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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #66

Second #3102, 51:42

The frame within the frame.

Jeffrey, on his way out of Dorothy’s apartment, stops and retrieves from beneath the couch the framed black and white photo of Don and Donny that Dorothy had gazed at immediately after Frank’s call. A fury of angles and lines, rectangles within rectangles. The frozen image captures a moment in time, while what transpires on the screen (no matter how many years have passed since Blue Velvet was filmed) happens right now.

Seymour Chatman, in Story and Discourse, writes about still time and moving time on the screen:

The effect of pure description only seems to occur when the film actually ‘stops,’ in the so-called ‘freeze-frame’ effect (the projector continues, but all the frames show exactly the same image. An example in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve: at the moment that Eve (Anne Baxter) is offered a coveted theatrical award, the image freezes as her hand reaches out to receive it. Story-time stops, while the cynical drama critic (George Sanders), speaking as narrator off-screen, hints at the dark side of Eve’s rise to fame . . .

The different time zones are even more complicated in Blue Velvet’s frame #3102, because the Don/Donny photograph isn’t technically a flashback, yet neither is it fully of the now-moment of what’s happening on the screen. Rather, it’s something in between: the film recoils backwards in time in the object that Jeffrey holds in his hands, while still moving forward in time. At this moment, as Jeffrey holds the past in his hands, he comes to realize what’s at stake for Dorothy, and once again the audience’s knowledge is reinforced around Jeffrey’s point of view. We know that he has seen the framed photo and begun to piece together the tragedy of Dorothy’s predicament, but Dorothy does not. Like all photographs, the image is an instant in time—we see neither what happened immediately before the photo was taken nor after. But what if we could? This is a question that’s asked in Blade Runner, in the sly and beautiful moment when Deckard—holding a black and white photograph of (supposedly) Rachael and her mother—sees it move, flutter. (A moment which itself recalls the precious few seconds of moving image as a woman blinks her eyes in Chris Marker’s still-image 1962 film La Jetée.) For one moment as Deckard looks at the photo, the still image becomes a moving image, a reminder of the fragility of memory, of the past, and how remembering itself is really an act of storytelling.

In Blade Runner, the still image moves:

In La Jetée, at 7:58, the still image of the sleeping woman suddenly moves: she blinks:

But for Jeffrey, the flashback is something he holds in his hands, and it’s not even his. Not his past, not his memories. They belong to Dorothy. And at this moment—wherever this moment finds you, dear reader—they belong to you, too.

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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