“Blue Velvet” revisited – Joe Dunton on Capturing the Picture
(originally published in Avenue May 2006 and updated, re-run in Bootleg issue #40, November 2008)
By David Ryder
Joe Dunton Cameras (JDC) is world renowned for providing motion picture camera equipment for a broad range of major film productions over the years. JDC has supplied cameras and lenses for films such as Barry Lyndon, Poltergeist, Return of the Jedi and more recently the Harry Potter series. Dunton himself is an industry innovator, having pioneered the anamorphic lens technology that is used in most modern wide-screen films.
This technology was one of the most important elements utilized by cinematographer Frederick Elmes on the Blue Velvet shoot. Standard widescreen lenses merely capture a small cropped image on the film negative in the camera. The result is a standard projected image of a very small negative. According to Dunton the anamorphic lens provides a much higher quality image.
“The picture is squeezed onto the negative and then un-squeezed in the cinema. And it gives you the widescreen effect. But the advantage is it uses the whole frame of the negative so the quality is great,” Dunton said of what would be a fundamental aspect of Blue Velvet’s visual style.
“David Lynch worked for Dino on the film Dune. He felt that he was an incredibly talented director and he wanted to keep him in the Dino stable,” Dunton explained. “So then Dino funded Blue Velvet.”
Blue Velvet was a relatively small project compared to Dune. Dunton’s anamorphic technology helped create the illusion that the film was of much higher production value.
“It just looks stately, grander,” Dunton said, “It looks much bigger for the size of budget.”
But the equipment is only as good as its operator. It took the sharp eye of Lynch’s long time collaborator, Frederick Elmes, to use the widescreen frame to capture the film we see today.
“They were in film school together, so it made for David to use his friend from film school as cinematographer. Dino left them alone because it wasn’t a big production.”
The results speak for themselves. Elmes filled the horizontal frame with Dorothy and Jeffery in bed, Jeffery and Sandy in the convertible, and of course, the tableau of violence in Ben’s apartment. According to Dunton the Elmes/Lynch partnership was a natural.
“David Lynch is a great director, really. I mean, I can’t say enough to praise him. And Fred Elmes has turned out to be an incredible cinematographer.”