Wednesday, February 25, 2009

David Wallace isn't "dumb"...

But I think he's off-base in the short piece we read. I take issue with several of his assertions. One thing I do like is his criteria for good literature: "to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." This is by no means all that good literature can do, but it eloquently states two possible uses of literature. After that, he talks about art as an opportunity to vicariously experience suffering. This, perhaps, is not an opinion I share, but I can see where he's coming from.

His next point, however, that indentifying with a character makes it possible for us to conceive that others could care for us and empathize with us, does not make sense to me. I know that, looking into my own experiences, I can't expect this to be a conscious thought I have when I read/watch movies, but even retrospectively, I don't see his idea as something that has ocurred. Sometimes if a character is experiencing pain very similar to something I've experienced, I might feel a kinship and a special empathy for them, but it doesn't make ME feel loved, which is what I feel he's implying.

I also reject his analysis of "high" vs "low" art. I feel like television (which is for making the monies) has made a turn to the artistic lately and has become more valid as literature. Likewise, just because art isn't made commercially doesn't guarantee it will be good, and certainly doesn't guarantee that it will make you uncomfortable like some puzzle until you figure it out and unlock its pleasurable secrets.

This may seem minute, but his 49/51 split of pleasure/pain in reality is irksome to me, mostly just that he had the audacity to even half-seriously fabricate numbers for the ratio of pain and pleasure humans experience. I get the underlying point that life is not always happy endings or even eloquent bittersweet ones, but his choice of how to express this is obnoxious.

Towards the end, I get a very "kids these days" vibe from him that I cannot stand. I firmly believe that people, at their basic, don't change and people's reaction to literature doesn't change. I could read his statement that people expect art to be all pleasure and can't properly process anything else and think to myself "Well, I am not one of the ones he's talking of," but I don't even think it applies to most people. Most people are capable of handling unpleasant art and do not expect the pleasure to be handed to them. Within his point about today's readers, in the last line, he calls them lazy. Speaking of this, and of pleasure handed to you, I fail to see how emotion should or even really can require work. His entire construction of working to feel good and vis instant gratification is not something that applies to literature.

A “Pornographic Society”

Despite some passages (read: several pages) where I felt like I was reading an in depth analysis of a book I’d never read, I rather enjoyed the Pornographic Imagination. To me, pornographic, or as most bookstores euphemize it “romance”, novels are a subset of books that I’ve never taken seriously, and never opened except to flip to the middle and find a laughably lewd line. However, Susan Sontag really changed my mind, and had a lot of interesting things to say on what I had always assumed was a closed book.
             Particularly interesting to me (perhaps only because of my work sample mindset) was the idea Brandi brought up about relating The Pornographic Imagination to Blue Velvet. I noticed the same quote she did (Hats off to you, mysterious margin writer) and also: “But O is an adept; whatever the cost in pain and fear, she is grateful for the opportunity to be initiated into a mystery.” This line really reminded me of Jeffrey in Blue Velvet. Like O, he is drawn into a world of darkness by his fascination with the mystery of the severed ear.
              Perhaps the most provocative thought raised was Sontag’s idea of pornography as “one of ‘the dilemmas of a society in transition’”. As Sam touched on in her post, the role of women in society and art has drastically shifted in recent history, and the rise of and developments in pornographic art over the same time period is an enlightening tool for studying this shift. Even the differences between Sade’s 18th century work and the work of the new pornographers (isn’t that a band?) could illustrate the changing views our society has on the roles of women, both sexually and morally. And what does the massive rise in pornography in recent times indicate about our society? That we are more fascinated with lust than love, more interested in instant gratification than long term commitment? Or is it an expression of our generations increasing acceptance of promiscuity and lewdness? I’m not sure, but I want to post the passage I took my title from, and hopefully we can come up with some answers in class: 

“… that there also exists a ‘pornographic society”: that indeed, ours is a flourishing example of one, a society so hypocritically and repressively constructed that it must inevitably produce an effusion of pornography as both its logical expression and its subversive demotic antidote.” 

So porn is both a poison and an antidote, a disease and a cure? And what does Sontag mean by “hypocritically and repressively constructed”? I would argue that she is referring how sex is a social taboo, forcing us to hide feelings and urges which we all share, because of their perceived ‘dirty’ nature. This thought leads back to our discussion of Funny Games, when we mused over how nudity earns an American film an R rating, while violence earns only a PG-13. Are we as a society scared of sex? Or are we scared of admitting to enjoying sex? I'm left with many questions, but in any case The Pornographic Imagination was a good read, and I think it ties in nicely with all of our other subjects.

Isabella Rossellini's Interview did it for me

Elizabeth’s post made a reference to Isabella Rossellini’s Interview that came with Blue Velvet, and I realized how much of an impact that interview had on me. The first couple of times I saw Blue Velvet, I could not bring myself to understand why a person would consent to play a role like that of Dorothy’s. In a way I saw Isabella as a woman with no morals or self respect. Initially I had thought that for her to expose herself like that, it had to be some extension of her profession. That in some way this is what she was used to doing, so that was why she agreed to do something like that. That was one of the many reasons I did not like the movie. It seemed like a pack of wild people with no self respect let themselves loose on film. I watched the Interview more than 3 times, and Isabella Rossellini’s part is still one of my favorites. That interview made me see that I had been all wrong, and she had sacrificed her feeling because she felt she was doing something that was bigger than them. She said she was embarrassed at having to be naked in the lawn scene, and to me that made her human. That interview allowed me to get past what was happening, to be able to focus on why what was happening did, and what it meant as part of the movie.
Looking back to the very first time I saw Blue Velvet, I think I felt morally superior to the characters and because of that, unconsciously distanced myself from anything the movie was trying to get across. If I had not seen that interview, I would still hate Blue Velvet. This leads me to a topic we had been taking about in class, about how a work must be able to stand on its own. I am not sure how many people in class finally came to the point of liking Blue Velvet, but what I want to know is if that state was attained by simply watching the movie over and over again? And if it wasn’t does that make Blue Velvet any less deserving of merit than it already is, or are movies in a completely different category?
So while I was doing my work sample, I stumbled across this quote from Isabella Rossellini in an NPR interview she did about fifteen years ago after Blue Velvet. And in light of the discussion about pornography (I am loving all of your posts tonight) I decided to post simply the excerpt:

"[Lynch] wanted Dorothy to walk in the street of Wilmington, where we shot the film, naked and convey a sense of terror instead of sex appeal. And when he was talking to me, there was a photo of Nick Ut's that I remembered. It was a photo of a young girl in Vietnam. She has been a victim of an napalm attack and her clothes have been completely torn off her body and she has skin hanging and she's completely naked. She walks in the street with the arms outstretched. It's such a helpless gesture. I couldn't think of anything else but this absolute helpless gesture and walking like that. See, if I would have walked covering my breasts, or covering myself, it meant that Dorothy still had some sense of pride, still had something in her to protect her. That woman had to have lost everything. And so she had to walk completely exposed, just saying, 'help me.' I took the gesture from that photo and used it. I hope that I conveyed the same sense of despair. I wanted to be like raw meant. My nudity was like raw meat, like a butcher, like walking in a butcher and seeing a cow hanging, you know, a quarter of a cow hanging."

Re: He Missed The Point

OOo Joe, I liked your post. I also re-watched the Ebert review and found some flaws in it. He says that its not about how the actress reacts, but about how he reacts, and he doesn't like to see a woman treated like that without a point.  To me, part of the point of Blue Velvet was that maybe good/evil and all that doesn't really have a point. In life, sometimes there is suffering in vain. It sucks but its true. I also read a review by Roger Ebert that reads:  "And yet those very scenes of stark sexual despair are the tipoff to what's wrong with the movie. They're so strong that they deserve to be in a movie that is sincere, honest and true. But "Blue Velvet" surrounds them with a story that's marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots."  He goes on to complain that Lynch switches between these horrifying sexual scenes and fake small town chit chat. But isn't that life? Most of the time its all sort of just living, going through the motions, and every once in a while something happens that really affects and changes you (and by these events I by no means mean rape and kidnap, just something important). Or thats how my life seems at least. And one of these truly important events does happen, who really knows?  Like, do I know what monumental events (if any) happened to all of you in this class this weekend? You all just came to class and acted normal, like Dorothy just goes to sing at The Slow Club, like normal. I think the point may be that when these things do happen, they're just wrapped up in the mundane everyday stuff. The more I watch it, the more I begin to admire Lynch, not exactly for the movie, but for the fact that he was true to himself when making it, like David Foster Wallace said in the longer piece we read in class. 

Pornography in Art

I know this is kind of expanding on what other people have already posted, but I've been thinking about what I was going to write all day and just couldn't because I've been at work. Also, I'm not really sure who to re: to anyway. But what I've been thinking about is that I don't really see a reason that pornography has to be separate from art. I understand that most people don't want to watch some gritty porno filmed in someone's basement and then discuss its merit, but pornography inserted itself (no pun intended) into literature, film and art long ago. Voltaire's Candide has a lot of pretty perverse references, A Clockwork Orange is extremely prurient, and a couple more overtly sexual films are Eyes Wide Shut and Y Tu Mamá También. The main difference between all these works of art and the basement-porn mentioned before is that they have a plot and a bigger budget. Seeing Kubrick's room full of naked, masked women could be just as or more enticing as Girls Gone Wild, depending on the viewer. I guess ultimately I agree completely with Clint's idea that pornography really can be art, and I add that it is already in art anyway. It's silly to pretend like pornography is just something strange and taboo. 


When the author mentions the 4 separate arguments form the most mutually exclusive definitions of literature and pornography, the last one really struck my interest and brought up the “what is literature” question, yet again. He says “It is more plausible just to emphasize that pornography still possesses only one “intention”, while any genuinely valuable work of literature has many.” I don’t know if this seemed new to anyone else or maybe I had just not really put much thought into it, but the quote makes sense in one way and in another, it doesn't.
Is literature only allowed to have multiple intentions? I know most of it does because, to keep people interested, the authors have to appeal to multiple emotions. This in a sense is one intention itself. Keeping the reader interested could be considered one intention, no matter how they end up doing it. In the same way, if pornography has “one intention” (and I’m guessing we all know what it is), does it not matter the other emotions and such it has to appeal to in order to fulfill its intentions? So it seems this author looks at certain literature as the up side as opposed to pornography being on the lower end of the spectrum of literature. Again, I guess it depends on how we decide to look at it.

RE: On topic? Probably not.

There's not really much for me to add in regards to The Pornographic Imagination. Edgar pointed out the loss of substance in news stories, and as a journalism major, I thought I'd discuss some history and very scary media trends.

At the dawn of the 1990s, the average profit margin for newspaper companies was 14.8% which fueled a wave of mergers and buyouts during that decade. The new megamedia companies managed a 21.5% (very substantial) profit average. Unfortunately, they achieved this through cheapening the content, marketing content directly to the audiences that were most attractive to advertisers, and allowing the less profitable audiences to drop off. Ironically, during this time, newspaper circulation dropped even during this historically profitable era. You see, it's easier and much cheaper to produce "infotainment" stories or "new you can use" rather than good investigative reporting, which is very costly and time consuming. Thus, while it causes readership to decline, a newspaper can still turn a net profit by printing stories that require less funding. It's not good planning for the future, but keep in mind, it does take a long time for a newspaper to die, and by then, the corporate owner will have rung out as much profit as possible.

Meanwhile, television news networks are also suffering, as Joe commented. Traditionally, corporations allowed greater spending and lower profit margins from news networks than they required from sports or entertainment units. The prestige of the news was considered good for brand image. However, major networks began to lose viewers with the rise in popularity of cable, meaning news audiences weren't just decreasing, their attentions were being scattered across a multitude of different channels. As a result, all three of the major pioneering networks in the United States were eaten by large corporations. (NBC is owned by General Electric, ABC is owned by Disney, and CBS is owned by Viacom)

In 1984, 50 larger corporations controlled over 50% of the media outlets in the nation. In 1992, despite over 25,000 media outlets, 23 corporations controlled most of the business in daily newspapers, magazines, television, books, and films. By 1997, those coporate giants had shrunk to 10. In 2008, the number was reduced to just 5! (Time Warner, Berteslmann, News Corp, Viacom, and Disney) This corporate monopoly means that many of the same news stories are broadcast over most of the same media outlets, unintentionally cutting down on the diversity of programs and information available to the American public. Sadly, the U.S. government has unintentionally helped this monopolization through deregulation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And you're right, Edgar, there really is not need for "rapid fire news" or 24 hour news for that matter. With them, the pressure to update stories many times a day, instead of just the traditional morning and evening updates, has made reporters and news organizations obsessed with finding stories that can "advance." Also, because of this, the traditional "news hole" that news organizations must fill in order to function has turned into a gorge that can only be filled with more frivolous stories and from stories bought from wholesale news corporations. So, sorry, Joe, but even by reading newspapers you're likely to get many of the same formulaic stories.

Although there is a difference in how well certain sources present facts and inform their readers/viewers/listeners. For example, after it had been realized that the claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were most likely false, 80% of Fox news viewers still held factual inaccuracies in comparison to 23% of PBS and NPR listeners.

Sorry, this was way longer than I had originally intended, so congrats if you made it this far. So yeah, just some things to think about.

Re: Re: Etc.:Pornographic Imagination

On the subject of Science Fiction I’d just like to point out that anyone who doesn’t consider any SciFi literature has obviously never heard of Isaac Asimov, one of the most important and brilliant literary minds of the last couple of centuries.
I thought the Pornographic Imagination was interesting. I have an interesting personal anecdote that involves pornography as literature. My Senior year in high-school I had an English teacher who I absolutely hated. We got along when it came to absolutely nothing, and I made it my short-term goal to make her academic life miserable at every available opportunity (before you judge me, here’s an example of her logic: while all the other Senior English classes read The Picture of Dorian Grey, we read Pride and Prejudiced because she refused to “read anything by that man” because he was gay.) John Milton would have hated this bitch, I assure you.
Anyway, towards the end of the year it was tasked to us to read a “work of literary merit” and write a relatively short paper on it’s cultural implications. I was going to pick A Passage to India, but then my sister gave me the idea to use The School of Licentiousness by the Marquis de Sade. Don’t Wikipedia it, you’ll regret it. This is the epitome of pornography. It involves despicable sexual acts that are hard to imagine or explain. Bestiality, incest, rape, sexual mutilation, torture, you name it, it’s all there. The plot is that four men lock themselves in a castle with 5 prostitutes and some children that they’ve kidnapped, have the prostitutes tell them their craziest stories, and then reenact the stories with their hostages. The paper was easy to write; when the author of the book has a brand of sexual fetish named after him (Sadism) it’s not very hard to figure out the cultural implications he evoked. I wrote a decent paper, turned it in, and waited for all Hell to break loose. To my surprise (and slight dismay) she simply graded and handed back my paper. I got a B-. She only spoke to me when she absolutely had to for the rest of the year. My point is this: pornography can be literature. The simple fact that something offends someone shouldn’t exclude it from being called “art.” If that were not the case, millions of pieces of art, from Picasso’s Guernica to Nabokov’s Lolita, would never have entered the public sphere as “art” of any kind. One of the things that I like about Blue Velvet is the fact that Lynch would rather tell the truth and leave the audience uncomfortable than write some cliché happy ending simply to make everyone happy. Sex is a pretty important activity and it certainly has huge effects on human nature, I don’t see a good reason for people not to write about it. Granted sometimes a cigar really is just a penis (ha), and not all pornography is very substantial or meaningful.

Pornographic Imagination

So I've reworked this post about a thousand times, trying to figure out the best way to get my point across. But along the way I tripped on my words and found myself bloody and wounded. 

My point in all the versions of this post is that all the media/texts we consume is made for and by the male gaze. 

And that is a very hard thing to digest. Even the female made arts are approached with a male gaze. Whether it's fact that 'men are visually wired' (from Rachel's post) or that this is just the way we have been taught to read these texts, the fact is that there is no escaping the male gaze. I was really happy to see in Miku's post that she picked up on the author's use of "he." Because you should question why they chose that pronoun over another. Is it easier for us all the accept that men watch pornography? [Sheesh- my aim in this post is not to start out on why women still have parts of their lives considered socially taboo, but recognizing word usage with such a topic is really important.]

Kat talked about erotica (like Harlequin romances) being aimed at women- and it's true that there is a HUGE market for heterosexual female readers. But if anyone has ever read those books- how is the woman portrayed? How is she described?

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that no matter how you spin it, women have been presented with texts thru the male gaze. 

The comparisons made by all are really great. I know the class isn't about the male gaze- but one purpose is to learn how to close-read, and I encourage you all to Reread works you've seen, read, heard...I think you will start to see the similarities in it all. To find that common link between Lolita and 'Duck Soup'- the male gaze. 

He missed the point

I re-watched Roger Ebert’s review of Blue Velvet and it seems to me that his anger and dislike of the movie stems from his own insecurities.  He is supposed to be an authority on movies and reviews them for a living, but he didn’t understand Blue Velvet and it pains him.  He says it isn’t about how the character Dorothy reacts to be naked and beaten; it’s about how HE reacts to seeing it.  I’m reminded of Nabokov’s idea that to be a good reader, you can’t connect too much with the work you are reading.  Ebert is taking Lynch’s imagery as almost a personal attack on the viewer, a shock tactic with no real purpose.  He fails as a close-reader (viewer?) by not even attempting to look for a deeper meaning in the scene.  Maybe it’s because he reviews so many films that Wallace would call low art, films who just aim to make money and flood the box office with customers, that he can no longer recognize art when it hits him in the face (and stuffs a piece of blue velvet in his mouth).

RE: Pornography an area of legitimate study?

I also thought the quote “the emotional flatness of pornography” is actually required because “only in the absence of directly stated emotions can the reader of pornography find room for his own responses” was interesting. It makes me go back to when we read 'Good Readers and Writers' and 'Study of Reading Habits'. Both of those created the belief that one shouldn't connect with a character or put oneself in a character's shoes. With pornography according to the quote, it seems that this is what must be done to accomplish the point for which pornography was written. The article compared pornography to science fiction and like Rachael said, these genres both have a kind of 'purpose'. But what about fiction, and nonfiction and anything considered literature; what is the purpose of that? Is that what makes sci-fi and pornography not considered literature? that they are written for a specific purpose that is shared throughout the entire genre? Sci-fi I think can be questioned on this point, I personally don't think every sci-fi novel has the same purpose, but pornography seems to only have one. It certainly can't be said that all of fiction was written for one purpose, because all fiction is not the same and is not equal.
Not sure what I'm really getting at, but there it is. I'd also like to mention that I found it interesting how people were saying pornography is mainly aimed at men but I think that is only the pornography on tv and in pornos. Erotica on the other hand and romance novels (books!) are pretty much only aimed at women. I wonder why this is that porn on tv is aimed at men and porn in books is aimed at women.

Pornography an area of legitimate study?

I had a TA last semester whose major area of study was pornography. Pornography? I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to study such a subject, and to be honest I didn’t even think there was much to be studied. To me it was just the male fantasy actualized. However, after reading The Pornographic Imagination, I see that it has similarities to other genres such as science fiction (Like Emily mentioned) as well as comedy.

“The familiar structure of comedy which features a character who is a still center in the midst of outrage crops up repeatedly in pornography….In much of comedy, the joke resides precisely in the disparity between the understated or anesthetized feeling and a large outrageous event. Pornography works in a similar fashion.”

I thought this quote in particular helped to shine a light on the similarities between pornography and comedy, which is seemingly the complete opposite from porn.
Also, previously I thought works of pornography were really shallow, unbelievable, and therefore low quality. The author however says “the emotional flatness of pornography” is actually required because “only in the absence of directly stated emotions can the reader of pornography find room for his own responses.” (Side note—I thought it was interesting how the author chose to use “he”)

The Pornographic Imagination makes me realize I was quick to judge my TA—though I doubt I will ever desire to study pornography, I can see that it is not as superficial or unintentionally empty as I thought.

Re: Porn vs. Science Fiction

As an avid Science fiction reader and having viewed pornography (both smutty and "artsy") I will have to take a strange stance in my own views laced with bits of Sontag's. First we have to consider what pornography is used for versus what Science fiction is used for. Pornography's  sole purpose is titillating the viewer, the industry has worked for years to refine angles, lighting, and exciting situations. In literary pornography (erotica) the language is worked around the brain stem as to excite the most primitive response. Porn is generally directed toward men and their natural inclination to be visually wired, this holds fast with Science fiction as well with grand adventure schemes and exotic locations (space).  While there are many similarities between the genres as already mentioned by Elizabeth, the core difference is its purpose. The purpose of much Science fiction is to enumerate on the human condition while putting the characters in often the most vulnerable positions. I mean a lot of it is also simply adventure based, written for escape and fun, but rarely is it subversive. 

The porn industry is like any other industry, looking for financial gain in any way possible. If the industry can figure out a way to make their product more appealing in order to sell more pornography then they will, no matter the cost. Good science fiction never dresses up models to look like eight year olds simply to make money. Good pornography appeals to whatever demographic of viewer it sees a market for. 

Blue Velvet and The Pornographic Imagination

I haven't quite finished this lengthy article, but I did pass on a quote that makes me think of Blue Velvet and our criticisms on it.

"But the "human scale" or humanistic standard proper to ordinary life and conduct seems misplaced when applied to art. It oversimplifies."

We can call Blue Velvet a work of art, and the strangeness of the characters and their actions seemed so strange to most of us maybe because it was oversimplified. The movie is only so long, and we don't get any insight into the disturbing characters inner workings. The characters are very complex, and each character cannot be fully explained in about a 3 hour running time. All the audience gets is a small snapshot into Dorothy and Frank's life of chaos, so we don't fully understand it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Porn vs. Science Fiction

The author of “The Pornographic Imagination” made some really thought provoking comparisons between pornography and science fiction that would have never crossed my mind without his guidance. If a viable comparison between the two genres was discussed in conversation, without the help of “The Pornographic Imagination,“ I would imagine that most people, myself included, would scoff at the idea. However, after reading this essay, I think it would be difficult for most to refute the interesting similarities between the two.

First off, the author (I have no idea who that may be) points out that both porn and science fiction have a fantastic, surreal quality to them. “The ahistorical dreamlike landscape where action is situated, the peculiarly congealed time in which acts are performed- these occur almost as often in science fiction as they do in pornography…The fact that the site of the narrative is an ideal topos disqualifies neither pornography nor science fiction from being literature.” I’m not a huge reader of science fiction, but I have read a few sci-fi books and I think this is a very valid comparison. The illusory settings for both genres are just tangible enough to be somewhat real, yet still have a mystical, not- quite- reality sense about them. “Pornography is one of the branches of literature-science fiction is another-aiming at disorientation, at psychic dislocation.” Although we’ve been instructed time after time in this course not to project ourselves into the text with literature, porn and science fiction are two sorts of fiction in which the reader or viewer is supposed to put himself into the equation, making both bizarre fantasy worlds all the more appealing. Neither genre is well revered in the literary world, but this essay has at least inspired me to think a little differently and more deeply about the two overlooked fields.

Also pretty tangential...

I just got back to Austin about 3 hours ago. Over the weekend my aunt died, a stroke oddly enough.  This is not a sympathy post. We were by no means close, in fact we pretty much disagreed on everything with the exception that we love her 6 year daughter. I received a call on Sunday from her oldest son,seventeen years old, begging me to come help him because his mother had been rushed to the emergency room after collapsing at church. He had Olivia (the six year old) and he had no idea what to do. I promptly set out to Houston with a feeling of strange serenity.  The nature of surreal occurred to me as I entered the Methodist hospital and Olivia rushed to me and happily announced that "the doctors are doing all they can". Her inappropriate emotional response made me immediately think of Blue Velvet, which in itself was an inappropriate response to the situation. We waited in ICU until the kids got hungry and I took them home and made them egg sandwiches. I went outside to smoke a cigarette. Olivia caught me and lectured me on the dangers of smoking. I put her to bed at 9 after reading her a chapter of "The Last Unicorn".  I popped in Blue Velvet and let Andrew watch it with me. His review consisted of "That was fucked up.". 'How...appropriate.'  I thought.  I didn't really understand that "strangeness" that we spoke about fully until I was in the midst of it. All of the preceding activity to my aunts death was mundane and almost cheerful. Olivia played with plastic horses, Andrew tried to sneak cigarettes. Everything just seemed wrong in a sense. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

On topic? Probably not.

If you pay attention to whatever crap I spew (and my overinflated ego tells me you do), then you may have found out I hate twitter and said being forced to tweet was the cruelest assignment I have had so far in college. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but I do have a hostility towards twitter.

Krzys is obviously excited to see his students express their progression in several forms and twitter is one of the more convenient ones. I imagine at the beginning of twitter that it was mostly used for silliness such as:

"MyNameIsEd: Im about to try a McGangBang. Pray for my health"
2 minutes later
"MyNameIsEd: God help me."

This sort of stuff is asinine and I actually have no problem with it. Its mindless and fun. I actually even find the tweeting with my fellow students pretty fun and keeps the work lighthearted. I was beginning to see why twitter is widely used.

Today, Rachel mentioned I can follow the Economist on twitter. Whenever I watch some cable news I see some pundits plugging their twitter as a way to keep up with the news. I guess this is a way to make twitter more substantial and I guess it could work great in some situations but this is what actually bothers me.

It reminds me how newspaper articles have shrunk in size, how news network try to be entertaining, and how Time seems to be written at an 8th grade level. Does one really need rapid fire news? 140 Characters aren't enough for anything resembling analysis. We need denser and more thought out reports not the news equivalent of a big mac. That is what bothers me about twitter. Its really another symptom of a culture that is making everything disposable.

Re: Sam's "Blue Velvet and Richard Schickel"

I really liked the idea of the dreaming theme and the observations that Sam made. I sort of feel like to assert that memories were an intentional aspect of the film requires more evidence, but it's a fascinating angle. On that topic, some other things that I noticed within that theme/motif:

1. Jeffrey's nightmares (okay, obvious).
2. The various picturesque, Norman Rockwell-reminiscent images, like the flowers and the fireman and the children at the crosswalk, and later on, the dance Sandy and Jeffrey attended. These images, far-removed from the nasty underbelly of Frank, are dream like.
3.Conversely, the more ridiculous awful scenes (out in the field, the first time Jeffrey sees Frank, the well-dressed-man costume [what?!], etc) play so much like nightmares or bad, distorted memories.
4. Dorothy is very... deluded--all the time. This puts her on a different plane from everyone. Actually, I can expand this to Frank too. Their separate plane from the "sane" people feeds back into the idea of not being in one's correct and accurate concioussness, dreams, and memories.

RE: Richard Schickel

Apologies for posting late. I fell asleep and just woke up.

Even though Blue Velvet may be difficult to understand or involve more effort to interpret than people might want, thereby negating the very purpose of its existence, I still believe that Lynch could not have made the "meaning" clearer. Lynch knows his stuff, and if he could have simplified it to convey the same message with the same impact, he probably would have (and he even could have still made it really weird to suit his personal tastes).

When I watch movies that have been adapted from novels that I have read, for example, I generally don't like them. No matter how well made they are, there always seems to be a loss of richness, as if all the little details that aren't significant to the plot's outer shell, but which make up its soul, have been vacuumed out. It's not the screenwriter's fault. However more popular going to see a movie is than reading a novel to the majority of contemporary North American society, when you look at the situation, analyzing film is significantly more taxing, at the very least exponentially more ambiguous, than reading a book.

Novelists are lucky in that they have the advantage or at least the ability to be more explicit, just from the very nature of their available language. Words can be ambiguous, as we have studied in Eagleton; however, for the majority of literate people, it is still easier to distill the essence of a vague word than it is for a cloudy image. At least this is true in our society, which stresses direct communication; other cultures may be more perceptive in different situations (Sharee knows what I'm talking about from our CSD class). Basically what I'm trying to say is that Lynch utilized the "language of film," as Boorman says, with all "the rhythm, the flow, the imagery" to the best of his ability. Blue Velvet is a well-crafted film, even if I have the sneaking suspicion that I may not like it very much.

More BV dislikes, kind of..

I’m in the same boat as Clint, I still haven’t really decided that I actually “like” the movie, and I’m sure I ever will. But I am able to see what some things mean instead of what they flat out show. When we talked about the bird with the bug in its mouth in class, I had actually thought about how Sandy sees things, I want to say naively, as some good can always show through, but that really is an awesome way to look at things. Considering all she had been through and seen up to that point, I don’t see how she actually still thought that way; I know it’s a movie but still. I think it’s strange that Lynch shows it that way, which just twists my mind even more. So much evil was put into this movie, but then you have a girl with such a positive outlook on it, just writing this now makes me want to watch it again (strangely enough) I just feel there is so much more I can learn about why it was written and what else I haven’t really caught onto yet!
Another part that was pointed out in class was about the dog biting at the water and how easily something can be manipulated to look vicious, when in reality it isn’t, BUT there is something there that could be. Krzys or someone said something like “if you look closely at something, you’ll learn that it’s a lot more dirty and dangerous than it appears” , and I believe that is exactly how I have to look at this movie to figure more things out. There is just something so weird to me in this movie that I want to keep learning about it, even though I still don’t particularly “like” it.

re: Still Don't Like It

I've already mentioned that I actually really liked Blue Velvet, but I also agree with Clint that I think David Lynch probably does like to make movies that freak people out. I was expecting something completely out there, so when I actually understood the plot line I was pleased. I like your interpretation of the last scene though, Clint. I don't think it matters if you end up seeing things the same way most other people see them. The role of the viewer does not imply that all viewers should find the same conclusions. There is never a right or a wrong way to interpret something, especially something as strange as Blue Velvet.

Even though I did enjoy the film, I'm happy that Clint also states that he feels that although he now "gets" the movie, he still doesn't like it. It seems as though a lot of people seem to think that if you don't like something that other people have deemed "genius" you must not have understood it. What a pompous thing to think. Just because someone disagrees with a popular (or not so popular) idea doesn't mean that they are somehow below those that do agree with it.

Plot or Not

Unfortunately I was quarantined for Thursday’s discussion, but I think I’ve got the gist of what was discussed. I thought the whole discussion of the importance (or lack thereof) of plot in blue velvet was particularly interesting. So I started to think about what books I considered important and meaningful, and how they rated on the ‘plot importance’ scale.
          As in cinema, a majority of literary works have some sort of quasi-realistic, quasi-linear plots. Hamlet is about a Danish prince in a power struggle with his uncle, Huck Finn is about a kid working his way down the Mississippi, and Lolita is a pedophile’s travel journal of sorts. All of these books are about more than the plot, but plot is certainly an important device that is used to communicate meaning. However, some books use plot differently/not at all, having plots that seem confusing, unrealistic, or disjointed (The Metamorphosis, Infinite Jest) but are still widely considered important and meaningful. Apparently then, a structured, reasonable plot is not a requirement for meaningful literature, and I would argue that the same conclusion is true of cinema. If I can like a book about a salesman turned into a giant bug, who am I to diss blue velvet because the plot seemed unrealistic?
            So then the question left to us is not ‘Which elements of Blue Velvet’s plot affect its meaning?’ or even ‘What the hell is going on with Blue Velvet’s plot?’ but instead ‘Does Blue Velvet’s plot matter at all?’ I’m still not sure what the answer to that question is, but I’m bordering on no. I mean, I agree that Sandy and Jeff seem a little one dimensional, even stereotypical, but maybe that’s the point. Of course he could have made Sandy and Jeff more developed characters, but he chose to make them corny. Why? Obviously David Lynch knows how to write a logical script, but he chooses to make it ridiculous. Why? I feel like we shouldn’t hate the movie (although it is so tempting) because it’s weird and hard to sit through, but that we should figure out the point of it, and then decide. I bet it’s what Milton would do. 

Blue Velvet and Richard Schickel

Quoting Schickel (in regards to Lynch) " deny us the false comforts of falsified history." One component of the film is that it is a caricature of the past and how we in the present fondly look back upon it. 

I like Liz's theory of it being a 'dream'- but going with the idea that it is a caricature, I think that Jeffrey and Sandy did live out all those events in some capacity, but like all memories, details begin to to contort and exaggerate as time goes on...and what we, the viewer, saw was the Memory of the event. 


1) Jeffrey's dad's recovery time
In the beginning the dad was laid up in the hospital in an awful way, and at the end he was just fine. People in his condition don't heal that quickly. An indication of a long period- maybe Spring to Spring or Spring to Following Summer. 
2) In Dream's Lyrics
'I close my eyes then I drift away into the magic night..."
3) Time period (?)
It feels like a mix of the 50s, 70s and 80s. The way the town is laid out feels very 50s. But the clothes and hair fall more into the 70s-80s mix. 
4) Blue Velvet lyrics
'But in my heart there will always be precious and warm a memory thru the years.."

And whether it be a dream of Jeffrey's or a daydream on a sunny afternoon of Jeffrey's, I think most of us can agree that on some level the film is a representation of memories and the falsity we give them, the exaggeration that time lends them, and the incongruities the mind gives it. 

Re: Richard Schickel

Richard Schickel explains that Blue Velvet’s seemingly unimportant plot and flat characters are exactly what makes this movie work. The focus of the movie is then on its subversive imagery and the feeling that it evokes in the viewer. Schickel’s comments about the plot of the film being unmemorable and unimportant really struck me, because I completely agree that with a insignificant plot like in Blue Velvet, the viewer is forced to see deeper into the movie; however, I do not agree that this is necessarily a good tactic for directors to utilize.

After viewing Blue Velvet a second and third time it was even more apparent that the plot is not what the movie is about. Like Schickel writes, the plot of a movie is always what is remembered in a film. The plot is always what is reviewed and passed on, yet in this movie, the plot is not the center point. Anything in the plot could have been substituted for a similar situation and no drastic changes in the movie would have been made. As long as Jeffrey came back in town and found some sort of sign that led him into the case involving Dorothy, the movie would still retain its general points, without the exact same plot. The same could be said about the two protagonists, Jeffrey and Sandy. There is nothing note worthy or particularly vital about their characters, other than their stereo-typical attitudes and flatness. The viewer is then forced to delve further into the movie and pick up on less obvious points. This method of having a trivial plot and characters who the viewers cannot relate with does seem effective if the director wants to focus on the subversive imagery, but it’s not effective if the goal is to get general audiences to enjoy the film.

Re: Fondling the details

Liz made a list of details she had been fondling from Blue Velvet, and my list looks pretty similar, but there was one thing on my list that really bothered me that Liz did not mention. The first time Jeremy decides to go to Sandy’s house at night to ask her father about the details concerning the ear, there was a man there. When Jeremy was walking to Sandy’s house, he passes a man wearing sunglasses, just standing still with a dog. The man looks like the yellow man, but I don’t think it is him. What I do not understand is why the director of Blue Velvet left so many loose ends. What does it all signify? What role does that man standing there have? To me it seems the movie would have done just fine without him standing there with his dog. The only explanation I can think of is that maybe the man is there to ease us into the evil the director was about expose. We see the man right before the shot where the director zooms in on the ear. So maybe the fact that this man looked like the man in yellow was not a coincidence. This is the yellow man before he dons on his yellow suit of evil. He looks like everyone else except for those sunglasses in the night that lets you know that there is something deeper.
“It’s a strange world Sandy,” this is what Jeremy tells Sandy after his night with Dorothy. The many things in this movie that seemed to have no significance, or place might have been put there as a way to communicate this point. The world is strange, and no matter how much you dig, some of it will never make any sense, it just is.

Fondling the Details

In my attempt to fondle the details, I managed to fill up 4-and-a-half pages of observations. I didn't want to miss anything important. So, here are a a few from my list that I thought were especially interesting, puzzling, r just downright funny.

1. We see Jefferey in the field where he finds the ear twice. Once when he is on his way to see his dad, and then again on his way home, when he finds the ear. I just thought it was real weird that when he is going to visit his dad he's just leisurely strolling along, not even in a hurry to check up on his dad. I figured this maybe had to do with his boredom with his cookie-cutter existence.

2. The part when the coroner says it looks like the ear was cut with scissors, and then the following shot of the police tape being cut wit scissors was sooooo creepy to me for some reason. Even from the beginning, Lynch is showing that evil can lurk anywhere and that it can even infiltrate the police.

3. Both times the ladies are watching TV, the content of the show is 'evil.' All these people know about evil criminals is what they are shown on TV.

4. When Jefferey does the "chicken walk" for Sandy I almost died laughing. What a goober!

5. The few times that they show a shot of Arlene's diner, a log truck always rumbles in front of it. Not sure what this signifies.....

6. Starting from the very first time Jefferey goes to Dorothy's apartment, they show him in the stairwell. Then every single time after that, if he is going to Dorothy's he is always shown coming and leaving in the stairwell. We obviously know that this is how he is getting up there, but WHY does Lynch show it every single time?? This really perplexed me.

7. In the scene where they first go watch Dorothy sing, you can tell that Sandy is immediately uncomfortable with the sultry, sexy singing, and Jefferey has lust at first sight. But then something crazy happens, and I can't tell if it is intentional, or if it was a cinematic blooper. When Dorothy is first shown singing, she has on a black v-neck dress and there is full band behind her. The camera then shows Jefferey and Sandy, but when it goes back to Dorothy, she has on a different dress and all of the band save the piano is no longer on stage! WTF??? I didn't notice this in my first viewing, but the second time, I was like, wait a minute! I thought this was real weird and I wish I could figure it out.... any theories??

8. When Dorothy first discovers Jefferey, she is demanding and in control. She is standing and he is on his knees. Then when he undresses, the switch positions. He stands and she kneels, and from that point she is no longer demanding or in control. I thought that was pretty significant.

9. I noticed that in her first encounter with Jefferey, Dorothy says a lot of the things that Frank says to her when he rapes her. "Don't look at me! Don't touch me!"

10. When Frank pulled out those scissors I almost threw up! I thought he was going to maim her with them, but then they just disappeared, where did those scissors go??!

11. When Jefferey is on the phone with Sandy at the hardware store, a scene flashes in the middle of their conversation where a big lumberjack looking man is buying an ax. I guess in the midst of all those crazy weird events, normal life still goes on around them.

12. I noticed that Sandy is always wearing bright shiny, colorful clothes, and Jefferey has a more neutral to dark color palette to his wardrobe. Symbolism, anyone?

13. I thought it was so funny how quick Sandy dumps Mike, even though she was soooo in love with him before. Typical broad.

14. The scene when that Ben guy lip-synchs to that candyman song is sooooo hilarious. Frank always loses himself in songs, but I just laughed at the whole set-up. Oh, and that guy on the couch in the background, is he wearing a KKK mask over his head?? Or a sheet or something? Soooo random!

15. All the candle flickers still perplex me. I can't decide what they mean.

16. I really just hate Sandy. She's sooo overdone and melodramatic. During the "I love you" scene at the party, and during the car chase, and when Dorothy is at her house, she drives me crazy she's so annoying! I want to slap her when she starts crying, and then when she is so quick to forgive Jefferey on the phone. What a dumbass!

17. One of the only parts that really creeped me out was when Dorothy was like "He put his disease in me." Yuck! Creepy!

18. I like how Jefferey always reverts back to the closet at Dorothy's place, he is always on the outside looking in.

19. I am still intrigued with how the "yellow man" is still standing at the end. I thought that was interesting and also pretty cool.

So, those are the details that I chose to fondle, but a lot of them I still don't quite understand. I'd love to hear some other opinions!

Re: Richard Schickel

I agree with Kat that after all the discussions and the article, I still don't like Blue Velvet. All of these have helped to understand it more, but I definitely would not categorize it as a classic. I see why it is a commentary on reality and if you look deeper into any middle America suburb you will see crime and what not corrupting the pretty picture that is on top. Schickel repeats in his article that Blue Velvet is a Parody of the romance and life in the 1950's but it isn't so much parodying it as much as exploiting it. Blue Velvet reminded me of what the movie Pleasantville did, which was try and open up the towns eyes, but the protagonists in Blue Velvet remain static. They witness all this hate and ugliness, and they still act naive and young in response to these events.

Re: Richard Schickel

Like Kat says, perhaps Blue Velvet is supposed to be a commentary on reality—if so, I completely missed the point. I was too distracted by the seemingly superficial, corny characters and the bizarre events to even look for its underlying criticism of a society that chooses to ignore the not-so-pretty parts of the past and present. Schickel says “less than six weeks after seeing it I could not recount its story and, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” but that “its subversive imagery…had been granted a lifetime lease inside my skull.” I have to disagree and say that I DO give a damn whether or not I remember the story. Movies that have stayed with me and impacted me are always ones in which the storyline made a strong impression—I don’t watch a movie for its subversive imagery. I may notice that in a film but it’s not what constitutes a good movie to me. I think to veteran film critics such as Shickel, films like Blue Velvet are what do it for them and I’m not saying every movie has to have a clear, predictable storyline. However, I think Lynch could have gotten his point across in Blue Velvet while still including some elements that would have caused it to make a longer lasting impression on me. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think it defeats the point when a movie tries to make a statement and it misses the mark so that no one understands or tries to understand it. Or maybe I’m just super shallow and lazy, just the type of person Lynch is parodying. :)

Still Don't Like It

     After I initially watched Blue Velvet I made a comment on my blog that I wasn't very impressed. I also noted that after some serious discussion in class I probably would end up liking Blue Velvet. I thought that I simply didn't "get" it. Well I've been thinking about Blue Velvet pretty seriously for about 5 days now, and I still don't like it. I do, however, "get" it a little more thoroughly. I know it seems pretty ambiguous to say that you "get" something as strange and abstract as Blue Velvet, I just meant that I've formed my own opinions on what Lynch was trying to say, and what I, as the viewer, took away after careful consideration. I have come to see that most of the movie has a pretty blatant social commentary, and that Lynch is trying to show that the lines between good and evil are often blurred. He does this by using the symbology of light and darkness, pain and pleasure, and the ultimate shift of Jeff's character when he decides to feed Dorothy a swift and sexy knuckle sandwich. My favorite scene is the final one for two reasons: one, because that mean the movie is almost over, and two, because I honestly think that it sums up nicely the theme of the movie. I know we talked about the final scene in depth on Thursday, but the conclusions we reached aren't what I see when I evaluate it. When I see the bird eating the bug, I immediately think of the first scene in the movie when the camera pans down to the bugs munching on whatever it is bugs munch on. I thought Lynch was showing that, although the Robin may be "prettier" than the bugs, it is still just a byproduct of nature. Just like the Beetle, its nature is to eat. This begs the question that I think cleverly sums up the entire movie: "Why does the Robin get treated with reverence when it isn't doing anything that its supposed antithesis, the Beetle, does as well?" Or put more universally, "who gets to decide where to draw the line between good and evil?" I thought it was clever. 

     With that being said, I still don't like the movie. I like weird movies. I adore Kubrick, but Blue Velvet seemed forced to me. I can't think of a better adjective to describe it. It seemed as if Lynch was more interested in creating a movie that would "freak people out" than he was with making a movie that would present the viewer with the theme he intended to instill. The acting was wonderful, the dialog was certainly entertaining, and the execution was clever, but a piece of "cinematic genius?" I think not. 

P.S. I continue to reserve the right to change my mind at any time. I'm slapping a "reserved" sign on my spot on the fence. 

Open Window

The open window in Dorothy Vallen's apartment struck me every time I saw it.  I thought about what it could mean for awhile and I decided that it is symbolic of Jeffrey's way out.  At any time, he could walk away and forget about Dorothy.  He didn't have to get involved and he certainly didn't have to stay involved.  When he first went into Dorothy's apartment, he said he was going to find a window to crack open so that he could sneak back in and out without being noticed.  The open window throughout the movie in her apartment symbolizes this same escape.  He could walk away and be completely free from all the trouble, but he stays.

Richard Schickel

After all the discussions about Blue Velvet, I still don't like it. And I don't really agree with what Schickel has to say about it. He seems to be saying that Blue Velvet is a commentary on reality, and a way to oppose the majority of falsely idealistic 50s-style movies. He says that Blue Velvet shows us that life isn't just convertibles and soda shops, that there is more going on. I agree with this as I think anyone would. But this movie goes so far beyond 'realism'. Personally I don't think any of the characters are believable or realistic, and though I found the movie disturbing, it's not something that is going to make me question society in any way. I'm pretty sure everyone knows that movies are just movies; they aren't 'real'. So so what if some movies are the generic "fifties teen romance"? I understand that there is a real world outside of movies, I don't need an overly dramatic, overly hyped up, 'daring' movie to make me realize this. If I had to choose a 50s era movie to watch, I'd sing along with Grease instead of Blue Velvet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Light and Dark

Most everything I wrote down as an observation has already been covered, save one thing that I'm not sure what it means. I noticed that at several different points in the film, Lynch uses darkness and light. Now unfortunately I didn’t notice this until the end, so I probably missed some examples, but I noticed it (1) In the opening scene with the bugs, the camera starts out with well lit, green grass, and slowly moves into darkness as it approaches the bugs (2) There’s a scene when Jeff is coming down from his room (just before talking to his mom), when almost the entire screen is dark, with only his doorway, with him standing in it, is lit (3) the first shot with Sandy, the camera is looking into straight darkness and then she slowly walks out of it. (4) in one of the last scenes (this is when I first thought of this as something to observe) Jeff and Sandy embrace in the hallway of the apartment building, and then the screen fades to brilliant while light, just like in the dream sandy described.  

I didn't really think that one observation was enough, so I thought I’d post about some of the analysis that I couldn’t help doing when I watched the movie a second time. So if you want to analyze it with a clean mind, stop here. 
To me, the most memorable scene of the film is the one where frank throws a party with Ben, cumulating in the pair lip-synching the Roy Orbison song “In Dreams”. Something about the barrenness of the room matched with the hollow emptiness of the characters who occupy it is both visually striking and emotionally disturbing. As frank cries, you are struck by the duality of his character’s nature; while on one hand he is a cruel, violent, and very sick character, his tears, both during Dorothy’s performance of “Blue Velvet” and during the Orbison song, reveal that these characteristics must stem from deep-seated emotional pain. Perhaps the lyrics of the Orbison song will provide some insight:

 In dreams I walk with you
In dreams I talk to you
In dreams you’re mine all the time
We’re together in dreams, in dreams 

            To me, it seems like Frank’s anger might stem from his disillusionment with his life. He is brought to tears when he is reminded that he can only achieve happiness “in dreams”, while he is doomed to a life of hollowness and despair. After crying, he lashes out in anger, stopping the song and roaring off into the night. I think that this scene above all is one of the most revealing and meaningful one of the film.
So yeah, this is definitely jumping ahead past “fondling the details” but to me, this movie seemed less about good vs. evil (although I certainly think that is a part) but more about finding meaning (or failing to do so, as frank does) in everyday life. Could the bug imagery be not only about the evil and darkness bugs can represent, but also be about their insignificance and meaninglessness? Perhaps frank is bitter because he, like those beetles in the grass, spends the days of his short life crawling around performing mundane, unfulfilling tasks. His failure to discover meaning and beauty in life leads to his anger and violence. In contrast, Jeff and Sandy are more like the robins, perhaps equally small, but spending their lives focused on the positive aspects of life (flying freely) rather than dwelling on its dark parts. I’m not really sure, but the movie definitely grew on me in a big way, I’m actually more interested in seeing it a third time than I thought I would be.

RE: How about music?

I need to start blogging earlier, too, but I guess you didn't completely steal my thunder, Clint.

The first time I watched Blue Velvet my initial reaction to the opening credits went something like, "All right. Blue curtain. Looks like it's breathing... SWEET FLUTE AND OBOE HARMONY!"

So I think it's pretty obvious that a film's soundtrack is extremely important to me. Kryzs said to "fondle the details," but I found it rather difficult to get intimate with camera angles and movement. We just weren't familiar enough with each other.

Instead, I made observations (no analysis yet) on every single musical transition throughout the movie although I admittedly got a bit lazy at the end and stopped documenting every single ominous lick.

1. The first time Jeffrey meets Sandy, the music starts creepy, begins to swell, and ends in a major chord (pretty much the first major tone in the musical score) as she steps out into the light. In fact, in the music composed especially for this movie (not "Blue Velvet" or "In Dreams"), the only time there are major tones is when Sandy is around. The next time there is a truly "comfortable" melody is the scene when Sandy is talking about her robin dream in which pipe organs (because they next to a church, which is probably another relevant observation) introduce the euphonious melody that plays again when a.) Jeffrey tells Sandy he likes her b.) when Jeffrey and Sandy are really into each other at the party c.) when Sandy instantly forgives Jeffrey on the phone d.) when the ending credits are rolling.

2. In contrast, when Sandy first shows Jeffrey Dorothy's apartment, the music ends in a resounding and discordant minor augmented chord (I think--my theory and ear training are a little rusty), which is very "uncomfortable."

3. A lonely little solo clarinet plays both times when Dorothy is standing in the bathroom, trying to cope with her situation.

4. This is opinion, but I thought the second time Dorothy sings "Blue Velvet," after she has met Jeffrey, there's less gloom in her voice, almost as if she has more hope.

5. I don't know if this is significant, but every time Jeffrey is driving somewhere a distinct hi-hat beat starts, with a jazzy bass line running through it.

6. And of course, let's not forget the little Lumberton radio jingle, especially since it starts directly in contrast with the unpleasant beetle scene.

There are other little things, but those are the most prominent ones besides the obvious ominous music playing when something bad or suspenseful is happening.

One thing I found that in Blue Velvet's soundtrack that I don't usually encounter in other films is that there is often a distinct incongruity between the music and what's showing on the screen. Normally, you can listen to the music playing during the scene and understand the scene's tone or feeling. I've found you can't really do that in Blue Velvet. An obvious example is when the Roy Orbison song is playing and Jeffrey's getting pummeled, but there's another example that bothers me much more.

When Jeffrey and Sandy first meet and they are walking down the street, the music seems much too eerie or mischievous. It doesn't match with what they are doing, conversing about a kid with a big tongue and chicken walking and generally just having light-hearted conversation. I noticed this the first time I watched it, and it still bothered me the second time through. Then again, lots of things about Blue Velvet still bothered me, so it's not really surprising.

How about Music?

I really need to start blogging earlier. Miku and Deanna both have a monopoly on camera angles, and Emily is an analytical tycoon (all very nice posts, kudos!). 

How about the music? I know, I know, don't analyze, so I'm observing that music has a lot to do with this movie. The name of the movie itself is based around a song. Dennis Hopper gets crazy when certain songs are played, namely Blue Velvet and that creepy-ass Roy Orbison song. The music switches drastically in the opening scene, starting out with very standard "happy" music while typical America is shown, and then switching as the camera pans down to the bugs. Most movies have quite a bit of music, obviously, but it seems to me like Blue Velvet had a bit more. It makes the drastic shifts of tone a little more obvious, and sometimes escalates the feeling of irony, or, if you're like me, confusion (i.e. girl dancing on top of car as Dennis Hopper freaks out). 

Next time I watch the movie I'll really be paying more attention to the way Lynch uses music and what points he may be trying to emphasize with it. 

Still on blue velvet

While making observations about this movie, I realized how bugs were used as a symbol for evil. In the beginning when Jeffery’s father was on the ground we saw bugs, and we also saw them when Jeffery found the ear. Then at the very end we see a bird holding a helpless bug in its mouth. The meaning is very obvious; Sandy’s dreams said birds were good, so in the end good defeats evil. Talk about cliché. In the movie, Jeffery’s job was to spray bugs. Everything in this movie is so happy and sweet. At a point in the movie, Jeffery basically asks why the world is so evil, and in the end all the bad people die, and most of the good people survive and live happily ever after. Just as the horrid ending of Funny Games made me very uncomfortable, so did the ending of Blue Velvet, but in a different way. Blue velvet lets good defeat evil regardless of if in real life it would have been possible or not. There were so many unanswered questions in the movie, but it almost seemed like none of that mattered as long as good came out on top. What I can’t quite put my finger on, is if the director was playing with our minds the way Funny Games did. Funny Games pointed a finger at us and called us evil, and we could do nothing but accept it. It seemed like this movie was doing the opposite, but I don’t know what sort of message that gets across. Is the movie supposed to be a satire? I do not know if this is right, but it seemed that way to me. It seems that it is saying that what we want are happily ever afters, and life is nothing like that. We want to see people in very horrible situations go free because it makes us feel better. It allows us to have hope for our lives. I think that that is why the director leaves that fake feel to the movie, to point out to us that this is only a movie, and it will always remain that way, just a movie.


I have but one small commentary on Blue Velvet, I just really like it. I love strange things though. Is it possible to just really like something without reason? I think perhaps it's a bit like falling in love if you believe in such things. There really is no reason to just really adoring a piece of literature just because of the way it proverbially smiles from across the room. I don't feel as if I should have to rationalize something I like. Like isn't rational. Sometimes you just have to say "Fuck you society. I like this movie and someone else out there does too, because someone created it with enough care for its publication".

Bugs & Weirdos..

I really liked what Brandi said about the ear and how “clear indication that the same unpleasant ugliness that is hidden behind the picturesque perfect town facade, is also behind the severing of this ear.” As the town sign was shown, wasn’t there creepy music playing also? You just know that something isn’t right about it and you’ll soon get to see it. I still do not like watching this movie, especially by myself.
The bug factor is pretty relevant, but I freaked out the first time we saw the close up of the beetles, and I still do every time I see it. I know we’re not supposed to really dig into this movie yet, but I feel like the person in charge of this movie really gets you to start thinking right off. The ear is totally random, and there are so many uses of insects, you know they have got to mean something more than just having bugs all throughout the movie. I’m starting to think Blue Velvet is less creepy… but still not one of my favorites.

P.S. WHY DOES THE MAN FALL DOWN AT THE BEGINNING? (when he's watering the yard)

One more for camera angles, etc

What struck me about the camera work in the opening scene was that movies usually make liberal use of pans (camera is in one place and swivels to the side), zooms, and trucks (camera moves to the side)--movement, basically. However, in the first scene of Blue Velvet, starting after the friendly fireman, all the shots are completely stationary, until we start crawling through the grass to the insects, then it begins to dolly (camera physically moves forward) and zoom (camera remains in place, but optically moves forward).

Additionally, before any of this, the shot of the red roses puts them on top of a white fence below a bright blue sky. I think this combination--red, white, and blue--speaks to the more-than-meets-the-eye theme that everyone has mentioned, by evoking such a perfect American image right before the heart attack and the insects and the murder movie. The image is so perfect and so far removed from the rest of the movie and its themes.

The insect thing has been talked to death, but a couple other themes I noticed: at the beginning of the movie, the camera zooms into the disembodied ear, and at the end of the movie, it zooms out of Jeffrey's ear. Also, and maybe this is a stretch, but Dorothy gives Jeffrey oral sex after agitatedly telling him not to look at her. Only moments later, Frank is staring into her vagina and it looks like he might give her oral sex (of course, he punches her in the jaw instead...), but he also screams "Don't you fucking look at me!" I don't know what it means, but I thought it was an interesting duality, both the ears and the self-concious sexual pleasers.

"It is a strange world"

(Since we are just observing for now, I'm trying to stay away from analysis without delving too far into interpretation.)

Everything, even on the surface, has a slightly sinister air. Example: what is at first a somewhat cheery tune (Blue Velvet - how many times do you think this is played, honestly?) has this disturbing minor chord at the end when Dorothy sings it. Even the ordinary is tinged with sleaze and danger in the world that David Lynch creates for us with Blue Velvet. Miku and several others pointed out the writhing insects in the opening scene. Again, Blue Velvet is about the dark, the unsettling, the filthy ugly underbelly of the normal green suburban lawn, of our entire normal green suburban existences. Brandi touched on this as well. (I really need to start writing my blogs earlier, because everything I have to say has probably already been posted.) The film makes us question the concept of "normal," of how 'regular' or 'ordinary' anything really is once we look underneath its surface. And in the very first shot after the opening credits, the camera moves downwards, from the blue sky to the white picket fence to the bright red flowers to the green grass below. We haven't gone under the surface yet, but we're looking more closely already. Actually, this might be a stretch, but I think even the opening credits show this concept. The blue velvet fabric is moving eerily, ever so slightly behind the names. Something underneath has to be moving it- perhaps wind, or something otherworldly - but under the sheen of the material there is something bigger at play, just as we've discussed. I really (not) eloquently pointed out in my previous post that Frank is such a classic deviant in every way. "I'll fuck anything that mooooooves!" I guess this is a less-subtle example of this very ordinary-looking man being such an insane, psychologically twisted character once we begin to examine him.

And as for my title, Sandy says that towards the middle of the film, and I think it's pretty apt given the film's general theme: that once we look closer, underneath the surface, things really do get very, very strange.

What is Literature, Revisited

So watching Blue Velvet with the intention of observing and looking for patterns has brought a thought. We are looking at this movie and picking it apart like you normally do a work of literature. The symbols of the bugs, the songs, the camera angles ect. are all purposefully done- just like in a book. When Krzys asked us to pay attention to the camera angles, I was pretty skeptical, just like I was the first time someone told me to pay attention to the exact word choice in a sentence. But watching Blue Velvet again and by reading others blog posts, its apparent, of course Lynch meant to do that! I think Blue Velvet can be compared to a work of "literature" as we often take the word to mean. Good books are not always the easiest ones to read, perhaps the best movies are not always the easiest to watch. I think the reason I have more trouble with movies, is because going into a difficult work of literature, I am expecting to take something out of it, and anticipate having to look for the "hidden" meaning. Going into a movie, well, I expect to be entertained. To answer Sam's question, can movies really qualify as literature, well sure I think some movies (like Blue Velvet) can,  in the same way that only some books can.

creepy crawlers

I like the insight on the insects that everyone has been talking about. I didn't pick up on this when I watched the movie.
I also think it's interesting what Miku said about the shots, how nothing was shot up close until the uncomfortably close up shot of the beetles in the grass.
I thought the director did well with the subtleties in the movie. Like how the picturesque mother sipping iced tea and watching tv was actually watching some sort of murder-mystery movie; they specifically showed this twice, the first time was a hand holding a gun and the second time was a shot of someone's legs quietly sneaking up stairs. I think this also shows that there is something under the surface of this quaint town and that the townspeople are completely unaware of it.
Also just a random comment: The beginning scene where the father was hosing his garden and then fell over with a heart attack(?) and then the little kid ran off the screen (presumably into the house knowing something was wrong) completely reminded me of the Godfather. Don Vito Corleone is in his vegetable garden with a little kid when he falls over ill and the little kid runs into the house. I don't know if this was done on purpose or if it was just some random thing I picked up on. But that's what it reminded me of and it made me think that this movie was not going to be as quaint and calm as the opening scene made it out to be.

Shots in Blue Velvet

Emily pretty much covered everything as fars as the insect motif goes, so I thought I'd point out Lynch's use of camera shots.

In the opening scene, all the white picket fence people are shot at eye-level, median angles--the fireman waving at a neighbor as he drives by, the woman watching television, and the school children crossing the street. The only thing that would cause the viewer to know that things were going to get weird is the very eerie background music. There are no close-up shots, shots that would show the emotions of these people. This implies that perhaps this is not a picture perfect world, because everything is very surface-level.

Then, after the old man collapses while watering the grass, the camera moves into the first close-up of the movie. The camera goes through the grass and lands on an unsettling close-up of the swarming bugs.

The shots used in this first scene really help to point out the insect motif, which runs through the entire movie.

re: Insects in Blue Velvet

I like looking at the movie with the bug motif. It helps to make sense of the whole thing as it seemed that the plot was kind of iffy and the bugs are present from the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the movie.

Also lets not forget that after the scene with the bugs underneath the surface crawling with life, there are more bugs. When Jefferey finds the severed ear there are ants crawling all over it, which could be seen as a clear indication that the same unpleasant ugliness that is hidden behind the picturesque perfect town facade, is also behind the severing of this ear. They are the same people who are tormenting the owner of this ears family.

re: Insects in Blue Velvet

Like Emily, I also noted the meaning of the insects in Blue Velvet. Although everything in the town seems picturesque, beneath it all there is ugliness. The insects represent Frank and his cronies, who live in this perfect town yet bring evil to it. We must not forget, though, about Sandy's dream:

"I had a dream. In fact, it was on the night I met you. In the dream, there was our world, and the world was dark because there weren't any robins and the robins represented love. And for the longest time, there was this darkness. And all of a sudden, thousands of robins were set free and they flew down and brought this blinding light of love. And it seemed that love would make any difference, and it did. So, I guess it means that there is trouble until the robins come."

The robins represent Jeffrey. He is the light to the town, the person who is going to get rid of the evil insects. His posing as an exterminator is one way David Lynch helps the viewer see that. Jeffrey is a robin to Dorothy, because he is exterminating her pests, and he is a robin to Sandy because he represents love; remember that she tells Jeffrey she loves him while they are dancing. Jeffrey has made all the difference to Dorothy and Sandy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Insects in Blue Velvet

Throughout Blue Velvet, there is the reoccurring use of insects. Insects are the most diverse group of organisms on Earth and live in every hospitable and inhospitable climate on the planet. No matter where we go or what we do, insects are constantly surrounding us, whether we are aware of their existence or not; similar to people’s immoral, wickedness. I think that in Blue Velvet, insects are used to symbolize the darker flaws of society.

In the opening of the film, right after Jeffrey’s father dies of a heart attack, the camera zooms into the pristine, green grass, delving deeper and deeper into the ground. Soon, the lush suburban lawn is crawling with hundreds of stark black, terribly loud, crawling beetles. Right underneath the perfect Lumberton yard, an entire colony of unpleasant bugs is teeming with life, while within Jeffrey’s picture-perfect life, whole worlds of unjust, unpleasant things are occurring that he is completely oblivious to until he begins to investigate the severed ear.

Jeffrey soon devises a plan to get into Dorothy’s apartment by posing as an insect exterminator and while he plays the phony exterminator, another man arrives at Dorothy’s door. There is nothing particularly note-worthy about the man at the door other than his obvious wickedness and his bright yellow coat. Yellow coats in the business world are not the norm, so it’s clear that the director is trying to get some sort of message across. After this scene, Jeffrey refers to the man as the Yellow Man. His yellow jacket could be a reference to the stinging, feared insect, the yellow jacket.

In the closing scene, after everything is resolved, a robin comes to Jeffrey’s kitchen window and eats a still moving beetle. The main problem at hand has been fixed, but the world is still swarming with problematic pests.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My thoughts on Blue Velvet

First of all, sorry this is about an hour and a half late, but I got stuck at work later than I thought I would. I tutor middle/high school kids, so when someone comes in desperate for help it's pretty hard to say no. But anyway, after doing a quick read through of what my fellow classmates thought about Blue Velvet, I'm actually kind of surprised. I really, really, really didn't like Funny Games, and it basically shocked me that so many other people did. Now I'm shocked that it doesn't seem like many people liked Blue Velvet. Although I had never seen the movie before, I am pretty familiar with Davin Lynch. My dad actually loves BV, and he has been trying to get me to watch it for a while. Also, my mom and sister are both big fans of the old show Twin Peaks. Lastly, I went to the Austin premiere of Lynch's movie Inland Empire, which was one of the strangest things I've ever seen. I am familiar with Lynch, but I'm not necessarily a fan. I was expecting BV to be something just as weird as Inland Empire, but it really wasn't. I found it to be pretty entertaining. The style was unusual yet interesting, and the acting was not over- or underdone. I thought the plot line was relatively easy to follow. Overall, it was strange but still likable. I'm interested to hear what other people have to say tomorrow, bright and early.

...Blue Velvet

So along with most everyone else, I did not "get" Blue Velvet, yet. And I definitely did not enjoy it. I am one of te biggest chickens you'll ever meet, and I know the movie was somewhat corny and not realistic, but I promise you, I will be scared of it for a while. The song at the beginning was what got me and I knew I'd get freaked out from this movie. The way the people talked, was a combination of bad acting and just plain creepiness (sp?). I couldn't wrap my mind around the actual reasoning for this movie being made. I could just be biased because I absolutely HATE scary/creepy/horror films, I always have, therefore, I will always be against these movies.. haha This just shows that everyone definitely has different opinions of literature, obviously many are the same as mine when it comes to Blue Velvet, but I know there has to be someone out there who thoroughly enjoyed this, it just wasn't me.

Chewing Ideas over Blue Velvet

Like many others, I profess that I do not understand what Blue Velvet was about most of the time. I know Krzys wanted to us to have no idea what Blue Velvet was over probably because he wanted us to have a viewing experience untainted by expectations. After watching it, I feel like I should have known what I was getting into since I found myself waiting for the movie to end rather than just taking it in.

Maybe a warning would have done though someone did say the movie was a 'mindfuck.' I didnt really find it to be a mindfuck but I guess that may be because I have watched weirder things (thank you neon genesis evangelion and other crazy as fuck anime shows!) and even more vulgar things. It was neither the violence or the surrealism that threw me off.

By the way, I caved in and looked at the wikipedia entry for Blue Velvet. I feel like the movie was trying to prove something to me I already knew at points. Almost like someone coming up to me and telling me all about how Bush sucks like no one else knew about it. Well, yeah. I kept on waiting for some big reveal that would put a new view on what I had seen but it never happened. Maybe that will happen after multiple viewings but I don't actually care for what Ill probably discover.

Maybe this will be something that grows on me but I wasn't really impressed by it like I was by something like A Clockwork Orange which hasn't lost its bite. Sorry for this unfocused post but I'm just gonna say I'm influenced by Blue Velvet's storytelling.

Red Velvet Cake Sounds Good Right Now

I'd rather not blog about Blue Velvet right now, and I'm studying for my psych exam, so I thought I'd just post something interesting (although I bet some of you have taken this course):

"Damage to any one of several cortical areas can cause aphasia, an impaired use of language. Even more curious, some people with aphasia can speak fluently but cannot read (despite good vision), while others can comprehend what they read but cannot speak. Still others can write but not read, read but not write, read numbers but not letters, or sing but not speak. This is puzzling, because we think of speaking and reading, or writing and reading, or singing and speaking as merely different examples of the same general ability."

--David G. Meyers, Exploring Psychology, 7th Edition

Here is where I would tie this in with different forms of "literature," etc. but I have exams, and although it's my fault, it's going to be a looong night. Besides, each of you have perfectly functioning association areas in your darling cerebral cortexes, and you get it/can figure it out. Oh lovely, lovely brains...

Blue Velvet

I will have to say that my favorite part of this movie was at the very beginning when the camera zoomed in on the grass and then the bugs. That was awesome because everything felt so disproportional, and just generally strange. I am not sure if this was part of what we were supposed to be paying attention to or not, but that was the part that really got my attention. I just loved how the camera would focused on the weirdest and seemly meaningless things, like the water hose at the beginning. I am glad that we get to watch the movie over and over again, because I know I had to be missing something. I know we are not supposed to have any background information on the movie, but I could not stop my roommate from telling me the movie was a big failure. I am not quite sure, I guess I just didn't get it. I am still trying to put together my thoughts on it.

more blue velvet

After reading Emily's post I looked up the lyrics to the song Blue Velvet to try to answer some questions. The only thing I could come up with is this part where it talks about the "flame glowing brightly" or something. There is that frequent sequence that shows in crazy moments of the candle blowing out. I thought Jeffery and Sandy were really awkwardly underdeveloped in this movie. I, like everyone else, am looking forward to tomorrow's discussion. 

What Would John Milton Think of Funny Games?

Much like Kevin, I feel unable to formulate half a thought about Blue Velvet (other than that I did not know I could dislike a movie that much; it made Funny Games seem really awesomely entertaining), so I will address a question brought up in class: What would John Milton think of Funny Games?

Questions like this have always interested me--what people would feel about time periods different from their own. Aside from the question of censorship, I'm sure he'd be repulsed at the visually explicit violence and sex (I think that for his time, a woman in her underwear is sex enough). I don't doubt that worse things were written in his own time, but I imagine the idea of it being presented visually would be really unsettling.

Moving onto censorship (or lack thereof), the impression I got from Areopagitica is that while he does generally support free speech, he also assumes that the writings of men that are apt to be censored will carry some sort of meaning and worthwhile point of view, even if it is wrong: "And if the men be erroneous who appear to be the leading schismatics, what withholds us but our sloth, our self-will, and distrust in the right cause, that we do not give them gentle meetings and gentle dismissions, that we debate not and examine the matter thoroughly with liberal and frequent audience; if not for their sakes, yet for our own?" I feel like he's saying here that of course with free press, some wrong ideas will emerge, but all ideas deserve careful thought and all will benefit from it.

My first thought regarding Milton and Funny Games was that he would approve of, if not the movie, its right to exist in the public sphere--that he would think it had something valuable to teach, even if the lesson was unsavory or downright wrong and the prize to be gleaned was in analyzing its mistake. Perhaps if he had a lot of time to really ingest the movie and the types of movies we watch today, he might come to this conclusion. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel like he wouldn't be able to get past a handful of things: a movie as literature, gratuitous violence and some sex, and the message he would perceive in the idea of such detatched killers.

The idea that a movie can be a valid piece of art with a real message is a relatively recent idea. Documents are probably the only type of moving picture that has always been regarded as valubale. The rise of creative indie movie makers with something to say and less desire for commercialism than, say, Fox Studios, have contributed. Back to Milton, he would have trouble accepting a movie on the same plane as the philosophical tracts of his time. Which brings up the other point that fiction was not widely acceptable as valuable in his time and I feel that his arguments were meant to be applied to non-fictional works.

Funny Games is mild on the violence for our time. We've all seen blood stains and bruises before. The implied violence is pretty bad, but still nothing out of the ordinary. However, Milton would likely find it horrible. A completely accurate depiction of a father, crying, covering up his dead son, who lay beneath his own blood all over the wall? We in our generation can watch a movie and completely realize it's fictional, but I imagine someone like Milton could not, certainly not immediately. This seems really petty, I realize, but I think it's very relevant, and that it says something important about his views.

Finally, the detatched killers sends a chilling message which I feel he could not cope with fully. I cannot pretend to know all the ideas that he was arguing for the freedom of, but I know one thing he was censored over was the support of divorce. A subject like that doesn't even come close to cold, emotionless murder. One might say here that the movie didn't promote that ideal at all, but I think that's one thing he would take away from it, regardless of the movie's intended meaning and the one which we can extract from it.

My point, in short is that, Milton had certain things in mind when he renounced censorship, and Funny Games simply goes beyond the scope of what he would be willing to support.