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Second #5123, 85:23

Knife blade at his throat, Jeffrey is silent. Has he already decided that he’ll kill Frank? Something in his face has changed. He has the weary look of someone who knows how the game will end.

In one of the first great books of modern film theory, The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema (1963-65), Jean Mitry traced the gradual emergence of cinema’s ability to use shots and camera movement not merely to convey narrative information but also to convey a point of view that implies some level of judgment about characters in question:

Liberated from the need to be descriptive, shots [in the 1920s] became language. In a way, they became the filmmaker’s ‘judgment’ of his characters. Thus analysis stole a march on narrative while reinforcing the camera’s ‘ability to be everywhere at once.’

In this sense, a film shot is never “just” a shot; it is always-already bundled with meaning that goes far beyond mere narrative description. In the frame at second #5123, the camera captures Jeffrey from slightly below eye level. In other words, from the level of Frank’s point of view, which does two things: it puts us in visual collusion with Frank, and it gives us a sense of Jeffrey’s judgment. For at this moment he is already beyond Frank and seems to be taking a sort of numbed interest in his tormenter. By this point, Blue Velvet has switched gears from detective story to survivalist story, Old Testament-like in its depiction of tribe (Frank and his gang) against tribe (Jeffrey and Dorothy and Detective Williams) and has entered so deeply into Frank’s nighttime world of madness.

And of course the knife at the throat . . . well, Frank (not Jeffrey) is the exterminator here, not of human beings but of ideas. For in Frank’s presence, there is no room for any thought other than Frank. Frank and the idea of Frank. For now, Jeffrey is enslaved to both.

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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