Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Twin Peaks: a Starter Kit (part 1 of three)

In this week when no new episode of Twin Peaks: The Return is airing, I wanted to talk about the original TV series, its tie-in fiction (legally released, sold in bookstores, not the fanfic stuff), and some background relating to both David Lynch in general and Twin Peaks specifically.

Sad I have to include this, but: There will be no “spoilers” from the third season in this part of the article. I'm assuming readers know “who killed Laura Palmer,” so that will be referred to. The revelations found in the recent “history” tome by Mark Frost might have some impact upon the third season, but believe me, there seem to be few overlaps (as in two or three, maximum) from the eight episodes of the new “season” that have aired already, and I'm not going into them here.

First of all, the books. The creators of Twin Peaks, Frost and Lynch, authorized three “tie-in” books during the run of the original series. The resulting paperbacks provided information that was seminal to the series but also served to broaden the situations set up in the show. The best of these was the first – which I'd also declare the best tie-in novel ever written in the U.S. (If readers have other nominations, put them below in the comments field.)

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
[Pocket Books, 1990; reprinted by Gallery Publishing, 2011] is an incredibly well-written book that lets a character who had been dead from the first minute of the series speak in her own voice. It provided viewers with a beautifully rendered backstory, which built upon what we already knew, and also spun the events into a concise little package, explaining how a wholesome, all-American teen from a small town could also be a sexually active and kinky young woman who was addicted to self-destructive behavior.

The book appeared after the first season had ended. That season had been particularly short, because the Twin Peaks pilot film aired on a Sunday in April, 1990, and the seven episodes that ABC agreed to produce were shown in quick succession afterward. Viewers had VCRs by 1990, so they could rewatch the show, but the many mysteries the show presented seemed to cry out for more material. So Lynch and Frost recruited David's daughter Jennifer to write Laura Palmer's diary as a tie-in book.

At this point viewers had no idea who the real killer was, and they also hadn't heard about “BOB,” the evil supernatural spirit who plagues the people of Twin Peaks. So the book not only filled in with material about Laura, it also introduced the evil force behind her death who – if David Lynch had had his way – would've been the only identified murderer of Laura until the show was definitely set to end (more on this below and in part two of this piece).

The book is so well-written that you can approach it without having seen the first eight episodes (for purposes of counting, I consider the pilot film “Episode 1” – otherwise, you're creating a silly numerical problem). It does benefit to have at least a cursory knowledge of the show's first episodes, but Jennifer L. did such a beautiful job in writing the book that it actually stands on its own.

When read at the time, it was an invaluable primer for “clues” and some scattered explanations; when read now, with most readers knowing that the person “possessed” by BOB was Laura's father Leland, the book qualifies as an incredible chronicle of a girl's attempts to mentally and emotionally process her sexual victimization.

First, a word about families: Jennifer delivered a piece of Lynch “canon” with this book because she got right to the heart of one of her father's main themes, the nightmares that lurk in every dream home, and the fear, guilt, and anguish that are part of family life, even for the happiest of clans. Lynch first explored this in his stunning avant-garde short “The Grandmother” (1970), in which a lonely boy plants a seed that creates a friendly grandmother (his parents communicate via barks, shouts, and growls).

The film that defined Lynch's post-Eraserhead style, Blue Velvet, showed the nightmares that exist in dream communities – the families are not dripping with secrets, but the morally upright father of Laura Dern's character has a fellow police officer/good friend who is completely corrupt and violent. The happiness of the suburban community can possibly rescue you from the sleaziness of the city, but the family unit can't comprehend the sexual stirrings of young men and women.

Lynch has kept exploring this idea, even in his more recent music videos. Here is a music video for his dance tune “Good Day Today,” with a young man who definitely would feel a kinship for the boy in “Grandmother”:

The Twin Peaks pilot film explicitly tackled this theme by evoking (as Blue Velvet had) an ideal, Fifties-looking American community. The figures of authority – the lawmen *and* the concerned parents – can't quell the nightmare that holds the community in its grasp. Because every one of those same authority figures has his/her own secret to maintain, and some of them are indeed responsible for the evil that killed Laura.

In The Secret Diary, Jennifer L. dealt with all of this by focusing on one girl, the creation of Lynch/Frost, who could embody all of the good aspects of small-town life, and all of the dissatisfactions and evil that lay beneath the town.

Jennifer Lynch
As a result, I feel she got closer to the essence of the character and her dilemma than her father did with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). I'll discuss the film more in the second part of this piece, but no matter how many times I see it, it seems to “derail” for me, while The Secret Diary sticks closely to the themes of the TP series without us having to see the constant victimization of Laura. It's enough to experience her thoughts and emotions; watching her being destroyed physically and mentally in FWWM is grueling and, despite the inclusion of the BOB/possession aspect, defines the story more specifically as a horrific tale of violence and incest.

There are several remarkable things about the Secret Diary. The first is Jennifer Lynch's unflinching portrait of a young girl's sexual coming of age. In the book we find out that Laura started being visited by the malevolent spirit BOB when she was 12 years old. She is a victim from the outset – so that, when she has her own adolescent stirrings of sexual curiosity, they are combined with the inevitable guilt and confusion, but also with a strong sense that she is doing something “bad” that makes her like BOB.

BOB leads Laura out of her bedroom at night into the woods, where he has sex with her (before she knows what sex really is). He also exists as a voice within her – this is a dominant theme in Twin Peaks, and in Lynch's work in general: that everyone has “schisms” in their personality. These can be broken down into good and bad, “adult” and “childlike” (the depiction of Laura by Sheryl Lee on the TV series made her seem like a confident young woman; Jennifer Lynch's depiction situates her as having entered her confused/schizoid state as a child) and, of course, master and servant.

BOB is thus just like Norman Bates' mother in the original novel Psycho by Robert Bloch – he exists in italics, talking to Laura, battling her for possession of her identity, telling her how bad she is, crowing over how he has taught her what she knows. He is, like Norman's mother, a *part* of Laura. In the series, this was represented of course by having Frank Silva (initially a crew member on the film shoot of the pilot) play BOB, while the eventual revelation was that her father, Leland Palmer (played by the amazing actor Ray Wise) was possessed by BOB and was the actual doer of the deeds.

In the book, there is none of that. Jennifer Lynch noted in this interview that her father and Mark Frost “briefed” her on the actual identify of Laura's murderer, which they were hoping to not have to reveal until more mysteries had been spun around the presence of BOB. ABC forced their hand, and thus in effect killed the series by robbing it of its main mystery.

When the book appeared, BOB wasn't understood at all by Twin Peaks viewers – Silva had been seen in nightmare sequences, but the notion of a malevolent entity having killed Laura was not introduced. There were curious clues aplenty, but the ongoing investigation by FBI agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman indicated that Laura's murder could've been the work of any of a bunch of men that she had been exploited by (and slept with).

The notion of a schizophrenic (or is she, really?) talking with the “spirit” that possesses her, actually arguing with this side of herself in a diary, makes the book incredibly compelling. The fact that the audience now knows that Laura was indeed being raped for five years by her father (who was possessed by BOB – or was that always the case?) makes the BOB scenario into a defense mechanism that helps Laura deal with the world around her. Her father can't be raping her on his own – he's BOB, this other individual, who is brutal with her but also “cares” about her by insinuating himself into her thoughts.

Laura acknowledges this at one point by declaring, “I have to support what I have not chosen, but have, quite simply, been given. Two lives. Two very different lives.” [Pocket Books, 1990, p. 63]

The biggest mystery, besides the identity of her killer, was how Laura could have possibly done all the things she did in the short span of time she had. For those who haven't watched the original series lately, I'll provide a fan-geek list of all the stuff Laura was up to in the final weeks of her life:

“Good Laura”:
– staying an “A” student
– serving as homecoming queen
– hanging out with her best friend Donna
– delivering “meals on wheels”
– working with mentally disturbed Johnny Horne
– tutoring Josie Packard in English
– dating high-school football star Bobby Briggs
– going to Dr. Jacoby for help
– being victimized many nights by BOB

“Bad Laura”:
– cheating on Bobby with “rebel” cyclist James Hurley
– snorting coke
– advertising in a sex personal-ads magazine (selling her panties, among other things)
– working briefly as a hooker
– having orgies with Leo and Jacques Renault
– battling BOB for her soul (and sanity)

What Jennifer L. does in the Secret Diary is to make all of the above possible by providing Laura's voice as she becomes hooked on cocaine and proceeds to go without sleep for long periods of time, engaging in more activities that embody both her best character traits and her worst. It's interesting to note that Sheryl Lee has said that, while filming Fire Walk With Me, she carried The Secret Diary around with her, using the book to ground her performance. (She has now recorded – finally! – an audio version of the book.)

If one begins to wonder how the adults around Laura didn't notice that she was a serious cocaine addict, one need only remember that she asks a key question about her parents in her diary – in this case, we know this reflection is addressed to her loving mother, Sarah: “I would imagine that they would have to hear me as I am led out [of the house at night]. Is it possible they do not care?” [p. 72] And the answer is, sadly, yes.

Laura recounts pleasant moments with her mother and Ben Horne (whom she later finds out owns the local brothel, and who does eventually sleep with her), as well as some of the other authority figures in her life. The one who comes the closest to understanding her – but also sleeps with her, thereby cancelling out their therapy – is psychiatrist Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn on the series), who tells her she has “forgotten how to be loved.”

There are stray moments where Laura sounds much older than her years, and we're not certain if we're reading the words of a teen or a grown woman. One example: “Why do we pick the people we do? Avoiding loneliness at all cost…. picking a mate by his work schedule, his paycheck, or his abilities in the bedroom are good reasons, even if you are fortunate to find a guy like that…” [p. 142]

But the majority of the book is written in a beautifully melancholic, haunted tone, peppered with Laura's reflections on her “split” existence: “My thoughts on the world being mostly a cruel and sad place are true.” [p. 27] “I have thought a great deal about my life. I am aging without my own permission.” [p. 70]. Also this particularly pointed reflection on sex:

“I don't like fear or lies or yelling, and that is what some of these pictures [in porn magazines] are like. Darkness in sex is okay, as long it is strange, mysterious darkness, and not the darkness of hell or nightmares or dying.” [p. 116]

The strength of the book is a theme that many Lynch enthusiasts have found to be a “redeeming” aspect of Fire Walk With Me – namely, the fact that Laura tries to mentally and emotionally “battle” BOB and make him go away. (This takes the form of her indulging in sex and drugs, but also being a “good girl” in school and the community.)

The book paints it very clearly: the only way out of this tangle for Laura is death. She will triumph by evading BOB (her father) in the only way possible. “I will not let anyone hurt me… I'll hurt myself first." [p. 49]

I realize I've just made the book sound like the saddest story ever told, but its tragic aspect is supplemented by Laura's “battle” with her victimizer. It's a very well-thought-out book (in interviews Jennifer Lynch has talked about how she lost the manuscript twice and had to rewrite it from memory, so the accomplishment is even more impressive). It also adds an incredible amount to appreciating the “whodunit” at the heart of the original Twin Peaks.

The second Twin Peaks book to be published provides the “voice” of the other central character in the show, Agent Cooper. The title is the unwieldy (but perfectly Cooper-esque) The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes [Pocket Books, 1991, out of print].

It's a fun companion to the series that starts out in a purely humorous vein but ends up offering absorbing accounts of the investigation into the Teresa Banks murder (the killing committed by BOB prior to that of Laura Palmer) and the Windom Earle case, in which Cooper's partner and mentor killed his wife after finding out that she and Cooper were in love. The book was released when the show was nearing the end of its messy second season, and was written by Scott Frost (brother of Mark), who wrote scripts for that same, sadly uneven season.

Frost perfectly captures Cooper's deadpan attitude, starting the book with Cooper as a boy receiving his first audio recorder. His heroes are, predictably enough, Jimmy Stewart (who starred in The FBI Story), J. Edgar Hoover, and Efram Zimbalist, Jr. What we are reading are transcripts of his audio diaries, from his childhood through the moment he gets the assignment to investigate Laura Palmer's murder.

The info provided about Cooper's two biggest cases (Banks and Earle) before Laura Palmer's murder is valuable for the viewer who is trying to understand the buildup to the Earle plotline (which revived the second season of the show, and helped it to go out with a bang). Unfortunately, the account of the Theresa Banks murder investigation given here was contradicted later by Fire Walk With Me (when Kyle MacLachlan refused to appear in the film at first, and then decided he would appear but would only do a week's worth of shooting, thus removing him from the entire Banks storyline and adding a major level of confusion to the film).

That material is great for Twin Peaks fans, but the aspects that have stayed with me since reading the book again are little, odd moments in Cooper's life. One involves a black coworker (they dig ditches together) who brings young Coop to his apartment and shows him reams of paper filled with what he calls his “memoirs.” Shortly thereafter Cooper see that his coworker's building is on fire and sees a man who looks curiously like his coworker running from the scene.

Interestingly, the book skips over the “missing years” in the early Seventies (1971-73) when Cooper “disappeared” on what seems to have been a spiritual journey. This lends a further level of mystery to Cooper's odd investigative techniques, which draw on his “exotic” spiritual beliefs.

But his voice is indeed captured beautifully by Frost. While undergoing an experiment in sleep deprivation, Cooper offers a little meditation on his favorite snack, the donut:

“The perfection of design that the modern doughnut represents has been overlooked by the academic world. One perfect circle of air-cushioned dough encircling another one of empty space. Few achievements in this century have equaled this level of form marrying function. It should also be noted that they taste damn good.” [p. 77]

Perhaps the single most important note in the book, though, is a quick mention of the fact that, while the adult Cooper talks into his tape recorder all the time, addressing his remarks to his unseen (wait until the Showtime show, folks!) assistant Diane, she is not necessarily going to hear all of the tapes (or even most of them). “Diane, I hope that you will not mind that I address these tapes to you even when it is clear that I am talking to myself. The knowledge that someone of your insight is standing behind me is comforting.” [p. 126]

My Life, My Tapes isn't as essential a read as The Secret Diary, but it still “deepens” the mystery, and offers some great deadpan humor.

The third and last tie-in book issued during the initial run of the series was a mock travelers guide to the town called Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town [1991, Pocket Books, out of print]. The book is credited to David Lynch, Mark Frost, and Richard Saul Wurman, but a roster in the back of the book attributes the writing to five individuals: Gregg Almquist, Tricia Brock, Lise Friedman, and the most important writers of the TP series next to Lynch/Frost, Harley Peyton and Robert Engels.

The odd thing about the Guide is that, while it is clearly a humor book, the writers crafting it chose to supply so much information about the town that a casual reader will lose the humor amidst the  playfully precise “history” and commentary. We get a historical overview of the town, explorations of local sites, and information on local wildlife, stores, and leading citizens.

The book was written in such a deadpan and factual way that Mark Frost (one of the two people who can be said to truly “know” the fictional town) admitted in interviews for fan podcasts that he based his much larger and more creative 2016 “history” of the town (see below) on information included in this tie-in paperback (which is tall and thin, designed, inside and out, to look like a real travelers' guide).

A certain amount of the content tells us about the lives of the Twin Peaks citizens we've seen on the series, but a large amount of the book is indeed comprised of pages of mock history and facts about the lumber in the area (and the fish, and a recipe for cherry pie). This kind of oddball minutiae reaches its peak [unavoidable pun] when we are confronted by a full page of song titles, indicating the songs that are in the jukebox at the Double R diner (real tunes that would be in a diner jukebox – this is particularly odd, since in the series we only hear original instrumentals by Angelo Badalamenti playing).

One standout bit of silliness is a four-page ad for “Tim and Tom's Taxidermy” featuring producer Gregg Fienberg and comic actor David L. Lander (Squiggy!) as two brothers running a taxi/taxidermy business in the community.

Readers are confronted by nice bits of absurdity, like the following entries in a list of the local types of owls:

“Great Horned Owl – 18”-24”, identified by widely spaced ear tufts. Mottled brown black, light chest. Will attack any medium-sized mammal or bird. Gives off the familiar, muffled hoot. Male voice is higher-pitched than female; in concert they often harmonize in perfect thirds, though around Twin Peaks diminished sevenths are heard.

Yellow-Rumpled Warbler – (Western species – Audubon warbler). Yellow throat and crown and rump, otherwise black. A sassy, bright chirp call. Found in mixed forests. Good at parties.

Common Crow – 16-20” and all black. Most intelligent of birds; can count to three and four; possesses complex language and social structure, though extremely inept at commitment.” [p. 44]

And this account of a local parade (including a sleazy character who, in the series, referred teen girls working in the local Horne department store to the One Eyed Jacks casino-brothel, also owned by Horne):

“The high school float is first and it depicts an event from our fascinating history such as the Smallish Earthquake of 1905 or the Grange Fire. Following this are dozens of children in homemade costumes bearing sparklers like a parade of fireflies. Then the Horne float appears. In past years Amory Battis stood atop the float costumed like a Druid and everyone always wondered why. Mr. Battis' recent death is a great loss to some, but especially to the parade.” [p. 76]

A fun read, but only for completists.

The only authorized book to come out so far in tandem with Twin Peaks: the Return is Mark Frost's beautifully designed The Secret History of Twin Peaks: a Novel [Flatiron Books, 2016]. It's a helluva nice book physically, with its “file” format reflected in a hardback “reference book” with various documents (letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, chapters from books, photographs, etc) letting us in mostly on the paranormal side of the town.

Frost has spoken of the fact that the book was intended to prepare fans for the return of the series, but having read the book and seen the eight episodes that have aired so far, I have to note that very little of this giant 362-page tome has had any connection with the doings on the new show. There are still 10 episodes to air, of course, and one big cliffhanger seen in the last episode of the original series (Audrey Horne, Pete Campbell, and Andrew Packard in the bank) is indeed resolved here.

Otherwise, what we have are two kinds of material. The first type, which appears mostly in the middle of the book, offers backstory on some of the main characters of the original series. Norma Jennings, Big Ed Hurley, Dr. Jacoby, Agent Cooper, the Log Lady – “documents” about them are all included. Diehard fans, however, have already noted that Frost seemed to intentionally ignore the show's original continuity, and either got small details “wrong,” or he decided to change them for some reason. One fan compiled this heavy-duty spreadsheet (!) listing the “alleged errors.”

The other type of document included in the book concerns the fact that the town has, from this version of events, been a center for paranormal activity going back to the days of the Native Americans. Bigfoot, UFOs, even the Kennedy assassination is woven in. Included as “characters” in the narrative are Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, Richard Nixon, Jackie Gleason, and several real-life individuals (now deceased) who are well known in UFOlogy circles. 

Frost's frame device for his “file” on the town is that a new FBI agent is looking over a dossier prepared by a person who referred to himself as “the Archivist” throughout the work. It's rather easy to figure out the identity of the latter, since the individual seemingly had to have a military clearance to know as much as he did, and there was only one military cast member in the original series – Major Briggs (played by Don Davis, who died in 2008 and had one hell of a great voice, besides being a top-notch character actor).

Miguel Ferrer, Chrysta Bell,
David Lynch
The younger agent has no connection to the old series, but she signs her footnotes (yes, this is a post-David Foster Wallace fiction experiment, and so there are many footnotes) “TP.” The fact that David Lynch's musical collaborator, singer Chrysta Bell, is playing a character named Tamara Preston should answer that question. (The “voices” of Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill and Dale Cooper are also present in documents included in this “file.”)

Those choices of pivotal characters in the paranormal life of Twin Peaks both makes sense, but the third and most important is a head-scratcher: Frost uses as a through-line for his history one Douglas Milford, a minor character in the original TV series, who served only as comic relief (he was played by Tony Jay).

By the time we meet him in the show, as a very old, doddering man (one of the four doddering old men we encounter in the second season of the TV series, all used for comic effect), he is a one-note stick figure, the local newspaper editor who feuds constantly with his brother, the town's long-standing mayor. Frost, however, makes him a locus for nearly all paranormal activity – he becomes Twin Peaks' “Zelig,” encountering many of the memorable figures in the history of UFOlogy (including those twins of early Seventies alien-fascination, Tricky Dick and Ralph Kramden).

This will most likely only surprise and mystify people who've gone *too* deep into the Twin Peaks mythology, but I found myself moving through Frost's admittedly very entertaining book, wondering every few pages – “wait, this is still the old guy who was comic relief on the series? He somehow was *the* most important citizen in the town all along, with ties to the government, the military, law enforcement, and monitoring signals from outer space?” (Nice work for a soon-to-be doddering old man….)

It is entirely possible that the events in the book will figure into the remaining 10 episodes of the show, but I'm not holding my breath. It seems that Frost wanted to revisit the characters, just as Lynch did with Fire Walk With Me. Secret History is a fun little puzzle of a book. But, as with all things having to do with the show, don't expect for there to be a rational (or even cohesive) explanation for the events you encounter in Frost's book. Just dig the design and those crazy owls….

As a bonus: here is the only other authorized tie-in release that offered additional “clues” to devoted viewers, the audio cassette (now out of print) “Diane...”: The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper. The cassette – what other format was more appropriate for the musings of Agent Cooper? – includes Cooper's taped monologues from the TV series, supplemented by additional “entries” scripted by Scott Frost. It was released in October 1990, after the first episode of the second season had aired.

No comments: