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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #99

Second #4653, 77:33

The sidebar exchange between Frank and Ben, and an exchange of money, too, and a mysterious slip of paper. Ben drops a pill into Frank’s mouth. Frank, in return, says something cryptic about Detective Gordon (Fred Pickler). Another frame-within-a-frame, as the doorframe moldings serve as movie screen curtains. In his essay “Theater and Cinema, Part II,” André Bazin wrote that

a screen is not a frame like that of a picture but a mask which allows only part of the action to be seen. When a character moves off screen, we accept the fact that he is out of sight, but he continues to exist in his own capacity at some other place in the décor which is hidden from us. There are no [theater] wings to the screen. There could not be without destroying its very specific illusion, which is to make of a revolver or of a face the very center of the universe.

At second #4653, the center of the universe of the frame—and the moment of frozen action—is the exchange of money between Ben and Frank. This is one of the relatively quiet, calm reprieves in the sequence that takes place in Ben’s apartment, the sort of wet-moss moment we are not as likely to remember as the famous “In Dreams” performance, which will begin within a few minutes. Jeffrey catches part of this exchange (there is an insert of a close-up of his face, listening) and, like Sandy, he hears “bits and pieces.” The sound of Blue Velvet in this scene: the hushed voices of secret doorway exchanges, the sound of paper money moving from one hand to another, the rattling of Frank’s “In Dreams” cassette tape, the swallowing of beer to wash down the pill that Ben drops into Frank’s mouth. These sounds accumulate and contribute as much to the psychological tension of Ben’s place as the physical environment.

Three years before Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper (looking as haunted as Jackson Browne from the same period) gave a television interview. In it, he spoke about the art of acting, and he has the mixture of fear and confidence as you might find in a cornered man who nonetheless knows where the lever to the secret escape hatch that will save him is located. From around the 3:00 to 4:00-minute mark, Hopper demonstrates a memory recall technique as an aid to acting that weirdly corresponds to the the scene in Mulholland Drive where Betty (Naomi Watts) auditions for a role in such a super-charged, soul-moving way that we forget she is “only” acting, just as Watts is “only” acting the part of Betty.

Clip 1: Dennis Hopper, revealing an acting-preparation exercise (beginning at around 3:00) or really acting?

Clip 2: Naomi Watts, pretending to be Betty, who is pretending to be a character in a script, or Betty, really falling into the role and temporarily forgetting she is acting?

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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