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Aurally Alarming , Use Of Sound In Blue Velvet

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Aurally Alarming , Use Of Sound In Blue Velvet

Post  PapersQueen on Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:30 am

Aurally Alarming With Blue Velvet, David Lynch did an effective job in dividing both popular and critical opinions about his odd piece of cinema. While some hail it as a masterpiece, others retain that it is pure perverse nonsense. Despite the initial shock of the overly violent sequences, Lynch’s vivid revelation of baseness and depravity in small-town America makes its point clearly, if not bizarrely. One of the most obvious and effective ways by which the film’s themes are conveyed is through an absolutely brilliant utilization of sound and score. Similar to how advertising companies pair food ads with love-scene type music, or make sock-puppet dogs talk, there is more to a scene than the picture. The use of this filmic sense of audio gives Blue Velvet a heavy pulse to the deep, dark world beneath the superficiality of Lumberton. David Lynch, along with Angelo Badalamenti, composed the score to this film, working close with sound designer Alan Splet. The score, consisting mostly of sparse horns and strings, is subtle and dramatic, bringing to mind elements of classic suspense and murder-mystery film scoring. The “climactic showdown” scene, in which Frank and Jeffery confront each other a final time, captures what is essentially the film’s greatest use of score and sound to fortify (while, at times, ironically juxtaposing) the violent, exciting scene. Virtually no sound accompanies the scene’s start, Jeffery climbing the stairs to and entering Dorothy’s apartment. The ambient sounds of his footfalls and the keys, supplemented by an occasional dramatic chord struck in a minor key create an ominous tension that is palpable to the viewer. The scene retains its practically silent tone as Jeffery steps into the apartment to the gruesome scene within. The silence here is purposeful in that Jeffery is silent as he skulks around, and the corpses of the Yellow man and Dorothy’s husband are silent at this moment because they are, well, dead. The quiet is pierced by a shrill whine, the television is “smashed in but turned on, and is emitting a high pitched hum” (Dirks). The sound that smashes the silence is a loud transmission from the Yellow man’s police radio, eliciting a post-mortem twitch from the dead man, and a frightened jump from both Jeffery and the viewer. Everything returns to silence, until the radio barks up again, reporting the raid on Frank’s apartment. Next are scenes from the raid, cut with scenes of Jeffery in the apartment, as “Love Letters” begins to play. Jeffery realizes that the tableau before him truly is an example of one of Frank’s “love letters straight from the heart.” With tears in his eyes, and as the line “I’m not alone in the night” plays over the scene, Jeffery says to the bodies, “I’m gonna’ let them find you on their own.” The playing of this sweet love song contrasts resplendently with the violent police raid and the close ups of the deceased in the apartment. If one were to watch this sequence with closed eyes, the accompanying visuals would not be pictured logically in one’s head. As in the scene where Frank and his cronies beat Jeffery to the strains of “Candy Colored Clown,” Lynch juxtaposes a scene of incredible violence with a soundtrack of whimsy and happiness. The song is also significant to the viewer, who has taken to associate the song, or at least its lyrics, with Frank Booth and his horrifying demeanor. Here, the song is “used for symbolic and metadiegetic purposes” (Kte’pi), both to conflict with the visual frame and to remind us of Frank’s omnipresent malignancy. He leaves, and the music cuts abruptly as he shuts the apartment door. Descending the stairs to leave, he sees the “well-dressed man” approaching. Strains of what can only be described as “bad guy music” begin to swell, leaping in volume and intensity as Jeffery realizes that the man is Frank in disguise. Jeffery runs back to Dorothy’s apartment, the music seems to chase him as he goes. After he sets up Frank with his clever radio transmission, he hides in the closet. As Frank enters the apartment and begins to hunt Jeffery down, the music swells even more, punctuated when Frank begins shooting and screaming. The hiss (another effective reoccurring sound) of the nitrous tank puts the audience on edge, recalling other times Frank has turned on the tank and gone on to perform some horribly violent act. The scene, and the whole sequence, ends with the loud gunshot as Jeffery shoots Frank in the forehead as Sandy bursts in. Ken Dancynger, in the title of his essay on this film, called Blue Velvet a “mixed genre film with a horror film sound.” Going on to comment on Lynch’s use of sound to provide continuity of characters’ emotions and mental states, and allowing “the sound and the subjectivity that is crucial in the horror genre to dominate the stylization and pacing of the film” (Dancynger). Lynch’s use of sound does make it easy to compare the film, aurally, to a horror film. His ominous, minor key musings that suggest forbidding circumstances are soon at hand work wonders to put the viewer at the edge of his of her seat, and his pairings of cheery love songs with “knife-point sexuality” (Corrigan 73) and violence is nothing short of creepy, and, more importantly, effective. Splet, Lynch, and Badalamenti successfully use the aural aspects of filmmaking to make the final confrontation scene in Blue Velvet more than effective, they make it memorable. The song stays with the viewer, haunts them and makes them think about the scene they witnessed. The marriage of scene, sound, and score is mastered; visual and aural elements work in symbiosis, fluidly integrating to drive home Lynch’s twisted diorama of an American town.


Dancynger, Ken “Blue Velvet- A Mixed Genre Film with Horror Film Sound” Dirks, Tim “Memerable Moments from Great Movies” Kte’pi, Bill. “There’s Always Music in the Air: The Aural Aesthetic of David Lynch” Corrigan, Timothy A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture After Vietnam Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, NJ 1991 Hershon, Robert “Film Composers in the Sonic Wars”


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