WASHINGTON -- An edited version of 'Blue Velvet,' David Lynch's disturbing tale of the seaminess lurking just below the tranquil surface of small-town America? A version suitable for television?
Hercules had an easier time cleaning out the Augean stables -- and it only took him one day.
It took film editor Mary Sweeney 10 weeks to pan, scan, dub and mix.
For all that labor, the television version of 'Blue Velvet' is only one minute shorter than the feature film and maintains all the seaminess, perversity and violence depicted in the original.
Therein lies Sweeney's skill -- and a network censor's dilemma.
By preserving the film's darkly disturbing undertones while placating censors by softening obscene language and truncating nudity, Sweeney has created a product that she admits 'may not make it on television.'
'I just don't know,' she said. 'There are things much more violent than this on TV, but this is a very challenging film.'
But Sweeney says she is pleased with the final product.
'It's still a very disturbing film and it's still credible,' she said.
The suggestions of violence and peversity triggered when Jeffrey, the film's young protagonist, discovers a bloodied human ear in a sunlit clearing in the woods, are fleshed out in each succeeding frame of the movie.
The mutilation and eventual murder of a torch singer's husband by a violent, crazed man who rapes and terrorizes her, and abducts her child stashed to ensure her silence, form the basis of the movie. Police corruption and young love are other threads that make up the tapestry of 'Blue Velvet.'
The movie's relentless sink into horror is played out under the comforting veneer of quiet, small-town life.
Trying to maintain the widening net of terror that ensnares Jeffrey, as well as the insanity of his adversary, Frank Booth, a character played to horrific perfection by Dennis Hopper, was the real challenge.
Cutting 'Blue Velvet' for television was the first time Sweeney, 34, held the job of primary film editor on a project. She was assistant film editor on the original feature film and her credits include 'Reds,' 'Tender Mercies,' 'The Little Drummer Girl,' 'Places in the Heart' and 'The Mean Season.'
Before she made the first cut, Sweeney and director Lynch consulted a television company that distributes shows for syndication, seeking advice on what parts of the movie would likely be objectionable.
'They even gave us this little list of words we had to cut out,' she said.
Since that list of words made up most of Frank Booth's dialogue, 'We knew we would have to dub Dennis Hopper,' said Sweeney.
Hopper came into the studio and dubbed 58 lines of new dialogue that had to be cut into the film. The dubbing was accomplished without a hitch in one day. The difficulty was finding words as 'acceptable substitutions, things that wouldn't sound ridiculous,' she said.
Sweeney and Lynch finally came up with what she believes are substitutions that will satisfy network censors while maintaining the character's aura of unchecked insanity.
Only a few lines of dialogue and action were actually cut out of the film, accounting the 60 seconds sliced off its two-hour running time.
Ironically, some of the scenes involving nudity were easier to deal with than those depicting Booth's mental instability, Sweeney said.
Although reviewers made much of one scene, in which a battered Dorothy, played by Isabella Rosellini, appears naked on Jeffrey's front lawn, 'Blue Velvet' actually has very little nudity.
Using a video editing machine, Sweeney was able to enlarge single frames containing nudity and and crop them. In other cases, footage from outtakes was substituted for objectionable sequences.
Oddly enough, the consultants did not seem bothered by one seamy scene, in which Dorothy asks Jeffrey if he would like to hit her after they have made love, and eggs him on until he does, said Sweeney.
''Violence is okay,' these (television) people tell me,' Sweeney says. 'I was really shocked.'
Film producer Dino de Laurentiis owns the television version of 'Blue Velvet' and it is likely his conglomerate will hawk the film to the networks.
Even though 'people just sort of chuckled' when the idea to edit the film for television came up, Sweeney said, she is optimistic it will make it to the airwaves.
'It's such a fantasy film,' she said. 'I would think somebody would show it.'