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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #90

Second #4230, 70:30

In Roberto Bolaño’s short story “Days of 1978” (from the collection Last Evenings on Earth) one of the characters, upon hearing the voice of another character, suddenly and frightfully develops an unsettling and inexplicable image in his mind:

It [the voice] conjures up a silent black-and-white film in which, all of a sudden, the characters start shouting incomprehensibly at the top of their voices, while a red line appears in the middle of the screen and begins to widen and spread.

What to make of this? It’s nightmarish, but why? Perhaps it’s because what’s described is difficult to visualize: a line appears in the middle of the screen. Is it a vertical or horizontal line? Let’s imagine that the line is vertical, and that it divides two characters on the screen, and that as the line widens and spreads, it pushes the characters apart from each other. It divides them, these characters (who happen to appear in color, and not black-and-white). “I know the difference between right and wrong,” one of them says. In fact, it is the woman who says this, and in speaking these words she introduces yet another division, that between right and wrong, good and evil.

The male character has sensed all along that this red line was coming, and worse yet he knows what lies outside the door, in the hallway. In Death 24x a Second, Laura Mulvey writes that the “aesthetics of delay revolve around the process of stilling the film but also repetition, the return to certain moments or sequences, as well as slowing down the illusion of natural movement.” And if we find ourselves here, at second #4230, we see that, of course, there is no widening red line, and that the frame—capturing the moment just before Jeffrey goes out into the hallway, only to be confronted by Frank and his gang—is pure Lynch. There is no Bolaño here. (Although, collected in Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003, Bolaño notes that, with his friend Rodrigo Fresán, he talked about many things, including “David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.”)

So maybe Bolaño is there after all and, by way of a single line in an obscure short story, carves out yet another haunted image in your imagination. That image is simple, yet terrifying: a red line that you project, now, onto second #4230.

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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