“Blue Velvet” revisited – Jeff Goodwin on Making the Ear
(originally published in Avenue May 2006 and updated, re-run in Bootleg issue #40, November 2008)
By David Ryder
Jeff Goodwin was in his mid-twenties when he was approached by David Lynch to provide special make-up effects for Blue Velvet. When asked how he decided to make a career out of special make-up Goodwin offers a simple explanation.
“Being a weird kid, just like everybody else in this business,” he says, “We all grew up the same way, just loving monster movies and horror movies. The original Planet of the Apes got me interested in the make-up aspect of it.”
Lynch had heard of Goodwin’s talents and thought he would be up to the task. The collaboration that ensued would create film history.
“For me, Blue Velvet was one of my best, most fondest, most fun, creative experiences so far in this crazy business,” says Goodwin. He attributes this to the overall cohesiveness of the crew and their love for the project throughout the production. As Goodwin explains, “Everyone was there because they wanted to be there.”
Goodwin remembers how Lynch fostered this team spirit by treating everyone involved with the utmost respect. Contrary to the common belief that Lynch is excessively secretive about his vision and ideas Goodwin recalls the opposite to be true. Lynch wanted everyone to understand exactly what he was after.
“So when David hired all these keys we had a prep time in the beginning that wasn’t so much as to make things or prepare things, but to get inside David’s brain and to just hang out with him, have meetings with him, have lunch with him, so that we were all thinking on the same page,” Goodwin says. But an interpretation of those ideas can be hard to communicate for a filmmaker like Lynch. “It’s a weird thing for me because he really doesn’t express his ideas all that clearly, yet [in some way] he’s able to.”
In this case that vision included two severed ears, though only one is prominently featured in the finished film. According to Goodwin the ear was one of the most important aspects of the shoot.
“I kind of treated the ear as a character because that’s what starts the whole murder mystery,” he says.
The actual creation of the ears was an arduous process. Goodwin is very critical of his own work and would settle for nothing less than a perfect prop. He started out with a mold of his own ears using latex rubber as the medium, the standard at that time for prosthetics and masks. He showed the ears to Lynch who was quite pleased with them save for one detail.
“He liked them… then said ‘but let’s make them adult ears.’ I’m like what? They’re my ears! We started laughing because he realized that I have the smallest ears in the world.”
After scrounging the set for suitable ears Goodwin finally found the right pair. Fred Caruso, the producer of the film, would be used for the mold that would yield the ears that appeared in the film. According to Goodwin this is where the real ingenuity began. He opted against the traditional latex rubber.
“I made the ears out of silicone because when Jeffery, Kyle MacLachlan, picks it up it had that feel, weight and movement of a real ear,” Goodwin explains. He further customized the ears by sneaking into the hairdresser’s trailer after Lynch had been given a haircut.
“I swept up the hair and actually used David’s hair to punch into the ear.”
Amazingly only the two original ears were ever produced. To this day Goodwin has saved them. Despite lucrative offers from Sotheby’s to auction them he won’t let the pair go.
“I wouldn’t do it,” he says, “It’s kind of like the Orson Welles Rosebud thing, there’s only one.” From time to time an auction house will contact him to authenticate an ear they’ve come across. Goodwin’s answer will always be the same: it’s a fake.
It may seem like a lot of effort for such a small item but Goodwin is adamant that everyone on set was determined to make a good film. They respected the fact that Lynch truly relished his art. Goodwin recalls a particular incident that illustrates the director’s passion for his craft. On one particular outdoor shoot it started raining. Lynch wanted to continue shooting but Caruso made the final decision. They were to close down for the day.
“I’ll never forget getting into the production van to go back to the base camp and pack down for the day and seeing David sitting on a park bench, in the rain, just looking so dejected, like a little kid on the playground, you know? Like, no one wants to play with me,” Goodwin reminisces. “That image of him sitting there in the rain like that as we pulled away. It was touching, really.”