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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #9

Second #423 / 7:03

1. Holding the brown paper bag with the human ear in his hand, Jeffrey enters the Lumberton Police Station and asks, “Do you have a Detective Williams still working here?” There is a small-town familiarity to this shot, but also a hard-to-define, wavering menace, something you can feel but can’t quite detect. Some of this is generated from the stern, accusatory looks those in power give Jeffrey, as in this scene where the police officer behind the counter stares—his face unmoving—at him as he turns to go to Detective Williams. The same sort of dynamic will play out when he tries to explain how he came across the ear. It’s as if these figures of authority see and recognize Jeffrey’s voyeuristic tendencies and the crimes they will lead him to commit. They seem to understand what he plans to do before he does.

2. When Blue Velvet was first released, it lacked the context of Twin Peaks, which was still four years off, but watching it now, you see that it’s part of the same universe: the small town, the police station, even the odd mountain sculpture in the center of the frame. It’s difficult to take a film like Blue Velvet on its own terms, stripped and freed of the weight of its own reputation and the context that has accumulated around it over the years.

3. Although it’s not uncommon nowadays for certain fiction to be described as Lynchian (“the dreamlike quality of his work makes the film director David Lynch his nearest American counterpart,” Laura Miller once wrote of Haruki Murakami), most of the time this applies to plot, not tone. There are a few writers, however, whose work evokes the same sense of accumulating, furnace-floor tonal dread that’s found in the best moments of Lynch’s films. One such writer is Roberto Bolaño. Here is a passage from his novel The Skating Rink, first published in Spain in 1993 and in the U.S. in 2009:

All I can recall, but these two things I do recall with the utmost clarity, are
the old woman’s laughter and the young woman’s flat eyes. Flat: as if she was
looking inwards? Maybe. As if she was giving her eyes a rest? Maybe. And
meanwhile the old woman kept talking and smiling, speaking enigmatically,
as if in code, as if everything there, the trees, the irregular surface of the
terrace, the vacant tables, the shifting reflections on the bar’s glass canopy,
were being progressively erased, unbeknownst to everyone but them.

4. As I write these words, I do so with the frame in question from second #423 opened on my desktop. At some point as I’m typing the words above from the Bolaño novel I think I detect movement in the frame. It’s deep into the night, and the world outside is quiet, and I feel like anything could happen. My eyes dart back and forth between the text and the image, as if I can somehow capture the movement unaware, like the old trick of staring into a mirror and then looking away quickly and back again to see if you can catch your eyes moving. But it’s simple, really: in studying the frame before writing about it, I hadn’t noticed the partial image of the woman in black at the far right edge of the frame, probably because my eyes were always caught by the woman in red. Only now have I noticed her, as if she quietly backed into the frame when my eyes were diverted, but not quietly enough that I failed to notice her entrance. Of course, she was always there; I just failed to see her. There is no mystery. But how I wish there was.

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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