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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #25

Second #1175, 19:35

Confession: the first time I saw Blue Velvet—and each subsequent viewing has only reinforced this—I’ve always felt that when Jeffrey pleads with Sandy at this moment (“Sandy, let’s just try the first part”) he’s talking about sex. What sort of plan is Jeffrey hatching, and is Sandy agreeing to? In their classic 1969 essay “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism,” Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni ask whether it’s possible for any film to escape the ideological boundaries of its making. While most films, they argue (Marxist cultural determinists that they were!), can never break free of the gravitational forces of ideology, there are a certain class of films that

which seem at first sight to belong firmly within the ideology and to be completely under its sway, but which turn out to be so only in an ambiguous manner. . . . The films we are talking about throw up obstacles in the way of the ideology, causing it to swerve and get off course. The cinematic framework lets us see it, but also shows it up and denounces it. Looking at the framework one can see two moments in it: one holding it back within certain limits, one transgressing them. An internal criticism is taking place which cracks the film apart at the seams.

Blue Velvet—in full mastery of Hollywood’s stock detective-story tropes—seems to be smashing against something, but what? The look on Sandy’s face offers a clue. Her gaze falls between Jeffrey and the camera, lost in the in-between spaces of the film, and it is a gaze that suggests a recognition and knowledge of the sort of experience that Jeffrey can only fantasize about. It’s as if, in this very moment, she sees into the future and its ugly, creature-from-the-black-lagoon certainty, and you can see her already plotting how to pull herself free from the black hole that is sucking Jeffrey in, and it’s also at this moment that the needle skips, and Laura Dern—daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd—seizes control of something more than just Blue Velvet. The power of this frame is not the question of how it breaks free from the forces of ideology, but rather how it somehow ignores the very question altogether.

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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