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Isabella Rossellini Speaks on Roger Ebert’s Claim That David Lynch “Degraded” Her in ‘Blue Velvet’

Nearly 40 years after Roger Ebert’s one-star review of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, in which the late critic alleged that Isabella Rossellini was “degraded,” the film’s star is speaking out on how incorrect she believes Ebert’s assessment was.

Speaking with IndieWire, Rossellini said she didn’t read Blue Velvet reviews when the film came out — which she avoids for any of her work — because “even if [the review is] good, there is always one sentence that is negative and stays inside you forever.” However, Ebert’s words were unavoidable, as she was told his review mentioned that Lynch, who was Rossellini’s partner at the time, “exploited” her.

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“I was surprised, because I was an adult,” she recalled. “I was 31 or 32. I chose to play the character.”

In the film, Rossellini plays Dorothy Vallens, who is raped and abused by gangster Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who has also kidnapped her husband, Don, and son, Donnie.

“Rossellini is asked to do things in this film that require real nerve,” Ebert wrote in his review. “In one scene, she’s publicly embarrassed by being dumped naked on the lawn of the police detective. In others, she is asked to portray emotions that I imagine most actresses would rather not touch.”

He continued, “She is degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera. And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film.”

Looking back at her role, Rossellini defended Lynch’s nuanced way of writing the character. “I think my character was the first time we did an abused woman, a portrait of an abused woman, but also she camouflaged herself behind what she was asked to be, which was sexy and beautiful and singing, and she obeyed the order, and is also victimized by it,” she said.

She continued, “That’s the complexity of Blue Velvet but also the great talent of David Lynch. I thought he did a fantastic film. I love Blue Velvet.”

Blue Velvet was Lynch’s fourth film. The auteur sparked a romance with Rossellini during the making of the film in 1985 and their relationship lasted four years. The two remain close friends to this day.

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