The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #79

bvpic79

Second #3713, 61:53

Jeffrey, having followed Frank to a building, sneaks inside at night to confirm that it is, indeed, where Frank lives. The shot only lasts a few seconds, and serves as a bridge between what has just come before (Jeffrey’s cloaked, nighttime pursuit of Frank) and what will come after (the scene at Arlene’s Diner with Sandy as he recalls to her witnessing the actions of the Yellow Man, the Well-Dressed Man, and Frank).

The frame is pure Expressionism as Jeffrey finds himself searching for Frank’s name on the mailboxes in a low-angle shot whose shadows and lines run in a weirdly menacing way from left to right. The black door, the oblong bank of mailboxes, the shadows on the wall, the window above Jeffrey’s head with its faintly frosted panes, the fluorescent light; all of this adds up to a moment of quiet turmoil. It is one of Blue Velvet’s fearful, haunted places, a corporeal expression of inner violence and darkness.

In his 1966 essay “Typology of Detective Fiction,” Tzvetan Todorov wrote this about literature, which also can be applied to film:

one might say that every great book establishes the existence of two genres, the reality of two norms: that of the genre it transgresses, which dominated the preceding literature, and that of the genre it creates.

Blue Velvet, as it shape-shifts between an array of genres and moods, becomes a mystery not so much for Jeffrey, but for us, who struggle with our collective desires as they unfold on the screen. The power of Blue Velvet in shots like this is how it offers us a glimpse of a space—an apartment building lobby—that is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The world is a stranger, less familiar place in the dark, when we must bring forces other than our sight to bear upon our understanding. Which is to stay: the real story of this frame is not that Jeffrey discovers Frank’s name on one of the mailboxes, but rather that the frame itself discovers Jeffrey. The distorted, confused angles and violent geometric shadows are an X-ray glimpse of his consciousness at this very moment.

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.