Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks in context

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Twin Peaks in context

Atop my first post on "Twin Peaks," I quoted the show: "That gum you like is going to come back in style." Little did I know how right I was. Lately, the show has been materializing all over the blogosphere; both series and movie prequel Fire Walk With Me have popped up on Moon in the Gutter, Cinema Fist, and The Kinetoscope Parlor, among others. A quick google blog search for "Twin Peaks" turns up even more results; not bad for an 18-year-old show that was cancelled after one year, nor for a film which was booed at Cannes, panned by critics and ignored by audiences (I discuss Fire Walk With Me here and here). True, a new Gold Edition Box Set was released last fall, but why the sudden resurgence of interest this summer? Perhaps the Man From Another Place could tell us...

Anyway, my fascination with the series has only grown since I watched the final episodes and the prequel. So I'm going to do something slightly ridiculous - I am revisiting the series just weeks after I first discovered it, at a slower pace, analyzing it episode by episode.


I'm especially interested in the way different directors dealt with the material: David Lynch's episodes have such a distinctive atmosphere (and guest directors were obviously taking his cues) that it raises questions of auteurism to new heights. This is one of the most formally interesting television series of all time, so it's worth examining to see what makes it tick. Also, now that I know the outcome and the general shape of "Twin Peaks," rather than waiting impatiently to find out who killed Laura Palmer, I can approach the series in a more reflective mood. There's a lot to take in here besides the mystery plotting and surreal atmosphere.

Recently, I watched the bonus DVD which comes with the series. It provides an astonishing context for the show and puts the experience in a whole new light. I had enjoyed and been perplexed by the series nearly two decades after the fact, watching it in isolation. But in 1990 "Twin Peaks" was not just a cult phenomenon, it was a pop culture event, to an extent I didn't really understand (though Tony Dayoub provided a good analysis recently - third comment down). I'll be watching the pilot yet again in a few days to begin my retrospective. But for the time being, let's explore "Twin Peaks" as cultural phenomenon rather than "Twin Peaks" as art or entertainment.

"Twin Peaks" represents one of those all-too-rare and giddily inspiring moments when adventurous, typically marginal content and style are embraced by the public (something that happened across the board in the late sixties, but seldom since). To anyone in love with art and its possibilities (and not invested in a kind of overprotective, "I knew it before you" indie elitism), these moments are thrilling, like waking up and discovering your great dream is continuing into waking life. Makes me wish I was around when this show hit the air, watching David Lynch become not just a respected film talent, but a widely-discussed public figure. Of course, I would only be in for disappointment as the show's appeal quickly fizzled and was largely forgotten.

But before the let-down "Twin Peaks" really was part of the popular culture (cue Phil Donahue in inimitable cadence introducing the cast of "Twin Peaks": "the MOST written about, MOST controversial...show...ON television...THIS season...of what do I speak and whokilledLauraPalmerdoyouKNOW?" I'd link the whole clip but it's very poor quality). The bonus features remind us of this, with merchandise, magazine covers, water-cooler conversations, and cheesy publicity devices. There was even a 900 number for rabid fans to call - it featured prerecorded phone messages with Andy and Lucy discussing spoilers. Also memorable are the "Happy Holidays from ABC and Twin Peaks" bumpers with dancing doughnuts and Saturday Night Live skits which barely manage to parody a show that often seemed to be teasing itself. All of this is kind of thrilling in a hard-to-describe way.

But, of course, the public is fickle and to be fair, the show lost a lot of steam in the second season. ABC scheduled it in a ridiculous time slot and upon further investigation it seems that some of the show's hype was media wishful thinking (the pilot got big ratings, but after that it got more limited, but steady numbers). Much of the merchandise and advertising contained on this disc occurred after the show's popularity had already peaked, so the avatars of pop culture were racing to catch up. They were a little too late. I wonder where "Twin Peaks" would have gone, both artistically and as a cultural commodity, if it had weathered its post-Laura Palmer storm (or better yet, kept her mystery going) and spun off into third, fourth seasons, etc. - assuming the tepid quirkiness which engulfs season 2, part 2 was overcome and the show's earlier tone returned. I wonder: did audiences like "Twin Peaks" in spite of David Lynch, or (however briefly) because of him?

Let me know what you think; there's a lot more to discuss here. In the mean time, I'm going to post a couple interesting tie-ins, as well as a few memorable moments from the show.

Oh, and as an aside, what's your favorite Twin Peaks moment? Mine, despite all the enjoyably terrifying Bob moments (the first being the worst, as I was completely unprepared for it) and the thrill of first discovery with the Red Room, is probably Donna sitting in the Roadhouse, softly mouthing the words to Julee Cruise's ethereal song. Meanwhile, the cast gathers around her in the bar, prior to one of the show's darkest scenes.

"Season's greetings from Agent Cooper and the gang, and all those Douglas firs up in Twin Peaks" (accompanied by a perky Christmas remix of Angelo Badalamenti's theme music)


Audrey's bizarre (and sexy) dance


Japanese take on Twin Peaks, as seen in a coffee commercial:


Another eerie and inexplicable music moment as James, Maddie, and Donna do a little home recording:


And one of my favorite clips from the DVD, Angelo Badalamenti describing how he & Lynch came up with Laura Palmer's theme:


I'd like to put up more but my computer is too slow, so maybe later.

5 comments:

is that so wrong? said...

Thanks for your comment on my FWWM post awhile back.... you have a friend in Twin Peaks with me!

Looking forward to reading on....

MovieMan0283 said...

Thanks in return - just caught this comment. Hope you have enjoyed the other Twin Peaks entries - the next episode should be coming up soon.

MovieMan0283 said...

Somehow I missed this at the time. Better late than never:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vftf8TTve4s&feature=related

Anonymous said...

I just rewatched the entire series, twenty years after I first watched it when it aired on T.V. Though its previously overlooked flaws are now apparent to my adult self, it is still just as captivating and emotionally resonates so deeply.

Your blog entries are the best write-ups I've read on the show.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks! (he says over 3 years later)