Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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.
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.
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?
"[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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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
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.
Monday, February 23, 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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
In dreams I walk with you
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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
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
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.
"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...
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.