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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #19

Second #893, 14:53

In the early days of silent cinema, text and image coexisted, as intertitles directed viewers how to read a film, literally. In the best of these films, intertitles not only conveyed narrative information, but suggested possibilities of reading that allowed for the viewer to construct her own meaning from the relationship between text and image. In Blue Velvet, the LINCOLN street sign, which functions almost like an insert shot, is its own form of postmodern intertitle. [Christian Metz: “When approaching cinema from the linguistic point of view, it is difficult to avoid shuttling back and forth between two positions: the cinema as a language; the cinema as infinitely different from verbal language.”] LINCOLN appears suddenly and to Angelo Badalamenti’s Shostakovich-like pounding air-raid siren music (lifted directly from the first four seconds of Symphony No. 5, movement 4, right before the drums) so over-determined that it practically splits the film in two. Read as an intertitle, LINCOLN tells us something, but what? The name of a street. And the name of an assassinated president. And a bad part of the town where “the singer” lives. But something more than that: a terrible signifier, floating free in ways that Monsieur Jacques Derrida could not imagine. Not Lincoln the hero, the man who saved the Union, but the one whose head-wound opened up a new channel in American history, a channel that its worst demons—not better angels—would claim as their own. We have been tuned in to that dark-trembling frequency ever since.

In the poem “For John Clare” by John Ashbery there is this line: “There ought to be room for more things, for a spreading out, like.” The LINCOLN intertitle does just that: it opens up “room for more things,” suddenly expanding the boundaries and dimensions of Blue Velvet and scattering its meanings across the screen.

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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