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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #152


Second #7144, 119:04

[Final post. Thank you to Scott Macaulay for taking a chance with this.]

The blue curtain, creating the conditions for its own strange, vertical, blue-noise static.


45,000 = total words in project
2 = frames that feature Dorothy, Jeffrey, and Sandy together
3 = frames including Aunt Barbara
17 = frames in which no human being appears
20 = frames featuring Jeffrey and Dorothy
23 = frames featuring Jeffrey and Sandy

Robin Wood, from his classic 1979 essay “An Introduction to the American Horror Film”:

Some version of the Other [include, simply] other people. It is logical and probable that under capitalism all human relations will be characterized by power, dominance, possessiveness, manipulation: the extension into relationships of the property principle.

Wood was something of an unreconstructed Marxist, criticized even in his heyday for being overly deterministic, but he was a great populist, unafraid to write like an academic when those were the tools he needed to unpack a film and, alternately, to write like a confessionalist when that suited his purposes. Most of all, though, as someone who despised abusive power he nevertheless recognized the beauty of such power as expressed in art. In Blue Velvet, Frank is the ultimate Other, and the film’s conservative, even reactionary impulse is to destroy him. And yet he is given such free, dynamic reign that his death at the end hardly erases him from the film. Like Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost (“Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell; / And in the lowest deep a lower deep / Still threatning to devour me opens wide”), Frank’s narrative engine overtakes the narrative engine of the narrative he’s in. He overrides the intentions of the text and becomes a figure of such fascination that whether or not he’s punished at the end, and order is restored, seems beside the point.

The blue curtains in this final frame of the project represent not so much a closure as an intermission. The curtain will rise again, and the story will continue, except not in this film. It’s impossible to kill somebody like Frank. He’ll just rise again, behind the curtain, and wait for the second act. And then the third. And so on. Frank is a fascist of the heart, a suburban war machine. His vision governs Blue Velvet in the way that all monsters govern all monster films. The blue velvet curtain filling the entire frame at the beginning and end of the film suggests the contours of his narrative, his fantasy.

In your nightmares, Blue Velvet was not a narrative film, but a documentary. Frank was real. And Dorothy. And Ben. And Aunt Barbara, with her vampire smile. David Lynch had no truck with stories or dreams because he knew that reality was far, far worse than imagination. He filmed things as they were, not as they were imagined, and the result was documentary, and fuck Mr. Sigmund Freud, because what, after all, is still repressed these days anyway? If modernity didn’t liberate the id from the ego postmodernity did, with its hypervisible modes of confessionalism, its YouTube snuff beheadings and executions, its pornographies of sensation.

Of what use is a film like Blue Velvet, other than as an instance of organized desire? Of what culture-use are dramatic depictions of horror when horror is right there in the mediated experience of the everyday? At the end of his 1935 zombie essay (zombie because it has never died) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin warned that “mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.”

Is Blue Velvet a zombie film? A harbinger of our permanent-State-war? (“I don’t wanna live in a big old tomb on Grand Street?”) If we could only be so Puritan. The blue curtain. The blue key. The blue sky. Once, in myth, it would have taken so much more than a bullet to the brain to bring down a Frank. A Beowulf sort of monster. A thousand swords. Frank: an army of bad intentions embodied in one man.

Sweep all that aside.

There is a young woman in a theater. A violent storm rages outside. She can hear it through the vents. She is 19, maybe 20, and is ridiculously alive to what is happening on the screen. She sits alone, near the back of the theater. She has seen Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, and knows of Isabella Rossellini only as the model-daughter of Ingrid Bergman, and Casablanca is her favorite film, although with the new ironic crowd she’s been hanging with lately she would never admit this. She understands that Blue Velvet is not a movie she should like. it is not a movie for her. After all, which character is there for her to identify with? Sandy, crying all the time? Dorothy, the all-too willing, objectified victim? Is she supposed to cross gender lines, and see things from Jeffrey’s point of view? But Jeffrey is too naïve and, except for that moment alone in is room when he cries, she doesn’t trust his actions as authentic.

In fact, it’s Frank with whom she identifies, and this terrifies her. She will keep it secret. It’s just a small thing, after all, just a film, and she’s watching in the dark, so who can see her? Who can see into her soul? What small ear, pressed against her chest, could possibly catch the sound of her desires?

Blue Velvet has reached the end. The storm outside has quieted. The credits are about to roll. The theater is bathed in blue light. An enormous blue curtain fills the screen, so real it feels somehow more than real. Years later, when she thinks back on this moment, she will recall it as the happiest, freest time of her life.

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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