Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Twin Peaks: a Starter Kit (part 3 of three)

In the last installment of this piece, I will be moving up to the present, by exploring Lynch's prequel film and the new Showtime series. The “spoiler alert” for the skittish appears below – I'm assuming that readers have had a good chance to see FWWM while it's been available for the last 25 years. 

First, the film: Opinions are pretty sharply divided over Lynch’s "prequel" theatrical feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). Critics loathed it when it came out and now revisionists have embraced it as a masterpiece, perhaps Lynch’s best work.

I am somewhere in the middle, as I admire some sequences in it and feel that even the most uneven Lynch film is better than most filmmakers’ entire output. But for me the film is disjointed in its construction and oddly jarring when seen in any kind of tandem with the original TP series.

Two wonderful re-evaluations of the film make a very good argument that it is a “lost classic” in Lynch's filmography – the first was by Tim Lucas in Video Watchdog #16, and the other was by John Thorne in The Essential Wrapped in Plastic. Their wonderful insights into the film make one want to revisit it again – only I have now seen the film a few times and each time I appreciate its craft more, but still can't connect to it emotionally.

Here are the two problems with the picture that I can't overcome: its narrative structure is flat-out bizarre, and the sadism implicit in some of the scenes is disturbingly confrontational. The more you read about it, the more you realize it's one of Lynch's most ambitious works (outside of Dune, which wasn't his own material), but it's the ambition that ends up sinking it in certain aspects – the “smaller” worlds of Eraserhead and Blue Velvet and the disjunction-with-no-references nature of an underrated masterwork like Inland Empire are more vivid and “relivable” than this particular slice of Pacific Northwest pathology.

First, the structure of the film. It unfolds in three “acts”: first, the investigation of the Theresa Banks murder (the first victim of BOB in this incarnation, months before Laura Palmer); second, Agent Cooper's investigation into what happened to agent Chet Desmond, who disappeared while investigating the Banks case; and lastly, the final week in the life of Laura Palmer.

The first is the element that throws off most viewers and came into being because one of the most-loved Twin Peaks stars couldn't decide whether to be in the film or not. It was already established in the TP series and Scott Frost’s tie-in novel The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper (see part one in this series here) that Agent Cooper investigated the Banks murder. Kyle MacLachlan initially refused to be in Fire Walk with Me, thus making it important for David Lynch to rewrite the TP “canon” and insert another agent, Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) in the continuity. (Mark Frost completely divorced himself from the project, not wanting to do a prequel to the TV series.)


Lynch welcomed the opportunity to rewrite TP “history” since he enjoys thinking on his feet as a filmmaker. “… What [Kyle] did worked out just fine… there’s no such thing as a problem, there are only solutions, and you just go forward.” [Thorne, p. 319] The only problem is that, once this whole “other agent really examined the Banks case” notion was formulated, Kyle MacLachlan wanted back in to the production.

Thus, there's a bizarre instant “disappearance” of Agent Desmond and the long-awaited “return” of Agent Cooper a short while into the film. The only problem is that Cooper is investigating Desmond's disappearance as much as the Banks murder – and that none of this other stuff with Desmond was ever mentioned before (in events that took place later!). In fact, that becomes a big problem with FWWML: Certain things occur in this prequel that would've *had* to have been mentioned in “later” times (read: the TP series continuity) because it would be just too strange if they weren't.

Sheryl Lee, Lynch, Moira Kelly
Cooper had mentioned the Banks case to Sheriff Truman, but never the agent who disappeared (of course). Another glaring problem is the involvement of Donna Hayward in the narrative – with Moira Kelly in the role, since Lara Flynn Boyle disappeared from the ranks of the Peak cast after the second season ended (our only clue as to what might've happened there is stray gossip from Sherilyn Fenn in an Internet interview: Boyle had dated Kyle MacLachlan while the show was shooting, and then they broke up).

Repeatedly in the series (and in Jennifer Lynch's Secret Diary tie-in book) it is mentioned that Donna never knew about Laura's “other side.” In FWWM, though, she is present while Laura is seducing some truckers (while topless) and she herself nearly succumbs to being raped by them after being drugged (Laura pulls the guy off her). Did Donna somehow *forget* that she saw all this by the time the events of the series take place? Incongruities make perfect sense in a totally original disjunctive Lynch work like Inland Empire or a “dream life” creation like Mulholland Drive, but FWWM does connect to an earlier creation, and turns some of its plot elements upside down because certain things seemed right in this context.


The other element that predominates in the film is a sadistic streak that ran through Lynch's work in the Nineties. Certainly, Blue Velvet had a large amount of sadism, but it was referred to in the plot (one of the most complained-about aspects of the film when it came out was that Dorothy enjoys Frank's hitting her in sexual situations, and she asks Jeffrey to do the same). Brutal violence also appears in his two later masterworks, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. In those context, there doesn't seem to be the jubilance (read: cool rock “thrash” guitar chords and kinetic editing) that accompanies the violence in Wild at Heart (1990). 

Lost Highway found Lynch indulging in these moments but beginning to tone it down – by Mulholland Drive, it became one smaller aspect of the whole. One of his most shocking violent moments wasn't in a feature, though – it was the brutal beating and killing of Maddie Ferguson by Leland Palmer in the “big reveal” second-season episode of Twin Peaks, where we learn that Leland killed his daughter.

The scene was intended to be shocking and horrible, but even given that, it was, and is, still incredibly brutal for network TV, mostly due to the way that Lynch added to its duration by slowing down the action and the voices (in order to create a truly horrifying nightmare sequence). Maddie was a character who was barely there to begin with (she was supposedly created to give Sheryl Lee a presence on the show, since Laura was dead throughout and only seen in the context of flashbacks). Thus, she is innocence personified – not that Laura is “guilty,” but she indeed has a bad girl side and was self-destructive for several months before her death. (She sees death as the only way out of her waking nightmare in The Secret Diary.)

The killing of Maddie was a landmark in TV violence and it also remains one of the most memorable and disturbing scenes in the whole series. It was indeed echoed in Wild at Heart, which has at its start a scene where Sailor (Nicolas Cage) kills a man by smashing his head against stairs over and over again. Lynch's attitude at this point was to amplify the violence, perhaps to underscore the “nightmare” aspect, or more simply to show the underside of human behavior. Whatever the case was, this same sadism shows up in Fire Walk With Me, and is another reason the film is a hard one to watch over and over.

We know how Laura died from the series – seeing Leland commit the murder is something else entirely. Her life in her final week is a downward spiral that is unabashedly tragic, therefore the “redemption” offered her at the end (an angel in the Red Room) is touching and too little, too soon – it can't erase the memory of the humiliation she's gone through.


The steady stream of misery that is Laura's life in the film is offset by the FWWM outtake collection edited into a feature called The Missing Pieces. Here, we see many of the scenes with the original TV cast members that were cut to focus the film entirely on Laura – oh, and the Theresa Banks murder, and Cooper's investigation into Chet Desmond's disappearance.

One can easily imagine the loss of the whole first “two acts” of the film in favor of the footage that was scrapped, which contains the characters viewers loved from the original series – but that would leave out Agent Cooper entirely, and since MacLachlan was the star of the series, it was a natural that there be an FBI story in the film (and instead of the one that would solidly connected the Banks murder to that of Laura, we instead get more FBI-related mysteries; only in the Lynch universe can such a button-down group be plagued by so many paranormal experiences).


The Missing Pieces package (found on the 9- and 10-disc Blu-ray releases of the show) lends some levity to the proceedings, and also offers us an earlier look at some of the characters' dilemmas (Big Ed and Norma's romance, for instance). It would've made the film more sympathetic, but it also would've thrown the focus off of Laura's tragic existence.

As it stands, as Thorne outlines in the essays in his book (some of which are exhaustive to the point of reader exhaustion), Lynch took on too many tasks with FWWM: depicting the Banks murder investigation; outlining Cooper's entry into this world; revisiting the TP characters viewers loved; and showing Laura's descent and final “transfiguration.” The fact that the film couldn't be five hours long (the length of the original rough cut) was a problem from the start – it was a theatrical feature and needed to be a reasonable length (and, as it stands, it still feels too long).


It's an incredibly ambitious work, for which Lynch does deserve credit. The oddest element he added, and kept through each phase of the project, is a moment where Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) appears, covered in blood, to Laura, telling her that Cooper is stuck in the Black Lodge. This is a moment intended to “close the loop” with the end of the series (keep in mind that both Mark Frost and MacLachlan had wanted the feature film to pick up where the series left off – which the Showtime season isn't even doing, since it's taking place 25 years later).

The fact that Laura has never, ever met Cooper is not supposed to be a problem – she has appeared to him in the Red Room, and there was always a presumed psychic connection between them (although, when one party is dead, there's not that strong a psychic connection, so it made sense to include it in a prequel, and it made little sense in the series).

The original series counterbalanced its nightmare sequences with the “normal” characters (whom I mentioned in the second part of this piece). FWWM leaves us entirely (once the oddly-structured first two acts end) in the nightmare, and it's not a very enjoyable place to be.

Theresa Banks and Leland Palmer

It has been emphasized that Lynch treated FWWM as a “free-form” experiment (co-scripter Robert Engels used that phrase to sum up Lynch’s approach; Thorne, p. 324.), which created hurdles for many viewers, myself included. It's been suggested by critics who revere the film that one has to separate it entirely from the series for the film to truly work – this requires, of course, that you have to forget all that you've seen before about the Palmer family, Donna, Bobby, James, and of course the bizarro characters (Mike, BOB, the little Man From Another Place).

Most of the action in the Showtime season takes place outside of the titular town – one of the oddest things about FWWM on first viewing was that it contained many scenes set outside Twin Peaks, whereas the original ABC series *never* left the town (even locations in other nearby towns, like One-Eyed Jacks, were depicted as a being a short drive from Twin Peaks).
*****

[Note: Spoilers ahead – Skip down to the “bonus videos” segment. I am not skittish about “spoilers,” but if you are one of those “I can't know anything about it! Don't say anything!” I can only say two things: Skip to the videos, and also, Why are you on the Internet?]


And now we have completely new Twin Peaks episodes but, in true Lynchian fashion, they were not exactly what was expected. As I write this, nine hour-long episodes have aired – we are in the exact middle of the series – and what we've seen so far is truly amazing.

The season thus far has been an inventory of Lynch's approaches from his preceding 10 features and numerous shorts, not forgetting the many videos he made for his website and the preceding episodes of the original Twin Peaks series. So far we've seen:

– thriller sequences
psychodrama
– sci-fi/fantasy elements thrust into a real-world setting
– kinkiness (not too much of this, but I get the uncanny feeling that more will be in store)
– deadpan comedy (also abrasive comedy, and Lynch's fave, the comedy of repetition)
– pure, undistilled surrealism
– and dreams and nightmares. Lots of sequences that only make sense if you think of them as dreams or nightmares.

In the process, we've moved forward from the original narrative. It's been noted in various places that we are 25 years on from the events in the original series, but we've also been treated to flashbacks, and some Net-splainers have felt that the “present” in the show is taking place in two or three different time frames.

Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn)
We've also gotten a giant cast of characters that has, so far, happened to include, in supporting roles, the original TP roster. This is in line with the fact mentioned above – namely, that this new show has barely taken place in the town. (All of these items are subject to change, but as of ep. no. 9 that's where we stand).

It's been fascinating seeing the original cast members again. They have all aged gracefully – well, maybe not Harry Goaz, but he's being made up to look very odd as “Deputy Andy.” The only completely nonsensical item in all of this: Sheryl Lee of course looks terrific at her present age, but it is weird that Laura Palmer has aged in the fantasy scenes (esp. given that she's been dead since 1989).

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for TP (at least this one) is the news that neither Windom Earle nor Annie Blackburn will be in this season – Kenneth Welsh (75 years old, but he will be seen in three new movies and two new TV episodes this year!) and Heather Graham (whose part was considered seminal in the original series conclusion, and FWWM) are not in the IMBD cast listing for the new season.

So far, the only downside of the current season is what fans are calling “The Dougie Show.” In these segments we follow a brain-damaged version of the “good Cooper” as he inhabits the body of a Vegas insurance man. The premise is simple: Coop-as-Dougie repeats the last word of every sentence said to him, and is an innocent guy who happens upon brilliant solutions to problems (a la Chauncey Gardiner in Being There and Dustin Hoffman's “Rain Man” character). These sequences are pretty endless, and I've wondered as I've watched them if they will get better on second viewing (as some of the “middling” Lynch films have).

I've noted several times in these pieces that Lynch loves the comedy of repetition. The Dougie scenes are the perfect illustration of this (making the “old, doddering men” in the second season of Twin Peaks seem like Jerry Lewis by comparison). This particular fondness of Lynch's does tap in to his feelings about how he works at a slower speed as a director (although, as his viewers know, some of his scenes contain brisk and sudden violence – and slapstick!).

“…Most directors like things to move a hair faster than I like. But that’s not a conscious choice on my part. It’s just that if it goes too fast, something is missing. In order to slow it down you have to start talking about why it has to be this or that way, where it goes and how it feels: interior thinking. If you start in the interior, your moves will slow down. Once an actor tunes into that they will automatically do it correctly.” [Lynch on Lynch, p. 227] 

The “evil Cooper” is a much more interesting character than lame-brained Dougie. In these sequences it appears as if Cooper has been possessed by BOB, but Lynch has said that  BOB is “with” Cooper, not inside of him. [Thorne, p. 245]

As I noted previously, one of the most interesting things about Twin Peaks for movie buffs is its overt references to film noir. One of these is the fact that characters smoke (especially the hard-bitten men and the “femme fatales” females). Lynch continues to draw on these archetypes from classic Hollywood movies. In a recent article on Indiewire he was publicly chastised for perpetuating anti-Asian stereotypes, because Diane (Laura Dern) wears a silk dressing gown and has Asian artifacts in her apartment (since white people who collect that kind of thing are all clearly racist).

The writer apparently wasn't aware of this trend in film noir and the fact that Lynch (and possibly Frost, and other creating the show) is probably well-aware of Sternberg and his own “Asianophile” tendencies. Also, one must remember at all times – these are fictional characters, and people who don't exist can basically be doing anything and it doesn't mean the author endorses their behavior.

A classic "slow scene" -- a guy sweeps for several minutes.
The above-mentioned “slowed down” factor has made for the best scenes thus far in the series. These usually involve an intrigue, as when, in the seventh episode, Gordon Cole and Albert bring Diane (the character to whom Cooper’s tapes were addressed in the original series – and the dreaded “Orientalist” according to the p.c. police!) to see the evil Cooper in jail. The best juxtaposition that has happened thus far was that the plot-centric seventh episode was followed by the truly free-form avant-garde mini-movie that was the eighth episode.

Tens of thousands of words have already appeared online about this episode, and it truly is a landmark in terms of television. A premium cable channel gives a noted filmmaker money to go back and “reboot” his critical and popular success from 25 years earlier, and he uses a portion of the budget to make a non-linear episode that draws on the history of avant-garde film while offering up a slew of memorable images, odd and unsettling sounds, and bizarre mind-fucks.


It was interesting to see the people who enjoyed the episode compare it to the work of Terrence Malick (who is friends with Lynch through the AFI, and their mutual long-time friend Jack Fisk) and Kubrick (whom Lynch often cites as one of his favorite filmmakers, along with Fellini and Billy Wilder). Lynch has admitted his debt to Kubrick in more than one interview, but when Kubrick was releasing the turning point for commercial cinema, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in 1968, Lynch had already been a painter for several years, and had made his first two shorts. By 1970, he made The Grandmother, and he then spent most of the Seventies making Eraserhead, which brought avant-garde cinema to the midnight-movies world of cult cinema.

Lynch began as an avant-garde artist and has remained one as a painter, a lithographer, a photographer, and a sculptor. His films have had plots, but he has injected as much non-linearity as he could – with the eighth episode of the new Twin Peaks, he went for broke and concocted a mini-movie that has “narrative events” (the “births” of BOB and Laura, the invasion of the Woodsman from Hell) but is mostly in the realm of Eraserhead: an upsetting and sometimes openly disturbing series of images that occasionally proves to be absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful in its forlorn-ness.

While the “go for broke” aspect of the episode was very impressive, it was also fascinating to see series television meet up with real cinema, as it has done in only a few cases (Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz comes to mind). The much-repeated refrain these days is that we're in “another Golden Age of Television” when the best-written and best-acted TV shows are “doing what cinema used to do” or “what literature used to do” for previous generations.


Thus, a top-notch show – pick your favorite from the usual suspects (The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, et al) is hailed as cinema. But these shows, as good as they are, are simply really excellent TV (nothing to sneer at, since excellent TV can be, and has been, wonderful art). It's not cinema, though – because there is nothing inventive or intelligent about the visual style, there is no mise en scene (the astoundingly beautiful production design in “Mad Men” was not a visual style, it was sublime production design).

Lynch came along and did get real cinema into series television, and numerous lunkheads then publicly complained, “I'm confused – what does this have to do with Twin Peaks?” Well, the “Eraserhead episode” (as I've taken to calling it) did have ties to the narrative of the original TP, but it also linked to the beginning of Lynch's filmography. The fans that watched and were confused and annoyed were no doubt looking for “Lynchian surrealism,” but of the Red Room sort (“look, isn't that dancing dwarf cute?”).

That initial TP dream sequence was indeed radical TV for ABC in April 1990, but the eighth episode of this new “season” of the show was radical TV for any network in any time span. (Along with things like the trippy, pre-psychedelia visual experiments concocted by Ernie Kovacs, and a handful of the greatest programming on PBS in the early Seventies.)

This week's show, the ninth episode, offered another jarring juxtaposition by jumping back into all the plotlines with a vengeance. In one hour we leapt from thread to thread, with some new “presents” for viewers. This season certainly is a little gift-box for viewers who value quality; it also represents Lynch and Frost successfully making the full-length, very long project that FWWM could've been, if premium cable nets had wanted Lynch/Frost to work for them back in the early Nineties.

Among our new little treats: new performers (Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh); bonding between two characters that no one with any sense dislikes (Diane and Cole); and finally something substantial for the old cast members to do (Major Briggs' “message” for his son and his fellow lawmen). While the “Eraserhead episode" had distinctly “Lynchian” qualities, this show seemed to be more the brainchild of Mark Frost, as it included a number of plot threads and worked in a very intriguing paranormal plotline.
*****

It is most definitely good to be living in a period when David Lynch is still coming up with new things to frustrate, annoy, and mindfuck a percentage of the populace. The idea that nine more, totally new, hours of this stuff is waiting to be slowly doled out is pretty damned special.

And what is the single best aspect of all of Lynch's work, linking him to the great filmmakers and artists of the past? His sincerity. As has been noted by his colleagues in interview after interview, documentary after documentary, he honestly believes in the world he depicts onscreen. 

He embraces the Norman Rockwell-esque American Fifties, while also acknowledging the brutally violent underside of the American character. Nothing is “hidden” or ironic in his work (even his deadpan sense of humor, which often seems to have been put in place to mock his own style). Whatever you can say for or against his work, it is genuine, it is American, and it is very, very, wonderfully strange.

“There are things about painting that are true for everything in life. That’s the way painting is. Music is also one of those things. There are things that can’t be said with words. And that’s sort of what painting is all about. And that’s what filmmaking, to me, is mostly about. There are words and there are stories, but there are things that can be said with film that you can’t say with words. It’s just the beautiful language of cinema.” [Lynch on Lynch, pp. 26-27]
*****

And now for the last batch of “bonus videos”….

First a great profile of Lynch by Jonathan Ross from the series For One Week Only. It’s an excellent “101” for newcomers and a time capsule for the diehard fan.


Another little peephole into what it was like when the show exploded in its first season: Sherilyn Fenn and Michael Ontkean on the MTV Awards:


A pure oddity: the complete video (missing sound in some sequences) of the soap opera watched by the citizens of Twin Peaks, “Invitation to Love.” I believe this is more of a Frost creation than one by Lynch:


When Lynch discovered the Internet and started making short videos for his davidlynch.com website, he used to greet subscribers with a daily weather report. Below is a sample item. For the real deal check out this one.


One of the best known Net-only creations was his series “Rabbits,” a “Twilight Zone” blending of “The Honeymooners,” furries, and deadpan humor. Dig that brilliant audience track!


“Out Yonder” was another Net-only series Lynch did for a bit. It features David and his son Austin Lynch as two yokels who are confused by most things and are fond of one particular phrase:


The single funniest thing Lynch produced in my opinion is the web cartoon series “Dumbland.” It’s incredibly childish, mean-spirited, sadistic, insane, warped, and seems like a reaction to the meaner side of TV cartoon shows like “Beavis and Butthead” and “Family Guy.” I’m very glad the poster in this case put up Italian-subtitled versions of these (unneeded by English speakers, but even funnier). This is my favorite installment, where the phrase “Get the stick! Get the stick!” gets quite a workout:


Lynch has directed many music videos. Here’s a good one for Nine Inch Nails, “Came Back Haunted.” Any video that has to warn viewers with epilepsy that they should not watch is bound to be an intense viewing experience:


Although my favorite track from Lynch as a musician is his spoken word slice of weirdness “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” this is the full-length video for another of his explorations of the weird impulses in young America, “Crazy Clown Time”:


Lynch has continued to work in a number of media as an artist. Here’s a very short video he did for an exhibition of his photos in Paris:



And lastly, an amazing minute of film. Lynch took part in the film Lumiere and Company, in which a host of filmmakers (from Theo Angelopoulos to Zhang Yimou) were given an original Lumiere camera and asked to make a film. The only stipulations were: no sound, no edits, one minute in length (that’s all the film the camera could carry), and no more than three takes.

Lynch came up with a short inspired by Melies and Feuillade called “Premonitions Following an Evil Deed”:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Twin Peaks: a Starter Kit (part 2 of three)

“People want you to talk and I kinda understand that, but isn't everybody talking about pretty much the same thing? It's impossible to say how certain things happen. And then another problem is talking something to death. You start thinking about articulating a certain thing, and then you suddenly see it for what it is and the magic goes away a little bit. It's tricky. When you talk about things — unless you're a poet — a big thing becomes smaller.” —David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch, p. 27

Moving from the authorized tie-in TP books to the show itself, in this piece I will speak about seasons one and two. The next part will tackle the theatrical prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) and will include a few notes on the episodes that have aired already in the Showtime series known officially as Twin Peaks: the Return.

The original series was indeed a sensation — not just a cult hit but a really popular show in its first season. Even later, when it was “dying in the ratings,” it was still getting millions of viewers, a feat that most network shows can rarely do these days.


In its first season and the better episodes of the second season, the show was a sublime spoof of night-time soaps (in case viewers weren't getting it, a daytime soap, “Invitation to Love,” was watched by many of the characters). It also was a brilliantly subversive show because it not only delivered a perfect satire of a night-time staple (at least in 1989-91) but it also was a prolonged “dream,” thanks to surreal sequences crafted by co-creator David Lynch. It was also a highly emotional program, which focused on (depending on the scene and the episode) those three fave emotions of depressives everywhere, grief, guilt, and fear.

The best episodes reward multiple viewings. Sadly, the worst episodes, all from the second season, are very hard to slog through (more below). The show did, however, recover from its jumping the shark to end on a high note, but by that time it was already in the “discard bin” at ABC.

One of the finest aspects of the show was its ensemble cast. It was divided between attractive leads and quirky character people. It was a winning combination, which made the eccentric characters seem even more fun because there were “normal” characters around to offset them. Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Truman, Peggy Lipton as Norma Jennings, Everett McGill as “Big” Ed Hurley, Michael Horse as Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, Warren Frost as Doc Heyward — these cast members didn't have any wonderful taglines, music cues specific to their characters, or moments that will be remembered forever, but they grounded the events of the program.

Mark Frost's experience as a scripter and story editor on Hill Street Blues surely served Twin Peaks well, in terms of creating a show that could function as a normal drama, but also had effectively creepy bits of horror and way-out quirky sequences.



The pilot film (which, in the U.S. Blu-ray box set contains the European theatrical ending, in which BOB is summarily caught by Truman and Cooper) is a model telefilm that devotes attention to both plot and characters (thanks to Frost) and mood, tone, and visual stylization (thanks to Lynch). The seven episodes that came after the pilot to form the first season are equally involving and beautifully timeless, as the show takes place in 1989, but focuses on a town that seems oddly stuck in the 1950s.

On rewatching the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, one is struck by a few things. First is the way that Lynch harkened back to film noir in many ways in the series. The most obvious was the names (his FBI chief is named “Gordon Cole,” a character in his favorite movie, Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd). Along with this, a number of the characters smoke, a definite throwback to Golden Age Hollywood filmmaking. Lynch also has his characters do this on the new Showtime season of the show
one has to admire his unwillingness to shed the cinema's past in order to appease those who would issue “trigger warnings” to those individuals waiting to be offended by something or other.

Also, for me the nicest discovery is that, while Lynch doesn't explicitly acknowledge the debt, two of his works have moments that evoke the genius of the foremost tele-playwright, Dennis Potter. In Twin Peaks, Donna shows her love for James by lipsynching a tune being performed onstage at the Road House by Julee Cruise. Lynch also has two vintage-pop lip-synch moments in Mulholland Drive (and yes, there is the unforgettable moment where Dean Stockwell lipsynchs to Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet, but that seems to work on quite another wavelength….)


David Lynch and Mark Frost have done hundreds of interviews over the years and have spoken many times about certain aspects of the show and its history. For reference purposes I will note that the best books about Lynch are without question Lynch on Lynch, edited by Chris Rodley [Faber and Faber, 1997, updated in 2005, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux] and David Lynch: Interviews, edited by Richard A. Barney [University Press of Mississippi, 2009]. Lynch has also published one short book containing his philosophy about making art, Catching the Big Fish  [TarcherPerigee, 2006, reissued in 2016].

One of the best books about Twin Peaks is The Essential Wrapped in Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks, by John Thorne [John Thorne, 2016]. The book contains Thorne's essays from the long-running TP zine “Wrapped in Plastic”; the most valuable aspect of the book is his inclusion of quotes from the cast and crew, taken from interviews in the zine.

Also interesting is his analysis of the audio commentaries that accompanied the first U.S. release of the show on the Artisan DVD label. The 10-disc Blu-ray box set Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery [Paramount, 2014] has all of the elements of the show, from all the episodes and the “prequel” feature film to a whole movie's worth of outtakes from the latter, plus many, many supplements. But the audio commentaries (which mostly featured the show's directors) have not carried over to this recent “complete” box set.


Thorne has included a portion of this material in his "Over the Convenience Store" blog.
*****

When Twin Peaks was at its most inventive and stylish, it was among the best things ever to air on American TV. It sadly jumped the shark in the second season and several episodes were so bad that they nearly undercut the show’s initial brilliance. As I noted in the first part of this entry, the show got better toward the end of the second season, when the Windom Earle plotline finally kicked in.

The fact that the show became sadly feeble after ABC demanded that Lynch/Frost and company reveal who killed Laura Palmer is now acknowledged by everyone involved
by Lynch, the writer-producers, and various members of the cast. The question of who was responsible for that steep decline in quality is something I’ll discuss below.

The first culprit is, of course, the network. ABC promoted the show strictly as a whodunit and the American public quickly got into the swing of things. Although many viewers were into the show for its tone and characterizations, it did have a massive following who watched simply to see who killed Laura Palmer.

ABC decided that the identity of the killer had been “teased” enough, although what Lynch and Frost clearly had in mind was to not reveal the killer for a few seasons and meanwhile build up the BOB storyline, exploring the way that evil was plaguing the community. Frost has noted in interviews that he felt there eventually had to be a point when Laura’s killer was identified.

Lynch has noted he never wanted to name the human culprit who killed her, although both creators had agreed it would be Leland, whenever it was revealed. Clearly they had envisioned a series of plots in which BOB would be a factor, with a possible end revelation when they chose to stop doing the show (or it got cancelled).

So, in essence, ABC can receive the most blame for undercutting the show. The network in effect sabotaged it by demanding a quicker revelation of the murderer
and they also kept winnowing down the show’s viewership by changing its timeslot (from Thursday night to Wed to the abominable Sat at 10:00 p.m. slot).

One issue that arises from the revelation is whether or not Leland was fully guilty of his crimes (he also killed Theresa Banks in another town, and also terrified and bound up Ronette Pulaski). The episodes in which Leland is “unmasked” were indeed beautifully written, but there is a little game played as to whether Leland himself committed the murders, or if it was just him playing “host” to BOB.


As John Thorne notes in The Essential Wrapped in Plastic, Cooper absolves him of the murder, as he tells the dying Leland that he didn't do it. (He also assures Sarah Palmer that her husband didn’t kill their daughter.) This could be Cooper simply saying nice things to calm a worried family member and a schizophrenic who has realized what his “bad side” has accomplished, but it also was intended to keep the spirit of BOB alive in the show. Guilt and grief were definitely major engines for the show’s activity, but in some cases the supernatural was a key factor in the unexplained (or unexplainable) events.

Perhaps the key moment in which the scripters tried to deal with this is the scene where Sheriff Truman talks with Cooper, Albert, and Major Briggs about Leland, struggling with the notion of his guilt or “possession.” In the course of this Truman asks a key question that surely can’t be answered without a supernatural answer: How DID the other people in Twin Peaks see BOB if he was merely a facet of Leland’s personality, his schizophrenic dark side? (Cooper's argument that BOB is indeed a separate entity is summarized in the direct question to Harry:
“Is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter?”)

One thing was certain in the episodes in which Leland was unmasked Ray Wise’s performance was absolute perfection. He did a great job from the beginning, and it should be noted that Wise had not been told that he was the murderer until the very last moment he was simply acting as a crazy, distraught father. Emmy fare for sure, but naturally enough, he didn’t get one.

Back to the blame game for the overriding lameness of the plots that followed in the wake of Leland’s unmasking, which were:

— Ben Horne goes insane and believes he is a Civil War general.
— Lucy the receptionist must figure out which of two men is the father of her baby.
— Nadine becomes super-strong and goes back to high school in her 30s.
— The town newspaper editor marries a young woman who proves irresistible to men.
— James the cyclist gets caught in a James M. Cain plot in which he is the target of a bored, rich wife’s seduction (not mean to be funny, but equally awful).

While ABC most definitely screwed the show by demanding that Laura’s killer be revealed, the key individuals involved in the show were also responsible for the surprisingly bad half-dozen or so episodes that followed the unmasking.

Kyle MacLachlan stymied the creators and writers when he refused to do a plot line in which Cooper would have an affair with Audrey Horne. He felt that it was unseemly, given that Audrey was supposed to be 17 and Cooper was double her age. The writers have noted that the planned Cooper-Audrey plot line (which had been signaled all through the first dozen or so episodes – why else the “mental communication” business?), intended to bridge the gap between the unmasking of Leland and the Windom Earle storyline.


The strangest thing about MacLachlan refusing to do the Cooper-Audrey storyline (when Sherilyn Fenn was 25 years old at the time of filming) was that he was subsequently okay with Cooper having a romance with Annie Blackburn, who was college age. Heather Graham was, in fact, 20 years old when she played Annie.

Was David Lynch somehow responsible for the tremendous dip in quality? He had left the show for a time during the first season because he was making Wild at Heart. It is noted, however, that Lynch was present for more of the second season, since he wasn’t making a film, and his character, Gordon Cole, is present in several episodes.

“Robert Engels: I know David saw everything. He may have been gone but we were getting notes from him. I know he was on top of all that.  As an executive producer, he did not have to be there all the time. The cuts always got to him and the notes were always extensive. He was still very much like most of those guys — he was giving you notes on stuff you had already shot. I remember that in the second season: 'Yeah, that would have been nice, but it's done!' [laughs]” [Thorne, p. 198]

So, was he just fed up with the show and felt that the solving of Laura’s murder had effectively killed it off? This is contradicted by the fact that he did an amazing job on the final episode (ep. 29), in which Windom Earle captures the “queen” (Annie) and lures Cooper into the Black Lodge. He’s been quoted in interviews expressing disappointment at the poor quality of much of the second season, but one wonders why he, as the show’s co-creator, let it get SO bad.

The show’s other creator, Mark Frost, wasn’t as involved in the second season, since he was off making his filmmaking debut with Storyville (1992). In an interview Frost has noted that he liked the season
but did he ever sit through the Civil War storyline in one go? “I liked [the second season]…. I feel very good about [the show].” [Thorne, p. 224]

The guilty party in this behind-the-scenes mystery is, of course, all of the aforementioned: ABC might’ve been the primary “destroyer” of the show in the second season, but Lynch, Frost, and MacLachlan didn’t do it any favors (until the final episode, which was too late
by the time it aired, Twin Peaks had been cancelled).

So, setting aside the aggressively bad comedy and a misplaced, all-too-familiar noir plotline, several of the episodes in the second season are excellent. The odd thing is that the dry rot crept in early on
right after Leland is arrested, we jump over to the “who is Lucy’s baby’s father?” storyline, which makes even the most tolerant fan want to throw something at the TV set. (Kimmy Roberston herself has admitted she hated the storyline.) 
Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh)

One of the most valuable things in the Thorne tome is his detailed study of the final episode, which was completely rewritten by Lynch on-set. He ignored the finalized script for the show and proceeded to create a whole new series of events, leading up to the eventual emergence of the “evil Cooper” (which was, to everyone’s memory, where the show would’ve gone if it had been renewed).
*****

As supplements, I offer the following rarities that are now hidden in plain sight. Firstly, a time capsule from the moment that Twin Peaks was the hottest thing on network TV. A “Donahue” episode in which five of the show's stars appear, and Phil takes a poll as to who the studio audience believes killed Laura Palmer. (Leland is with Agent Cooper near the bottom of the list!).



The oddest item that was unseen in the U.S. until the advent of YT: four Japanese canned-coffee commercials that Lynch directed with several members of the cast.



Lynch has done very little in a theatrical context, but he and Angelo Badalamenti did create one commissioned theater piece for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, called Industrial Symphony No. 1. The piece was made available on VHS but was only released on DVD as part of the “Lime Green Set,” an out of print 10-disc collection of Lynch's feature films.

Here it is, in its entirety. Links to TP include Michael J. Anderson (“Little Mike,” aka “The Man from Another Place”) sawing some wood, and the lovely Julee Cruise floating through the air and singing songs by Badalamenti and Lynch.



Lynch/Frost Productions only produced three shows in its short lifespan: TP, American Chronicles (a failed documentary series show on Fox that was mostly the creation of Frost), and On the Air, a very broad sitcom.

Set in 1957, the show depicts the production of a variety show starring a washed-up Hollywood star (Ian Buchanan), who is constantly upstaged by his ditsy blonde costar (Marla Rubinoff).

I love some of the character actors in the show — Miguel Ferrer, David L. Lander (Squiggy!), Marvin Kaplan, Sydney Lassick, Tracey Walter  — but the show is way too broad and goofy. Only three of the seven episodes aired on ABC, but all seven are now on YT. This is by far the best, and not just because it has a beatnik dancer as the guest star on the variety show:



Lynch has been justifiably proud of three of his early shorts — “Six Men Getting Sick,” “Alphabet,” and “The Grandmother” — and collected them in the one DVD of shorts that he released (and also allowed them to be included as bonuses on the Eraserhead Criterion DVD).

Three other rarities only appeared on the “Lime Green Set.” The first of these is the very primitive but totally Lynchian “Absurd Encounter with Fear” (1967) His then-wife Peggy is the girl in the grass.



“Fictitious Anacin commercial” (also '67) is the second rarity. The star is a young Jack Fisk, noted production designer (for Lynch, Malick, etc).



“Sailing with Bushnell Keeler” ('67 again) is a home movie shot and edited by Lynch. There is a quick glance of young Lynch, with his always-impressive full head of hair. Forget friendly, odd remarks, forget coffee, you can even forget smoking — the hair is probably his most-recognized attribute.