Lost in the Movies: November 2014

Coming up in Journey Through Twin Peaks...

It's the final Monday of November and, once again, I'm still working on this month's entry in Journey Through Twin Peaks, my 4-part video series covering the series and film in chronological order. Part 3, "The Whole Damned Town," is my most ambitious video yet, covering the most episodes (from the extremely weak post-Laura episodes to the stunning Lynch-directed finale) while also devoting half its chapters to important asides: the cast of characters, the atmosphere of Twin Peaks (show and town), Cooper's character arc, and the series mythology. Among other elements, Part 3 explores the good and bad points of season two, spin-off books like My Life, My Tapes (the Cooper "autobiography") and the Access Guide, the influence of Theosophy, and divergences in Lynch's and Frost's interpretation of Agent Cooper. There will be eight chapters in this entry; in lieu of the eventual upload here is a sneak preview of what's on the way (descriptions include spoilers, as will the videos obviously)...

Twin Peaks on the Internet...in 1990 (an alt.tv.twin-peaks archive)

Online commentary from the original alt.tv.twinpeaks Usenet newsgroup (1990-93)

What if the internet had existed when Twin Peaks originally aired? Well...it did. Sort of. The average viewer did not have online access when the first episode aired on April 8, 1990, nor when Laura Palmer's killer was finally revealed on November 10, 1990, nor when the final episode aired as a Monday night movie-of-the-week on June 10, 1991, nor when the prequel film limped into theaters on August 28, 1992. Of course, the average viewer wasn't paying attention to Twin Peaks at all by those later points - so the following commentators are exceptional not only for their internet savvy, but for their enthusiastic devotion to David Lynch's and Mark Frost's unique world.

I'm not going to attempt to explain Usenet or newsgroups or the pre-World Wide Web internet because I don't really understand them myself. As far as I was aware, the "Information Superhighway" popped out of nowhere in the fall of 1995, when I entered jr. high. Yet since the late seventies, computer networks had been facilitating communication between people with (I believe) institutional access to the internet. Usenet (which is still available today) was among the most popular of these networks. Newsgroups conducted conversations on particular topics, and alt.tv.twin-peaks quickly became one of the most noted newsgroups. Episodes were immediately analyzed, theories were tossed about, and hoaxes were pulled by clever fans.

The newsgroup remains active today, nearly twenty-five years later, as a Google group with over 28,000 topics archived. Through keyword searches, I was able to bookmark many of the early posts, from the show's initial run. Then I made a completely subjective selection of 108 posts that seemed interesting and representative. Consider this a companion piece to my round-up of Twin Peaks media commentary this spring. I am endlessly fascinated by how new viewers react to the show as it unfolds, as well as how the show was received when it first aired, so for me this was pig heaven. (Also worth checking out is this thread I started for fans to share their memories of the original series run).

In 2016, fans from all over the world will share immediate reactions and attempt to make sense of the insensible via Twitter, Facebook, and all variety of internet forums, using phones, tablets, and other devices. Though their numbers will be greater, they will be not be the first do so. Here then, is a glimpse of the first generation of online Twin Peaks fans attempting to figure out who killed Laura Palmer, praising and complaining about the show's twists and turns, and reacting to Dick Tremayne's famous death scene (you'll see). The further we go, the more absorbing the commentary becomes: detailed psychological evaluations of the characters and situations, evocative first-hand accounts of the Fire Walk With Me shoot, even speculative predictions that Twin Peaks will return in 2014! "Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see," indeed...

Talking Twin Peaks again (on "Obnoxious and Anonymous")

This summer I spent an hour or two chatting with Cameron Cloutier, prolific host of the "Obnoxious and Anonymous" podcast, about Twin Peaks. Since then so much has changed - Brad Dukes' Reflections book has clarified a lot of Twin Peaks history, The Entire Mystery blu-ray unveiled the "missing pieces" of Fire Walk With Me along with a new look at the Palmer family, and most notably David Lynch and Mark Frost announced that they would be (gasp!) returning to Twin Peaks after all. With all that in mind, Cameron and I joined forces for another lively discussion. This time we cover (among other topics) the nature of David Lynch's collaboration with Mark Frost (and editor Mary Sweeney), the difference in how the two creators treat Agent Cooper, Ronnete Pulaski's importance to the Laura Palmer tale, and the strange contradiction between Lynch's desire to keep Laura's killer a secret (perhaps forever) and to explore that secret in detail in Fire Walk With Me. Quite a lot to unpack, so please share your own thoughts below.

I also encourage you to check out Twin Peaks Worldwide, a new blog spun off from the popular Facebook group. The latest post addresses that perennial question haunting Twin Peaks (second only to "How's Annie?"): who is Judy? Share your thoughts over there; I already have.

My podcast with Cameron follows the jump. And stay tuned over the coming month as 12 Weeks of Twin Peaks continues with a new entry every Monday, including further chapters in my Journey Through Twin Peaks video series (which I hope you'll check out if you haven't yet - this is some of the work I'm proudest of in my six years of blogging).

Opening the Door: a conversation with Martha Nochimson, author of The Passion of David Lynch and David Lynch Swerves

Martha Nochimson, author of the critical analyses The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood (1997) and David Lynch Swerves (2013), has recently written two notable essays: "Don't call 'Twin Peaks' a 'cult classic'" and "David Chase finally reveals Tony's fate on 'The Sopranos.'"

When I returned to Twin Peaks earlier this year, it was through a book, Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Some essays were more compelling than others, but two immediately caught my interest. Both addressed what remained "unsettled" (unsettling?) about Twin Peaks for me - and thus what drew me back into that world after a five-year break. Diane Stevenson's essay "Family Romance, Family Violence, and the Fantastic in Twin Peaks" tackled one of the show's most troubled and tangled points, the intersection of real-world trauma with depictions of an otherworldly mythology. And Martha Nochimson's "Desire Under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks," in contrast to some of the other essays in the book, explicitly analyzed the troubled making of the show. She rooted her analysis of the series finale - particularly Cooper's "defeat" in the Red Room - in careful research, observing not only what David Lynch and Mark Frost had done, but what they believed. The result perceptively located the psychological and spiritual resonance of Cooper's experiences rather than relegating them to narrative exigencies or over-theoretical impositions.

I soon learned that this essay had been followed by one of the most acclaimed books on Lynch. The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood extends the author's analysis of Lynch's (and, briefly, Frost's) visions, bringing a Jungian and feminist perspective to bear on the director's work. Her primary guide, however, is the work itself - and Lynch himself (she spoke with him several times before writing the book). She expected, according to the introduction to Passion, to "get an enormously precious something, which I would transmit in my book. As it turned out, much of the value of my time with David Lynch came as a result of letting go." Later, in one of the most important passages, she describes viewing a Jackson Pollack painting alongside Lynch. When she said she didn't understand it, he told her she did because her eyes were moving. "I saw that I could not contain the painting in some theoretical framework; he saw me performing with the painting." Throughout this book, Martha Nochimson performs with David Lynch's work in similar fashion. For me, reading the book was a series of epiphanies. Did I agree with everything she wrote about the work? No (and below we will discuss some of the interpretations I found more challenging). But there was a consistent sense of revelation I hadn't felt with other analyses of this work - a sense that the central phenomenon was always the emotional experience of what Lynch was presenting rather than a cerebral rationalization.

The follow-up book, David Lynch Swerves, brings a more pronounced framework to the table: using the Vedic scriptures and (especially) quantum mechanics to interpret Lynch's "second-stage" films, from Lost Highway to Inland Empire, in which a purely psychological reading limits what he is doing (the book very firmly rebuts the "it's all a dream" interpretation of the first two-thirds of Mulholland Drive). This, of course, runs the risk of applying a rigid grid to Lynch's films but instead the book is as revelatory as its predecessor: the focus on the Vedas and physics are based on Lynch's own curiosity about these subjects and, again, the interpretation is determined by the experience of the work itself. Besides, these unconventional tools remain shockingly apt. Lynch bends reality yet maintains (indeed deepens) emotional resonance in his later work, a process I see beginning even earlier than the "second stage," in Fire Walk With Me and, to a lesser extent, Twin Peaks. As with Diane Stevenson's earlier essay on "the fantastic," David Lynch Swerves distinguishes the director's visions from Hollywood's traditional genre approaches: "In the Lynchverse, the marketplace blocks experience of the larger energies of the real in the name of a fictitious normality. In horror, science fiction, and fantasy, the larger energies are violations of a highly valued normality conceived of as the real. In the Lynchverse, normality is questioned; in horror, science fiction, and dream/fantasy, it has traditionally been defended."

The most useful quantum concepts in the Lynch experience may be "entanglement" - in which multiple particles react as if they are one (much like the shifting and overlapping identities in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire) and "superposition" - in which a particle can be two places at the same time (recall the Mystery Man's phone conversation in Lost Highway, among other relevant phenomena in that film). The analysis even finds a way to incorporate The Straight Story, through the concept of "decoherence," which explains how traditional Newtonian physics appears to operate under certain conditions (indeed, this is how we perceive day-to-day life) even as experimentation proves that the larger physical reality is far more complex. Reading The Straight Story this way - as a narrative that takes place within what Swerves refers to as the "Lynchverse" but miraculously avoids the physical and psychological reality-bending of his other works - can seem like a stretch. However, the film is certainly a part of Lynch's oeuvre (and it is clearly a film he was passionate about, even calling it his most "experimental" work), consistent with his vision despite being exceptional in many ways. Recall, too, that Alvin's journey is all about self-imposed limits and sticking to a particular path, and "decoherence" becomes perhaps the most perceptive reading of a film near and dear to Lynch's heart, even as that heart was devoted to a very different perception of reality than Alvin Straight's.

Finally, David Lynch Swerves provides the most penetrating and clear-headed reading of Inland Empire that I've yet encountered. Early in the film, the strange woman who enters Nikki Grace's home borrows language from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation and David Lynch's own spiritual teacher. She speaks of "the Marketplace" (the confusion of day-to-day reality, also akin to the limited vision of classical physics) and "the Palace" (cosmic wisdom, to put it perhaps too simply). With these evocative words as guiding concepts, the book gently roots the swirling realities of the film's prologue in three distinct locales. There is the Rabbit Room, a "vision of faith" in which "three actors wearing rabbit suits wait for understanding in a state of Pinteresque/Beckettian confusion." "The world of human need," as represented by the Lost Girl's Room, "combines an elaborately appointed but realistic looking hotel room with a magic mirror shaped like an ordinary television." The self-descriptive Rage Room is inhabited by "two men, one of whom is filled with violent, negative energy in a beautiful, traditional, gilt-covered European salon." These physical places are visualized psychological concepts: "It is unorthodox to think of emotional states of being as places we can enter, which Lynch does here. Lynch also challenges the way we usually think about time by locating these 'feeling places' - bubble worlds - in a future that is already present when the film begins, way before Nikki finds these worlds." Nikki's visitor in the film also speaks of an "alleyway" through which one can avoid the Marketplace and reach the Palace. My own feeling is that David Lynch's films provide such an alleyway. Despite its elusive, "challenging" air, his work may in fact create a path to better understanding of art, the world, and our place within it.

After reading The Passion of David Lynch and David Lynch Swerves, I knew I wanted to speak to Martha about her work and David Lynch's films. The following conversation was conducted primarily through a single phone call, although preliminary questions and minor revisions were made via email as well.

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