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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #8

Second # 376 (6:16)

In his 1932 essay “A Course in Treatment,” Sergei Eisenstein wrote that “only the sound-film is capable of reconstructing all phases of the course of thought” in the mind of a character. In many ways, Blue Velvet’s most radical experiments are in the realm of sound. In this frame, Jeffrey, having just discovered the severed ear, absorbs this fact, the fact of sound. And so:
*During the 5:50s, as Jeffrey walks home through the field after visiting his ailing father, the noise is diagetic: the sound of Jeffrey walking, the birds, the insects—all these sounds seem to come from within the shot itself.
*But at the 6:09 mark, just as he discovers the ear (although we don’t know it’s an ear yet; we simply see that Jeffrey notices something in the field and crouches down to get a better look), a deep, bass undertow kicks in (this entire sequence really is worth listening to with headphones) and sound begins to creep in from the world outside “the film.”
*At 6:13, there is a shot of a pale, moldy, human ear with ants running over it, and at that moment a third level of sound is added . . . a faint ringing noise, not unlike tinnitus.
*Later, when Jeffrey asks Sandy about the ear, she’ll say “I don’t know much but bits and pieces. I hear things.”
*The ringing continues. Tension builds. Jeffrey parts the grass and leans in closer to the ear.
*Eisenstein struggled with sound in film. In 1928 in his collectively written manifesto “A Statement” (which begins with the sentence “The dream of a sound-film has come true”) he recognized the power of sound to commercialize cinema on an unprecedented scale: “In the first place there will be commercial exploitation of the most saleable merchandise, TALKING FILMS. Those in which sound-recording will proceed on a naturalistic level, exactly corresponding with the movement on the screen, and providing a certain ‘illusion’ of talking people, of audible objects, etc.”
*In her poem “The Colonel,” Carolyn Forché wrote “The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this.”
*And there is Jeffrey, in the frame, contemplating the ear, lost in sound. There is the simple, brutal fact of the severed ear in the field, at this very moment, and the swirling levels of noise that the ear—impossibly and horribly—is both sending and receiving.

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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