Here’s to Ben: Dean Stockwell, 1936 – 2021

Blue Velvet (1986) – Nostalgia Central

     Ben and I have an understanding, a close connection; I like to think that we’re each other’s dream-self, a strange reflection, perhaps in a pool of engine oil, perhaps of blood.
     His appearance, the white slacks, frill shirt, jacquard dinner jacket, cigarette holder, ear cuff and unexplained bandaged hand, not to mention his unnerving schtick with the work light (lip-synching to the pained and soaring tones of Roy Orbison’s In Dreams) served as the blueprint for my nascent cabaret career. To this day I begin every Double R Club by lip-synching to a classic song, lit only by a work light; I’ve done Orbison, I’ve done Elvis, I’ve done The Platters -I’ve even done Kermit The Frog mixed with Judy Garland. O sure I’ve twisted Ben to become my Ben, changed out his golden jacket for a red one, anglicised him, amped up the mania, souped-up the makeup, dialled down the narcotised, Diazepam stare, but I like to think he’s always there somewhere, underneath it all.
     But shit, man, who the shit is he? Truth be told, evidence is scant.
     Though he appears in only a single scene in Blue Velvet, the image of Ben looms large over the film, and indeed is one of the many visual snapshots seared forever into the mind of any viewer.
     Outside of his costume, his affected air and mannered way, Ben is very much defined by Frank’s attitude towards him. On the surface he’s an effete, camp criminal, as sedate (and sedated) as Frank is stimulated, almost to the point of slow-motion. Ben is not physically threatening, never shouts or rages like Frank. Toxic he may be but conspicuously masculine he is not; and yet it is Frank’s deference to him, his almost adoration of him, (“Suave. Goddamn you are one suave fuck.”) that colours our feelings towards Ben. Who the hell else could get away with patting Frank calmingly on the shoulder while he has a conniption, exclaiming “One thing I can’t fuckin’ stand is warm beer, it makes me fuckin’ puke!”? And after all, if a man like Frank respects, nay lauds Ben, then what kind of twisted, troubling character must lie within? What dark dreams and desires hide behind that suave exterior? His sucker-gut-punch to Jeffrey merely hints at the potential darkness inside.
     Ben floats on the surface of the real whilst suggesting something more; we don’t spend long in his company but it seems clear to me that Ben has seen some terrible things and very likely done even worse.
     When we first meet him, he is sitting in a silent pink room with three middle-aged women and a large man, who is eating. Without any clue, without a sound being heard, no engine growl, no voice on the stairs, no creak of a floorboard, he raises a hand. “Frank’s here,” he says. But… how did he know?

[previously published in Blue Rose Magazine, issue #11]

~ by benjaminlouche on November 9, 2021.

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