Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): 4 Ways to Watch Fire Walk With Me: Art Film, Horror Movie, Lynch Project, Twin Peaks Episode

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

4 Ways to Watch Fire Walk With Me: Art Film, Horror Movie, Lynch Project, Twin Peaks Episode


This is the third entry in 5 Weeks of Fire Walk With Me. Next week I will discuss connections between the film and the new Showtime season last year.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) is a confounding experience for many viewers because it can be so hard to contextualize. Cinephiles may feel too alienated from its connections to a TV series to appreciate its qualities as an art film; horror enthusiasts may be tripped up by its reliance on surreal experimentation over genre tropes; Lynchheads may be perplexed by its raw, grisly intensity, its ingredients less balanced than they are in other, equally strange entries in his oeuvre; and Twin Peaks fans may be the most bewildered of all. This is all the more true if those TV viewers came to the beloved ABC series thanks to soap opera, sci-fi, or quirky comedy but are unfamiliar with the more abrasive work of its auteur. Haunted for many years by its undeserved bad reputation, the Twin Peaks prequel wandered in the wilderness lost like a lost soul, a film without a home. The truth, however, is not so much that Fire Walk With Me doesn't belong in any of those contexts - in fact, it belongs to all of those contexts. If the movie doesn't fit neatly into any one category, it still spills over into many, in deeply fascinating ways. Here are four ways to watch Fire Walk With Me, each gripping on its own but even richer when viewed in conjunction with the others.

Inevitably, major plot points will be discussed below. And if you're hungry for an additional "Four Ways" analysis, in this case placing the movie inside different junctures of the series, check out the brilliant "The Four Placements of Fire Walk With Me" by Julius Kassendorf. My own analysis will eventually explore Fire Walk With Me's connections to the series (in the most extended section of them all), but first I want to start as far away from that perspective as possible.


Fire Walk With Me as Art Film

Perhaps the most essential viewing framework to stress, and almost certainly the least obvious, is "Fire Walk With Me as a standalone film." Okay...but what kind of standalone film? We'll discuss its place in the horror genre in a moment, but when regarded as a work that can thrive independently of other contexts, the best comparisons are probably European art films. In my Journey Through Twin Peaks video series, I compare the narrative of Fire Walk With Me to Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, an unusual comparison given the Fellini classic's worldly, sophisticated air: a big-city melodrama centering a thirtysomething man enmeshed in celebrity culture and the Italian aristocracy rather than a small-town psychodrama centering a teenage girl enmeshed in private supernatural visions and American high school. Nonetheless, both films feature an episodic, seven-day structure to convey their protagonist's spiritual journey. Other films, meanwhile, convey a closer stylistic or thematic correspondence.

What perplexes some Twin Peaks viewers about Fire Walk With Me feels far more explicable in a wider cinematic context. The bizarre cross-fades between the worlds of Philadelphia and the room above the convenience store; the laid-back, bemused bebop cool of Chet Desmond's Deer Meadow investigation; the trance-inducing strobes and wall of sound in the Pink Room nightclub; the chaotic, abrasive cacophony of the crosswalk confrontation...all make sense in light of non-Hollywood filmmaking traditions, in which individual auteurs play with sound and image to suit the mood they want to convey rather than to comfort audiences so they will accept a straightforward narrative. Lynch's own work can prepare the viewer for this sort of challenge, but even beyond his own filmography, it's hard to imagine someone familiar with the intense focus of Ingmar Bergman or the offbeat temporal sense of Andrei Tarkovsky or the disorienting diversions of Luis Bunuel being quite as startled by Fire Walk With Me's unusual sensibility as someone coming from a mainstream film/TV background (that said, plenty of widely experienced cinephiles have misunderstood this film, unfortunately).

The first forty minutes, despite some bold flourishes, don't suit this template quite as well as the Laura Palmer material. While I'm generally averse to drawing too sharp a line between "art films" and "entertainment films" (I think most compelling movies feature elements of both), there are some qualities which help define the former. Among them: a devotion to character, theme, or mood over narrative; a willingness to play with camera and cutting in non-naturalistic fashion, recognizing that the medium is not simply a tool to deliver information but a sensory stimulant in its own right; and a preoccupation with brooding, deep, dark concepts - this is the quality most mocked as "pretentious" in art cinema (Pauline Kael memorably termed this "The Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties"), yet it remains a crucial cornerstone of many ambitious cinematic works. After dancing around its own purpose for a while, Fire Walk With Me dives headfirst into all these areas: its loose structure is far more interested in immersing us in Laura's mind than conveying a linear plot; Lynch indulges audiovisual experiments at every turn; and the movie transforms the at-times shaggy dog/generic supernatural tone of the TV series into a devastating exploration of domestic abuse - incest in suburbia.

Before tackling the film in this light, I watched five European art films, initially by coincidence, eventually by choice: Antonio Pietrangelli's I Knew Her Well (1965), Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa Vie (1962), Maurice Pialat's A Nos Amours (1983), and Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966). All of these films, particularly I Knew Her WellVivre sa vie and A Nos Amours, unfold in fragmented, elliptical fashion, a quality shared with Fire Walk With Me. By the end of this viewing session, I was tempted to skip the Bergman film, despite its obvious links to Lynch (Mulholland Drive probably more than anything else), simply because the other four films so perfectly synced with Fire Walk With Me. These four follow young women through various sexual or romantic trysts and personal investigations; like Laura, three of these characters will die by the end of the film (or perhaps two and a half, considering Veronique). They exist in worlds defined and controlled by men, yet they retain some limited agency. All five films - six including Fire Walk With Me - are directed by men who are captivated by the charisma of their lead actresses while also sharing their emotional investment and identifying with the female protagonists. The male gaze is present in each film, yet each carves space for the star's consciousness to operate independently of the storyteller's removed fascination - facilitating the viewer to invest more in the main character.

Each film emphasizes a different fragment of the Laura collage. Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli in I Knew Her Well) conveys the same mixture of world-weary allure and confused, corrupted innocence, at times a woman, at times still a child. Veronique (Irene Jacob in The Double Life of Veronique) suffers from a fragmentation of her identity, a sense that there are multiple versions of herself that she's only dimly in touch with (in this case her doppelganger is the deceased Polish singer Weronika, also played by Jacob). Nana (Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie), reflective and restless, longs for a "pure" love while navigating the jumble of exploitation and agency in her day-to-day sex work. Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire in A Nos Amours) is a bright, popular adolescent exploring her sexuality as her family life dissolves - most notably she has a complicated relationship with her abusive father who can turn on the charm one moment and lash out at another (the film's director plays the father and employs unusual methods - at one point, he burst into the scene in the midst of shooting, shocking the actors who had been told his character was dead). Laura even seems to fuse the two halves of Persona (which itself teases this fusion before conveying it through a literal split screen near the end). Elisabet (Liv Ullman) is aloof, mysterious, silent, all performance all the time, aware she is being watched and withholding whatever haunts her - much like the iconic Laura of the series. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is confused, self-doubting, veering between spiteful cruelty and desperate dependence - closer to the human Laura we meet in the film.

With this context in mind, no other element leaps to the forefront more readily than Sheryl Lee's performance, which can stand proudly aside Sandrelli, Jacob, Karina, Bonnaire, Andersson, and Ullmann. Like all of the characters played by these actresses (but especially the first four), Laura is both lost and defiant, willing to employ her sexuality when necessary, existing in a state between the vulnerability of youth and the gritty wisdom of maturity. This quality more than any other links Fire Walk With Me to the most thoughtful, sensitive works in movie history, films that punch through or sidestep the demands of industry, in order to convey an artist's concern with individual consciousness. While much of Fire Walk With Me exists uneasily between its various roles - horror convention, TV spinoff, Lynchian experiment - Lee is relentlessly committed to a devastating truth most often found in the types of films praised in lofty terms by the very critics who savagely disparaged Fire Walk With Me in 1992. This is also what marks the film out so boldly against the series. To switch from a male-dominated detective story to a female-guided psychodrama makes an already startling form of filmmaking even more impressive.


Fire Walk With Me as Horror Movie

If Laura is an artist's subject, she's also a "final girl," with a twist (in this case, the ultimate victim succumbs to the psycho killer yet still manages to defeat him). In fact, viewed side by side, many similarities emerge between formally experimental character studies and genre-encoded thrillers/chillers; sometimes, the two approaches merge, as in several of Roman Polanski's films. It's not hard to see how Fire Walk With Me can fit into both niches. Horror audiences have laid more claims on this work than any other genre cultists (they tended to appreciate the film when it was otherwise dismissed; in recent years, Mark Kermode has even called it "the best horror film of the 90s"). Even at the time, as horror and Twin Peaks fan Cameron Cloutier has pointed out, New Line pushed a marketing strategy that highlighted the film's slasher bona fides with Halloween-esque traveling shots of eerily innocuous suburban sidewalks giving way to flashes of knives and blood, screams cuing a hard rock music cue. "Who killed Laura Palmer?" began as a tagline to lure in mystery-hungry thirtysomething TV audiences and ended as a teaser for thrill-seeking teen movie audiences (far less successfully in the latter case).

What's remarkable about Fire Walk With Me's status as a horror film is just how many different branches of the genre it suggests, without ever fully dovetailing with any of them. Is it a spooky immersion in an extradimensional netherworld like Hellraiser 2? A slasher picture with a serial killer pursuing sexually active teens-in-peril through the woods like Friday the 13th? A movie about possession by a primal force, making an ordinary man into a monster (The Wolf Man or any of its offspring) and facilitating a demonic struggle for the soul of an innocent girl (The Exorcist)? A supernatural yet deeply psychological (and sociological) tale, as much about patriarchy run amok as ghostly intervention, turning the happy home into a haunted house (The Shining)? Is it (yes) all of these and more? The film's co-writer Robert Engels has talked about looking for the film in a video rental store a few years after it was released, and reacting with both surprise and agreeable recognition when he found it on the horror shelf. If the film must be classified (and in a rental store, it must), it couldn't find a more welcoming home.

Once again, however, the first part of the movie doesn't fit the overall pattern. Deer Meadow, despite possessing a great horror name and perhaps a few appropriate visual flourishes (like the electric sparks of the diner hallway crew, Chet's ominous approach to the old trailer, or especially the injured woman fumbling toward the trailer door), is closer to noir or even comedy, if dry, arch humor is your thing, than to a form as visceral as horror. Notably, the first genuine horror image we see, aside from the smashed TV and victim's scream at the opening, is the white-masked, long-nosed Jumping Man, who phases in and out of view as an FBI agent babbles and the spooky score kicks in. As if one genre decided to invade another, the horror aspect rises and subsides (but mostly rises) throughout the film, building until the final act plays almost entirely as a horror movie in setting, theme, and execution, albeit horror with artistic ambition beyond a splatterfest for bored teenagers. The stylized violence and uncanny portrayal of magic play into this vibe: a bloody-mouthed, spotlit Laura screaming straight into the lens is straight out of giallo, while the weird ritualistic confrontation between spirits in the Red Room evokes Lovecraftian disorientation.

After gathering at least a dozen compelling recommendations, I watched four horror films alongside Fire Walk With Me: Joseph Ruben's The Stepfather (1987), Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965), and Dario Argento's Phenomena (1984). They all had strong connections to the Twin Peaks film, quite distinct from one another, as if Lynch's horror foray was an effort to bring different strands of the genre together (although I wouldn't be surprised if, of those four, he'd only seen the Polanski). Ray Wise's terrifying mood swings, often conveyed in unsettling close-ups, strongly recall Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather, another film about a father figure suspected by an only child, a teenage girl under his authority who knows he's not what he seems. Laura's haunting nightmares, which allow her to pass between her bedroom and other realms in a way that makes reality and dream hard to distinguish, easily mesh with the dreamscape of A Nightmare on Elm Street, another film about a gleeful, taunting, supernatural murderer, visually embodied as a social outcast, who preys on a traumatized but resourceful high schooler. The most basic narrative of Fire Walk With Me could be described, succinctly if crudely, as "The Stepfather meets A Nightmare on Elm Street."

Lynch's long treks down ominous hallways, traversing empty domestic settings as if they contain otherworldly booby traps for the fragile but determined protagonist, remind us of Polanski's eerie shots in Repulsion, another film about an isolated young woman facing a psychological crack-up as she fends off the predatory men who encroach upon her, experiencing inexplicable nighttime assaults by a stranger in her bed (suggestively linked to repressed family abuse). And Fire Walk With Me's valorization of the heroine's psychic power, its conviction that only she can solve the film's initial murder and frustrate the manipulations of dangerous adults, gibes nicely with Phenomena, another film set in an isolated region, surrounded by woods, where a potential victim must become the detective while conventional male authorities fall short. Phenomena's arm's-length, eccentric resemblance to Fire Walk With Me feels uncanny at times, in its exploration of the connection between a lonely girl and a reclusive, brilliant shut-in whom she chooses to guard her secrets, in its images of the heroine sleepwalking through gothic corridors, and particularly in the unexpected appearance of an ape as a girl faces murder near the end of the film.

Phenomena's link to Fire Walk With Me has been extensively explored elsewhere "FIRE WALK WITH ME vs PHENOMENA - The Comparative Analysis No One Asked For!" (you'll be glad they answered anyway) is an investigation worth pursuing down the rabbit hole. If anything, while more obedient to genre narrative conventions, Phenomena may be an even stranger film than Fire Walk With Me; both films share a truly bizarre and eclectic arrangement of elements. Yet both are anchored by a similar archetype, borne as much out of fairy tales as horror movies. With the partial exception of Repulsion, the central figures of all these films - including Fire Walk With Me - are schoolgirls forced by those around them to question themselves, even as they commit to fighting back against violent predators who threaten to make them the next victim. Laura's death renders her the only fatality out of these characters (although the ending of Elm Street is ambivalent about Nancy's fate and I'm not sure how the many sequels deal with her). Yet Lynch makes clear that even if Laura lost her life, Bob (and Leland) did not achieve their desired aim; and Fire Walk With Me's final scene, a Heaven to complement its many visions of Hell, suggests a spiritual, if not a physical, victory.

Since I began writing this essay a year ago, another detective emerged on the Elm-Peaks case: A.D. Jameson with a thorough, illuminating exploration of many images, motifs, and ideas shared by the Twin Peaks series and the first three Freddy Krueger films. Most obviously of all (how did I miss it!) Freddy's first victim, a young, sexually adventurous blonde woman, reappears to her friend in a dream...wrapped in plastic. Furthermore, Cameron Cloutier observed that the first part of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in some ways bears even more striking resemblance than the original Nightmare does to Fire Walk With Me, with a blonde teenager picking up her friends on the way to school, later trembling in her loose gray sweater because she knows she's going to die in a matter of days and there's nothing she can do about it.


Fire Walk With Me as Lynch Project

As a "type of film," Fire Walk With Me may actually be easier to peg as art film or horror flick than Lynch joint. No other Lynch film is as closely linked to external material; this plus its damning critical reception ensured that for many years it was ignored or rejected even by Lynch enthusiasts. Even its recuperation has tended to take place within the context of Twin Peaks; only scholars like Martha Nochimson and Michel Chion bothered to treat it as distinct work. When occasional critics and viewers separate the film from the Peaks mythos and view it as a powerful statement in its own right, they often speak of its thematic darkness and stylistic ingenuity rather than its continuity within Lynch's own canon; sometimes, the film is even admired precisely as an aberration, given how personal and messy it is for an often enigmatic, precise filmmaker. And so there can be a tendency for appreciations of Lynch's work as a whole to leave out Fire Walk With Me and for appreciations of Fire Walk With Me to leave out Lynch's work as a whole.

The critic Tony Dayoub was the first to bring to my attention how Fire Walk With Me is not only consistent with Lynch's larger body of work, but also a crucial fulcrum within it. Indeed, Fire Walk With Me holds down a spot directly in the middle of Lynch's filmography (his sixth of ten films, completed fifteen years after Eraserhead and fifteen years before Inland Empire). It was Lynch's first film with editor Mary Sweeney, who would continue to cut his work until Inland Empire, which he cut himself, as well as his first to center on a female protagonist, his first to tell two semi-separate stories in one film, and - despite the surrealism of Eraserhead, the mysticism of Dune, and the magical visions of Wild at Heart - his first to truly infuse a supernatural mythos into a relatively realistic environment. Despite this, Lynch has held Q&As in which every single feature is mentioned except for this one, and even his own book Catching the Big Fish leaves it off the list, perhaps considering the inclusion of Twin Peaks as a whole sufficient (despite the dates on that entry reflecting only the series, an editor's mishap hopefully). When the film was released, Lynch did tentatively broach the idea that it could stand on its own but he hasn't pushed that idea forward much in subsequent years.

Whatever Lynch's own take, this is a feature film. In everything from its aspect ratio to its production values to the form of its story it feels closer to Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive than, say, a typical hour-long entry in the middle of the show's second season or even the Lynch-directed, shot-on-location pilot (which was produced in many ways like a movie yet still has the structure of a TV episode and the pared-down aesthetic, however evocative, of a TV movie...more on that in a bit). Fire Walk With Me has a big screen feel even when watched on a television, and freed from the censorship of ABC and the demands of weekly storytelling, Lynch is able to settle into a form of cinematic storytelling more familiar and amenable to him. So, yes, it's a movie but as a specifically David Lynch movie, how does it fit in with the few other features that can claim that mantle?

In 1992, the readiest example of Lynch's cinematic talents was still Blue Velvet. Like that film, Fire Walk With Me unfolds in suburban, small-town America (both films, much more than Twin Peaks as a show, blur the line between those two residential adjectives). On the surface, the community is a sunny, friendly place, the picture-perfect postcard of the Eisenhower era magically maintained into the end of the century. Beneath that surface, of course, is a world of hidden, decadent vice: a criminal element engages in drugs, blackmail, and sexual exploitation. The division between shiny surface and dirty underworld is less clean in Fire Walk With Me than in Blue Velvet (the worst exploitation takes place within the family rather than outside of it and the blackmailer is essentially on the "good" side). Meanwhile, Laura fuses the narrative roles of Jeffrey Beaumont and Dorothy Valens into the same character and Leland dresses Frank Booth up in the respectable clothing of a middle-class father.

Harder to locate as a direct antecedent to Fire Walk With Me is Lynch's immediately previous project, Wild at Heart. What does a Southern-fried road movie have in common with a small town psychodrama, aside from touchstones and motifs found in all Lynch films? Well, Wild at Heart is the first Lynch film to even attempt identification with a female character; we spend the latter half of the movie exploring Lula's private breakdowns as frequently as Sailor's public screw-ups. It also initiates a more stylistically fluid, visceral phase in Lynch's work, which Fire Walk With Me further cultivates, extending the earlier film's use of rock music, swooning cross-dissolves, and bleary point of view shots. A woozy Steadicam increasingly becomes a favorite Lynch tool after the sturdier framing of his earlier work, and Fire Walk With Me probably represents the key moment when that mode becomes predominant (you can even see a shift into that key between the Deer Meadow and Laura Palmer passages).

Overall, the progression from Blue Velvet to Wild at Heart to Fire Walk With Me represents a turn away from the colder, more precise/rigid aesthetic of Lynch's first three features. Still this film has commonalities - perhaps more narrative or thematic than formal - with that early trio too. The links to Dune are the most tenuous, though Paul is the only other Lynch character whose heroism relies on the recognition of psychic skill (depending on your read of Laura's journey). More closely paralleling Laura's condition is John Merrick in The Elephant Man; both are abuse victims who view themselves as freaks rather than fully human - although Merrick is mild and Laura lashes out, both exhibit compassion for friends amidst their low self-esteem. And both die at the end of their stories, in ambiguous situations that could be viewed as a disappointing defeat, a necessary self-sacrifice to end the pain, or a transcendent assertion that a spiritual journey has been completed (Merrick gazes at the picture of the sleeping child on the wall, while Laura gazes at a similarly sentimental depiction of children with an angel; she'll also gaze out of a picture at a sleeping child - herself).

Finally, Fire Walk With Me's essential narrative thrust bears a compelling, if more richly contradictory than complementary, relationship to that of Eraserhead. Both films depict a filicide which releases someone into a comforting, light-filled afterlife although in Lynch's earlier film it's the father/killer who escapes through murder, rather than the child/victim. Fire Walk With Me's ending also looks forward toward Inland Empire, especially if you're fond (as I am) of believing that Laura subconsciously summons that angel for Ronette: in this light, both films depict a blonde rescuing a weeping brunette, allowing the latter to escape through an open door while providing some form of karmic release and spiritual victory for the former. And speaking of blondes and brunettes, Mulholland Drive echoes Fire Walk With Me's sense of mystery: digging into questions of identity and memory to reveal a dark secret. Laura Palmer's acutely emotional narrative also presages the warm compassion of The Straight Story and the heartrending immersion in Mulholland Drive's tragedy, as opposed to the more aloof distance of early Lynch.

Fire Walk With Me's relevance certainly does come into sharper focus when viewed through the lens of Lynch's later work than when tracing its own roots through the early films. In many cases, Fire Walk With Me serves as a test work that grounds the innovations of late Lynch in experimentation borne of practical necessity (mostly springing from decisions made on the series). Comparison with his next film, Lost Highway, can be revealing. After attempting to include both the FBI (initially emphasizing Cooper) and Laura in the same film because he wanted to continue the TV show while also going where it couldn't, Lynch crafted a dual narrative: Lost Highway morphs into a story whose bifurcation is the central conceit (as it will continue to be in most subsequent films) rather than a necessary mishmash. After being forced to balance the psychological motivations of Leland with the spiritual machinations of Bob because the series had leaned heavily on a supernatural explanation, Lynch invents the Mystery Man, a monster from beyond who is called from within, growling "It is not my custom to go where I'm not wanted" (as the Creature Behind the Diner and the Phantom could also claim). And after being confronted by the insufficiency of a male detective when depicting a young woman's trauma, because what had been necessarily abstract in a police procedural must now be depicted firsthand, Lynch creates a dual male character as desperate as Henry and as vigorous as Sailor, yet clearly a self-(and other-)destructive antihero. In later films, he would abandon the masculine hero/antihero altogether to fully identify with the "woman in trouble," as he already had in Fire Walk With Me.

In a way, then, Fire Walk With Me works not only as a bridge between early and late Lynch but as a cinematic conduit for innovations forged in the crucible of network television production.


Fire Walk With Me as Twin Peaks

Lynch always defends Fire Walk With Me when asked, but he also tends to present it as a crucial chapter in Twin Peaks rather than a work unto itself. He highlighted the film in The Entire Mystery package alongside the series several years ago and more recently centered Fire Walk With Me within the narrative of the third season. This emphasizes a once-marginal entry as the heart and soul of Twin Peaks (perhaps second only to the pilot in Lynch's personal estimation) but also contextualizes Fire Walk With Me as not quite like his other movies - maybe not exactly a movie at all. Three sections of this essay have been devoted to rejecting that thesis but, finally, let's look at Fire Walk With Me as a part of Twin Peaks. Not just as a subversion, as I've explored times before, or even as a twist that expands and enriches the series, as was the aim of my Journey Through Twin Peaks videos. Rather, let's ask: what does Fire Walk With Me feel like in direct relation to many notable episodes of the (older) series, and what do they feel like in direct relation to it?

However, before delving into the particular episodes, how does Fire Walk With Me fit into the established atmosphere of Twin Peaks? It does feature, albeit sometimes briefly, several important locations (the RR Diner, the high school, the Road House, and obviously the Palmer home - albeit with a different exterior than was used in the series). The film also contains a winking nod to coffee, although rather subversively and outside of the town proper, and of course it dips heavily into the mythology that defined the series even though the actual screentime of that iconography during the two seasons was pretty limited. (In that sense, Fire Walk With Me may actually be more Twin Peaks than Twin Peaks itself.) On the other hand, some of the most crucial locations of the series are absent altogether (the Great Northern, the sheriff's station, One Eyed Jack's, the mill, Big Ed's Gas Farm, most of the townspeople's homes), as are the bulk of the townspeople themselves. If (bad) coffee gets a fleeting mention, pie and donuts are altogether absent; meanwhile, the classic figures - Bob, Mike, the Tremonds, everyone but the Giant - may make appearances but the language of the mythology, the struggle between the Black and White Lodge, is mostly ignored.

Perhaps most notably, owls are replaced by electricity as a spiritual conduit (not a single owl in the entire film - even season three had that one in Vegas) and, at least until the inevitably woodsy climax, the dark forest surrounding the town is mostly reduced to cameos. This is a major change from most episodes of the series, especially the pilot and finale, in which the narrative seems as much about depicting woods and mountains as haunting, brooding forces of nature as it is about the events that unfold under their watch. Indeed, the Twin Peaks of Fire Walk With Me feels distinctly suburban, with its emphasis on close-quartered homes and convenient sidewalks rather than widely dispersed houses framed against looming trees. The weather is even different: shot in late summer and early fall, the Fire Walk With Me crew faced sunny conditions rather than the foggy, overcast milieu of the pilot. And yet...Fire Walk With Me avoids the very Californian flavor of many Twin Peaks exteriors by shooting on location in Washington for the first time since the pilot. Despite the different look, this is the same area in which Twin Peaks was born, unlike most episodes. Does this make Fire Walk With Me more or less Twin Peaks?

This brings up an important point: even as a series, Twin Peaks was highly variable, never one concrete thing but rather eclectic and even contradictory. The film's awkward, clashing relationship with the series has dogged it since its release but this view, while emerging from some definite tendencies - particularly the series' emphasis on straight-arrow FBI Agent Dale Cooper as the story's focalizing presence rather than mixed-up, tragic teenager Laura Palmer - can obscure the show's own rich unevenness. In fact, Fire Walk With Me tends to draw from many of those different aspects of the series (the Laura hook of season one, the supernatural cosmology of season two).


Here are twelve episodes (six directed by Lynch, six by other directors) where Fire Walk With Me directly links up with Twin Peaks:


Pilot: Unsurprisingly (or maybe surprisingly, given that it has the greatest chronological distance from Fire Walk With Me), this premiere episode features by far the most elements that are "answered" in the movie. This is due to at least three factors: first, as a prequel the film must lead directly into the events of the pilot, whereas by the finale the plot had largely wandered in other directions; second, Lynch often cites the pilot as "what it's all about," and he was clearly keen to return to this environment after such long detours; third, Lynch and Engels have specifically mentioned revisiting the pilot while writing the film whereas it's unclear (and possibly unlikely) that they viewed any other episodes.

Even the Deer Meadow section, set up as an anti-pilot in many ways (establishing a world contrarily thumbing its nose at every convention of Twin Peaks), relies for its entire premise on something established in the pilot. After all, this is the episode which introduces us to Teresa Banks, a character who (in conjunction with the letter under the fingernail, also springing from the pilot) clues us into the fact that Laura's murderer is a serial killer. Likewise, the shaken, eventually quasi-comatose Ronette Pulaski - a plot device allowing Cooper to come to town and to cultivate the grisly aura around Laura's death - comes to life in the movie.

Amusingly, the pilot's Cooper even tells Diane (whom he will speak to via tape recorder in the film as well) to give the case to Albert Rosenfield rather than Sam Stanley - "Albert's a little more in the ball." Lynch would resurrect this quirky throwaway line years later, revealing to us exactly how Agent Stanley wasn't quite on the ball by making him a part of Fire Walk With Me. Of course, as the pilot episode, this introduces us to townspeople - Donna, Mike, Bobby, James, Shelly, Norma, Sarah, Heidi, Leo, the Roadhouse singer - who will at least make an appearance in the movie, some in auspicious cameos betraying the film's origins, others (necessarily) as major parts of Laura's life.

Most of all, the pilot centers - more than any later episodes will - on the tragedy of Laura Palmer, and this more than any other element is what Lynch was keen to return to in Fire Walk With Me. The pilot leaves her a tantalizingly mysterious character, offscreen but for appearances as a corpse or in a home video; the film, while giving her life, makes sure to draw upon the clues set up in the pilot, including her cocaine use (including the baggie in her decoy diary) and half heart necklace, and to reference the iconography of that pilot (the portraits at home and in the glass case at school), now with a newly ironic contrast to Laura's flesh-and-blood humanity. We even return to Laura's empty chair in the classroom, now in a very different context (ditto the ceiling fan, which shifts from the ominous abstraction of the pilot to a very grim practical utility: Leland turns it on to mask his assault on Laura, though we also see its spiritual connotations when Bob speaks to Laura under its humming).

Plot points are dutifully respected; Laura and Bobby fight at school, she goes over his house to do homework (supposedly anyway), the night she is killed she meets up with James and jumps off his bike at Sparkwood & 21, and of course, we witness the savagery in the train car and the killer wrapping Laura in plastic. The film even makes sure that Bobby "kills a guy" (just as James tells Donna that Laura told him - an interaction we also witness, in a scene that consciously echoes James' and Donna's embrace-in-darkness). Over and over, the film draws upon the pilot, yet it also feels so starkly different in mood, texture, and purpose. There's something disorienting about its dual position, drawing heavily on work crafted in a very different way years earlier, yet presenting these elements as if brand new, as if, paradoxically, they preceded their influences.


Episode 2: Although Albert is mentioned in the pilot, he first appears in Episode 2 (his Episode 3 scenes were shot earlier, but this was the first time Lynch directed him). Fire Walk With Me makes sure to find a place for this lovably sarcastic, worldly skeptic, even centering him in one of the rare cutaways from Laura's world. The film also draws upon the iconography of Bobby's and Mike's dark woods drug deal with Leo, employing a similar flashlight-in-pitch-black lighting effect. Additionally, the moment in which Chet Desmond aggressively grabs the deputy's nose feels like a humorous riff on the far more affectionate gesture of Cooper in Episode 2, when he pinches the sheriff's nose.

Most of all, of course, Fire Walk With Me draws upon the big scene of Episode 2, Cooper's dream (which was actually shot as a non sequitur alternate ending for the pilot before Lynch and Frost found an in-narrative use for it). The jean-jacketed Bob, the red-coated Little Man, the one-armed Mike, the zigzag-floored Red Room, the room above the convenience store (a verbal reference in the pilot, an actual location in the film), and the "Let's rock" line (transferred from the Little Man's lips to graffiti on an abandoned car - or does the film want us to suspect the latter inspired the former?)...all are born here. Indeed, the whole idea of a character experiencing a visionary dream which points them in a certain direction (and connects the figures of Cooper and Laura) is repeated in the movie, using Laura this time instead of Cooper.


Episode 3: In an episode neither written nor directed by Lynch (authored by Harley Peyton and helmed by Tina Rathborne), we get a couple elements that are echoed or continued into the movie. Laura's autopsy, with her benign corpse protected by loving townspeople, makes a stark contrast with the dirty, jarring appearance of Teresa's body, totally neglected by her own neighbors as the FBI dispassionately combs her over. Episode 3 also introduces Jacques Renault as a key figure in Twin Peaks' drug trade (and a bartender at the Roadhouse), roles he will repeat in Fire Walk With Me as he arranges an exchange with Bobby while preparing for a night's work.


Episode 5: With the Log Lady's haunting recollection of Laura and Ronette screaming as they are forced through the woods by a third man (hinting that neither Leo or Jacques was Laura's killer, though both were present with her that night), the series circles closer to the climax of the movie. The FBI also discovers Jacques' cabin, which looks different on TV than in the cinema (Lynch biographer Greg Olson points out that Lesli Linka Glatter, who directed Episode 5, and especially Mark Frost, the series co-creator who wrote it, place the red curtains from Cooper's dream in this cabin, while Lynch leaves the walls bare, eschewing any "real-world" explanation for that psychic dreamspace). And we meet Waldo, the talking bird whom we see frantically flying about his cage in the film.


Episode 7: At One Eyed Jack's casino, where he's fooled by an icognito Cooper, and later at the hospital where he's drugged and bandaged following a failed assault on a police officer, Jacques describes the events that unfolded at his cabin the night Laura died. There are some differences from the film's depiction (we don't see the "bite the bullet" moment, nor Jacques and Leo fighting before he's knocked out) but the overall gist of it fits: there's a drugged-up orgy, with the two girls tied up, and Jacques is out cold - with Leo gone - when they are taken away. Mostly, this season one finale serves as a fascinating contrast with the movie. Just as Fire Walk With Me is an almost totally Lynchian affair (with Engels along to help out) so Episode 7 is a totally Frostian opus, written and directed entirely by the largely unsung showrunner who managed the production of the acclaimed first season while Lynch was off shooting Wild at Heart.

I haven't mentioned Mark Frost much in this piece, with good reason: despite a ceremonial Executive Producer credit, he had nothing to do with the movie and in fact disapproved of its genesis though Lynch's determination and Frost's preoccupation with his own feature film (Storyville) ensured that the film would go forward. (For what it's worth, a loyal Engels sought - and received - Frost's blessing before replacing him as collaborator.) This might be a good place to observe that, despite his creative disconnect from Fire Walk With Me - and its jarring juxtaposition with his own sensibility (many of those missing elements mentioned above, including the owls, the eclectic town ensemble, and the explicit Lodge terminology, were largely Frost's doing) - the movie is still based in a premise, and draws upon many touchstones, that Frost very much participated, or even led the way, in creating.


Episode 8: The Lynch-directed season two premiere is most obviously connected to Fire Walk With Me by its closing minutes; together, they are the only parts of Twin Peaks to depict Laura's death in the train car. They do so in very different ways. Ostensibly Ronette's flashback, Episode 8 shows the murder as a series of jagged, almost impressionistic close-ups, pure horror with no redeeming value, dominated by the exclusive presence of Bob who serves as a mask for Leland. The film, of course, will intercut the two and re-center the dramatic action on Laura's rejection of Bob, acceptance of the ring, and compassion for an angelically-rescued Ronette; in other words, the show demonstrates the terror while the film, amidst its own terror, demonstrates the transcendence.

This too is hinted in the episode; questioned by Cooper and Truman, Dr. Jacoby muses that "maybe [Laura] let herself be killed." The other details of Laura's last night are reinforced by the long recap Cooper and Albert provide in the sheriff's station (the script for this episode even described images of Laura's last day unfolding; a kind of proto-Fire Walk With Me that was presumably never shot). Episode 8 also introduces the idea of Laura's "things" having an almost totemic power (in the episode Donna dons her sunglasses and immediately assumes a femme fatale aura; in the film Donna ties Laura's sweater around her waist and makes out with a shady character - Laura screams at her and warns her again, the morning after, "Don't ever wear my stuff").


Episode 9: Although Laura's involvement with the diner's Meals on Wheels program was teased early in the first season, we get a closer look at this process when Donna takes up her dead friend's route and hears of Harold Smith, the recluse who befriended her and eventually safeguarded her secret diary. Perhaps most notably, the episode establishes both the creepy grandmother and grandson (called Tremonds here, Chalfonts in the film) and the creamed corn which the grandson cups in his hands. It won't be called garmonbozia or connected to pain and sorrow until the film (in fact these few seconds are the only screentime this iconic motif gets all series), but the symbol is established. Incidentally, this is the only Lynch episode written by someone other than Frost, although author Harley Peyton's Tremond scene was much simpler and didn't involve the corn (a Lynch addition after he glimpsed the oozy dish in a cafeteria that morning).


Episode 12: This is the prime Harold Smith episode. His entanglement with Donna will be echoed in the film by his final moments with Laura. Laura leaves him with her secret diary; Donna attempts to take it away. Donna also describes an encounter she and Laura had with several older men with they were in their early teens, a much more benign premonition of what happens in the movie. Written by freelancer Barry Pullman and directed by one-timer Graeme Clifford, of all the episodes included here this features the creative team perhaps most distant from that which crafted Fire Walk With Me.


Episode 14: Although it doesn't add much that wasn't already present in the pilot and other episodes, this is certainly one of the key companion pieces to the film. Directed by Lynch, written by Frost, the episode reveals Laura's father as both her killer and her incestuous abuser (a reference to "abuse and molestation from a very early age" as Cooper reads Laura's diary is the closest the series will ever get to explicitly signaling Laura's years of sexual violation). Episode 14 also hammers home the ambiguous duality of Leland/Bob; indeed, this is probably the most ambiguous depiction in the whole series, and thus the closest to the film.

We witness a drugged Sarah passing out after envisioning a white horse in her home, as she will in the film. The Log Lady's unexpected appearance at the sheriff's station, to deliver a message, is repeated in the film when she shows up at the Roadhouse to convey words of concern for Laura. The aura of sadness which envelops the Roadhouse after Maddy is killed very much parallels Laura's sorrow when she enters the same location in Fire Walk With Me before selling herself to a couple loggers.


Episode 16: If Episode 9 introduced the mystical grandmother and grandson, Episode 16 (written by Frost, Peyton, and Engels and directed by Tim Hunter) introduces the notion of their irreality, suggesting that they are able to share/replace a family with the same name, an idea followed up in Fire Walk With Me ("two Chalfonts - weird"). We also learn, from Laura's diary, that she and Cooper shared dreamspace, which Fire Walk With Me follows up on, albeit in a different dream. Leland confesses to killing Teresa (although he says "they made me kill that girl Teresa," despite the very personal, petty, self-protective motivations Lynch and Engels penned for the movie).

And Leland follows up on the idea Jacoby introduced in the season premiere, that Laura's death may have been self-willed; "she was too strong," Leland says, to allow Bob to use her the way the spirits had used him. The resolution of this episode is in many ways a contradiction of the film's ethos, with major emphasis on Leland as a victim. And its entire spirit of putting something to rest (even while leaving open the larger, more vague mystery of "where is Bob now") feels contrary to Lynch's preference for endless meditation upon a phenomenon, explaining perhaps why he was absent from its execution.


Episode 25: The major element this episode introduces is the Owl Cave insignia which - elongated and flipped upside down - is transplanted from a spooky cave on the show to an enigmatic jade ring in the movie. You'll be hard-pressed to find many motifs or plot points in the series' second half (publicly maligned by Lynch on many occasions) that overlap with Fire Walk With Me but interestingly enough, the director cottoned on to this. In the other direction, Frost was clearly intrigued enough to re-incorporate the symbol, now attached to the Lynchian ring, into his own mythology with The Return and his Twin Peaks books.

Lynch himself appears in the episode (written by Peyton and Engels and directed by Lynch's frequent editor Duwayne Dunham) as hard-of-hearing FBI Chief Gordon Cole; though the character was introduced much earlier in season two, this is his most memorable appearance, in which he restores Cooper's badge and shamelessly flirts with Shelly the waitress at the diner. Gordon, a minor character on the series, becomes a kind of initiating presence in Fire Walk With Me (he's the first character we actually see) and, of course, eventually much more than that in The Return.


Episode 29: While the only episode Lynch and Engels may have re-visited was the pilot, the director didn't need to return to the season two finale - it was shot mere months before the duo began writing a prequel film. The key word there is "shot"; while Frost, Peyton, and Engels receive credit for the teleplay, Lynch wildly re-invented their text on set, working without a script in a twenty-four-hour sprint of imagination, calling actors, costumes, and props to a rebuilt Red Room set (one whose clean floor is repeated in the film, rather than the dustier chevron of the second episode), where he ingeniously assembled a backwards-photographed mixture of improvisation and unspoken planning.

Virtually everything Fire Walk With Me incorporates from the finale has to do with the film's "sequel" aspect, and nearly all of this comes from Lynch's additions rather than the original script: the idea of a split between Cooper's dark and light side (rather than a full-on possession by Bob), Annie's flowered dress covered with blood, the golden shell-based marble table in the Red Room, and the sycamore tree-lined, oil pool-centered Glastonbury Grove entry to the Black Lodge. Aside from the last location, these elements are mostly limited to Laura's dream in the finished film (though some are suggested at other moments, such as when Cooper sees a second version of himself on a surveillance screen).

Even here, Frost's indirect impact is felt; the screenplay does feature the brief appearance of Cooper's double, who appears blank rather than evil and plays no role in his eventual fate. And the fact that Annie says "the good Cooper is in the Lodge" - the only reference to that terminology in the whole film - is a nod to a mythology shaped largely by Frost.

Finally, although I didn't review these episodes along with the others for this piece, I'd be remiss not to note a few non-Lynch episodes which tease Fire Walk With Me coincidentally or otherwise. Episode 27, written by Peyton and Engels and directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, shows Glastonbury Grove for the time (although I'm fairly certain its design was at Lynch's behest - the replacement of Douglas firs with sycamore trees ties into the "Sycamore Trees" lyrics, which Lynch wrote a decade earlier for his unproduced Ronnie Rocket). Episode 28, directed by Tim Hunter, features Windom Earle in ghoulish white make-up, with black lips and yellow teeth inspired by the Japanese make-up in the films of Kenji Mizoguchi. Lynch repeats this look in fleeting moments for both Laura and Leland in Fire Walk With Me, although the motif may just as well have come from very similar looks applied in his early short films The Alphabet, Absurd Encounter with Fear, and The Grandmother. Episode 28 also includes, as a background contestant in the Miss Twin Peaks contest, Lorna MacMillan, whom Lynch would invite back to play Laura's angel in the final scene of Fire Walk With Me. In self-consciously goofy dialogue from a throwaway scene in Episode 17 (written by Tricia Brock and directed by Tina Rathborne), Catherine Martell mentions a guardian angel, the only other time in the narrative this idea is mentioned before it becomes the crux of Fire Walk With Me. The seeds of Lynch's cinematic masterpiece are planted even in the soapiest, most sitcom-y moments of Twin Peaks.

Of course, just as Fire Walk With Me was shaped by seasons one and two, season three is shaped by Fire Walk With Me (look for that entry next week).


After exploring the ways Fire Walk With Me can exist within other traditions as well as on its own, perhaps the best argument for framing the film through the series is to observe how this amplifies Laura's already powerful arc and presence in the film. Sheryl Lee's performance goes a long way to enveloping the non-Twin Peaks viewer in her world but there's an undeniable poignancy in discovering the living Laura after familiarizing oneself with the larger-than-life, almost unreachable myth. There's also a sense of disorientation, of dizzying paradox. Like probably most viewers of the film, I saw the series first and yet there's a lingering sense that Fire Walk With Me predates Twin Peaks, that its depth and specificity undergird all the vague, enticing moments on the series. Lynch and Frost have often spoken of developing the narrative as if it preceded their giving it voice (back in early 1990, when it was still a closely-guarded secret, Frost liked to say that the identity of the killer "revealed itself to us").

And yet at the same time, while watching the film we remember the series as if remembering a path that took us into a cave; the inside of that cave may seem far more real while we're inside of it but we dimly recall the clearer, crisper way we got there. Or were we always walking backwards, heading toward the past from what appeared to precede it only until the veil was lifted?

If Fire Walk With Me is an episode of Twin Peaks, it's both the first and the last. Even within each of the four ways to watch this film, there are multitudes.

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