Thursday, June 30, 2005

Seeing something that was always hidden.

I almost skipped out on the chance to see Blue Velvet projected at the ArcLight, but knew I'd kick myself if I did. So I hauled ass last night and... was totally disheartened. Not by the film (which remains as hypnotic and unsettling as ever) or the print (which, despite a warning from the AFI Programmer on hand, wasn't that bad), but by one of the most appalling audiences I've encountered. I understand that when you get a roomful of (supposed) fans of a cult film, things can get rowdy. I had no problem with (and joined in) the applause at nearly every single name in the main title sequence or the ovation at Frank Booth's beer critique, but the laughter at damn near everything was enraging.
A month ago, after a contentious screening at Cannes, A.O. Scott blogged about laughing at movies, specifically pointing out that when one laughs at a scene that isn't funny, it's not necessarily out of derision. ("Sometimes it is an involuntary response to a surprise, or a sudden tonal shift. Sometimes you laugh to dispel your nervous anticipation that something terrible is going to happen. ") All completely valid points and, to be fair, Blue Velvet is filled with sudden tonal shifts, uncomfortable moments, and scenes of unrelenting dread. But that's not what this audience seemed to be reacting to. There were inexplicable bursts of laughter at little moments (I'm not sure why the audience roared when Kyle MacLachlan grabs the keys to Isabella Rossellini's apartment) and at core moments that just don't deserve laughter. Near the end of the film, when the completely naked Rossellini is dumped, bruised and dazed, in front of MacLachlan and Laura Dern, I would accept nervous tittering. The gales of laughter that drowned out that scene (and the one that followed) went from merely annoying to offensive. I'm not quite sure what's so hi-larious about that kind of violence.
Whatever, I'm ranting and it's probably not all that interesting, but before switching subjects, am I fundamentally misreading the film? I don't think, however you read the film, the intensity of the laughter was justified. That said, am I missing something? Of course I can see that Lynch is often playing with imagery and circumstances that are both horrifying and darkly comic (uh, the scene leading up to and including "In Dreams," anyone?), but I don't really see it as a satire (as, say, Roger Ebert does or last night's pigfucking audience might've). Sure, Lynch is working with archetypes and conventions and his pop-cultural obsessions (Hardy Boys, Shadow of a Doubt, film noir, Roy Orbison, '50s nostalgia, etc.) but I don't think he's satirizing them. Fetishizing them? Obvs. Satirizing/mocking? Nope. (If you think I'm naively/woefully offbase, please tell me.)

Speaking of Lynch's obsessions, seeing Blue Velvet on the big screen really made the Edward Hopper influence stick. You always hear about a Lynch/Francis Bacon connection, but I was struck by the look/palette of both Dean Stockwell's place and Rossellini's apartment--not to mention the lady in blue imagery--in relation to Hopper's art.* (The image captures don't quite do justice to either works, but what can you do?)
All right, enough BV rambling. Here's some fun alternate casting trivia before I head off into this strange world: Rossellini, MacLachlan, and Dern were all second choices for their respective roles. The first choices? Helen Mirren as Dorothy, Val Kilmer as Jeffrey, and Molly Ringwald as Sandy. (!)

* That was kind of pathetically film school-y, but I can't help it. Forgive me.


At 7:01 PM, Blogger D. Greene said...

Well, thank you for this post, and I wish I could have seen Blue Velvet on the big screen. I would have killed someone given what you describe.

I laughed at the end of Layer Cake - out of surprise, not derision.

When I was in Portland in March, I went with some friends to watch This Gun For Hire on the big screen at the art house theater downtown. The movie was 1940s all the way, pro-America, pro-WWII, it fairly bastardizes a Graham Greene novel and is mediocre in a lot of ways. Watching it now, parts are extremely campy, and perhaps laughable. But the thing that really drove me nuts was the audience, laughing at nearly every third or fourth line of dialogue, however serious it was supposed to be. I just got a sense of supreme hipster arrogance. They were so worldly and educated that they could laugh at the child-like sensibilities of films made 60 years ago. I was furious by the constant laughter by the end of the film from these know-it-alls. But I have an arrogance-sensitivity complex living in a fly-over state like Ohio, and I tend to get sick of idiots.

At 11:49 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

Pier and I talked about this earlier. I hate live audiences of anything, even respectful ones, because I hate dirty stinking people existing anywhere near me. Still, I try to be patient.

First of all, I think BV is very easy to laugh at. Clearly, it's not meant to be a farce, but it's so extreme, so stylized and so discomforting that laughter is a natural reaction to what's happening on screen. It may be inappropriate, but we are, after all, just baboons with ironic 80s TV show T-shirts. And in a crowd setting, it's even worse. Once one jackass starts laughing inappropriately, others will follow. This is an unrelated, and dumb, anecdote, but it was a really traumatic part of my childhood. When I was in "It's a Wonderful Life" when I was 12, playing Uncle Billy, and George Bailey/Colin Meloy choked me for losing the money and ruining everyone's lives, the audiences were usually quiet. But on several occassions they burst into laughter for no apparent reason. The director, naturally, blamed me and I wept for days.

The other point worth noting is what Mr. Greene says above. Hipsters, following the queers, have turned anything that takes itself seriously without being naturalistic as camp. But hipsters, unlike the good ole queers of yore, have no sense of a distinction between high and low camp, nor do they have an appreciation for even lowest camp as art. We won't even try to get them to accept that sometimes a serious film isn't campy at all.

Thanks a lot, Truman Capote.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Gentlemen: yes and yes. I think your theories, when combined, hit the nail on the head (arrogant hipster misreading camp).
After a long weekend of much drinking, I have nothing wise, witty or amusing to add. (It's nice to finally have an excuse...) Have a good fourth o' July.


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