Friday, 10 August 2012

On mysterious gasses and robins

Full marks to any movie buff who can say which classic cult film from the 1980s gave me the ability to include a mysterious gas and robins in the title of this post. Take a guess...

... no, go on, I can wait...

... any idea?...

It was, in fact, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, which I have heard much of and have finally had a chance to watch thanks to Netflix. It would be an exaggeration to say I liked the film, but I am certainly glad I've seen it - and unpleasant though it is, it's hard not to admire Lynch's work.

The gas in question is the one inhaled at various points by the truly menacing figure of Frank, played by Dennis Hopper. I'd read somewhere before watching the film that this was helium, so I was expecting some scenes with a bizarre silly voice - it might have worked in a menace-by-contrast way, but his voice never changed - so it wasn't helium. (I do find it amazing that a very rare element, so difficult to keep on this planet that it was first discovered on the sun, should be primarily a thing we buy to put in party balloons and to make silly voices. But that's a different blog post.) My suspicion is that it was nitrous oxide - while Frank doesn't display the merriness that often accompanies this, that could be down to his psychotic personality.

And then there's the robin. At the end of the film, the main character's girlfriend played by Laura Dern has been making comments about having a dream about robins being the essence of love - and they see a robin perched outside the window. But the robin is eating a black bug, which rather reduces the 'awww' factor. Reading the Wikipedia entry on the movie's symbolism, I was rather surprised that they didn't notice what, to me, was an obvious reference to and distortion of a scene in Mary Poppins.

In that film an equally fake looking robin (could it be the same one? There can't be too many mechanical robins in Hollywood) also perches outside a window. This has always been a moment that jarred for me because, although Mary Poppins is set in London, the 'robin' portrayed in that film is what's called a robin in the US and bears no resemblance to an actual European robin. Because of this, the image stuck with me - and it's hard not to see a parallel. Of course you can work too hard looking for symbolism... but for me it's a definite reference. Nice one, Dave.

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