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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #43

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Second #2021, 33:41

The tension in this sequence—as Jeffrey sneaks around alone in Dorothy’s apartment while half-listening for Sandy’s warning car horn—is sustained by carefully modulated shifts in what we as the audience know in comparison to what Jeffrey knows. While our knowledge of what is happening sometimes equals Jeffrey’s (those moments when we know nothing more or less than he does), at other times we are suddenly thrust ahead of his limited omniscience. In the previous scene, as Jeffrey explores the darkness of Dorothy’s apartment, we know what he knows, and nothing more.

But once the film cuts to the moment of this frame, as Sandy sees that Dorothy has just arrived, we suddenly know something more than Jeffrey, something very important. We, share, with Sandy, secret knowledge: that Jeffrey is in potential danger. This epistemological see-sawing throughout the film echoes the shifts between surprise and suspense. In a famous exchange with Truffaut, Hitchcock discussed the differences between surprise (which he considered a narrative and emotional cheat) and suspense (which, he felt, engaged the viewer emotionally and psychologically:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the décor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.

In this way, we have been sutured into the film itself. No longer outside observers watching the screen, we are thrust into Blue Velvet. We lurk somewhere between Jeffrey’s ignorance and Sandy’s knowledge, still unaware of the coming storm that is Frank.

Over the period of one full year — three days per week — The Blue Velvet Project will seize a frame every 47 seconds of David Lynch’s classic to explore. These posts will run until second 7,200 in August 2012. For a complete archive of the project, click here. And here is the introduction to the project.

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