What is “blue velvet” in david Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986)?

Rev., Jun 28, 2019.

I have hesitated to write on david Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) because it does not seem to match up with the more advanced and all-permeating dream theory he made use of in movies on the other side of Mulholland dr (2001). But, for that, it is also true that this makes Blue Velvet Lynch dream theory 101, and, moreover, a simpler version of dream theory which accords more often with how we think of things in the positivist, material-rational world, where everything else is crowded out to the margins, at the edges of a protected world. For that, then, Blue Velvet corresponds to, in fact, how I think consciousness exists in the city I happen to live in now, Lincoln, NE, a big small city very much like Lumberton, where everyone seems to live in a nice center, but, then, there are evils, but they are all around the edges. Indeed, this week I am following the Sydney Loofe murder case, and the way in which her murderers seemed to stalk her at work and then hang around on 27th street til it was time to pick her up, and even shopped for tools to use to chop her up, that all sounds very Blue Velvet to me. So, the question is, where, hypnagogically, does Blue Velvet (1994) take place?

The movie starts off with some postcard views of a lovely little town, classic white picket fence America

1normal life, crossing kids

2then a few highly artificial shots, in the nature of 80s MTV video artifice, of supernormality.

3the white picket fence, as a trope, is one of the very oldest tropes of the in-group circling of the wagons routine against any intrusive outsiders. Inside the fence, you are in, outside of it, you are out, it is the protective boundary of our community of America. And in the period between 1945 and 1985, let’s say, in movies too, this was decidedly a suburban vision of life, which was supported by redlining etc., to include mostly professional families, who were white but of many ethnicities of white (it was all Anglo prior to 1945).

4this is a conscious world, in the world, but the use of the fence to set up a barrier of assumptions about what you require for membership in that world acts in an almost entirely unconscious way, people are not aware of it, they just act as they do by way of triggers of inside safe or outside danger based on how one stands vis a vis the white picket fence. Since Lynch is making so much of this, so early, it is clear he imagined this world as not only central, but all encompassing of normalcy, leaving everything else outside of it at the margins.

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then, anything not in the circle, is outside it, the fence now instrumentalized as an apotropaic device to mark the boundary, and keep outsiders out, marginalizing them, and, by that, denigrating and even “neutralizing” them.

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this, of course, leaves Lynch very little wiggle room outside of normal space to work, and in keeping with this simplistic theory, he then proposes that, somehow, now and then, some aspect of the margin breaks in upon the normalcy of everyday life, to attack, in an accidental manner, but somehow fueled by fritzes of energy inside the fence. So, KM’s dad is watering the grass, or his neighbor.

7but then the wife, I think, is just sitting inside, having a cup of coffee, watching TV

8it is to be noted that her intimacy, that is, her under the lamp space, is marked by a red lamp, symbolic of death, or, at least, awareness that past the membrane of safety death exists, then, it is an Orientalizing conquested image of an Aztec princess, perhaps, symbolizing her uncritical sense of normalcy power, then one of those tourist dolls you pick up in a foreign country which you take home to remember with superiority your better position in the world than those you visited (we had a few of these too, which I have written about in connection with disconnected (1984).

9but she is not watching, as my mom would’ve, a soap opera, but an old film noir, with the close-up of a gun on the screen. I will comment on why this old movie trope is on the tv in a bit, but it is, in movie time, 1990, but mom is watching a 1950s movie in the middle of the afternoon.

10but then it is suggested that this sends a shiver of negativity crackling invisibly through the normalcy space, inside the white picket, to then cause a knot or problem in the somewhat more ambient space, in the form of the hose, an ambient object more toward the perimeter of the fencing.

11this then leads to some sort of problem with the waterer, he has an attack, and dies.

12then Lynch plays the dead eyes of the world trope in a more physical form of a toddler coming to see what is the problem, not knowing what, so a quote of Godfather, then a dog just taking advantage of the new disposition of the hose in a reachable position, to drink from it

13as such

14much in the manner of the way I worked how Lizzie Borden ritualized her trapped life in the 1972 version of the story, finding now crawlspaces adjunct or adjacent to the spaces, so she simply carved by behavior or nudity a wiggle room inside the locked box and opaque world of the in-space, so, here, an ambient fritz goes negative, sends a bad vibe by way of the wife onto the husband for something in his routine to go bad and knock him splat out and down, to, I think, kill him, and that is how evil comes into this world, by a lightning strike of negative ambient power.

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This is, by the way, why the early part of the movie looks like it does, so ritualized, so much about “our” mediation of reality in suburban America, this sort of wiggle room inside the body of a coherent, fixed, solid state of assumed reality, can only be got to or at least memorized enough to make headway with by way of ritualization.

But, now, Lynch goes further, in a way that innocent souls might still wish to call “surreal.” After he follows the fallen hero of the lawn-watering, he gets into the grass underneath

16then like in some sort of insect invasion movie, he moves the camera through that small subspace of space

17and when he gets down into that space, in shots reminiscent of the chase scene in Most dangerous Game (1931), he goes, I think, underground

17where monsters, ie beetles, battle

17and this is where Lynch places “evil” in this conceptualization of the world of the white picket fence, a locked out, locked in, cartel-box of a solid state reality, with margins, then troubles peppering the margin, but darkest below. Where is this?

In my treatment of Blood delirium (1987) it is posited that the shot of the reptiles above were the faint attempt by an unconscious mind to conceptualize the horror that is occurring “above her” to her body, while she is being raped, above.

22I conceptualized this space as being not unlike the Under The Bed place in the Night Mirror formulation of dreaming type, see my treatment of Suspiria (2018), but lower, in a separation of fabric or membrane just under the splat to nightmare, and the slide into REM, there is this small slipstream space, literally, as stated, a kind of plenum, but not, and I call it the Redoubt, I think, here too, we are in the Redoubt, of a sort (this past week I experienced a conscious example of a redoubt getting a tooth pulled, resting below everything happening above me, out there in the world).

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then Lynch tunnels out under the splat space at the bottom of hypnagogy, as one slips into REM dream, and in doing so I think moves toward the Black Out, or Chthon, the ambient-sentient space lying outside normalcy, beyond the margin.

This is then picked geographically in the town by having KM walk to work or into town by way of an empty lot at the perimeter of his world, an in-between ambient space.

24Typical of small city life (here I make the distinction in Lincoln between mainstream front door Lincoln life, then the life of the alleys and backyards, dream spaces in Lincoln’s Beard, he is even beyond Lincoln’s Beard). If this is a place of normalcy but on the margins where he finds out a bit more about life then it serves as what psychogeographers call his wild space, an imaginative membrane at the edge of the world, where he can play at being connected to the real world.

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but, there, he finds an ear, which starts the ball rolling, it is a human ear, real, something to do with some sort of crime (the cutting off of the ear)

26then, a bit later, with ambient noise, and another dive pictorially into some deep, dark reality, Lynch goes close-up and ambient again, this time with a more acoustic element, delving into the ear, and the function of the ear, and the nature of what the ear takes in, ambient noise, for that whole world to now come into consciousness.

27he goes down the spiral in (ie the whoosh)

28then deep in, to where all is blackness, and evil, bouncing out into the black out zone, Chthon.

29This spiral is, even if not technically aligned with it, clearly meant to be seen as relative to the previous spin in the grass, to this time go even deeper into internal organ world, and so I place this beyond the wild space, Lynch’s hesistant foray into Sentient space, which he will vastly expand upon in his later work, here imagined as simply what psychogeographers know as the unsafe place beyond one’s safe place.

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that, then, into the night

31this, then, sets up the highly polarized spatial dichotomy of the movie, the nice, normal, everyday life of every day, in which they both live, and, then, the world beyond, which is all around them, at the margins, and it is in the discovery of the margins, and delving into the margins, that they live most of the movie in the wild space, or in the black out; but it is also where they fall in love, and everything else. But they absorb the reality of the fact that there is another space beyond their space, an evil world past the white picket fence with typical suburban-kid culture shock, what I used to call ghetto fever, the knowledge of poverty outside the limits of the community, and it is when knowledge of that casts its pall over the normalcy world that they exclaim on the “strange world’ they live in, and the strange world is simply their normal world, become vaguely aware of evils without it.

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thus, KM begins his investigation in what’s what in that strange world, the strangest thing about it is, just as here in my situation in Lincoln, that strange stuff can be taking place in a building right close, right around the corner.

33he gets to the place by way of ambient crawls up the side etc, but I will not make anything of it, except to say, here too, this sort of peripheral approach is typical of having splat to nightmare, then, getting one’s bearing, following the Narrow Path, to the door of truth, and the Cursed door, and the door of the Seven deadly sins, and that is here too.

34there is an excellent management of his encounter with Dorothy, the singer, dreamlike, it is like the encounter with his father’s ghost in Zefferelli’s Hamlet (1991), of that time. All this, then, to accentuate to us, on film, in watching, that this is not just a scene, this is him intruding into her life with an ulterior purpose, and he is very excited to be doing it, notice how she just stands aside waiting, sitting on the tv, old style.

36the TV, as it was earlier, is a mediated clue of where we are headed. This is not just what it is, but part of his plot. But, moreso, this is a place, her life is a place of danger, there is trouble, she is trouble, he is flirting with danger. This becomes all too apparent when he decides, crazily, to go back, now actively intruding into her life. It is fitting that he does not hear dern’s signal of a car honk telling him that she is coming up, because he is rather cockily going to the bathroom in her apartment, here, then, in the dark, in a backroom, between a houseplant, and a bathroom mirror, that is, trouble, and a monster coming up behind him.

35so he has to hide, in the closet, in front, and, just from the point of view of a peeper, he gets lucky, she is one of those movie women who do, indeed, strip the minute they get in the door, to make themselves more comfortable, and she is right away, dress off, down to the panties

37but, then, there is a phone call, and he witnesses some plot, some drama, which is not just she, she is a person in trouble, in the middle of something, beleaguered, upset

38the lamp in this case is one of those hollow scenic lamps that they made in the 50s in the drag behind a taste in former generations for Tiffany lamps. I connect to them because I had one next to my bed in my childhood bedroom, sort of a Chinese landscape with drifting islands on what looked like banana peels. This is typical, but a bit more original. The only other one I know of in movies is in Price’s The Tingler, where he lies on the couch, then to get attacked by an occult force

39and it means pretty much the same thing here, intimacy, inside the lamp, under the lamp, the very private things of very private life, but, all of it under siege, in danger, it is a compound trope, then, painting and lamp.

40then, even more remarkably, for a peeper, he gets an insight into her very privatest terrors, she strangely, after the call, is so forlorn that she gets down on her knees, in her underwear, to kneel on the floor and pull a picture from under the couch, where she has it hidden, so, it is assumed, someone else who enters into her private life cannot see it, this is ritualized behavior, that is, she feels most strongly about the picture when she has to get it from under the couch, and look at it that way.

41then, a third degree of intimacy, of privacy violated, beyond seeing her in her panties and bra, beyond eavesdropping on a very personal call and her pain, beyond witnessing a private ritual of pain, she now has a breakdown of sorts, on the carpet, place of utter abjection, so he witnesses her, very quickly, entirely bottom out. This is a lot of “intense” (and in the sense that objectification is meant to go the other way, to take the body out of the woman, to make her just an abstract thing, which one can then control, this makes her a very heavy, problem-beset person, rather more than most men would want to willingly get involved in, if not for love).

42then, Lynch begins his spin, the spins that made this movie so provocative when it first came out, and so nonplussed me when I first saw it, back then, likely at the Angelika in NYC, Soho. He casts far into the background, at the end of the hall, the “money shot” of such peeping. If as a peeper you see a woman in her bra and panties what you next want of the peeping is for her to remove her bra and panties and you see her in the nude. This is what Lynch gives us, of Rossellini’s nudity, back of the back, backside, panties down the legs, all standard shots, but cast into the background, in the far place at the end of the hall.

43this is a shot you would see much more foregrounded in genre movies.

44but, here, she is smaller on screen, in her nudity, than the lamp, spelling trouble in her intimacy. But, then, she does not take a shower, she just puts on her robe, to walk about her apartment, and, then, the scene ratchets up into scenario two, he is discovered, she is mad, or at least, extremely emotionally distraught, she cannot deal with him, so deals with him by being aggressively fed up with all men through him and taking it out on him, so she has HIM strip nude, it is implied here, in a scenario that might skirt too close to a pornographic its-not-my-fault scenario, she performs some sort of hand job on him, pleasing him, if in a tortuous situation.

45then she wants more of him, or of it, as pure physical-carnal escapism from her problems, so takes him to the couch, things (for him, in the average male mind fantasizing on it) getting pretty good, she wants to have sex with him, why not?

46but, then, the scene gets crazier, there is a knock on the door, she has to hide him, it is Frank Booth, the mobster who is holding her husband and child, dennis hopper in what at the time seemed one of his most demented roles, but by today’s standards is fairly standard fare, in the sense that he is a sadist with some very particular sexual fetishes that must be worked out in a particular way. He is upset that, she supposed by expecting him, and preparing for him, she has left the lamp on, and not lit the candle, because everything in the scenario must be just so for it to work.

47then this scenario goes bonkers when Booth needs to inhale a gas to get high enough to feel what he needs to feel in order for her simple display of her body to him, like she is servicing him like a prostitute, to get him off.

48his thing is he, sniffing that gas, must then look intently at her sex, she opens her robe and spreads her legs, when he hits her to the floor, we see some bush, and that will get him off, no removal of clothing, no sex, per se, but a sadomasochistic form of it, 1980s style.

50then he is done with her so he leaves, then KM comes back in to comfort her, all thought of sex is over, she has been traumatized by a bizarre sexual routine as part of some blackmail plot by which her husband and son are being held captive.

51then she goes back, he notices that there is a swatch of fabric cut out of the bottom of her robe, this is the swatch that Frank has to put into the mouth of his victim’s to keep the displaced fantasy of bottoming from the top (as described of Ralph in The Sopranos) to get him to come, per se, why?

52he then figures a few things out, then leaves, then has a dream of an abstract sort, dwelling on it

53which ends in fire, searing, with sound effect, as if a carrier of the ambient acoustic of it

54Then he wakes, reaches up, to a dreamcratcher type thing

55It is a monster of some sort, this is a common thing in terms of placement and content, a dream limiter in terms of nightmare content.

56it is a mouth

57then things proceed, with one other trope coming up, related to her place, always an open window, and a blowing curtain.

58So, hypnagogically, where are we? First, we are in hypnagogy at this point, mainly because of the nature of the apartment, dowdy, ugly, then that lamp, then by the fact that after gaining entry into it he witnessed and partly experienced an evening that went way, way past his comfort zone, for him to see a perfect peeping scenario, then that interrupted by witnessing her private hell, then that interrupted by her discovering him then wanting to take out of her emotional pain on him, sexually; then that interrupted by Frank showing up and engaging in his perverted sexual ritual with her; then that leaving her drained and emptied out, beyond his hope at the moment. Where are we? is, again, the question. It is important that at the beginning of the movie we get a waft of blue curtain, it looks like, but, now, if you have been paying attention, you know it is her robe.

59and we only see that robe when it covers her nudity, then when it serves as her costume when she attacks him, and she is in turn attacked by Booth, then, that it has become a fetish object because he has cut a swatch from its hem to make of it a mouth-stuffing her his victims, in his scenarios of ritualized gas-inhalation sex. This happens to KM in the cement factory scene later. So, it is blue velvet, but it symbolizes here her intolerable intimacy, her threatened, abused intimacy, it is a vaginal imagery, but in the negative, an image of fear and pain.

Indeed, though, the movie struggles a bit with representing that pain. Later, as the highlight of their relationship, they have sex

61the flame is lit, but it is only lit, she is not feeling it

62because she has become so corrupted by her serving her tormentors (or, it is just her thing) that she too now needs pain in order to feel sexual pleasure, she has become a sadomasochist too, he rejects that, he won’t

64but she provokes him, so he then in fact hits her, sending her flying back, in the nude, but, in the logic of it, kind of naked to him, a victim of his service to her need

65but that gives her pleasure, we get the open mouth shot

66the flame turns into a raging oil fire, searing her, but with pleasure (this is, then, how Lynch symbolizes visually pain that causes pleasure, that is, intimate reality, it is visually related to the ripple of the blue robe.

67now they can proceed to have sex, because she has been hit, it’s her fetish

68their relationship culminates, and ends, when, later, in front of Sandy, Rosellini shows up in a nervous breakdown state, nude, on her front lawn. It is not exactly clear how this would’ve happened, how she would’ve known how to get there, what she is looking for, why she is nude, and sweaty and dirty, it is not at all clear, so, she is a more a symbol of entire abjectness, here, the ultimate symbol of her breakdown from trauma.

69but, where, then, did the movie take us, and what is blue velvet? I think I know. The answer is also hypnagogic, though not quite, maybe vigilogogic. But, there is a place in the brain as imagined from the internal eye or the entoptic eye, where one is thrown when in pain, real plus-seven level pain. In such states–and I went through an entire toothache-extraction cycle between when I saw this and thought of this–where one feels the pain, and if one feels it, and closes one eyes, to get away from it, you will see a formation of fissures in the entoptic zone, I place this in vigilogogy.

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what you “see” are shooters, as it were, as if lightning strikes in the entoptic zone, all closing in on a central pressing-place where they hit, and that I call, now, The Blue Room (linked to the deep amygdala)

71

it is not far from the High Light, but it is an intense place, entirely taking into it, disturbed and made to ripple from it, in a wobble formation, all of it, whatever is visualized in it, receding, in a grainy silent movie way, and that is the Blue Room. In this movie,the blue room, room-wise, is her apartment,but the blue room formation, in terms of where it is visualized symbolically, hypnagogically in the movie, is her robe, and what is below the robe, and the folded and soft form below, the vulva, it is her, in her pain, and his having to deal with it, having stuck his nose into her business. I think there is that open window, with that blowing curtain, to symbolize the communication between her as the blue room, in her blue robe, and the room and the space of the world beyond

72surely, Frank can get the fetish ritual going even with others present in the front seat of a car with her with her blue velvet robe on showing her tits to him, it is on the road

73This is expressed in the scene when Rosellini shows up on the lawn nude by the reaction of the persons in other plots, interrupted by this event. The old boyfriend has just come to, teen movie style, fight with KM because he stole dern from him, but as soon as he sees Rosellini, and, instantly, realizes that she is in serious trouble, he backs off, and offers help, deep down, he is still a good kid; then, too, when dern realizes from overhearing Rosellini talk to KM and press her nudity up to him, and it is odd that no one offers to cover her nudity until she gets inside, dern makes that peanut upside down frown for which she was so famous then, but she, too, quickly realizes it was only a situation KM was trying to deal with, so it does not ruin their relationship.

Thus, ultimately, in my reading, blue velvet is the deep, personal pain beyond awareness of others, the intimacy beyond (or below) intimacy, that people carry with them, that KM discovers she lives with, that blights her life, that buries her in Frank’s sadistic scenarios, that uses and abuses her, where she is trapped, and makes everything so dangerous; and to set up the movie as a hypnagogic encounter with that place of pure pain outside the purview of normal life, when that is not to be discussed, Lynch set it up as Rosselini’s apartment, her blue velvet robe, and her body, her sex, and her sickness, symbol of the pain come in on him to burst open KM’s simple notion of what life is, now he knows some truth, aka “blue velvet”.

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