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

Monday, August 4, 2014

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces


Released as part of the 12-disc blu-ray series TWIN PEAKS: THE ENTIRE MYSTERY, "The Missing Pieces" compiles deleted and extended scenes from "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" into a stand-alone 90-minute presentation - as David Lynch has also done for "Inland Empire" and "Wild at Heart" (though I didn't know about the latter approach until after writing this response). 

This piece was written in the middle of the night after watching the scenes, and slightly revised the next day before I'd read any other responses. As such it represents my immediate, unfiltered impression. Needless to say, there are spoilers for all aspects of "Twin Peaks."

In a way, The Missing Pieces is a misleading title, suggesting ultimate clues which will unlock "The Entire Mystery" of the town of Twin Peaks. But that mystery is already unlocked, in radical fashion, by the prequel film from which these scenes were originally cut. That movie irreversibly remains the spiritual endpoint of the journey which began one lonely morning when Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washed ashore, dead and wrapped in plastic, disturbing the melancholy tranquility of a sad small town. And yet...The Missing Pieces is a perfect title because this piece of the puzzle - not just a random collection of scenes but an experience with its own distinct mood and style - is a crucial missing link. It belongs between two worlds, the eerie yet oddly comforting community of the TV show Twin Peaks and the searingly raw, subjective psyche displayed in the film Fire Walk With Me. A fragile film-of-sorts, The Missing Pieces serves a poignant marker of the divide separating Laura from the neighbors who, despite their love, fascination, and frustration, finally could not help her in life and were therefore haunted by her death.

It's certainly unusual for a grouping of deleted scenes to receive a red-carpet Hollywood premiere and central place in a home viewing rollout, even if they do total the length of a feature. This is especially true when the film from which they were deleted was one of the biggest critical and financial disasters of its time, relegating its hip celebrity director to the has-been dustbin for many years and, even worse, stranding its talented star on the margins of Hollywood to the present day. Even today many fans of the series prefer to ignore or bypass Fire Walk With Me, treating it as an unfortunate afterthought rather than the climax of the whole saga (although they don't really have an alternative - the cancelled series itself ended in a cliffhanger). In a way, of course, this rejection helps explain the attention lavished on this release.

The Missing Pieces will be welcomed by many for strengthening the Twin Peaks half of Fire Walk With Me's full title. It exhibits all the miscellaneous, beloved characters who formed the show's texture yet were axed from the prequel; in this and in its atmospherics it restores the town as a participant in Laura's final days. The collection also incorporates more scenes with beloved and much-missed Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), including some connected to the notorious series finale (albeit not in a way offering closure to those desperate - or foolish - enough to hope for it). The Missing Pieces even makes room for a "happy" Palmer family scene, in which Leland (Ray Wise), Sarah (Grace Zabriskie), and Laura hold hands and chant in Norwegian before bursting into uncontrollable laughter. It's the return of the lovably eccentric Leland embraced by viewers before he was revealed as his daughter's murderer.

Most importantly, and obviously due to the darkest and most disturbing material having made it into the final cut of the film, The Missing Pieces eschews any direct references to incest or graphic depictions of mayhem and lechery. There are glimpses of Laura's pain and suggestions of its source: a truck ride exchanged for offscreen sex, the lead-up to the notorious Pink Room orgy, and a spooky moment when she hides from her father in the bushes. While there are drugs aplenty, sex and violence are alluded to without being directly witnessed. The Missing Pieces does feature some chillingly surreal Black Lodge-related setpieces (more on those in a moment) but nothing that feels as unnervingly "real" as Laura's torture and rape by her own father in Fire Walk With Me. When she is killed, her screams echo distantly in the woods, overheard by a distraught Log Lady - we too are affected but from a safe distance, even if we are now closer than we usually were on the show.

Despite this less alarming material, The Missing Pieces does not have a particularly happy ending, picking up where the TV show left us - Cooper seemingly possessed by evil spirit Bob (Frank Silva), or at least the FBI agent's dark side in cahoots with that evil spirit. In our final scene there is no redemptive twist, only "Bad Cooper"'s sinister retort when he's advised to return to bed: "But I haven't brushed my teeth yet." The credits roll over a shot of creamed corn on a spoon, dubbed "garmonbozia" and subtitled as "pain and sorrow" in Fire Walk With Me. Much like Cooper's visit to the Black Lodge and the muddled FBI investigation  of Teresa Banks' murder, the conclusion of The Missing Pieces informs us that the reassuring hero has taken us as far as he himself can go. Like Virgil giving way to Beatrice in the Divine Comedy, it's now Laura Palmer's turn to lead us deeper into the darkness, and only from there into the light. We cannot reach catharsis until we've brushed our teeth with garmonbozia and so these deleted scenes are not a substitute for the full prequel, nor (quite pointedly) are they re-integrated with it; instead they create a gateway. The end of The Missing Pieces carries us right into Fire Walk With Me  and should be watched before it - and after the series.

How does David Lynch - who edited this material himself - transform these castoffs into a coherent, cohesive piece? In fact, he's done this before. The DVD release of Inland Empire contains a 70-minute presentation of additional footage entitled More Things That Happened. Like The Missing Pieces - at least after the choppier Deer Meadow opening - More Things That Happened often joins scenes together seamlessly without any blackout space between them, as if they form a continuous narrative; both also present their footage crisply and cleanly (which contradicts the usual form of deleted scenes, often cast off early in post-production, unmixed and without color correction). Perhaps most importantly, the deleted scenes are edited, sound-designed and even composed (based on selected shots) in a style quite different from the films they ostensibly "belong" to. Both Inland Empire and Fire Walk With Me incorporate numerous dissolves and superimpositions, favor close-ups to mediums and wides, and employ rapid, sometimes jolting cuts - and yet More Things That Happened and The Missing Pieces are deliberately paced, cultivating suggestive menace rather than overt horror and featuring minimal music and sound effects. This creates a "dead air" effect, paradoxically just as evocative as Lynch's often lush soundscapes.

No doubt these qualities are rooted in the deleted-scenes aspect (time and money to mix and color-correct do not necessarily mean the ability or resources to create complex interweaving of clips or intricate soundscapes). Nonetheless, Lynch goes out of his way to translate practical necessity into aesthetic determination. There must have been many close-ups or mediums available for these scenes yet Lynch mostly sticks to long-take masters (as he did on the TV series) and the result is a heightened, almost theatrical mood in contrast to Fire Walk With Me's visceral impressionism. Moments linger ambiguously, subtly transforming before our eyes, and so we are presented with a more "objective," distanced view of Laura's final week. Sometimes Lynch even re-presents scenes from Fire Walk With Me using longer takes and wider shots.

On the other hand, The Missing Pieces does feature two surreal sequences greatly expanded from the final cut: the first "above the convenience store" which we originally saw only in static-saturated snippets, the second Laura's "possession" by Bob's voice, a sequence reduced to mere seconds in Fire Walk With Me. These hallucinatory, trancelike scenes do apply a more elongated, hypnotic approach - similar to the other deleted scenes - but they are also saturated with vivid video effects belonging more to 2014 than 1992. At times, The Missing Pieces feels more akin in tone and style to Lynch's twenty-first century digital work than either Fire Walk With Me or the Twin Peaks show, most alarmingly when Laura, trapped on her stairway by Bob's hissing incantations, slowly develops a sinister grin. This is accomplished by overlapping still shots of her shifting expression and recalls similarly disturbing effects in Inland Empire (most notably, Laura Dern's stretched-out "clown face").

If this collection is defined negatively by its rejection from a finished film, that rejection indirectly offers a positive definition as well. By hewing Fire Walk With Me (aside from the Deer Meadow opening) as closely as possible to Laura Palmer's harrowing perspective, Lynch inadvertently created an alternate film viewing her last days through the eyes of her community. The resultant Laura emerges as a still rather enigmatic figure, but one finally accessible to us, "living and breathing" as Lynch explained in his justification of the prequel. Laura wanders in and out of the other characters' lives, at times a guest star in scenes devoted to their own troubles (in the Missing Pieces diner sequence, site of a crucial visitation in Fire Walk With Me, she seems merely flaky because we don't share her vision, sticking mostly with the more mundane concerns of the waitresses). This conceit allows The Missing Pieces to exist both as a complement to Fire Walk With Me and an alternate point of view of the movie's world and events.

Lovely sequences abound, most memorably: a tender, sad love scene with Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Ed (Everett McGill) drunkenly spooning under the stars, listening to the film's soundtrack over a car radio; many moments with Laura's mother who emerges as a more fleshed-out and nuanced character than we've seen before (nobody benefits more from The Missing Pieces than Grace Zabriskie) - a loving if ineffective parent clinging by her tobacco-stained fingernails to the edge of sanity; several sequences between Laura and Bobby which further expose the sensitivity beneath his tough veneer (while poignantly expanding Laura's cruel manipulation of him); and a strong monologue from Moira Kelly's Donna (who, truth be told, is confirmed as a better fit for the character, at least this character, than Lara Flynn Boyle), expressing an insecurity and loyalty which both frustrate and beckon to Laura. The subsequent scene in the Hayward household observes the whole family gathering around Laura on their couch; there is such warmth in this family, such genuine love and affection that go so far to comfort Laura...and yet can only go so far (watch Warren Frost's expression as Laura's wounded bird slips out of the cozy Hayward nest one last time).

If a deleted-scenes collection can have an "eye of the duck" moment, this is it. There's even a very touching hint of Laura's angelic redemption at the end of Fire Walk With Me, when Doc Hayward slips Laura a prescription/love note promising that her angels have not gone away and that she'll cry tears of joy when she meets the one who will help her. We even get an explanation - of sorts - for Laura's cryptic "I am the muffin" comment in the nightclub; after an exchange over actual muffins in which the best friends tease one another with "you're the muffin," Laura pauses outside the door and delivers a bizarre punctuation to the entire scene. "You're right, Donna - I am the muffin!" delivered through tears, is as indescribably heartbreaking as it is hilarious, proof not only of Lynch's ability to wrest pathos from ridiculousness, but Sheryl Lee's unparalleled ability to sell the most absurd dialogue (see also: "Gobble, gobble.") Goddamn, this girl can act!

I've already decided this is one of my favorite Twin Peaks scenes, deleted or otherwise. It's also the one sequence I wouldn't mind seeing transferred into Fire Walk With Me. Only, that is, if it could also hold its spot in The Missing Pieces. We need to see it twice: once sharing the Haywards' desire to comfort and rescue Laura from whatever mysterious force pulls her beyond their loving embrace, once sharing Laura's understanding that she is beyond their help.

Over the past few months, I wrote numerous pieces on Fire Walk With Me, re-watched the series several times, and engaged in discussions and disagreements with Twin Peaks fans who dismissed or denigrated the film. I'd come to believe that perhaps the film needed to be separated from the TV show that spawned it. Maybe Fire Walk With Me was best appreciated as a standalone study of an abuse victim, a surreal horror film/psychodrama that should even be seen before the series to avoid the burden of unfair expectations. Although I myself saw the film after the series and was deeply affected, my feelings for it seemed to arise from a very different place than my fascination with the show, and even to conflict with them. Maybe their connection was more tangential than it appeared at first blush.

The Missing Pieces - and the all-encompassing Entire Mystery presentation to which it belongs - restores Fire Walk With Me (in its release cut) to its rightful place as not only part of the Twin Peaks experience, but its essential culmination, the necessary ending which returns us to the beginning of the story with new wisdom. In this way, not only Fire Walk With Me but the entire Twin Peaks journey - seen as a many-faceted yet singular narrative - joins Lynch's later films as a cyclical spiritual saga. The Missing Pieces can hopefully remind Fire Walk With Me's fans of what is still so valuable in the often frustrating TV series; more valuably, The Missing Pieces can serve as a bridge for the show's fans into the very differently-styled yet absolutely crucial world of Fire Walk With Me. We learn that Twin Peaks is not the story of an entire community OR a single intense life, it is the story of BOTH - a story which must end with the deliverance of the latter. With the restoration of these missing pieces, Twin Peaks finally becomes a deeply satisfying whole.

4 comments:

Dan Heaton said...

Joel, it was really great to catch a glimpse at what's in store with these extra scenes from Fire Walk with Me. It's interesting to think of them as almost their own feature film.

The challenge for me is deciding on if the high purchase price is worth it since I already have the Gold Box release. I'd love to see those extra scenes and hope to do so in the future, but that's a lot to spend even on a show that I love.

Bring Back Twin Peaks said...

Wow Joel... This was a beautiful piece. BRAVO. Once again you and I both share the same feelings on this much divided film. I agree with everything you just wrote. I am trying to create an article or thesis on this film I'm conjunction with the series and now missing pieces. I'd love to cooperate with you somehow. Maybe do a back and forth kind of thing. Message me on Facebook. And by the way, I'm putting this blog and the last paragraph on the page today. Take care and talk soon.

Joe Powers of Bring Back Twin Peaks

Joel Bocko said...

I know why you mean. Do you have the old Artisan & CBS DVD sets that pre-date the Gold Box? There's a lot of really cool interviews (the Al Strobel and Richard Beymer ones being highlights, though I also like spending time with Don S. Davis) which were on those sets but not the Gold Box. Other than the directors' commentaries they are all transferred over to the blu-ray.

Of course, in addition to the Missing Pieces, there's Fire Walk with Me, the HD quality of the series (although I've heard it's HD on Netflix it didn't look that good when I streamed it), and some really great new features like Moving Through Time, a very insightful 30-minute Fire Walk With Me documentary that is a hell of a lot more coherent than the one on the New Line DVD (although they also included that one for good measure), an expanded/uncut version of the Slice of Lynch feature from the Gold Box (which I haven't watched yet), and my personal favorite, Between Two Worlds, in which Lynch interviews the Palmers - both the actors as themselves and (in a 10-minute b/w intro) as the characters they played! Interesting, to say the least. Also, not that it's much of a consideration but the menus/atmospherics (broken into motif-themed montages on each disc: donuts, the ring, the Douglas firs, the owls, etc) are REALLY cool.

On the other hand, you have the hefty price. DEFINITELY don't spend the $130 Amazon asks for. I got it for $90 in a Bull Moose store and plenty of other places have it going for that. Some people have even used coupons & discounts to get it down to $60 or so at Barnes & Noble (this thread seems to have some good options: http://forum.blu-ray.com/showthread.php?t=219694&page=108; look at the most recent pages).

My advice? If you're really into the show and want to own the whole experience, sell the Gold Box (double-check, but I don't think you'd be losing much other than the SNL skit and Japanese commercials) and the FWWM DVD if you have it, and then re-invest in the Entire Mystery. The difference will hopefully end up coming out to not much more than a particularly sumptuous Criterion release which is probably a decent price for all the supplements.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, Joe. I remember you mentioned that - and I would definitely be interested in a group conversation I some sort via chat, podcast or whatever...let me know. I am hoping to compile some sort of overview as well, originally at the end of the year but another Twin Peaks book is coming out in February so I'll probably wait till then to summarize my thoughts. But increasingly I see the whole saga as this very messy and yet ultimately coherent experience.