The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #108

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Second #5076, #84:36

The car has stopped. Jeffrey and Frank and his gang are outside. Dorothy is going nuts inside the car, pleading for Frank not to hurt Jeffrey. Franks orders “In Dreams” to be played. One of the women from Ben’s apartment who’s come along for the ride, climbs on top of Frank’s black Charger and dances on the roof. In a few seconds, Frank will say to Jeffrey:

Don’t be a good neighbor to her [Dorothy]. I’ll send you a love letter straight from my heart fucker! You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fuckin’ gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, you’re fucked forever!

But back to that woman swaying to Orbsion on the car top. Judged by Blue Velvet’s own tonal boundaries, this moment is a failure. It is a failure because it veers more severely into Camp than any scene that comes before or after it. Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” is still the most supercharged articulation of the Camp sensibility:

Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style—but a particular kind of style. It is a love of the exaggerated, of the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.

and

This is why so many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old-fashioned, out-of-date, démodé. It’s not a love of the old as such. It’s simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment – or arouses a necessary sympathy. When the theme is important, and contemporary, the failure of a work of art may make us indignant. Time can change that. Time liberates the work of art from moral relevance, delivering it over to the Camp sensibility. . . . Another effect: time contracts the sphere of banality. (Banality is, strictly speaking, always a category of the contemporary.) What was banal can, with the passage of time, become fantastic.

In the frame at hand, two things happen that alter, temporarily, our relation to the movie. First, Orbison’s song (from 1963) is used for a second time, weakening the spell of power it cast over us the first time, in Ben’s apartment. In the first instance, the song bit us and punctured the flesh deeply. This time, it simply leaves scratch marks on us. It does not move us.

Second, Blue Velvet is too eager to arouse in us a certain emotional response in this scene. The repeated Orbison song (which seemed to be something private and mysterious between Frank and Ben, after all, but which now seems to have become a signifier for any old psycho behavior), the woman dancing on the car, Frank’s smeared lipstick; all this conspires to make us react in a way that goes something like, wow, this is really weird and scary. It’s true of course that Blue Velvet has been weird and scary many times before this, but always in ways that were ambiguous, leaving plenty of space for the viewer to puzzle-out its meanings in her own ways. At this moment, however, the film becomes forced and enters so deeply into the realm of Camp (a “love of the exaggerated”) that we feel as if we are actually being instructed on how to read the film.

Which is to say: the terrors of Blue Velvet perhaps reside not in the terrible things it shows us, but rather in its fragile tone, a tone that suggests that whatever horrors are depicted on the screen, there is even something more horrible that cannot be depicted, because to depict it would strip it of its awful power.

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.