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The Blue Velvet Project

Blue Velvet, 47 seconds at a time by Nicholas Rombes

The Blue Velvet Project, #116

Second #5452, 90:52

In Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Roland Barthes wrote about the studium (the cultural and political meanings of a photograph) and the punctum (the piercing of the photograph into the realm of personal meaning):

Now, confronting millions of photographs . . . I sense no blind field: everything which happens within the frame dies absolutely once this frame is passed beyond. When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies. Yet once there is a punctum, a blind field is created . . .

The frame—dislodged from the flow of context in the film—becomes two things now: an interruption of 24 frames per second, and a stand alone unit of meaning. In the flow of Blue Velvet, this frame comes at the moment Jeffrey arrives at the Williams’s to share photographs and information about Frank with Detective Williams, who here is captured entering from frame right to answer the door. Within a few seconds, Jeffrey will enter from the left, and Sandy will come down the stairs.

And yet the image here exists on its own terms, independent of the film. In fact, liberated from the tyranny of narrative, the image opens itself to the possibilities of meaning that extend far beyond David Lynch’s (or Blue Velvet’s, in our post death of the author age) intentions. There are so many possibilities in the “fastened down” image, so many questions. All we need to know is that this is an image from a Lynch film, nothing more. Once we know that, the figures and objects in the frame become double-coded, imbued with a second meaning of terrifying significance. The man becomes The Man. The stairs become The Stairs. Even the plants become The Plants, specters in their own right.

It’s as if the “blind field” that Barthes writes about becomes—in a weird twist that could only happen in the movies—a blindness that liberates rather than limits. For in the frozen, detached film frame—blind to the film’s narrative—we can write our own story. This is the tragic possibility of our time. The ability to detour, to re-mix, to decontextualize and Make It New. The aporia of the digital.

In this new world, Detective Williams is forever nine stairwell balusters away from reaching the front door.

And the small black rectangle on the wall behind the volute is not, nor has ever been nor ever shall be, a simple light switch.

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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