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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #31

Second #1457, 24:17

The Yellow Man has come and gone. Dorothy’s full attention is on Jeffrey now. This first apartment scene is shot largely from Dorothy’s general angle of vision and in this frame she is dangerously close to the camera. In D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film, Tom Gunning explores the subtle but important changes in camera distance in the early 1900s:

The basic camera distance for most shots in 1909 crept closer than the distant tableau found in some of Griffith’s first films. The full shot of the character from head to toe predominates over shots with plenty of space above the head and ‘six feet of boards’ below. Increasingly, characters stepped into the foreground, where they were framed between ankle and knee. The frame became an actor’s space rather than the extent of the set.

A movie still like this one from second #1457 of Blue Velvet is an image from a fictional story but also a documentary image that captures the reality of the precise historical moment of the film’s making. It also is documentary evidence of an aesthetic moment, and a moment in the evolution of film technology. Is there something “mid-1980s” about this frame’s mise-en-scène? Not so much in terms of the décor or the costumes but rather in the placement of the camera and the relative distance from it of Dorothy and Jeffrey? Dorothy’s back—Isabella Rossellini’s back—is close to the camera, and she fills the frame, directing our vision relentlessly in a sweeping motion from left to right, over and over again. There is a certain madness in the visual logic of the frozen frame. It is pure stopped motion in a medium designed for motion, and thus a sort of betrayal of cinema itself. It is frozen, yet still alive and moving somehow, by some strange attraction drawn to the frames immediately before and after it. It is dissection.

The heretical sorrow of deconstruction.

Of stopping the film, letting the frame melt in the heat of the lamp.

Or, in the words of Sonic Youth: Kill Yr Idols.

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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