Film 2018: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me


Fittingly or otherwise, the film I left myself for the final Film 2018 session was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the controversial sequel to the enigmatic TV series that wasted what seemed then to be the only opportunity to complete the story that had left Special Agent Dale Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge of the series, and instead set an evil doppelganger loose to take his place.

Instead, Lynch (without co-creator Mark Frost, with whom relations had become strained) chose to do a prequel, billed as the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life. In many ways, I still resent this decision, even now a third series has appeared: everyone was there and alive and young, and most of them were available, and this could have been a real ‘Twin Peaks’ film.

As it is, most of the cast played a part in this film, though for many their parts were limited, and for even more they were excluded to bring the film down to a mere 129 minutes. A handful of major players were unavailable due to scheduling conflicts with other projects (though Sherilyn Fenn later indicated that she had not wanted to be involved, after the vagaries of season 2). One of these was Lara Flynn Boyle, who had played Donna Hayward, Laura Palmer’s best friend: Donna’s part was integral to the story so she was recast, with Moira Kelly, a much less striking actress, taking the role.

The film, and its prospects, were distorted from the outset by Kyle MacLachlan’s fear of becoming typecast as Dale Cooper. Initially, he refused to consider the film, but ended up agreeing to a greatly diminished role, requiring the entire first half hour of the film to be rewritten, to the detriment of the film’s cohesion.

In the ansence of Coop, Lynch and his co-writer, Robert Engels, had to introduce Special Agent Chester ‘Chet’ Desmond to investigate the murder of drifter, waitress and prostitute Theresa Banks. Banks was the first killing, a year before Laura Palmer. Desmond was played, laconically but a bit stiffly, by singer Chris Isaak, already of ‘Wicked Game’ fame, and his sidekick, the awkward, bow-tied forensic expert, Sam Stanley, by a young Kiefer Sutherland.

Over insular opposition from local law enforcement, the Agents determine Banks was killed by multiple blows to the back of the skull and that a large green ring featuring a weird design that is familiar to those of us who watched the series, has been stolen from her finger. Stanley takes the body back to Portland, Desmond returns to the trailer park where Banks lives, finds her ring under a lit-up trailer, and is sucked into another dimension, populated by the mysterious characters who hang around the Black Lodge. He is never seen again.

Put like that, this lengthy opening sequence, which takes up the film’s first twenty-five minutes, seems like a straightforward setting in place of the Theresa Banks murder, not a million miles from a certain town in Washington State. If not for Kyle MacLachlan’s reluctance, it would have been Agent Cooper investigating, in which case this section would have seemed better integrated into the story, and I bet he wouldn’t have vanished inexplicably on finding the ring.

But then I haven’t mentioned any of the details, and the details always matter in a David Lynch film, and I haven’t mentioned any of the seriously loopy stuff that makes you wonder just what the hell is going on. And, in the case of the dancing woman in the red wig and dress, wearing a blue rose, whose dance is a ludicrously coded set of instructions to Agent Desmond (a briefing sheet would have worked even better but would not have been so self-consciously strange), we wouldn’t get an explanation of that until 2017.

And Lynch then prolongs the strangeness by switching to Philadelphia, FBI HQ, Gordon Cole (Lynch), Albert (Miguel Ferrer) and Coop. Coop’s being weird, checking the corridor security cam then dashing into the surveillance room to look at the feed of an empty corridor. He does this two or three times until, on the last occasion, he’s in the surveillance room, and he’s still on the security cam. Enter the long-missing Agent Philip Jeffries, played by David Bowie in a Hawaiian shirt and white linen suit, with a deep tan and a bouncy walk.

Jeffries is talking nonsense. He’s not talking about Judy. He’s aware of his colleagues but he isn’t on the same planet as them. Coop goes to check the security feed and Jeffries disappears. He was never there. But he was there.

As the late, great Spike put it, “It’s all rather confusing really”, and deliberately so. There’s a temptation to write off all the film up to this point, nearly thirty-five minutes in, as rubbish, and it certainly doesn’t seem to have any true, organic coonnection to the rest. For now comes the moment of comfort, of recognition and an instant relaxation for the audience, as we jump One Year Later and it’s the oh-so familar Welcome to Twin Peaks road sign and that instantly soothing twin note music by Angelo Badalamenti.

From this point onwards, the film is set in Twin Peaks, and it is Twin Peaks, and we are locked into watching the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life.

Fire Walk With Me is billed as starring Sheryl Lee as Laura and Ray Wise as Leland Palmer, her father. Wise has a lot of screen time but isn’t required to do much more than look quasi-satanical. If we didn’t already know that he is the one who kills Laura, after years of incestuous rape, starting when she was 12, we would finger him anyway for his off-kilter performance, his obvious obsession with hi daughter, his volatile mood-swings and the way he just looks.

But from here on in, the film belongs to Sheryl Lee. In the series, she only got to play Laura alive in flashbacks, short and usually sweet. Here she gets to play the living person and she is astounding. Laura Palmer, blonde, beautiful, intelligent, Homecoming Queen, volunteer Meals on Wheels helper. Laura Palmer, fucking her ‘official’ boyfriend, jock Bobby Briggs, her unofficial boyfriend, James Hurley, the agrophobic recluse, Harold Smith, big, fat Jaques Renault from the Bang Bang Bar, not to mention being pimped out by him. Laura Palmer, High School smoker, drinker, cocaine addict. Laura Palmer, with the scary, horrifying, greasy, stubbly, assailant, BOB, who climbs in through her bedroom window at night, who has been ‘having’ her since she was twelve.

Lee is all these people, in turn and at once, flickering between faces. Everything is ever so slightly OTT, but the intensity that she brings to every emotion grips you and drags you along, whilst simultaneously conveying to you that this beautiful young girl, with everything going for her, is already dead, inside.

Even if we did not know that we are leading up to the opening of Twin Peaks, the discovery of Laua Palmer’s body, wrapped in plastic, floating in the lake, we would know, simply by watching Sheryl Lee, that she is sliding towards an end that will be neither commonplace nor easeful. As everything locks into place around her, as the pieces move that send her along the course that finally leads to her father’s insane and murderous attack, we understand that we are not watching fate step in to shut down all avenues of escape. All of Laura’s last chances were lost long before we got to the Welcome to Twin Peaks road sign. It’s too late, it’s far too late. We are condemned to watch the inevitable.

And it is horrible. There’s violence and degradation, but it’s not there for its own sake. It’s just part of the road, and Lynch doesn’t thrust it in our face or dwell on it. Lee lives it, simultaneously numbed and with every nerve in her affected. The two most awful moments are both sexual: Laura is terrified in her own home by the presence of BOB in the daytime, runs, crying and fearful, for cover outside, then sees her father leave the house. For the first time, she realises that her abuse has come from her own father: the blackness, the despair, the nausea. We and she understand the sickness in Leland’s ‘ordinary’ behaviour to her, the confirmation of her utter solitude.

And later, very much later, just before he will batter hs own daughter to death, Leland brandishes at her the two pages torn from her secret diary, and screams at her, in his own anguish, “I thought you knew it was me!”

The last half of this film, as the end closes in on Laura and we see her in all her phases and moods, fills in all the details we learned, retrospectively, in season 1, unpicked and assembled by Dale Cooper. It twists us at every turn, the horror of inevitability, of being forced to watch – because we cannot turn our face away – the sight of death spreading from within and bringing itself down upon this beautiful girl.

There are so many more pieces to this puzzle. What Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me really needed was Twin Peaks: The Return. It is now no longer the falling off, the unwanted beginning instead of the desired end. But it is still the beginning, even as it’s the ending of Film 2018. I’ve enjoyed this year of Sunday morning films very much. I hope some of you who have read these commentaries have enjoyed them as well.

Bingewatch: Twin Peaks – The Return – Day 2


There were nine episodes, just like yesterday, and that meant nine hours of watching, like yesterday, so how come the back half took the entire day to watch, and left no time for anything other than just food and drink?

I don’t know how long it will be before I can make any kind of sense about Twin Peaks. Maybe never. The back half was a slow adding up of resolutions, or such resolutions as Lynch and Frost were prepared to allow, and there were many of them, both trivial and major, though not all resolutions were the same. And through it all, that determined deliberate pace, that intensified what was slowly unrolling, until each scene became intense.

Another Director, one more in tune with contemporary notions of pace, could and would reduce this series by as much as a third of its length by cutting out the long silences, the slow burns, the moments when your attention became utterly affixed to the screen as you waited for the movement, the word.

This was television for the pre-MTV Generation, the attention-poor demanding another visual stimulus every two seconds. This was slow television, but not dragging television.

Was the ending satisfactory? Was there an ending? Of course there was an ending, the series has ended, but once again the stopping point was on the edge. But curiously, this was a satisfying engine, or it satisfied me. There was not the shock, the terrible wrongness, the despair of the abyss with which Lynch and Frost left everything twenty-six years ago. This time we knew, we understood, we expected. Twin Peaks ended at the end of episode 17. Episode 18 began with the beginning, repeated. It began again. It leaves emptiness behind it.

Not everything has answers. Some things remain even from seasons 1 and 2. How was Annie Blackburn, anyway? And Audrey Horne? For me, enough was given to frame her story.

To be understood in any real fashion, Twin Peaks needs to be binged in some way. A piece at a time is not good enough. It beats to a different rhythm. It is one thing and must be swallowed in as large gulps as possible.

Even if it drains as it does.

Uncollected Thoughts: Twin Peaks s03 episode 1


I’ve come to this cold. No re-watching of the original two series, of Fire Walk With Me, I’m going in trusting only in my memories. Because these are vivid memories, because Twin Peaks was vivid, and lurid, and that ending was one of, if not the most horrifying experiences I have ever had with any kind of creative form, because it was the end but it wasn’t the end, it was a cliffhanger of Himalayan proportions and I sat there stunned. Special Agent Dale Cooper had gone into the Black Lodge to rescue Annie, and he had got her out, only he wasn’t he, he was Bob, Killer Bob, and the real Cooper was imprisoned behind.

No series has ever ended so awfully as that, so unbearably incomplete. Even though season 2 had dipped so badly throughout its middle episodes, it had come back with a vengeance with the introduction of Windom Earle, a truly terrifying performance by Kenneth Welsh. And that final episode had been one of the most intense television episodes I have ever seen, rivaling the last episode of The Prisoner.

Unbelievably, it’s back. And this is the first episode, consisting of parts 1 and 2 of an eighteen part series that has been described as an eighteen hour film. Well, bring it on! I am as insulated against trailers and spoilers and even promo photos as it is possible to be in this age and I am coming to this with clean hands and composure (as the writer Harlan Ellison is wont to say) and…

Indeed, and.

I’ve already read one review that suggests season 3 will piss off cult fans and newbies alike, with which I profoundly disagree. This is an eighteen hour film and I am getting pissed off at reviewers who expect to have the complete structure and purpose laid out for them in episode 1. This is supposed to be the age of the long-term project, the viewer willing and eager to commit to long series in which secrets and objectives and purposes are only revealed slowly, and in the meantime commit to working out the puzzle in their own heads, as they go along. It was the same for American Gods only three weeks ago, and it was stupid then.

But David Lynch and Mark Frost have gone far out on a limb with this opening episode (as indeed they should: Twin Peaks wasn’t just ahead of the curve in 1990-91, it was the curve and for it to come back exactly the same as before would be to gut it and remove any point to the return). For one thing, at a rough guess, less than twenty percent of the episode takes place in Twin Peaks, or even Washington State, and only a handful of our old friends have put in an appearance, and even then as cameos.

Strange things are happening, but mostly they’re happening elsewhere. In New York City a young man watches an empty glass case, under constant filming from three angles, during which time nothing happens, until he makes out with his girl, at which point something… something… emerges and seems to beat them to a pulp. Later, we see something significant happen when they were both out of the room.

In South Dakota, a murder is investigated, a woman’s mutilated head and a man’s mutilated body in the same bed. The murderer is a School Principal, but there’s a tangle of adulteries behind this. It’s very low-key, slow, undemonstrative, exceedingly normal and except for the brutality of the murder(s). But it’s been ‘organised’ by a shadowy background figure.

Who also pops up in Las Vegas, seeking information of an undisclosed kind, and dealing unmercifully with betrayal by the white trash he has assisting him. He’s due to keep an appointment tomorrow, except he’s no intention of meeting it. It’s been twenty-five years and now he’s supposed to go back, only he has no intention of returning to the Black Lodge.

Because the constant figure is Special Agent Dale Cooper, whether he is the real one, still trapped in the Black Lodge (from where he is to finally be released, once his doppelganger comes back) or he is the doppelganger, following some twisted course in the real world.

Something is being set up, and the whole fucking point of Twin Peaks in the first place is that you don’t go expecting the answers to be dropped in your lap, tied up with pretty pink ribbon. Lynch and Frost take things slowly – just as they always did – but there’s obviously a thread linking things together. Cooper’s coming back. The Log Lady, or at least her log (a fine, vulnerable, final performance by a clearly weak Catherine Coulson, sadly gone before this appears) knows it. Deputy Hawk understands some of it: he has come to Glastonbury Grove in the night and even though the real Cooper can’t leave before his doppelganger returns, the Black Lodge is losing its power.

And we see little vignettes with old faces, ending in the bar, as a band I’d never heard of called Chromatics replace Julee Cruise with a fine song I promptly downloaded, and people talk and drink and dance, and a near shaven-headed James looks across at a gaggle of women, one of whom is Shelley…

It’s back. Whether it can provide the resolutions we want after twenty-six years, we will have to wait until the end. I’m here for the duration, good, bad or indifferent. It’s like Alan Garner’s Boneland, the unexpected, much-delayed, radically different end of the trilogy. If Twin Peaks does as much to disturb the previous two parts as Garner did then, it will be a triumph.