Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Portrait of a Lady: Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

"Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy was wild and vivid in a cautious and pale world, always burning a little more brightly than anyone around her. Her husband was beguiled by the dazzle she left in her wake. She made people into happier, bolder versions of themselves. She made her husband into a better man. Henry James wrote a story about a young girl named Isabel Archer in The Portrait Of A Lady (1881); a girl as brave as she was beautiful, as pure of heart as she was unafraid to love. He was writing about Carolyn, more than a century before she was here." —Carole Radziwill (July, 2019)

The Portrait of a Lady is the story of a spirited young American woman, Isabel Archer, who, "affronting her destiny," finds it overwhelming. She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently becomes the victim of Machiavellian scheming by two American expatriates. Like many of James's novels, it is set in Europe, mostly England and Italy. Generally regarded as the masterpiece of James's early period, this novel reflects James's continuing interest in the differences between the New World and the Old, often to the detriment of the former. It also treats in a profound way the themes of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal. The Portrait of a Lady has received critical acclaim since its first publication in The Atlantic Monthly, and it remains the most popular of James's longer fictions. More recent criticism has been levelled by feminists. In particular, Isabel's final return to Osmond has fascinated critics, who have debated whether James sufficiently justifies this seemingly paradoxical rejection of freedom. One interpretation is that Isabel feels as honour-bound to the promise she has made to stepdaughter Pansy as she does to her marriage to Osmond, and that she believes the scene her "unacceptable" trip to England will create with Osmond will leave her in a more justifiable position to abandon her dreadful marriage. The extensive revisions James made for the 1908 New York Edition generally have been accepted as improvements. The revision of the final scene between Isabel and Goodwood has been especially applauded. As Edward Wagenknecht noted, James "makes it as clear that Isabel has been roused as never before in her life, roused in the true sense perhaps for the first time in her life." James's verbal magic allowed him to both obey and evade the restrictive conventions of his day for the treatment of sexuality in literature. Source:

"Ralph Touchett wandered away a little, with his usual slouching gait, his hands in his pockets and his little terrier at his heels. His face was turned toward the house, but his eyes were bent musingly on the lawn; so that he had been an object of observation to a person who had just made her appearance in the ample doorway for some moments before he perceived her. His attention was called to her by the conduct of his dog, who had suddenly darted forward with a little volley of shrill barks, in which the note of welcome, however, was more sensible than that of defiance. The person in question was a young lady, who seemed immediately to interpret the greeting of the small beast. He advanced with great rapidity and stood at her feet, looking up and barking hard; whereupon, without hesitation, she stooped and caught him in her hands, holding him face to face while he continued his quick chatter. His master now had had time to see that tall girl in a black dress, who at first sight looked pretty. She was bareheaded, as if she were staying in the house—a fact which conveyed perplexity to the son of its master, conscious of that immunity from visitors which had for some time been rendered necessary by the latter’s ill-health. Meantime the two other gentlemen had also taken note of the new-comer. “Dear me, who’s that strange woman?” Mr. Touchett had asked. “Perhaps it’s Mrs. Touchett’s niece—the independent young lady,” Lord Warburton suggested. “I think she must be, from the way she handles the dog.” The collie, too, had now allowed his attention to be diverted, and he trotted toward the young lady in the doorway, slowly setting his tail in motion as he went. The girl spoke to Ralph, smiling, while she still held up the terrier. “Is this your little dog, sir?” “He was mine a moment ago; but you’ve suddenly acquired a remarkable air of property in him.” “Couldn’t we share him?” asked the girl. “He’s such a perfect little darling.” Ralph looked at her a moment; she was unexpectedly pretty. 

“You may have him altogether,” he then replied. She was looking at everything, with an eye that denoted clear perception—at her companion, at the two dogs, at the two gentlemen under the trees, at the beautiful scene that surrounded her. “I’ve never seen anything so lovely as this place. I’ve been all over the house; it’s too enchanting.” And then, “Oh you adorable creature!” she suddenly cried, stooping down and picking up the small dog again. She remained standing where they had met, making no offer to advance or to speak to Mr. Touchett, and while she lingered so near the threshold, slim and charming, her interlocutor wondered if she expected the old man to come and pay her his respects. American girls were used to a great deal of deference, and it had been intimated that this one had a high spirit. Indeed Ralph could see that in her face. “Won’t you come and make acquaintance with my father?” he ventured to ask. “He’s old and infirm—he doesn’t leave his chair.” “Ah, poor man, I’m very sorry!” the girl exclaimed, immediately moving forward. “I got the impression from your mother that he was rather intensely active.” Ralph Touchett was silent a moment. “She hasn’t seen him for a year.” 

“Well, he has a lovely place to sit. Come along, little hound.” 
They had come by this time to where old Mr. Touchett was sitting, and he slowly got up from his chair to introduce himself. “My mother has arrived,” said Ralph, “and this is Miss Archer.” Mrs. Touchett, Ralph's mother, was separated from her husband, residing in Florence while Ralph stays at Gardencourt. “I'll be showing her four European countries—I shall leave her the choice of two of them—and in giving her the opportunity of perfecting herself in French, which she already knows very well.” Ralph frowned a little. “That sounds rather dry—even allowing her the choice of two of the countries.” “If it’s dry,” said his mother with a laugh, “you can leave Isabel alone to water it! She is as good as a summer rain, any day.” “Do you mean she’s a gifted being?” “I don’t know whether she’s a gifted being, but she’s a clever girl—with a strong will and a high temper. She has no idea of being bored.” “I can imagine that,” said Ralph; and then he added abruptly: “How do you two get on?” “Do you mean by that that I’m a bore? I don’t think she finds me one. Some girls might, I know; but Isabel’s too clever for that. I think I greatly amuse her. We get on because I understand her, I know the sort of girl she is. She’s very frank, and I’m very frank: we know just what to expect of each other.” “Ah, dear mother,” Ralph exclaimed, “one always knows what to expect of you! You’ve never surprised me but once, and that’s today “Do you think her so very pretty?” “Very pretty indeed; but I don’t insist upon that. It’s her general air of being some one in particular that strikes me. Who is this rare creature, and what is she? Where did you find her, and how did you make her acquaintance?” Ralph had listened attentively to this judicious report, by which his interest in the subject of it was not impaired. “Ah, if she’s a genius,” he said, “we must find out her special line. Is it by chance for flirting?” “I don’t think so. You may suspect that at first, but you’ll be wrong. You won’t, I think, in any way, be easily right about her.” His mother shook her head. “Lord Warburton won’t understand her. He needn’t try.” “He’s very intelligent,” said Ralph; “but it’s right he should be puzzled once in a while.” “Isabel will enjoy puzzling a lord,” Mrs. Touchett remarked. Her son frowned a little. “What does she know about lords?” “Nothing at all: that will puzzle him all the more.” Ralph greeted these words with a laugh and looked out of the window.she was better worth looking at than most works of art. She was undeniably spare, and ponderably light, and proveably tall; when people had wished to distinguish her from the other two Miss Archers they had always called her the willowy one. Her hair, which had been an object of envy to many women; her light grey eyes, a little too firm in her graver moments, had an enchanting range of concession.

She had an unquenchable desire to think well of herself. She had a theory that it was only under this provision life was worth living; that one should be one of the best, should be conscious of a fine organisation (she couldn’t help knowing her organisation was fine), should move in a realm of light, of natural wisdom, of happy impulse, of inspiration gracefully chronic. It was almost as unnecessary to cultivate doubt of one’s self as to cultivate doubt of one’s best friend: one should try to be one’s own best friend and to give one’s self, in this manner, distinguished company. The girl had a certain nobleness of imagination which rendered her a good many services and played her a great many tricks. She spent half her time in thinking of beauty and bravery and magnanimity; she had a fixed determination to regard the world as a place of brightness, of free expansion, of irresistible action: she held it must be detestable to be afraid or ashamed.

She strolled again under the great oaks whose shadows were long upon the acres of turf. At the end of a few minutes she found herself near a rustic bench, which, a moment after she had looked at it, struck her as an object recognised. It was not simply that she had seen it before, nor even that she had sat upon it; it was that on this spot something important had happened to her—that the place had an air of association. Then she remembered that she had been sitting there, six years before, when a servant brought her from the house the letter in which Caspar Goodwood informed her that he had followed her to Europe; and that when she had read the letter she looked up to hear Lord Warburton announcing that he should like to marry her. It was indeed an historical, an interesting, bench; she stood and looked at it as if it might have something to say to her. She wouldn’t sit down on it now—she felt rather afraid of it. She only stood before it, and while she stood the past came back to her in one of those rushing waves of emotion by which persons of sensibility are visited at odd hours. The effect of this agitation was a sudden sense of being very tired, under the influence of which she overcame her scruples and sank into the rustic seat. Her attitude had a singular absence of purpose; her hands, hanging at her sides, lost themselves in the folds of her black dress; her eyes gazed vaguely before her. “You don’t know where to turn. Turn straight to me. I want to persuade you to trust me,” Goodwood repeated. And then he paused with his shining eyes. “Why should you go back—why should you go through that ghastly form?” “To get away from you!” she answered. But this expressed only a little of what she felt. The rest was that she had never been loved before. She had believed it, but this was different; this was the hot wind of the desert, at the approach of which the others dropped dead, like mere sweet airs of the garden. It wrapped her about; it lifted her off her feet, while the very taste of it, as of something potent, acrid and strange, forced open her set teeth. “The world’s very small,” she said at random; she had an immense desire to appear to resist. She said it at random, to hear herself say something; but it was not what she meant. The world, in truth, had never seemed so large; it seemed to open out, all round her, to take the form of a mighty sea, where she floated in fathomless waters. —The Portrait Of A Lady (1881) by Henry James

John F. Kennedy, Jr: The Death Of An American Prince Documentary ( - This Friday, July 16, 2021, will mark the 22nd Anniversary of the tragedy Kennedy-Bessette. Episode 11 of the “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast discusses how John F. Kennedy Jr.’s radio was a “digit off the proper frequency” during his final flight on July 16, 1999. This surprising detail reveals that JFK Jr. wasn’t able to communicate with air traffic control after leaving from Essex County Airport, New Jersey, in his Piper Saratoga. “I don’t know whether that was due to the impact or whether it was truly he just didn’t have the proper frequency tuned in,” says Jeff Guzzetti, a member of the National Transport Safety Board investigative team that compiled the report about JFK Jr.’s final flight. “I documented that in the report. 'From the moment the plane left here at Essex, it was all over,' McLaren explains. “They never heard from him. The investigation found out, and the director of the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] told me, that in their assessment of the equipment they felt that the frequency button for the radio, he didn’t have it on the right degree. He wasn’t able to communicate.” Source: 

Thirty years after his Oscar-winning political thriller 'JFK,' Oliver Stone discusses why he’s returning to the subject with documentary 'JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass,' which premieres in Cannes. Stone has amassed enough material to return to the the subject with the documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass. The film, which is being sold by Altitude, will make its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

-Hollywood Reporter: Why did you decide to revisit this subject?

-Oliver Stone: We started this about two to three years ago. And there were a hell of a lot of details that were put out [because of the JFK Records Act], and they were not reported on. There’s a memory hole about Kennedy. And I think, before I quit the scene, I would like to reveal what I know about the case. I can’t put everything I know into this documentary. 

But I can assemble a lot of the facts that came out after the movie [1991’s JFK] as well as reaffirm some of the facts in that movie because it was attacked on a broad scale. It’s very important for my conscience for the people who care to have this exist. That’s what motivated the documentary. We got the documents out. Not all. Trump was about to release them in 2017. And 12 hours before, he backed off. There’s a lot of documentation that hasn’t been released, and that’s in addition to the Secret Service, which fucked up unusually on that day and [later] destroyed everything. It’s very important to this younger generation because the country seems to be adrift. We’ve lost a sense of what we are as a country, and there’s been a tremendous amount of racial division. You have to equate this to 1963. There was a motive to kill Kennedy. He was changing things too much. He was a reformer. He was going to break up the CIA into a thousand pieces. Kennedy was pulling out of Vietnam and was looking for detente with Russia, making peace with Cuba. These things were denied by many historians. Not all the serious historians are really looking [now] at the documentation. And there’s plenty of it. We are going to release a four-hour version of [the documentary] as well.

-Did you feel a certain amount of freedom in doing this documentary now that Jackie Kennedy is no longer alive and may have objected to the assassination footage?

-Oliver Stone: No. We never heard from Jackie on this issue. She wrote me a beautiful letter on Platoon. She loved Platoon and thought it was a major piece of work, like an American institution. And she asked me to come visit her and [to reach out] if I ever wanted to write a book. She was working in one of the publishing houses. I think JFK shocked the family. I know that Teddy Kennedy didn’t want to see it. Robert was dead. But according to his son, the moment JFK was killed, Robert called up the CIA and said, “Did you do it?” They knew that the Russians had not assassinated Kennedy. And then they basically hinted very strongly that it was a right-wing movement in the United States that got him killed. And Robert had no power after Lyndon Johnson took over. Johnson cut his balls off.

-And did you ever talk to John F. Kennedy Jr. after the film?

-Oliver Stone: I met with John and worked with him on George magazine. I wrote a couple of articles. And then I had dinner with him one night in New York, and he was a very nice, charming young man. I saw him at the time as a bit scared of this whole thing because he didn’t have political power. And for him to come out there as a potential presidential candidate and say something [about his father’s assassination] would have been [problematic]. But he had suspicions. Why else would he ask me to dinner and ask me what I thought and this and that. I saw him as a Hamlet. Hamlet feels that something’s wrong, but he can’t act. Source:

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Dinner in America (I wanna be your boyfriend)

Simon (Kyle Gallner – ‘Ghosts of War’) and Patty (Emily Skeggs – ‘Love You To Death’) don’t really fit in, because no one is making any effort to listen or connect with them. Pyromaniac Simon, who lives every day like it’s the last one, doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He’s always ready to fight whomever looks at him the wrong way. That kind of attitude often gets him into trouble. Socially awkward Patty is a quiet young woman who gets made fun of for her appearance by strangers. Her parents are overprotective, so when she finally gets to be alone in her bedroom, she rocks out to music as some sort of escapism. Adam Rehmeier fine-tunes his vision to perfection with interesting wide shots, quick editing, witty and foul-mouthed dialogue, and a sick soundtrack. His screenplay is one of the strongest I’ve seen all year. ‘Dinner In America‘ could easily be compared to films such as ‘Napoleon Dynamite‘, ‘Superstar‘ and ‘PEN15‘, but it goes so much deeper, by exploring an underlying layer of drama and romance.

Kyle Gallner is mostly to thank for that. What a powerhouse! It’s baffling how he’s not a bigger name – the man can act. He brings emotion, heart, facial expressions, attitude, confidence to his performance and makes it all look so easy. Skeggs is just as good, if not better. The Tony-nominated actor takes it up several notches while showing a sense of vulnerability and poise. Gallner and Skeggs’s chemistry is believable and off the charts. Source:

Dinner in America (I wanna be your boyfriend) video.

Kyle Gallner as Lou Reed in "CBGB" (2013) 

Born in the New York City punk explosion of the 1970s, the music of the influential band the Cramps was built on guttural yells, dissonant electric guitar clangs and a not-insignificant amount of LSD. While the Cramps were regulars at the iconic Manhattan venue CBGB, their most famous show was held in Napa, California alongside the San Francisco-based band the Mutants – and played, for free, to an audience of psychiatric patients at the Napa State Hospital. Featuring archival footage of the Cramps’ 1978 performance captured by the San Francisco-based production company Target Video, the short documentary We Were There to Be There recalls how the unique gig generated a chaotic and joyful musical moment – for band members and audience alike. From the Cramps’ performance at the film’s centre, the US directors Mike Plante and Jason Willis craft a broader exploration of San Francisco’s explosive 1970s art scene, as well as the lasting negative impact of US government efforts to defund and privatise mental healthcare over the past several decades. Source:

Saturday, July 03, 2021

50th Anniversary of Jim Morrison's death

Audio book poems read by Jim Morrison.

The sister of Doors singer Jim Morrison said their father, a decorated flag officer in the U.S. Navy, offered to resign as his son became a counterculture icon. George Stephen Morrison served from 1938 until 1975, retiring as a rear admiral with 15 career decorations, including honors for valor and merit. He fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In a recent interview with the Del Mar Times, Anne Morrison Chewning recalled that her older brother had been known for misbehavior long before he found fame with the Doors. “Jim was loads of fun,” she said. “He would do pranks and silly things, and he would get us into trouble on the Navy base.” Even though the first song Morrison wrote was a collaboration with his pianist father, Anne said that George Morrison “just didn’t understand Jim’s poetry, and he was clearly not into rock ‘n’ roll.” At one point, the officer wrote a letter to his son, telling him to “to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what I consider to be a complete lack of talent in this direction.”

Anne – who compiled an upcoming book of Morrison's writings – added: “I only heard this later, but my dad offered to resign from the Navy if what Jim was doing was upsetting to the Navy – and my dad loved the Navy! It was really special to him, and he didn’t want anything to upset the apple cart with the Navy. But, in the end, he didn’t have to resign.” Both of Morrison’s parents outlived him by decades, and although they were estranged at certain times, Anne said the singer told people they were dead in order to protect them from his world. On the subject of the Doors song “The End,” which refers to a character killing his father and sleeping with his mother, Anne noted that "people would whisper to me: ‘Are your parents upset about ‘The End?’ And I’d say: ‘Not in the least. The lyrics are just a Greek myth.’ Jim did it in a new way, and I loved the drama of it.”

On his record label biography distributed in 1967, Jim Morrison listed his parents as dead. "He just didn't want to be involved in dad's life," Chewning observes today. "And he knew dad probably wouldn't approve of some of the things he was writing and singing about - and his behavior and his life. He was just totally the opposite of my dad. So, I think he just decided to separate." Chewning moved back to California with her husband and infant son shortly after discovering that her brother was a rock star. Hearing that the Doors were due to fly into Los Angeles, she decided to surprise Morrison at the airport. "We went and met him - my husband and my little son. Jim looked at me and said, 'You don't happen to be my sister, do you?'" It was the start of a joyful reunion for the Morrison siblings. Chewning dropped in on a Doors session, where Morrison gave a sweet mid-song shoutout to her baby boy.  Source:

They also visited the home Morrison shared with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, and cooked them a Thanksgiving meal. "We'd see him, but not often," Chewning admits. "We were all in our 20s, I was pregnant. People were just busy in their own lives. You didn't know that soon it would be the last time. There just wasn't an urgency, which was the sad thing. I didn't ever see him perform. I wish I had." When Jim Morrison died on July 3, 1971, at the age of only 27, he left behind a formidable library of notebooks and loose-leaf. One scrap bore the heading "Plan for Book," followed by a short outline for how to organize his original works. He never lived to finish the project, but now, 50 years after his death, his family has fulfilled his creative wish. Chewning, who wrote the prologue for “The Collected Works,” is the co-executor of her late brother’s personal estate. She devoted years to compiling and guiding this comprehensive new book, which includes a foreword by novelist Tom Robbins and an introduction by Frank Lisciandro, Morrison’s close friend and collaborator.

“I knew several Jims,” Lisciandro writes in his introduction. “The shy loner who was my classmate at the UCLA School of Film; the rock performer who was always raising the stakes on what was culturally acceptable; the lyricist, poet and writer who surprised me with notebook pages of complex poems and gifts of self-published books ...” In one of his notebooks from the trial, Morrison wrote: “The joy of performing has ended. Joy of films is pleasure of writing.” Those sentiments are shared by former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. His memoir, “Set the Night on Fire,” is due for publication this fall by Little, Brown and Company. The Morrison men were never able to put aside their differences - in life, at least. "It's too bad," says Anne Morrison Chewning. "Pam called my dad after Jim had died and said they had talked about Jim reconnecting. It had only been five years or six years. That's really not very long in terms of most lives." 

“There’s so many young people who just see him as a rock star,” Chewning explains. “I want to dispel the ‘Lizard King’ and all those things that you hear. We wanted the reader to see the complete Jim, to see that he was a full writer in multiple areas, thinking in lots of different directions.” Agreeing that the trial made Morrison realize he needed a reset and led him to seek solace in Paris, Chewning says the trip was “kind of what he needed.” “He actually said, ‘Maybe I was ready to be done,’” she shares. “He was quite drunk and who knows what he was saying. But he said himself, ‘Maybe I wanted this to happen, so I could be done for a while.’ Later, reflecting on his conviction, he admitted, “Miami blew my confidence, but really I blew it on purpose.” For Chewning, going through her late older brother’s writings was bittersweet. She was amazed at the vast sum of writings he completed at such a young age. But it’s what Morrison envisioned for his future that touched Chewning the most. But there were glimmers of hope, as he also wrote about his “desire for family” and wished for “a chance to write my Paradise Lost?” “Doesn’t that break your heart?” Chewning asks, adding that she’d never heard him speak about wanting a family of his own, but that he was always “very sweet with children.” Source:

Friday, June 25, 2021

John Newman’s "JFK and Vietnam" (Updated)

John F. Kennedy was very disappointed by the advice he got on the Bay of Pigs invasion and the use of atomic weapons against Laos. Naval Chief Arleigh Burke retired in August of 1961. Shortly after, Kennedy let it be known that the Army’s Lyman Lemnitzer would not retain his position as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. One reason for this is that Lemnitzer made it clear in the summer of 1961 that he thought America should directly intervene in Vietnam. Chief of the Vietnam MACV, Lt. General Lionel McGarr, also thought intervention would be the smart choice. At around this time, JFK decided he needed to talk to General Maxwell Taylor for the purposes of first, being his personal military advisor, and later, to replace Lemnitzer. In May of 1961, Kennedy decided to send Lyndon B. Johnson to Saigon on a goodwill tour. He made it clear that he wanted no one to suggest to Diem that American ground troops could or should enter the theater. Prior to Johnson’s arrival, the Joint Chiefs sent a message to McGarr saying that Diem should be encouraged to request troops from LBJ. And Johnson did suggest this to Diem. At this point, Diem politely declined. Instead, he asked for funding to increase the South Vietnamese army, the ARVN.

Kennedy agreed to the increased funding for the ARVN. But he refused the military request for 16,000 combat troops. Yet in October, Diem did request American combat troops. Right after this, Deputy Defense Secretary U. Alexis Johnson also suggested the insertion of combat troops. Kennedy was so upset by these requests that he planted a story in the New York Times saying the Pentagon was not advising him to send in combat troops. Clearly, Kennedy did not like this crescendo towards direct intervention. Yet that October—after Kennedy sent Taylor, Rostow, and Lansdale to Vietnam—they returned with a recommendation to insert several thousand troops under the guise of flood control. Kennedy was shocked by this request, so much so that he recalled each copy of the report. He did not want it to get into the press. When JFK got John Kenneth Galbraith’s memo, he compared it to the official report. In the meantime, certain senior White House officials—perhaps Robert Kennedy—began leaking to the press that the president was opposed to sending combat troops into Vietnam. Kennedy rejected combat troops, allowed for no mutual defense treaty, and did not provide any commitment to save Saigon from communism. He did allow for more American intelligence advisors, military trainers, and equipment. But as both Newman and Galbraith’s son Jamie have noted, the written result of this meeting, NSAM 111, marked a dividing line, one which Kennedy never crossed: Americans could not fight the war for Saigon. It also triggered the beginning of Kennedy’s plan to begin to get out of Indochina. 

Robert McNamara attended the first of what would be called “SecDef” meetings in Hawaii on December 16, 1961. What is remarkable about all this is that, even after Kennedy issued his warning about his policy, there were still requests to escalate. Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay said atomic weapons were needed. The military put together something called the Joint Strategic Survey Council, which recommended direct American intervention. Another such recommendation followed in January of 1962 by the Joint Chiefs. This one said if America did not go to war in Vietnam, the dominos could fall all the way to Australia and New Zealand. With the hawks swirling around him, Kennedy decided to use Galbraith and his report to counter them. By early in 1962, Galbraith had filed three back-channel cables to Kennedy. All of them frowning derisively on further American involvement in Indochina. Galbraith had pointedly written Kennedy that if the USA increased its support for Diem, “there is consequent danger we shall replace the French as the colonial force in the area and bleed as the French did.” 

In early April, Galbraith met with Kennedy at his retreat in Glen Ora, Virginia. Kennedy had him write still another memorandum discouraging American involvement: 'We have a growing military commitment. This could expand step-by-step into a major, long-drawn out indecisive military involvement. We should resist all steps which commit American troops to combat action and impress upon all concerned the importance of keeping American forces out of actual combat commitment.' As Newman and others have noted in discussing Galbraith’s proposal, Kennedy made a significant comment about it. He said that he wanted the State Department to be prepared to ”seize upon any favorable moment to reduce our commitment, recognizing that the moment might yet be some time away.” That comment was recorded in a memorandum of April 6, 1962. He then had Galbraith make a personal visit to McNamara. The ambassador later reported to Kennedy that he had a long discussion with the Defense Secretary and said that they ended up being in basic agreement on most matters. 

We know that McNamara got the message, because his deputy Roswell Gilpatric said, “McNamara indicated to me that this was part of a plan the President asked him to develop to unwind the whole thing." And, as we shall see, McNamara conveyed that request to Gen. Paul Harkins at the SecDef conference of May 1962. There is an important key that John Newman now sketches in. It’s important, because it fulfilled the request Kennedy made to “seize upon any favorable moment to reduce our commitment.” As the author learned from Don Blascak, in Saigon there was a deception being perpetrated. Max Taylor appointed Harkins to lead the entire Vietnam military operation, this included intelligence gathering. Harkins made Air Force Col. James Winterbottom his chief of intelligence for MACV. This allowed Winterbottom to control the intelligence coming into CINPAC—the entire Pacific command—since that was led by another Air Force officer, General Patterson. From CINPAC it went to the Joint Chiefs and McNamara. Harkins and Winterbottom did not know about the April 1962 Galbraith/McNamara meeting. Nor did they know what Kennedy had told representatives of the State Department about seizing on a moment to reduce our commitment. So, in February of 1962, at the third SecDef conference, Harkins said that things were improving in Vietnam, based upon new equipment supplied by the Pentagon. He could say this since Winterbottom was rigging the figures. The author makes clear that this deception was deliberately aimed at McNamara, since Harkins and Winterbottom thought that the illusion of progress would keep the American commitment going. But there was one agency that actually was telling the truth about how badly the war was proceeding. 

This was the US Army Pacific Command or USAR-PAC. 
In May, 1962, at the Fifth SecDef meeting, McNamara was presented with another rosy picture conjured up with phony figures. By now, Winterbottom was counting civilians as dead Viet Cong. Meanwhile, the communists were finding it easier to recruit, because of Diem’s increasingly corrupt and despotic rule. After the presentation was over, McNamara met with Harkins and a couple of his assistants behind closed doors. He now passed on Kennedy’s orders about beginning to reduce the American commitment, because the Pentagon could not actually fight the war for Diem. To show how set Kennedy was on getting out, and how unaware Harkins was he was aiding him, Newman devotes another chapter to Laos. Under the cover of the June 1962 cease fire and the July settlement, the Pathet Lao and Hanoi got what they wanted: infiltration routes into Vietnam. American advisors gradually left, but Hanoi’s did not. Harkins attempted to keep the enemy advantage a secret by recalling a report on it. But the information did get to Roger Hilsman of the State Department. At the July 23, 1962, SecDef meeting, Harkins continued his faux good news. He told McNamara that the training of and transfer to the ARVN, and the phase out of the major US operational support activities were, per the secretary’s request, on schedule. At this meeting, McNamara announced a three-year deadline for withdrawal of all American forces, which matches the 1965 termination date that Kennedy would endorse the next year. Joseph Mendenhall, a State Department advisor on Vietnam and Laos, admitted that, in reality, Saigon was losing the war. He blamed it on Diem and his brother Nhu. He said the status of the war would not improve unless there was a change in leadership. There were people in the State Department who shared this accurate view. The author concludes that, by March of 1963, Kennedy understood an intelligence charade was being enacted. One of the most important ARRB disclosures—if not the most important one—was the full record of the 8th SecDef Conference. This was held in Hawaii on May 6, 1963. Harkins was still insisting Saigon was winning. McNamara now requested the withdrawal schedules he had asked for many months prior. The secretary also said that he would ask for a thousand man withdrawal by the end of the year. It was understood this would be a part of a complete withdrawal by 1965. 

The author references a famous quote from the book Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye. In that volume, Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers describe the aftermath of a meeting that Kennedy had with Senator Mike Mansfield on Vietnam: "
After Mansfield left the office, the president said to me, “In 1965, I’ll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history. I’ll be damned everywhere as a communist appeaser. But I don’t care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m reelected. So we had better make damned sure that I am reelected.” This is a revelatory comment. As Newman, Jim Douglass, and Gordon Goldstein have noted, Kennedy told several friends and acquaintances he was getting out of Vietnam. But this particular quote is important, because it delineates his conscious effort to design that withdrawal around the 1964 campaign, which is why the end date was 1965. In 1963, few could fail to see that things were not as Harkins and Winterbottom said they were. The strategic hamlet program, started by Diem and McGarr, was not working. Kennedy decided to switch ambassadors. As Jim Douglass has pointed out, Kennedy wanted to appoint his longtime friend Edmund Gullion as ambassador. Rusk objected to this and they then agreed on Henry Cabot Lodge. As Douglass points out, this was a mistake.

What I believe occurred was that Lodge and CIA officer Lucien Conein, acted in league with a cabal in the State Department—Mike Forrestal, Averill Harriman, and Roger Hilsman—in order to enable an overthrow, stop Kennedy from neutralizing it, and then the two Americans in Saigon made sure the coup plotters polished off the Nhu brothers. I also believe that Lodge and Conein moved to get rid of the CIA station chief in Saigon, John Richardson, in order to make their scheming easier to accomplish. All of this is why the president had recalled Lodge to Washington at the time of his death, in order to terminate him. While all this intrigue was going on behind the scenes, Kennedy had sent Taylor and McNamara to Saigon, not to write a report, but to present him with his report. In his book, Death of a Generation, Howard Jones writes that the Taylor/McNamara report was actually written before the plane ride over to Saigon. Newman says it was written while the mission was in progress. The chief author was Prouty’s boss General Victor Krulak who, although he is listed as a trip passenger, was really back in Washington. It was through this back channel that Kennedy meant to make the report his fulcrum for withdrawal. This is why an early sentence reads as follows: “The military campaign has made great progress and continues to progress.” What then follows is that training of the ARVN should be completed by the end of 1965 and it “should be possible to withdraw the bulk of US personnel by that time.” 

The author shows that even at this late date, the fall of 1963, there was resistance to Kennedy’s plan. William Sullivan of the State Department insisted that the ’65 withdrawal date was too optimistic, so that part was taken out. Kennedy was alerted to this upon the return from Saigon. At a private meeting with Taylor and McNamara, he ordered it put back in. Others, like the Bundy brothers and Chester Cooper of the CIA, also objected. Kennedy overrode them. There was one more tactic the opponents of withdrawal used: they began to rewrite intelligence reports from the battlefield. They now admitted Saigon was losing. In the face of all this evidence of Kennedy’s determination, it surprises me that Deb Galentine who, quite frankly I never heard of, said that Kennedy was a hard-core Cold Warrior. My eyebrows jumped up a couple of feet when I read this for the simple reason that it is pure and provable bunk. Were all these people wrong? Senator Wayne Morse, Senator Mike Mansfield, General James Gavin, Marine Corps Commander David Shoup, Journalist Charles Bartlett, Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Chair of the JCS Max Taylor, Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff, State Department assistant Mike Forrestal, Congressman Tip O’Neill, Assistant Secretary of State Roger HIlsman, Assistant Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, Journalist Larry Newman, White House assistants Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers, Commanding General of North Vietnam Vo Nguyen Giap, etc. Galentine makes no attempt at all to explain Kennedy’s 12 refusals—as explicated by Goldstein and Newman—to send in combat troops during 1961–62.

Finally, the reason that Kennedy was reluctant to make NSAM 263 public—and to include the Taylor/McNamara Report as part of it—had nothing to do with his exit strategy. It had everything to do with the 1964 election. The problem for JFK was the political impact of a Hanoi takeover before the election—in the middle of a withdrawal. Kennedy was clear about this in conversations with Mansfield, Bartlett and O’Neill. The evidence is overwhelming. The only way to reverse a withdrawal from Vietnam was by doing so over Kennedy’s dead body. It was Max Taylor who decided on the OPLAN 34 operations against North Vietnam. He approved a design for these naval provocations in September, without showing it to McNamara. So Kennedy never saw it. It was not shown to McNamara until the November 20th Honolulu meeting. Taylor had only cleared it with the Pentagon and these were not hit-and-run operations. They clearly needed much American support. Also, at this meeting, the intelligence reports had been rewritten and the true war conditions were apparent. Therefore, Taylor also tried to reduce the withdrawal plan by having it made up of individuals instead of the whole units that JFK wanted. 

When McGeorge Bundy returned from this meeting, Johnson was in the White House. His NSAM 273, written for Kennedy, was altered by the new president. Johnson’s revised version allowed expanded operations into Laos and Cambodia. The withdrawal plan was more or less neutralized and it granted the vision of OPLAN 34 that Taylor wanted: using American assets, not just Saigon’s. Therefore, coastal raids were allowed with American speedboats and some personnel, accompanied by American destroyers fitted with high tech radar and communications gear. The American aspect is what Johnson altered in these coastline operations, as the South Vietnam navy could not have performed these any time soon. These essentially American patrols/provocations led to the Tonkin Gulf incident in August, which—misrepresented by the White House—was used for a declaration of war by the USA. The author ends his book here before NSAM 288 of March 1964, which mapped out a large—over 90 target air— campaign against Hanoi. (Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War) Something Kennedy would not countenance in three years, Johnson had done in three months. LBJ used 288 as a retaliation list for what he considered an attack on Americans on the high seas at Tonkin Gulf. As Newman noted, since LBJ was getting the genuine intel reports, he understood that our side was losing. And this is what he used to confront McNamara and turn him around on the issue. These conversations occurred in February and March of 1964. In the first one, the president said he always thought it was "foolish for you to make any statements about withdrawing. I thought it was bad psychologically. But you and the president thought otherwise, and I just sat silent." He then added that he could not understand how America could withdraw from a war it was losing. (James Blight, Virtual JFK

In the March conversation, LBJ now wanted McNamara to revise his announcement of withdrawal to say that Americans were not coming home, even though the training of the ARVN was completed. What Johnson was doing was the first swipe at creating the myth that he was not breaking with Kennedy—even though he knew he was. In a later call with McNamara in 1965, Johnson reveals that what is left of the Kennedy war cabinet understands what he is up to, which is “to put the Vietnam War on Kennedy’s tomb.” LBJ’s fabrication—that there was no breakage—was then picked up by NY Times reporters David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan and utilized in their best-selling books The Best and the Brightest and A Bright Shining Lie. By 1967, it was clear that McNamara was going through a severe mental crisis. (Tom Wells, The War Within) Johnson thought McNamara was going to have a nervous breakdown. According to his secretary, he would break out into rages about the uselessness of the bombing; and then he would end up crying into the curtains on his office window. Johnson retired him in late November of 1967. Newman’s relationship with McNamara eventually revealed the reasons for the secretary’s tears and, also, the motive behind his order to begin a classified study of the war called The Pentagon Papers—which he kept secret from Johnson. (Vietnam: The Early Decisions, edited by Lloyd C. Gardner and Ted Gittinger) In those debriefs, McNamara said he and Kennedy had agreed that America could train the ARVN, advise them, and give them equipment. And that was it. When the training mission was completed, America would leave, even if the South Vietnamese forces were in a losing situation: "I believed we had done all the training we could and whether the South Vietnamese were qualified or not to turn back the North Vietnamese, I was certain that if they weren’t it wasn’t for lack of our training. More training wouldn’t strengthen them; therefore we should get out. The President agreed." Source:

Thursday, June 24, 2021

David Lynch: Wisteria (Unrecorded Night) in the works, An Analysis of Blue Velvet

Rumors are swirling around a new David Lynch project in the works, and at Netflix. As observed in industry trade Production Weekly, an untitled David Lynch project with the working title “Wisteria” is set to begin production in May 2021. The publication notes longtime Lynch collaborator Sabrina S. Sutherland as a producer, and that the project will film at Calvert Studios in LA. Lynch’s last feature film project was his 2006 “Inland Empire.” From there he returned to the beloved world of “Twin Peaks” for the Showtime limited series “The Return.” The filmmaker has yet to announce any new feature films or television projects since “Twin Peaks: The Return” wrapped its run in September 2017. “Twin Peaks” star Kyle MacLachlan told IndieWire earlier this year he’d be open to reprising his role of Cooper, but had only this to tease about a return: “That is in the mind of David Lynch, where it will stay hidden.” Kyle MacLachlan, who starred in Twin Peaks, recently hinted that he’s set to be involved in Wisteria (listed on Imdb as Unrecorded Night), the reported new project from his frequent collaborator David Lynch. Source:

Blue Velvet (1986) is the quintessential David Lynch film, filled with quirky humor and shocking violence. It features one of the most terrifying villains in all of film: Frank Booth, brilliantly portrayed by Dennis Hopper. Blue Velvet is a “mystery” story. Sometimes it is described as neo noir. But it is a much darker shade of noir. Jeffrey’s initiation into the mysteries is a descent into the underworld: both a literal, criminal underworld as well as the “deep river” of the unconscious, including obsessive and sadomasochistic sexuality. But Lynch also hints that the unconscious is not merely human, but a portal through which essentially demonic powers enter our world. Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) conquers and controls these forces, returning to the sunlit world not only as a man but as a guardian of the social and the family order. In his journey, he has encountered the libidinal, criminal, and demonic forces that can tear society apart, and he has learned about the artifices of civilization that keep chaos at bay. Blue Velvet is about the great mysteries of life.

-Jeffrey: I’m seeing something that was always hidden. I’m involved in a mystery. And it’s all secret. -Sandy: You like mysteries that much? -Jeffrey: Yeah. You’re a mystery. I like you. Very much.

Jeffrey Beaumont has been called home from college to visit his stricken father and help run the family hardware store. On the way home from the hospital, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear in a field. It has greenish splotches of decay on it, and it is crawling with bugs. Bugs, again, are associated with evil. As Jeffrey walks the neighborhood, we cut to a closeup of the ear in the morgue. There is a loud humming as we enter the ear, then everything fades to black. This too is a descent into mystery, into the underworld. Cut to Jeffrey knocking at the door of the Williams house. Jeffrey wants to know more about the ear, but Detective Williams can’t tell him, and asks him not to disclose anything he already knows, until the case is concluded. Detective Williams is stern but warm, a surrogate for Jeffrey’s stricken father. He tells Jeffrey that he understands his curiosity. It is what got him into police work in the first place. “It must be great,” Jeffrey volunteers. “It’s horrible too,” he replies. 

But Jeffrey seems undaunted. When Jeffrey leaves the Williams house, he hears a voice: “Are you the one that found the ear?” He looks into the darkness. Detective Williams’ daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) emerges from the night, a pink-clad blonde vision of loveliness. She is coy and mysterious, teasing Jeffrey with her knowledge of the case. As they walk together, she tells him that she overheard her father talking. The ear may somehow be connected to the case of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a singer who lives nearby. Sandy leads Jeffrey to Dorothy’s apartment building. With a slightly comic/ominous music cue, the camera pans up to the sign: Lincoln St. 

When we arrive, we see that Dorothy lives in the Deep River Apartments, a nomen that may also be an omen of Jeffrey getting in way over his head. (Naomi Watts's character Betty Elms, in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, hails from Deep River, Ontario.) Dorothy’s apartment is pure Lynch: retro, slightly dingy, with dusky pink walls and carpets, dark red draperies (shades of Twin Peaks), lavender sofas, magenta cushions, and putrid green accents in the form of pots with spiky “mother in law’s tongue” plants. The warm colors have a womblike feel, but the overall effect is seedy, not maternal. 

That evening, Jeffrey takes Sandy to dinner at The Slow Club to watch Dorothy Vallens sing. She doesn’t have much of a voice, but she still makes a captivating spectacle, with her huge retro microphone and blue-lit band against dark red draperies, more foreshadowing of Twin Peaks. Then Jeffrey and Sandy return to Dorothy’s apartment. When Sandy says goodbye, she tells him, “I don’t know if you’re a detective or a pervert.” Jeffrey sneaks inside. When Dorothy comes home suddenly, Jeffrey hides in the closet. Peering through the slats, he watches her undress. Dorothy hears a rustling in her closet and confronts Jeffrey with a knife, jabbing him in the cheek when he does not answer one of her questions. She thinks he is a voyeur. But instead of calling the police, she orders him to undress.

Enter Frank Booth, a middle-aged man in a leather jacket and rockabilly shirt, seething with unfocused rage. Frank and Dorothy then role-play a sexual scenario not unlike the one that has just transpired with Jeffrey, although this time Frank is in control. Frank’s constant talk of fucking, as well as merely pantomiming the act with Dorothy, suggest he is impotent. The song “In Dreams” is also about unrequited love for someone who can be possessed only in dreams, itself very close to sexual impotence or a latent homosexuality.

Frank has a fetishistic attachment to Dorothy's blue velvet bathrobe. She stuffs it in his mouth, he stuffs it in her mouth, and he even carries around a piece of it that he has cut from the hem, perhaps with the scissors he uses to threaten her. When it is all over, he blows out the candle. “Now it’s dark,” he repeats. As Jeffrey later says, “Frank is a very sick and dangerous man.” A drug dealer, he has kidnapped Dorothy’s husband Don and their small boy, Donny, holding them hostage to force Dorothy into sexual bondage. It is Don’s ear that Jeffrey found, cut off as a threat to Dorothy, perhaps with the same scissors with which he menaced her. Frank has removed Dorothy’s real baby and daddy so he can have “mommy” all to himself.

After Dorothy is taken to the hospital, Jeffrey goes to her apartment and finds evidence of Frank’s fury. Dorothy’s husband Don is dead, his brains blown out, Frank’s strip of blue velvet stuffed in his mouth. The yellow man is standing in the middle of the room in shock, a huge hole blown in the side of his head, brain matter visible. Over the yellow man’s police radio, Jeffrey hears that the raid on Frank’s apartment has commenced. Jeffrey sees Frank approaching the apartment. He rushes back inside, calls for help on the police radio, grabs the yellow man’s gun, and hides in the closet. Frank, who has heard the call on his police radio, bursts into the apartment. Yanking his swatch of blue velvet from Don’s mouth and draping it over the silencer of his pistol, then huffing his mysterious fumes, he searches for Jeffrey in the bedrooms, calling out “Here pretty,” like he is summoning a dog. Returning to the living room, he silences the TV and topples the yellow man with bullets, then realizes Jeffrey is in the closet. 

Huffing more fumes, he ecstatically closes in for the kill, but Jeffrey sees him coming through the slats and shoots him in the head. The voyeur has become an actor. The slow-motion headshot is accompanied by a terrifying simian shrieking. The bulbs in the floor lamp then surge with electricity and burn out, as if Frank’s life force is fleeing through the wiring. In the visual code established in Eraserhead this signifies the presence of the supernatural, especially the demonic. Frank is somehow both more and less than human. 

There is a strong spiritual element to Blue Velvet, as with all of Lynch’s work. Although Lynch himself is a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, the spiritual imagery of his movies tends to be Western, primarily Christian but also Gnostic. Like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet treats sex as a potential form of bondage to subhuman powers, both animal and demonic. But Blue Velvet is far less nihilistic than Eraserhead. The demonic forces are balanced out by angelic ones, represented by robins and light from above, as opposed to electric light, which for Lynch has demonic connotations.

The night after his first terrifying encounter with Frank, Jeffrey tells Sandy what he has seen. Sandy picks him up in her car, an odd role reversal putting her in the driver’s seat. She parks near a church with colorful stained-glass windows, brightly lit from inside. Organ music plays in the background. Jeffrey prefaces the story of Frank and Dorothy with the words, “It’s a strange world,” which becomes something of a Leitmotif in the film. After telling Sandy who Frank is and what he has done, Jeffrey asks “Why are there people like Frank? Why is there so much trouble in this world?” His face is anguished and childlike, for he is just discovering the darkness of the adult world. Jeffrey’s question is not merely psychological. Given the backdrop of church and organ music, it is also theological. It is the problem of evil: If God is perfect in his power and goodness, why are there people like Frank? What is there so much trouble in this world?

Sandy says she doesn’t know the answer. But she does in a way. For she tells Jeffrey of the dream she had the night they met: "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 just 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 like that love would be the only thing that would make any difference. And it did. So I guess it means, there is trouble till the robins come." As Sandy speaks of the blinding light of love, one realizes the organ music is not coming from the church. It is part of the score, underscoring the essentially religious nature of her dream. Love, light from above, and robins are the forces that will beat back hate, darkness, and bugs. Evil is only temporary, until the robins come. 

After Jeffrey’s first encounter with Frank and Dorothy, we see him on the sidewalk. He emerges from darkness. Then he freezes as a light comes from above. Is this the light of judgment? Then we see distorted images of Jeffrey’s father in the hospital, then Frank raving, then the guttering candle, then Dorothy saying “Hit me.” We then see Frank punch at the camera. Is he hitting Dorothy or Jeffrey at this point? Jeffrey then awakens from a nightmare. After Jeffrey kills Frank, Sandy, her father, and a legion of police and paramedics arrive on the scene. Even though Jeffrey has rescued himself, we only really breathe again when we see the flashing lights and guardians of order. 

In the middle of the bustling crime scene, Jeffrey and Sandy embrace and kiss, bathed in white light from above. There is trouble till the robins come. Near the beginning of the story, we were drawn into the mystery by entering the dead ear to ominous industrial noise. Now we are at the end of the story, the mystery solved, emerging from a pink and living ear to Julee Cruise’s ethereal “Mysteries of Love” (yet another foreshadowing of Twin Peaks).

As the camera pulls back, we see that the ear belongs to Jeffrey, sleeping in the sunshine. He opens his eyes and sees a robin perched in a tree. Sandy calls out, “Jeffrey, lunch is ready.” Mr. Beaumont is out of the hospital, up on his feet, working on something in the yard with Detective Williams. Jeffrey’s mother and Mrs. Williams are chatting together in the living room. The families have come together. It is a sign that Jeffrey and Sandy have a serious relationship. Perhaps marriage is in the future. Aunt Barbara and Sandy are preparing lunch in the kitchen when the robin appears on the windowsill with a bug squirming in its beak. 

The forces of good have quelled the forces of evil. “Maybe the robins are here,” says Jeffrey. “I don’t see how they could do that. I could never eat a bug” volunteers aunt Barbara, before stuffing something that looks vaguely bug-like in her mouth. Aunt Barbara is a robin without even knowing it. “It’s a strange world, isn’t it?” observes casually Sandy. Then we see the yellow tulips, the friendly fireman, and the red roses. But before we return to the blue sky, we see Dorothy Vallens and her little boy in a park. She picks him up and holds him, smiling, although her face then takes on a sad and haunted look. It is the happiest ending possible after such a hellish journey.

What is the political philosophy of Blue Velvet? I read Lynch as fundamentally conservative. The typical sneering Leftist take on Lynch’s opening is that the idyllic surface of Lumberton is fake and kitschy, whereas the truth about Lumberton is the bloody struggle of vermin in the dark. But Lynch’s own view is far more nuanced. Lynch knows that civilization is artificial, a construct, a triumph over nature. But Lynch is not a Leftist liberal because he does not think that nature is good. Thus he does not conclude that the conventions that constrain nature are bad. Lynch thinks that nature is profoundly dangerous, especially sex and sadism, which for him have a supernatural, demonic quality. Lynch does not believe in the “natural goodness” of man. He believes in the natural—and supernatural—badness of man. 

Which means that human nature needs to be constrained by human conventions. Frank Booth is Lynch’s portrait of what you get when the breakdown of social repressions liberates nature. The French Revolution ended with the Terror. The Sixties ethic of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll didn’t lead us back to the Garden of Eden. It gave us the Tate-LaBianca murders, the Weathermen, and Frank Booth. Frank is not just a sex maniac. He is a drug dealer. Frank uses alcohol and also his mysterious gas to break down his inhibitions and release his sadism. Moreover, Frank always has his Roy Orbison soundtrack tape handy. In Dreams seems to give briefly him a solace.

Finally, to channel F. Roger Devlin for a moment, Dorothy Vallens can also be seen as an example of the havoc created by female narcissism, masochism, and hypergamy when social conventions break down. Many viewers note that the robin at the end is clearly fake, some sort of puppet. It might simply have been the best effect that Lynch could create with the available budget. But it could very well have been intentional. The bugs represent hate and evil whereas the robins represent love and goodness. The bugs are darkness; the robins are light. If the bugs represent nature, then the robins have to represent something other than nature. In Sandy’s dream, they clearly have a supernatural aspect. But another opposite of nature is convention, in which case it makes sense to have an obviously artificial robin. The robin represents the conventions that hold the savagery of nature in check, including the guardians of public order: the police, firemen, paramedics, even the crossing guards. These conventions also include moral principles, manners, and even Aunt Barbara’s prejudices. 

As much as anything else, Blue Velvet is about identity. Jeffrey has allowed himself to take on the thrilling persona of a capable private investigator, one of the all time great protagonists of American Cinema. That makes Blue Velvet a sort of neo-noir, but that’s the closest it comes to easy categorization. About halfway through the movie, Jeffrey summarizes what might be the defining quality that drives every noir hero, from holly Martins in The Third Man to Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. He says "I'm seeing something that was always hidden. I'm involved. I'm in the middle of a mystery. And it's all secret." Sandy asks Jeffrey, "And you like mysteries that much?" 

Without hesitation, he responds, "Yeah." As David Lynch said, “The mystery was the magical ingredient of Twin Peaks. The more unknowable the mystery, the more beautiful it is. Lynch has remained tight-lipped about his artistic intentions: “I don’t ever explain it. Because it’s not a word thing. It would reduce it, make it smaller. The language of film, cinema, is the language it was put into, and the English language – it’s not going to translate. It’s going to lose.”

Although Blue Velvet was Lynch’s fourth feature film, it was really the first where he had both creative control and an adequate budget. (Well, maybe not for the robin.) The Elephant Man (1980) and Dune (1984) gave Lynch adequate funding but no creative control. Eraserhead (1977) was entirely Lynch’s baby, but he created it over a period of years on a shoestring budget. It is a measure of Lynch’s genius that the very first time he had the financial and creative freedom to fully realize his vision, he created what is arguably his greatest film. Alongside Mulholland Dr. Certainly Blue Velvet is his most Lynchian. Sources: and