassingly hilarious footage I’ve ever been a part of. Todd and I walked up to front desk, where we met two male officers, who looked like they were a combined thirty years old. We explained that we were in town for a film festival and asked them if they’d ever seen the film BLUE VELVET. They hadn’t. We then asked them if they by chance had a water fountain somewhere in the building. They said yes. When my eyes widened and I asked, “Can we see it?! PLEASE???!!!” they looked at each other like I was clinically insane (which, at that very moment, I was). Fortunately, they were amused by us—and, I imagine, bored with their job—so one of them took us into the back room, where he showed us this:
Since we didn’t have a copy of the film, we had to go by memory. My hunch told me that this first water fountain was the right one, even though it wasn’t set up directly across from the Yellow Man’s office. Of course, they could have moved it or used movie magic to create a match, but we decided to go up to the second floor to take pictures of the second water fountain just in case.
Todd actually did shoot some video of me, yet it didn’t capture the full magic of my insanity. I was creating a frame with my hands and pushing up slowly to the water fountain umming and ahhing like a caveman who had just discovered masturbation. But what was even weirder is that I was describing the shots to the cop, not Todd, acting out Jeffrey’s movements and the cut to the Yellow Man in his office, as if he understood what I was talking about. This was the closest I came to a full-blown fever state. Fortunately, we got out of there and headed for our final destination.
And what a destination it was. Insider tips told us that the Williams household (Sandy, Detective Williams) was on a certain street, which we tracked down. We crawled along the road looking for a match. It wasn’t long before I saw the house that I was sure was the one. Just to be safe, we kept going to the end of the road. There were no other possibilities. That first one was the one. I suggested that we simply stop in front of the house and snap pictures while still in the car so as not to get arrested, but when we approached it a couple had just gotten home and was walking inside. Todd rolled down the window and began to ask them, “Is this…” but she cut him off and said, “The BLUE VELVET house? Yeah, come on in!”
Here they are, the nicest couple ever. They just moved into the house recently, and didn’t know about the BLUE VELVET connection until after they’d already bought it. They proceeded to rent the movie, which must have been a shock to the system.
The woman (forgive me for not remembering her name, but I was clearly in a state of altered grace) kept asking us to go inside, but I assured her that we just needed pics of the outside of the house, since they’d shot the interior on a soundstage. And that’s when she blew my mind into a trillion tiny pieces. Apparently, they hadn’t shot the interior on a soundstage. They’d shot it RIGHT THERE. I anxiously climbed the steps and walked into the house, only to find…
The actual foyer!!!
Clearly, I’m a geek. But give me a break. This was i-n-s-a-n-e. By the end of the weekend, I felt like I'd been living in a dream for the past several days. On the very last night, as we were all about to go our separate ways, I started to get depressed. I wanted one more sign to remind me that the weekend hadn't been a dream, that we had, in fact, stumbled into Lynch's Lumberton. And that’s when we rounded a corner and saw this…