Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): August 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 16 - "No knock, no doorbell."


So...that just happened. As I reach for comparisons, the first to come to mind is episode 16 of the original Twin Peaks: the one in which Cooper magically solves the show's central mystery, captures Leland Palmer, and (temporarily) expunges Bob from the material world. "No knock, no doorbell." has the same breakneck sense of pacing, a jaunty, breathless, butterflies-in-stomach eagerness to hit its marks and give us what we've anticipated for...well, sixteen episodes come to think of it (ok, that's cheating - the original episode 16 doesn't include the pilot in its count). Narratively the match isn't exact because Cooper's awakening precipitates but does not deliver a climax, and tonally the heroic return of our protagonist is a far more joyous occasion than the death of a killer. Stylistically though, and on a more fundamental level of spirit, this feels remarkably similar. As followers of my work may know, I am not the biggest fan of episode 16 - but I liked Part 16 quite a bit. True, David Lynch's open embrace of cheeky absurdity is a welcome addition to the original mix, since he didn't direct that earlier episode (Leland's capture has been compared to a Law & Order episode given its more straightforward approach); but some of the things I enjoy about this semi-resolution are the same as what I do like about that older one. What differs is the context.

The other comparison that just occurred to me, which feels more apt, is to the Neon Genesis Evangelion finale. Not to the sections featuring avant-garde animation or lengthy, psychoanalytical internal monologues but to a specific moment just before the end when the lead character, Shinji, himself awakens. (Skip two paragraphs if you care about a jarring, if brief, surprise twist in that episode.) The boy pops out of bed, greeted by his stereotypically ordinary parents (doing the dishes and reading the newspaper), and races out the door with his best pal Asuka. Schoolyard drama ensues and the whole thing has an air of wacky, antic energy, bubbling over with a sense of fun even as its setting is aggressively everyday. In this, I'm told, the spirit of the sequence corresponds with many other anime shows...without at all corresponding to the rest of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji's parents aren't truly kitchen-dwelling normies; his dad is a sociopathic warlord and his mother is dead (well, kind of, it's a long story). His gal pal/girlfriend is in real life catatonic following her own violent trauma, and the city he cheerfuly jogs through has - outside of this dream state - actually been devastated by a massive battle (in which he, no ordinary schoolboy, took part). Shinji, in the midst of a psychedelic reckoning both physical and metaphysical, actually exists in a post-apocalyptic society, his life a mixture of numb depression and intense trauma (far from being everyday in its milieu, the series features giant mechas battling otherworldly monsters over the fate of the world).

Shinji's classroom interlude is a fantasy and/or alternate reality demonstrating how his mind can create other realities. The sequence also offers what many frustrated viewers yearn for, the ability to relax alongside beloved characters without any anxiety (which the show otherwise cultivates). This is, in a word, fanservice - but delivered with a cheerful wink and sleight of hand. We enjoy the moment because it's enjoyable, and we appreciate it because it exists within a more profound if troubling frame.

Does Twin Peaks?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 15 - "There's some fear in letting go."


There are three possibilities. First possibility: Cooper is dead (although, as the giant Jeffries kettle reminds us, Mr. C is still Cooper in some fundamental sense as well). Wouldn't that be a pisser? David Lynch and Mark Frost string us along for fifteen episodes, allowing Dougie to elude numerous assassins, and then dispatch him by having the guy stick a fork into a wall outlet. The event is even triggered by him hearing the name of David Lynch's character (is Sunset Boulevard the first movie we ever see played in Twin Peaks?), as if to remind us exactly who is doing this to our beloved hero. The ultimate troll? Beyond pure sadism, this development could serve some dramatic purpose - forcing Mr. C to be the conduit (no pun intended) of Cooper's redemption or sending the good Cooper back to the Lodge/elsewhere (as the Log Lady says, death is not an ending, just a transformation) so he can find another way out or achieve something even more important, which we can't foresee. Yet I suspect the series isn't going to go there. For whatever reason, even though I was audibly shouting at my TV "Don't do it!", I'm not particularly worried about the character right now.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Into the Woods (discussing Twin Peaks: The Return Pt. 14 w/ Twin Peaks Peeks podcast)


All of the Twin Peaks podcasts I listen to have something unique to offer, and in Twin Peaks Peeks' case it's the hosts' fearless enthusiasm for in-depth conversations on various topics, using Twin Peaks as a springboard to discuss TV narrative structures, sociopolitical questions of representation, or their own personal experiences (such as their journey to the series' locations while The Return was being shot). When Ashley Brandt and Mat Olson invited me to make a guest appearance on their latest show, the episode was no exception - our conversation spilled over two hours (edited down to a still-generous chunk). I talk about how I got into Twin Peaks and what my approach to it is, and then we cover on Hinduism, superhero tropes, Eisensteinian montage, and (what were to me anyway) unfamiliar concepts like tulpas and misophonia. Speculation and reflection abound; this was a really fun discussion and I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed participating. Also, Brendan James was a recent guest so between that and Discourse Collective's interview with Will Menaker, I can now assert that Lost in the Movies officially shares of an extended podcast universe with Chapo Trap House! (Take that as you will...on a more serious note, I strongly encourage you to check out Chapo's recent coverage of Charlottesville.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 14 - "We are like the dreamer."


What's the biggest news this week? That the gang finally made it to Jack Rabbit's Palace? That the FBI has now linked up with both Twin Peaks and Las Vegas? That Chad was busted by his compatriots? Nah, of course not. We saw all of those things coming, even if we couldn't figure out when (especially after Part 13 tipped its hand about screwy chronology). Far more shocking and memorable were any of the following: Monica Bellucci finally appears as...Monica Bellucci! (In David Lynch's, er, Gordon Cole's dream!!) Sarah Palmer literally killed an obnoxious bar patron by removing her face and then biting off his neck!!! Andy is the one to make contact with the other side (specifically the Giant ??????? The Fireman)!!!! James' gloved British buddy was sent to Twin Peaks personally by the...Fireman!!!!! DIANE AND JANEY-E ARE SISTERS!!!!!! And yet in some ways the scene that affected me most was the final one, maybe simply because it was the cherry on top of everything else, the moment that tipped my overall impression toward something I've been wanting to feel but hadn't quite yet: the intoxicating desire to enter into mysteries that I suspect will never be solved.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 13 - "What story is that, Charlie?"


Somewhere between watching last week's and this week's episode I finally got a grip (I think) on the shape of this series. (Hey, it only took twelve hours.) Nothing big - well, nothing big big, like no earth-shattering twist on the level of a quasi-comatose Cooper popping out in Dougie Jones' place in Las Vegas - is going to happen again until the finale. True, part 8 is already something of an outlier, but look what it actually achieved: not so much a crazy narrative development as a dazzling stylistic detour (whose explicit plot relevance, if any, probably won't be revealed until later). And I don't think we're headed for another part 8 any time soon, though I'm admittedly less certain about that. In a way, this is an odd statement to make right now: aren't I just repeating what I've been saying since the beginning? I have, more or less, voiced such views about Dougie/Cooper (and, with the series more than two-thirds over, I think I've won that bet). But I thought other parts of the narrative would pull the rug out form under us, or rather pull back the curtain and reveal a hidden reality or shocking secret that reoriented our understanding of what we were watching.

This created a nervous dynamic each week: particularly eventful episodes would excite me, inspiring me to think, "Oh boy, we're really onto something big now!" while more low-key episodes would frustratingly evoke the feeling of being stuck in a rut. But after mulling over last week's perplexing, frequently perverse installment I finally sighed in a mixture of relief and resignation. I've always said that David Lynch's notion of an ongoing narrative is different from Mark Frost's (and many other television writers'): less a cycle of beginnings, middles, and ends - existing within an overarching narrative perhaps, but still full of self-contained units - and more an extension of a single middle as long as possible. I should have listened to myself, despite Frost's deceptive proclivity to sprinkle breadcrumbs along the three-and-a-half month-long path. Set-ups and payoffs do exist, characters and storylines have moved (if not exactly advanced), and there are a few mini-arcs within the larger narrative. For the most part, though, The Return wants to linger and doodle between A and B, not leap from A to B to C and onwards.

So the best way to enjoy each week is simply to sit back and let it happen without too many questions or expectations. This isn't a slow-moving train, it's a train that has stopped and calmly rests in place, partly to refuel for the final destination (the terminal point within sight on the horizon, yet frustratingly no closer as each hour passes), but also to allow us to wander and explore this particular way station. In that sense, those who grumble that Lynch stretched a nine-hour story into an eighteen-hour one aren't necessarily wrong, but that's the point. Don't rush the journey, we'll resume eventually; for now, just enjoy the scenery. You'll miss it when it's gone.