Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): 3 years of Journey Through Twin Peaks (& how it began)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

3 years of Journey Through Twin Peaks (& how it began)

Newfound Lake, NH
(site of some early inspiration)

On October 1, 2014, I uploaded the first Journey Through Twin Peaks video. Since then, this series has become by far my most popular work, and certainly one of the projects I'm proudest of. Journey took about four and a half months to complete, and began as the coming-together of several different ideas. By the fall of 2014, I had already been publishing a lot about Twin Peaks for six months, ever since I casually decided to read a book of Twin Peaks essays (Full of Secrets, edited by the late David Lavery) that had been sitting on my desk for four months, and in my online cart for half a decade before that. What follows is a short history of the process that led to this video series, if you find such things interesting! (Well, it was supposed to be short but it ended up kind of long - in fact I will follow up at another time with parts 2 and 3, as I enjoyed revisiting this process, however navel-gazey...)

Thank you to everyone who has watched, shared, commented on, or otherwise engaged with Journey Through Twin Peaks. I hope it continues to help people in their own journeys with this work.

And here is where the playlist for Journey Through Twin Peaks begins:




Part 1: Before

I first saw Twin Peaks in 2008, right at the exact time I began this blog (you can read my first offhand mention of the show, which I still hadn't finished viewing, in the preamble to a Bresson review). After writing my first episode guide on an immediate rewatch and covering a few Lynch films around the same time, the series faded to the background of my work on this site. It would pop up here and there on lists or in brief mentions in pieces focused on classic films or new releases but Twin Peaks didn't become a focus again until that book inspired a rewatch (on Netflix, on...*gulps* my phone!).

From the beginning of this immersion, outside factors seemed to sync up with my own personal journey. In February and March, as I read those essays, found The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer online, and came across various fan sites, I discovered it was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the timeline in the show (my journey began two days after the anniversary of Cooper's arrival in town). In March, as I rewatched the series and received an invitation from critic Tony Dayoub to discuss Fire Walk With Me for a film site, I learned that a blu-ray of the series and film was scheduled for release later that summer, with rumors of something more. In April, as I began work on the Fire Walk With Me correspondence and dove deeply into several days of research (resulting in this round-up a few months later), the pilot turned twenty-four, which shouldn't have been that big of a deal and yet there were a flurry of high-profile pieces on the series. Clearly, something was in the air and multiple people, for no reason they could really attest to, were being drawn into this world once again.

In May, as the correspondence was published and I labored on a massive retrospective review of all of Lynch's work as well as an extensive non-narrated video essay centered around Fire Walk With Me, the inclusion of the deleted scenes (The Missing Pieces) on the blu-ray was announced - probably the biggest event to hit the Twin Peaks community since the release of the film. There would also be an interview between Lynch and the actors who played the Palmer family in character, essentially the first new Twin Peaks material since the Log Lady introductions on Bravo in 1993. I marveled at the completely coincidental head start I'd gotten on this resurgent phenomenon and wondered only half-jokingly what cosmic forces were at work in my life. As Cooper himself says, "When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention."

For two months straight, once a week, this site published lengthy explorations of Lynch's work, and nothing else. After a year spent mostly screen-capping my feverish viewing habits (a pace, and a breadth, that has never recurred since), this was also a plunge back into the world of writing. And with the debut of my non-narrated Lynch video, these months marked my return to video essays after a year-and-a-half break. During that time I'd come into contact with Kevin B. Lee, the renowned video essayist, who loved my Brian De Palma video from several years earlier and interviewed me about it on Press Play. Since the Lynch montage was similar in style and theme to that work, I sent it to him and a lengthy, fruitful conversation resulted via email. This would lead further down the line to a long published interview about his own work, and within a year I would be published video essays on Fandor under his editorship.

Indeed, Journey Through Twin Peaks arose out of a cross-section of interests: not just my fascination with Twin Peaks but my love for the video essay form, which I had been dabbling in since 2009 but wanted to devote more consistent attention to. Emerging a decade ago when Kevin B. Lee joined several ideas together - DVD commentaries, video mashups, the long storied tradition of essay films, and the brand-new platform of YouTube - the idea of the video essay always excited me immensely although I had only watched a handful. At first, I didn't consider my own initial forays into the form to be "video essays" (I had a narrow definition that required narration as well as reassembly) but I consciously began working with this approach around 2012. After publishing the Lynch video in June 2014, I determined to keep up the pace of one video essay every month. I didn't expect most or perhaps even any to be about Twin Peaks. Indeed, my next monthly video was about Lady and the Tramp!

I thought my "David Lynch Month" would represent the apex of my spring obsession with the auteur and his work, particularly Twin Peaks - although I knew the journey wouldn't truly end until I'd seen The Missing Pieces of course. I reckoned I would probably be compelled to publish a Twin Peaks post every month, even as my attention went elsewhere. In anticipation, I rewatched the series again while viewing a bunch of Sheryl Lee films and TV episodes to prepare for a study of her work in Fire Walk With Me (this never happened, but the screencaps and descriptions were gathered into a filmography much later). I also began tentatively posting on Twin Peaks forums. I had always been a bit wary of fan culture, or at least my impression of it, but the community I found was thoughtful, eclectic, and incredibly energetic, further fueling my own engagement with the work.

That spring, I had mostly dealt with Twin Peaks through the lens of Fire Walk With Me (which I viewed as a subversion/counterpoint to the series), David Lynch's filmography (recall he only directed six of the thirty episodes), and Laura's trauma, which was the focus of some of the best essays in Full of Secrets and obviously central to The Secret Diary. When I had reached the killer's reveal episode for the first time in over five years, I was profoundly upset by Maddy's murder in a way that I hadn't been when I first watched the series. The exchange with Tony, the collection of quotes, and especially the Lynch video essay were all rooted in the gravity of the show's trauma and my comments on other parts of Twin Peaks were mostly in relation to this phenomenon (during this time, I also read the poetry of Anne Sexton, and her daughter's account of abuse by her - a connection brought to my attention by this post).

However, as early as the Fire Walk With Me correspondence, I was beginning to grasp at a larger context, specifically a spiritual one. The reading list that began with Twin Peaks and Sexton followed a path through fairy tales, mythology, and religious studies or parables. That specific area of inquiry would evolve slowly, climaxing as I worked on later Journey videos and read Hindu scriptures that would make their way into my work. By summer, however, I was also starting to look at Twin Peaks itself as a broader context. This included a study of its history, leading me to interview John Thorne - editor of the Wrapped in Plastic fanzine - and Brad Dukes (author of Reflections: An Oral History, one of the first-ever standalone Twin Peaks histories which was published right in the midst of this renewed personal and cultural Twin Peaks frenzy - another remarkable case of synchronicity!).

It also included an unexpected yearning to sink into the world of Twin Peaks aside from (but not necessarily without consideration of) Lynch's episodes and Fire Walk With Me. In particular, I remember really being drawn to the episode in which Maddy disguises herself as Laura and calls Jacoby; this sort of gumshoe intrigue was so far from the shattering, profound Lynch oeuvre and yet was part of the same world in a sort of distanced, ethereal, down-to-earth way, which fascinated me. If I'd spent the spring building up the spine of my conception of Twin Peaks, now I was working on the muscle. Although I'd written about the work as an entertaining, messy soap opera in my first episode guide, my return to Twin Peaks had been primarily filtered through the essence of the story - Lynch, Laura, trauma - which didn't leave much room for the fun, lighter, more straightforwardly "fandom" aspect of the show. Only in the summer, after feeling that I had really grappled with the deep, dark, momentous aspects of Twin Peaks did I feel comfortable drifting back toward the rest of it.

Between Brad Dukes' book, my conversation with John Thorne, the full rewatch, and my purchase of an old DVD set with actual commentaries (by writers and directors of the first season, as well as the director of photography and production designer), I was re-acquainted with the warm, melancholy magic of the world and its ensemble. I still found the back half of the show, especially the mid-season two episodes, a slog to get through but there was a refreshing charm to "Twin Peaks the series" that made me slowly shift my primary context away from how the Lynch episodes existed in relation to his other films, and towards how they existed in relation to other episodes of the series itself. I even started work on another never-completed post (later cannibalized for screencaps on this blog and Tumblr), a ranking of Twin Peaks' best scenes, with one whole list to be devoted purely to non-Lynch episodes so he wouldn't monopolize the entries.

During this time, I appeared on my first Twin Peaks podcast with YouTuber Cameron Cloutier, whose work I discovered through his amazingly in-depth interview with Jennifer Lynch a year earlier. As I talked with him about the differences between the film and the series (he liked both, though at times he wished the film could have incorporated more from the show), and argued with fans who actively disliked and tried to dismiss the film on IMDb and other forums, I began to consider that the two worlds might have to be separated for both to thrive - especially Fire Walk With Me. Actually, I'd felt this way since I first saw the movie; it seemed to be "bigger" than Twin Peaks in a way - a genuine cinematic masterpiece that deserved a standalone reputation - and yet was harmed by disappointed expectations of people who wanted more Cooper, townspeople, and pie/coffee (and less incest). At this time (there's been a remarkable shift in just three years, most of it following The Missing Pieces) it seemed to me that the Twin Peaks community was about fifty/fifty divided on liking this movie. There was still a lot of hostility two decades after its release.

This was my mindset in late July when I bought the blu-ray set and watched some of the new features. I think I jumped straight to the cryptic Palmer family interview before The Missing Pieces; I was curious to see the deleted scenes, but didn't expect much from them. To my surprise, they ended up fundamentally reshaping how I conceptualized Twin Peaks in a way that would lead directly to Journey Through Twin Peaks. For the first time, I could really appreciate how the world of the series - its warmth, good humor, subtle sadness, and camaraderie - could co-exist with the world of the film - its singularity, intensity, deep ache, and abrasiveness. Indeed, I was so taken with The Missing Pieces as a gateway between the two works that I began recommending people watch it literally between the series and film, a viewpoint that received a fair amount of backlash on certain forums.

Even the blu-ray's menu pages contributed to this sense of a holistic work of art, all of a piece, however messy. Dubbed Atmospherics, they isolated certain elements (owls, the ring, trees, and of course coffee, pie, and donuts) into evocative montages scored to some of Angelo Badalamenti's most haunting tracks, as if calling forth an essence of Twin Peaks, an Ideal which had never quite existed but could be formed in our imagination. From this point on, I was hooked on the idea of a meta-Twin Peaks, that out of the chaos an "entire mystery" slowly cohered to tell a single story. My reading also furthered this idea. John Thorne's essay "The Transformation of Laura Palmer" (he sent me the full version after his abbreviated blog post brought us into contact) challenged me to think of Fire Walk With Me not only as an intense, surreal immersion in an emotional state, but as a constructed narrative, a plot with a character arc (however unconventional). The connections he drew between Ronette and Donna in this piece would also lead me to my own epiphany, an idea I tentatively explored for months before making it the linchpin of my climactic Journey chapter ("She Would Die for Love").

Martha Nochimson's book The Passion of David Lynch also encouraged me to find poetic purpose and meaning in elements I had brushed past, like the ring, or Laura's appearance inside the portrait. More importantly, she was able to engage with Lynch's work on an almost phenomenological level, using Jung and feminism as frameworks but not imposing them on the work so much as bringing elements within it into focus. The day I finished this book I was on a family trip in New Hampshire to a wooded lake surrounded by large hills. As I swam in the water, I remember an exciting idea floating up into my own mind: I wanted to visit Twin Peaks as a single work - no, as a kind of world I could enter and move around inside, exploring with a map of the whole landscape. I would do this through a very long, possibly book-length written essay that delved into various nooks and crannies while keeping the big picture in mind.

The following month, I was eventually able to marathon the whole work, from pilot through The Missing Pieces and then Fire Walk With Me (indeed, through Between Two Worlds). I even incorporated asides to re-read The Secret Diary (after the season two premiere's flashback to Laura's murder), listen to the Diane tapes on YouTube (which picks up essentially where Laura's diary leaves off and ends with recordings from that season premiere), and introduce myself to the Cooper memoir, My Life My Tapes (after Josie's death, when ABC put the show on hiatus in 1991). I took fourteen pages of notes, and soon after finishing the audiovisual journey, I wrote - in one sitting - thirty-nine pages of a kind of guided tour through the work, finally running out of steam near the end of season two. I never really resumed this piece, and when I attempted to rewrite it as an even more in-depth study, crafting a writerly introduction, I didn't make it much further than a paragraph or two. (I would forget the original opening to this write-up - a reverie in which I take the reader to the fictional town of Twin Peaks as if it's a real place - until revisiting my notes much later, at which point I transposed it pretty much verbatim to the final chapter of Journey).

It had been exactly six months since I unsuspectingly picked up that book. The Missing Pieces had been released, that was going to be it for Twin Peaks forever, and I'd completed my own process of "getting" the work. Now, I had other things to attend to - on my blog and elsewhere - and I figured this was the perfect point to finally put Twin Peaks on the back burner. I'd allow myself to work a little bit at a time on that epic essay, chipping away at it with the long-term goal of having it ready for publication on April 8, 2015, when the series would turn twenty-five. Meanwhile, I'd publish my monthly Twin Peaks post (I still had a follow-up interview with John Thorne, on The Missing Pieces, and was beginning to pursue a conversation with Martha Nochimson) and maybe even one or two of these would be a short video, to fulfill that monthly commitment: two birds with one stone.

In fact, I'd already punted in August, publishing a short experimental film I'd made nearly a decade earlier that worked as a sort of proto-video essay but was not what I had in mind when announcing my plans before. Anticipating September's entry, my mind naturally drifted back to Twin Peaks, which I couldn't quite leave behind. Initially I planned a montage of Cooper/Laura moments, but it didn't quite gel as a video and suited the screen-cap visual tribute format much better so I published that instead. But certain ideas were beginning to percolate. As I recall, there were three seeds for Journey Through Twin Peaks, beyond my hunger to present the whole Twin Peaks cycle as one coherent work in some medium or another. When I still thought I might make fragmented Peaks videos (after all, I initially assumed, a video essay was restrained in ways that wouldn't allow for a comprehensive overview the way that prose would), my primary hooks were audiovisual.

Just like Lynch wanted to see Laura Palmer "live, move, and breathe" so I wanted to set my - and others' - thoughts about the series into motion, to have them engage with the work itself. The first idea was a simple cut, from Laura's empty chair in Fire Walk With Me to the empty chair in the series, fusing together the prequel and the pilot in a chronological flow. The second idea was a split-screen, presenting one of John Thorne's most notorious theories - that the Deer Meadow passage of Fire Walk With Me was Cooper's dream; specifically, I wanted to follow his assertion that Laura's explicit dream in the film mirrors this prologue by comparing certain moments side by side. The third idea was a montage, a collection of all of the Laura home video clips into one sustained movement, zoomed in until they filled the screen and slowed down in time to Julee Cruise's song Mysteries of Love from Blue Velvet, her first collaboration with Lynch - this would convey the way Lynch himself fell in love with this character and the way her actual presence suffused Twin Peaks as much as her ineffable mystery.

In fact, as these ideas began to cohere around the notion of a video overview of the entire series (initially, perhaps, just as vehicle to get these moments onscreen), the first real structure to emerge was musical. I knew the journey would be chronological and, maybe inspired by the Mysteries needle-drop, decided to use Julee Cruise's Lynch/Badalamenti songs that weren't on the soundtrack as bookends for each part: one devoted to the first season and the season two premiere, one devoted to the arc concluding Laura's mystery in season two, one devoted to the rest of season two, and the final part exclusively focused on Fire Walk With Me. There were several songs from her album Floating into the Night that I knew I wanted (in particular, "Floating" was a song that felt like it belonged in Twin Peaks even though it was never used) but I needed more. So I downloaded her second (and only other) album with Lynch, Voice of Love, and was surprised to discover that the Fire Walk With Me theme had lyrics! (And very pertinent ones.) I made a playlist of eight songs in the order I wanted them, and listened to it for inspiration.

During mid-September I danced around getting started, overcoming some technical issues, re-reading notes, and taking care of other Twin Peaks business (as well as getting bogged down in a lengthy, rambling essay on Boyhood, The Giver, and several "death of adulthood" thinkpieces). Amidst this other work, I outlined the structure for the videos; at this point, I had only found one Twin Peaks video essay on YouTube (in fact a school project from the nineties, long before "video essays" were a thing): the concise yet comprehensive Welcome to Twin Peaks toggled back and forth between different topics during what already seemed like a lengthy twenty-minute runtime. I knew that I had to stick to a chronological approach to express my own point of view, as the "journey" of the thing was what I was most interested in. I also knew that, when the installments were added up, Journey Through Twin Peaks would be a little longer. I had no idea how long, however, and was shocked to discover the first part alone ran a half-hour, the length I thought the whole essay would probably be.

Finally, on September 25, I went to see Fire Walk With Me at a public library with my cousin - the first time I'd watched the movie with anyone else, let alone a full audience. All of my prep work was completed and after this screening I could finally begin constructing the project in earnest. The initial work flew by after the long delay; determined to publish the video at month's end (the blog was still on Pacific time so I made the cut before midnight), I was able to assemble the piece rather rapidly even amidst other work (or so I assume, as I was working steadily during this period but can't remember the details of my schedule). In about four days, the clips were all slotted in to match the narration I'd written for Part 1 (subtitled "Harmony of the Dark Woods").

Most of this was pretty straightforward; the most ambitious passage was the opening which incorporated a changing screen size and some generic "TV set" masking as well as clips from various genre films as a way in to the material. Earlier that spring, I'd outlined a personal film project that dipped into clearly delineated genres, and my last video essay had manipulated footage from Lady and the Tramp to resemble different genres too - so this was an approach very much on my mind at the time. But mostly the clips filled space in the narration (while allowed ample room to breathe on their own) and I was able to easily pull what I needed once I got the hang of it. I raced to upload the video to Vimeo in the waning hours of the month, but the next day I re-recorded the narration. There were pops and peaks all over the soundtrack (which I recorded on my iPhone) and I was more careful on a second pass, listening to the previous recording on my headphones so I could match the timing. This voiceover was more successful, although there were (and remain) some glitches along the way.

The day after this, I was inspired to carve the long video up into five separate chapters, giving each its own title and posting them on YouTube where I felt the audience might want more bite-size pieces than on Vimeo. Meanwhile, I had already established October and early November as "Six Weeks of Twin Peaks", abandoning my "break" from the show with the realization that the obsession wasn't quite over yet. During this time I would publish my growing backlog - the two Thorne interviews, the Nochimson interview (which she'd agreed to, though we hadn't spoken yet), and eventually the Sheryl Lee study and a few other pieces. Parts 2 and 3 would play their part in this process while Part 4 would be published in early December, after the "Six Weeks" had ended, and I was presumably onto other pursuits.

According to the settings on the video, it was 9:01 AM on October 2, 2014, when I finished uploading the last chapter on YouTube, completing my presentation of Part 1 of Journey Through Twin Peaks. The following morning, at 8:30 AM, David Lynch and Mark Frost tweeted, simultaneously, "Dear Twitter Friends: That gum you like is going to come back in style!"

I will publish the second part of this memoir in February, on the third anniversary of the initial video series' completion. The third part will be published sometime in 2018, whenever I've finished publishing the new videos, covering the third season.

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