Lost in the Movies: Seeing the Big Picture: Twin Peaks comment collection #2 (summer 2014)

Seeing the Big Picture: Twin Peaks comment collection #2 (summer 2014)

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Due to a variety of circumstances, primarily the loss of my computer monitor for a week, the next Favorites entry - on Barry Lyndon - will not go up on Friday for the only time during this series. Instead it will appear this coming Thursday, a day before the regularly-scheduled following entry.

When we left off last time, it was the summer of 2014 and I had just seen the deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me. Unexpectedly, they had a big impact on how I viewed all of Twin Peaks, leading me to see it as a messy but complete whole for the first time. In the following comments, left on a variety of forums of under several different articles, the impression is of a blurry view slowly swimming into focus. I am beginning to envision everything - the series, the spin-off books, the film, the deleted scenes, even the Log Lady introductions - as contributions to some greater saga. In August 2014, after several weeks of owning the blu-ray set, I was finally able to find several days to marathon the entire series, film, and even books, scribbling notes as I watched and read (a plan I suggested in the very first comment here, before quickly laughing it off as unlikely). This experience would form the nucleus of what eventually become my video series Journey Through Twin Peaks but was initially conceived as a book-length prose piece.

I assumed that I would write this massive all-encompassing essay slowly, maybe an hour each day over many months and that - aside from this exercise - I would finally take a step back from Twin Peaks to focus on other matters. Boy, was I wrong. Several weeks after declaring the conclusion of my Twin Peaks obsession, I was posting more feverishly than ever before.

August 12, 2014 on AV Forums

I may be doing a marathon screening soon (due to limited blu-ray access I've only been able to watch the newer special features & FWWM so far, despite getting the set on release date). It'll be a blast of course, but I'll also be taking notes for an upcoming "complete overview" piece - I've written about the series and film numerous times before but never tried to capture the sweep of the whole thing in one (long) post. I'd like to mix personal observations about the evolution/diversity of Twin Peaks' narrative and stylistic approach and appreciation of its overall shape (however messy) with behind-the-scenes background information, descriptions of the storylines & characters, and critical/media/audience responses from the time. A real sense of the big picture and watching everything together like this would help me see that shape as well as the details, I think.

Anyway I'm thinking about throwing in contemporaneous spin-off material into the "marathon" as well, both to get a wider perspective on the TP phenomenon as it unfolded but also just for fun (I've never read/listened to the Coop stuff before). I'd slot them in around the times they came out, but adjusting slightly for appropriate dramatic effect. And NO, I am NOT trying to say this how people should view/read/listen to in this order for the best experience! I'll save that argument just for The Missing Pieces. Although I do feel Jennifer Lynch's Laura diary adds a good deal to the overall sense of Laura Palmer's life.

If I decide to include the more ephemeral stuff, I'd probably proceed as follows over the course of several days (the books should take a couple hours to read, tops):

1. The Log Lady intros (before each episode - love how Lynch sets that first intro, with "Laura is the one" a kind of prologue setting the tone)
2. Pilot - Season 2 premiere
3. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (I think it would work best after the flashback to Laura's murder)
4. Cooper's Audio Tapes (they go up to the end of the season 2 premiere and summarize the investigation before we move forward into new, Bob-related clues)
5. Episodes 9 - 20 (Windom Earle's first victim)
6. The Autobiography of Dale Cooper (Cooper's backstory, which comes to haunt him in upcoming episodes)
7. Episodes 21 - Finale
6. The Missing Pieces (bridging from community-oriented series to Laura-oriented show)
7. Fire Walk With Me
8. Between Two World - b/w scene (nice as an epilogue, reminds us of the opening Log Lady intro & also chronologically the last piece of Twin Peaks, not that chronology has mattered much in this line-up!)

Will I actually go through with all this? Probably not. Breaking to read or listen to the tapes will probably disrupt the flow of the visual material too much (though breaking up the drudge of mid-season 2 isn't necessarily a bad thing) and detract from a sense of how the show unfolded. Plus, while they are quick reads, there's only so much time in a weekend. But I can dream...

August 13, 2014 on IMDb

I believe they're on record saying they would love to. And that Mark Frost has also indicated an interest in continuing it.

The stumbling block is David Lynch - for him, as he put it in 2001, "Twin Peaks is dead as doornail." My guess would be that this is for several reasons:

1) He's had some terrible experiences on TV; not just Twin Peaks but the quickly-cancelled American Chronicles and On the Air and of course the abandoned TV pilot for Mulholland Drive. Even in the age of premium cable/Netflix, he's extremely skeptical that he could have the artistic freedom he desires.

2) He's gone in a much more experimental direction since the Twin Peaks pilot (indeed, you can see this experimentation beginning on the show itself; compare the finale to the pilot, and the film to the show). The Lynch of Inland Empire has a more limited audience than even the cult of Twin Peaks could probably sustain.

3) Although he and Frost made a great team early in Twin Peaks, their storytelling visions seemed to diverge over the course of the show. For Frost, Twin Peaks was an ongoing, forward-moving story that didn't necessarily need Laura Palmer at its center (though he's later questioned this conception). For Lynch on the other hand, Laura was the goose that laid the golden eggs, hence the prequel (which Frost declined to participate in). Note that when he did finally "return" to the series (sort of) in the recent Between Two Worlds feature, it was all about the Palmers. Some have also observed big differences in Lynch's and Frost's conception of Cooper - Windom Earle was Frost's baby (he's a huge Sherlock Holmes aficianado, even writing a book, The List of Seven, about a young Arthur Conan Doyle battling a legion of Satanists) and Lynch reportedly hated that character and felt Cooper lost his way in season 2. Lynch was at a certain point in his sensibility and career following Blue Velvet, and that made his partnership with Frost possible. I don't see it unfolding the same way today.

4) For Lynch, I think the story IS over. This sounds perverse, but by going back to revisit Laura and give her character a kind of resolution (while leaving the rest of the town, with its inability to face up to the energies unleashed by her loss, perpetually unsettled) Lynch was taking a similar circular, spiritually-driven approach that he took in later films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and especially Inland Empire. Some call it a "ret-con"; he basically reinvented what Twin Peaks was about and gave it closure in the process. This was apparently not the original intention of Fire Walk With Me - there were sequels planned - but his presentation of both the Log Lady intros and the Missing Pieces reinforce Laura's centrality and the notion that in the end, it's her story, not Cooper's or the town's, which demands - and gets - closure.

So yeah, I don't see a Netflix series happening any time soon!

August 20, 2014 on Twitter

Just finished Twin Peaks marathon to cap several months of discussion & analysis. Whole saga - series, film, deleted scenes, even books.

2 reflections from the experience, before taking a break from discussing the phenomenon, at least for a while.

1. It's always about Laura Palmer, even when it isn't. Her absence from the story haunts the rest of the second season.

And 2. Twin Peaks is structured like a whirlpool, one that spits us out halfway through only to suck us back down all the way in the end.

And a bonus observation, just to bring it all full-circle. Fire Walk With Me, perhaps perversely, is the inexorable endpoint of the show.

August 22, 2014 on dugpa

Lately I've been wanting to explore more of Mark Frost's work. I'm perpetually fascinated by the dynamic between Lynch and Frost - the overlaps but also the divergences in their worldviews and storytelling sensibilities, which I think tells us a lot about the wild ride of Twin Peaks. But while I'm very familiar with Lynch's work, having even conducted a retrospective of every available feature, short, TV episode, video, and commercial this spring, I really haven't experienced anything else created by Frost...yet. (Well, aside from the Fantastic Four movie but, really, the less said about that the better...)

I do plan to watch Storyville and some of the Hill Street Blues episodes he wrote, but what else would Frost fans (or at least those familiar with his work) recommend? Of the books, the ones I've heard mentioned most are The List of 7 and The Six Messiahs. I had thought he was more prolific, but looking on Amazon it seems he's only written a few novels so it might not be as hard as I thought to get ahold of all his fiction. I'm intrigued by what his other books and films can tell us about his perceptions of Twin Peaks, Cooper, the Laura mystery, etc. Martha Nochimson, in The Passion of David Lynch, has some really interesting insights into his more rationalistic take on Cooper, Windom Earle, and the Black Lodge...I'd like to see if I agree.

Also, Brad Dukes mentioned that contrary to perception, it was most likely Frost who led with the supernatural twist (at least if we're not counting the Red Room or Killer Bob as initially supernatural, since their presentation in season 1 is ambiguous). This interests me too.

Long-term I'm hoping to write, for my blog, a really in-depth exploration of Twin Peaks in all its aspects: the events of series, film, and even spin-off books and how they fit in to the overall story, the behind-the-scenes contributions of the various participants, the reception of Twin Peaks in the media at various points, and my own observations and interpretations of plot developments and turning points in the ongoing saga. Above all, I want to examine the big picture: how this wildly diverse show, which changed course and was stopped in its tracks several times nonetheless has an unconventional but powerful sense of direction and cohesion - especially with the help of later, Lynch-heavy additions like FWWM, the Log Lady intros, the Missing Pieces, and even Between Two Worlds. Hopefully this overview will be a culmination and conclusion to all the Peaks stuff I've written in the past and am planning for the next few months. I'll probably draft it soon but continue to revise it up to the 25th anniversary and I'm thinking more knowledge of Mark Frost will help it greatly.

Thanks to anyone who can offer recommendations - and/or their own interpretations of Frost's creative role in Peaks (I already know how heavily he was involved in managing the day-to-day operation of the show, but less about where his vision specifically entered into it).

August 23, 2014 on dugpa

Ok, here's a question since we're discussing the sensibility that went into the Gold Box & Entire Mystery presentations and Charles de Lauzirika's like/dislike for second season, etc. Why does The Entire Mystery (and the promotional campaign) focus so much more on Lynch than Frost? Is it just a matter of marketing (Lynch being a bigger name), or the emphasis on the film and deleted scenes (which obviously are not Frost's babies)? Did Frost decline an opportunity to take more of a part in the preparation and presentation? Was he offered his own features (Lynch now has two on the set, produced by Lauzirika in 2007 and 2014, while Frost only has the shorter interview with John Thorne & Craig Miller from back in 2001), or the chance to do one with Lynch?

One of the things that interests me most about The Entire Mystery is the extent to which Lynch re-presents Twin Peaks as not just an aborted TV show, but a full story in which Laura Palmer is the central figure and the film is an essential component (a process that arguably began with the Log Lady intros for Bravo in '93). While I applaud this - I feel Laura's mystery was always the heart of Twin Peaks (even when it wasn't supposed to be anymore) and I think the film is an underrated masterpiece - as an unfortunate side effect it seems to sideline Frost as co-author of Twin Peaks. He seems pretty enthusiastic about the release but why wasn't he more hands-on with its production & presentation?

August 27, 2014, responding to Cinema Enthusiast's Top Ten By Year: 1992

Of course, the film I most looked forward to hearing your thoughts on is Fire Walk With Me. And you did not disappoint – this a wonderfully-written and insightfully personal celebration of a movie which I too find impossible to shake. Similarly to you, I saw it once, was deeply troubled in my reaction, and didn’t revisit for 5 years (although I quickly realized that a film which affected me so deeply had to be a masterpiece, whatever my reservations). My issue with it seems to be unique – I’ve yet to find someone else who had a similar reaction – in that I came to it straight from a viewing of Twin Peaks the show, which I loved, and yet my problem with the film was that I wished it had disposed of even MORE series baggage and just made itself 100% the Laura Palmer story (I like the Deer Meadow stuff more now, but especially that brilliant Harry Dean Stanton scene which works not only as a vivid, inexplicable foray into the uncanny but also the perfect, final gateway into our final descent: “You see, I’ve already gone places. I just wanna stay where I am.”).

Since that first viewing, as I’ve reflected on its vivid memory and then finally returned both to it & the series with a vengeance this spring my tendency has been to see the phenomena of series and film as separated by a deep gulf. Reading (many, but certainly not all) Twin Peaks fans rip apart the movie always frustrated me immensely and at times made me resent the show for casting an obscuring shadow – an unfortunate perspective for me, since Twin Peaks is genuinely my favorite TV series of all time. Yet the two – Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me – seemed irreconcilable. This impression was underscored by the reaction of many non-Peaks fans who appreciated the film completely on its own terms, as psychological horror, as a crucial entry in Lynch’s filmography, or as an avant-garde art film dealing with abuse (the cries that it’s impossible to understand without the series almost invariably comes from Peaks fans who saw the show first). Maybe, I thought, Fire Walk With Me just needs complete separation from the series to flourish?

The recent release of The Missing Pieces changed my mind – though I still think Fire Walk With Me works just fine as a standalone film. Because they mix elements of the film & the series into kind of a hybrid approach and a more distanced view of Laura’s struggles (while still closer to the show), they were rightfully cut from the movie. But this also means they also re-assemble as side-film, or rather a collection of vignettes, which works remarkably well on its own (at least if treated as a segue between series & film rather than a new coda). This reminded me of a crucial fact which completely reverses the conventional wisdom: Fire Walk With Me may not need Twin Peaks, but Twin Peaks most definitely needs Fire Walk With Me. To watch the show and avoid the movie now strikes me as a rather shameful cop-out, even though most critics and commentators treat this as the normal course (and I love that Lynch forces them to consider otherwise by making Fire Walk With Me an integral, indeed climactic, part of the new Entire Mystery blu-ray, whose cover pointedly features an unsettling image of Laura Palmer).

Last night, as the culmination of six months of writing about, discussing, watching & otherwise engaging with the Twin Peaks phenomenon, I re-watched the pilot and Fire Walk With Me back-to-back. The mournful, yet intense, air of the pilot – which is all about holding a fascinated distance, peering into an unfathomable darkness, and savoring a sense of the melancholy “after” – leads eventually and inexorably to the shocking and violent revelation/re-enactment, of the killer (the most powerful moment on the series), the collapse of the detective’s authority (in the final episode, one of my favorite things Lynch has ever directed for big or small screen), and finally our complete entry into the mysterious “object”‘s consciousness until she becomes unbearably real to us, something hinted at in the pilot, though we could never dream of it being fulfilled so vividly. None of this was planned as the original course – but when is anything in Lynch’s work planned like that? This is the director who pulled major characters and plot points from spontaneous incidents, who reinvented an abandoned TV pilot into the most acclaimed film of the 21st century, and whose last film was constructed piece-by-piece, often on the morning of shooting with no conception of what the end result would look like. Twin Peaks begins with Laura Palmer as pure body and ends with her as pure spirit, while the affectionate-but-ineffective community around her remains in limbo and the hero out to re-establish order & control ends up losing control of his own mind & body. This arc need not be pre-ordained, which it wasn’t, to be perfect, which it is. That the film is so shockingly, radically different than the pilot episode (while echoing some of its plot points and images), that it almost seems to annihilate the memory of the pilot and subsequent show…is in a paradoxical way the very fulfillment of that early promise, and an entirely Lynchian journey to take.

I am planning to flesh out this idea by composing a close reading of the show, film, and spin-off items (have you read Jennifer Lynch’s Secret Diary of Laura Palmer? Highly recommended – it really paves the way for the film and was a huge influence on Sheryl Lee’s interpretation of Laura). I also still have a couple more focused Peaks pieces up my sleeve – interviews with Lynch authors John Thorne & Martha Nochimson, possibly a video essay examining the strange, otherworldly relationship of Cooper & Laura over the course of the show (and the final image of the movie), and finally with an analysis of Lee’s work in Fire Walk With Me which is probably my favorite performance of all time, male, female, any era (it’s also my favorite thing about the movie, period, but ironically it’s the aspect I’ve discussed least in any essay; while it can be very difficult to put a performance in words, especially one so based on inner life rather than outer technique, I’ll see what I can do). With all this, I’m allotting myself a very minimal amount of time each day to work on these (the overview will not appear till the 25th anniversary next spring, so I can pace myself). A half-year of Lynch/Peaks obsession is enough: indeed, I plan to make this here my last comment (in any medium) on Twin Peaks for some time so I hope I’ve made it count! My desire to read/watch/discuss everything on the subject has led to some really fruitful discoveries and projects, but also served as a distraction from perhaps more crucial work I need to re-focus on (a guy on a podcast I listened to recently put it best: “Obsessions are best when they’re over”).

Nonetheless, like you, I am perpetually haunted by the film, Sheryl Lee’s performance, and the character of Laura Palmer. I can’t think of any other movie that’s had as profound an effect on me and in the end those who dismiss or don’t get it don’t really matter. It’s the people who feel Fire Walk With Me in their gut who will sustain its legacy and ensure that the spirit of Laura Palmer lives on.

September 1, 2014 on dugpa

First off, a few disclaimers:

1. I'm not trying to claim this is the ONLY way to see the film's climax, nor am I even claiming this was Lynch's intended reading - I'm not sure if he himself even has one (and if he does, it was almost certainly in flux and may still be - recall that as Michael J. Anderson walked past the editing bay he heard Lynch marvel, "So THAT'S what I meant by that!"). Simply that this is the interpretation that I've found works best for me. It's influenced heavily by ideas from John Thorne (the link between Ronette & Donna, the active signification of the ring), Christy Desmet (the notion that Laura provides the guardian angel for Ronette), and Brett Steven Abelman (the role of the carriers in "manifesting" the spirits that harm or save them).

2. My take on the mythology - while I certainly DON'T see the Lodge creatures as "metaphorical" in the sense that they only exist in Laura's head onscreen, I DO see them as allegorical/mythological, which is to say that their physical existence is doubled by a spiritual/pyschological purpose. As with Abelman, I don't believe the relationship is simply puppet/puppeteer as the series sometimes suggests: not only does Lynch contradict this reading in numerous spots throughout Fire Walk With Me, it's also - to me at least - much less interesting than a more complex relationship between the two realms. I don't think the film works - or would be particularly compelling - as a straight-up "monster" movie in which helpless victims are tormented by creatures from beyond.

3. I also think it's worth keeping in mind that the mythology was invented as it went along, not just by Lynch (who already has a penchant for finding his path as he walks it) & Frost, but also, apparently, Peyton & Engels who were left to their own devices to interpret and add to the lore at various points. Therefore there are inevitably going to be twists, turns, and contradictions along the way; I view all of Twin Peaks - from the pilot to the film - as a cohesive whole, but it's a whole with an emotional throughline more than a logical one, more concerned with where it ends up than with conventional notions of canon and continuity.

So with that said...here's how I've come to see Fire Walk With Me.

I think the film shows how Laura was saved - not simply because she died before Bob could possess her, but because in her final days, and specifically her final moments, she acted out of compassion rather than selfishness, or to put it in terms straight out of the show's mythology, love instead of fear: something her father ultimately could or would not do. The narrative structure encourages us to see this by treating Donna & Ronette as doppelgangers who amplify the two sides of Laura's life, and the two poles of her personality. Twice the movie emphasizes this connection. First we see Donna reeling under the influence of her drugged beer in the Pink Room and then we transition into a shot of Ronette emerging out of the haze, as if she is Donna's "bad" double. Later it is Ronette who points out that Donna is being assaulted. Secondly, when Leland arrives in the Hayward home to see Laura & Donna sharing a tender moment on the couch, his mind flashes to the memory of Ronette & Laura in underwear on the bed, awaiting an orgy. As the show did on many occasions, the film employs characters as doubles to point up two extremes and imply the fragile divide between them.

In the Pink Room, Laura seems to be under Bob's sway - in the sense that she is allowing her bad, manipulative, cruel side to take over. Note that this has less to do with prostituting herself & getting drunk (except inasmuch as she is harming herself rather than transgressing social limits) than with her treatment of Donna, whom she not only allows to get sucked into this dangerous world but whom she drugs (by encouraging one of the johns to spike her drink while she's not looking). The true test comes when she witnesses a nearly unconscious Donna being stripped and groped by one of the men. What happens? Blue, electric flashes around her as she leaps to her feet and rushes to rescue Donna - here she takes an active, positive role against evil.

Then flash forward to the ending. Now it is Ronette and Laura, rather than Donna and Laura, who are in the dragon's lair with the stakes much higher: lives are hanging in the balance. Ronette prays (calling out, "Father, look at me," just as Laura's own father forces her to look at herself - and see Bob in the mirror) and then what happens? Blue, electric flashes in the air as Laura stares at her friend...and an angel is manifested, untying Ronette's binding and saving her life. Laura seems both astonished and extremely focused - to my eyes, whether or not she realizes it, she has echoed her previous rescue of Donna by saving Ronette as well. This is an escalation, in both stakes and scale, or the earlier scene and the fulfillment of the seed planted by that crucial moment: Laura has the power to save others, and thus herself. Put simply, I believe Laura - through her own psychic, and perhaps even unconscious, power - summoned the angel for Ronette.

Again, I view the Lodge creatures - including, in this case, the angel - as having a very give-and-take relationship with their human hosts and counterparts. They not only manipulate or influence people in the "real" world, they are also summoned by them: their interventions arrive at or near moments of discovery for the characters. The Chalfonts show up with their portrait shortly after Laura has discovered the missing pages of her diary. Of course Bob emerges whenever Leland has reason to be jealous or possessive of his daughter. Note too the little kid with the mask, whom many see as corresponding with the young Leland who was probably molested himself, jumping out of the bushes and dancing around as Leland rushes off from a near-disastrous rendezvous with Laura and Ronette. (As a side note, perhaps Ronette is not simply collateral damage in the end, but one of Leland's targets in the quest to eliminate all reminders of his transgressions).

Crucially, the one-armed man arrives when Leland is stricken by guilt and discomfort over the memory of his daughter's prostitution and Teresa's murder: and hardly anyone else in the scene seems very concerned with the illegally stopped, extremely loud van and its driver - they are all reacting to Leland. Laura responds to the burning engine oil and Leland's screaming ("Dad, are YOU all right?") and the mechanics warn Leland to be careful about burning out his engine; only Leland is distraught about the man who just verbally assaulted him. The one-armed man was not a "vision" per se (Laura obviously saw him as well, and Lynch doesn't really give us reason to believe he was invisible or imagined) but he functions much as a personal vision, one which spills over into Laura's consciousness.

The ring seems to represent both knowledge (perhaps why Cooper tells her "don't take the ring" - as the final episode indicates, he himself has imperfect courage when facing the deeper reality) and, perhaps as a function of that knowledge, resistance to Bob (although this doesn't really explain how it relates to Teresa). It's certainly the element I still feel the most perplexed by but in the final scene it clearly plays a crucial role in Laura's fate. I see the One-Armed Man rushing through the woods as providing (or echoing) Laura's final opportunity to save herself before Bob takes over: note that it is Ronette, saved by the angel (manifested by Laura in my reading) who opens the train car door, thus allowing the ring to roll inside - while there is no clear shot indicating this (or indicating otherwise), I believe the one-armed man throws it inside in the brief moment Ronette opens the door. The perfect visual expression of the fact that, by saving Ronette, Laura has saved herself.

It's an ending that feels very much like the conclusion of Inland Empire and The Straight Story - and the opposite of Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway - in which actions and objects characterize the protagonist's journey from helplessness to action, action which not only redeems them but rescues another.

And "Judy"? Whatever she was intended to be, in the finished film (from which Lynch cut many other elements intended to set up a sequel, almost as if he suspected - subconsciously perhaps - that this would be the last entry in Twin Peaks) I think "Judy" works as a kind of mantra, an incantation that corresponds to garmonbozia: pain and sorrow, specifically the pain and sorrow of the mysterious figure we saw wash up on shore in the opening minutes of the saga. (Here I also must tip my hat to Thorne, who noted that as Judy lost specificity in various drafts and cuts of the finished film she became more like a kind of archetypal female victim - so that Laura herself is a "Judy" by the film's end). "We're not gonna talk about Judy at all," Jeffries screams helplessly as the tangible FBI office begins to dissolve and we move closer to the final chapter of Twin Peaks, in which the entire focus will be on Laura's subjective experience (the object of the story's quest from the very beginning). The first words of Twin Peaks are "Gone fishin'" - for what, we don't yet know - and the final word is, "Judy" - what we've caught and finally reeled in. It's an abstraction, the perfect example of Lynch using words poetically rather than literally.

Is any of this what he meant? Who knows. Does it work? I think so. Does for me anyway.

September 4, 2014 on dugpa

I've noticed that a central point of contention for a lot of fans (and some critics) of Fire Walk With Me is the nature of the relationship between Bob and Leland. Is Bob a psychological construct? Is he a real spiritual being? Is Leland responsible for Bob's actions as well? Is he simply a helpless puppet? Is he aware of what Bob is doing with his "vessel"? Or is he unconscious of everything Bob does in his body?

Of course all these questions are laid out in episode 16 (which encourages us to see Leland exclusively as a victim of Bob but also contains numerous subtle openings for a more complex reading), indeed very explicitly laid out in the final scene. But Fire Walk With Me obviously throws many new questions - and suggestions - into the mix.

My take is that Bob certainly exists as a spiritual entity in the world of Twin Peaks, and not just inside Laura's head (for that to work, we'd have to disregard the series completely and even then the movie contains ample evidence that, as Laura puts it, "Bob IS real!"). However, I do not see Leland is simply a helpless victim of Bob but rather a kind of collaborator. The film suggests very strongly on several occasions - Leland's flashbacks with Teresa Banks, the confrontation with the one-armed man in traffic, and of course the final statement "I always thought you knew it was me!" - that Leland is aware of, even a participant in, what he does under Bob's sway and thus bears some responsibility for it (and not just for a decision to let him in when he was a child, something that he obviously can't be held accountable for).

Another question, I've noticed, is not just what evidence people take from the film and series but what they WANT to be true. Understandably, many fans don't want Leland to be responsible for Bob's actions: either because he's a favorite character, or because it seems inconsistent with what the series suggests, or because this makes the abuse of Laura feel all too sordid and real taking the film out of the realm of entertaining fantasy. On the other hand, many fans do want him to be responsible (even to the extent of denying Bob's actual existence) because they feel it makes the film more serious in both approach and subject - if it's a story of real-world incest and abuse rather than supernatural possession it has a more powerful point to make in their eyes.

I can kind of understand both points of view since I clung to the Bob-controls-Leland explanation while viewing the series but felt this trivialized the matter after watching the film. Personally - and putting aside the actual evidence for a moment - here's why I PREFER my reading (Leland as responsible for and aware of his "Bob" actions):

1. It is dramatically far more compelling. If Leland's only mistake was to let a demon inside him as an innocent child, and since then he's just gone blank whenever Bob jerks the chains, his character ceases to be very interesting. A passive vessel, with no choice, is always going to be less dynamic than an active character who has choices to make, choices driven (in this case) by desire, denial, and desperation. As a corollary to this, Laura's struggle to resist Bob becomes much more powerful if we realize that her father has made, and continues to make, a real choice NOT to resist evil.

2. It is much more consistent with Lynch's work in which presences like the Mystery Man, the Creature Behind the Diner, and the Phantom have both a literal presence within the film's world and a psychological importance. When viewers read Lynch's films as either straight-up fantasies or straight-up metaphors I think they miss the point: they are psychodramas. Lynch purposefully blurs the line between realism & the supernatural for a reason: by doing so, he's able to simultaneously retain both the startling power of the inexplicable and the resonance of allegory, which is no mean feat and partly explains why his movies are so singularly powerful. I think Fire Walk With Me very much starts the trend that continues with Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire.

3. It lives up to the power and strength of the material Lynch has presented. Viewing the film as a story of incest and sexual abuse is not simply an "intellectual" decision as some have alleged, it's a virtually unavoidable visceral response to the way Lynch directs the material (and Sheryl Lee performs it). To then try to explain one's way out of this gut reaction by removing Leland's guilt/responsibility, something I initially worried the film was trying to do on my first viewing, undermines the raw emotional power of the scenes when taken on their own terms. Then it would seem the movie is using the upsetting and unsettling imagery and theme of abuse - something all too real - simply to provide entertainment rather than insight. Which is not only a glib thing to do but seems to me rather inconsistent with Lynch's general approach and outlook.

That said, I'm curious to hear others' reactions. Not only what you make of the Bob/Leland relationship, but what is the evidence, and most importantly, does your own reading work for you (or do you wish the film/series had gone in another direction)? This is in many ways to be the central question of the Twin Peaks mythology.

September 8, 2014 on dugpa

Today I received the Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes book from 1990, written by Mark Altman. Editorially it's a disaster (as the Amazon reviews had already hinted) rife with misspellings, missing punctuation, repeated paragraphs, and confused section headings. BUT it's chock-full of fascinating information, culled both from contemporaneous articles (many of which can be hard to find nowadays, unless you're one of the lucky ones who kept a scrapbook from the time) and the author's own interviews. That plus the fact that it was written in '90 and thus offers a fresh perspective culled right in the middle of season two (a time that, as Brad Dukes has often attested, many participants seem too eager to forget). Having bought it for only a few bucks, it was well worth it.

Anyway, the relevant quote I wanted to post here is from Mark Frost, discussing who or what Bob really is. Though many have taken the show's presentation as very much emphasizing the demonic-possession angle (something tweaked and/or subverted by Lynch in FWWM), it's interesting that Frost clings to ambiguity in his statement:

"'It's kind of like the relationship between an artist and an agent,' Mark Frost says of Bob's ability to possess a human soul. 'He is a creature from somewhere else and maybe he's only from within Leland. We don't exactly say where he was belched up from. He is somebody who kind of went along for the ride. When Leland talks about knowing Bob as a child and says this was someone who invited me in to play and I invited him in, there's a certain classic type of vampire myth that comes into play when a soul that invites something into it to take part in its life cannot than [sic] refuse it anything. That's a myth that goes way back before pre-Christian times and that's one possible explanation...the other is that Leland is just completely whacked out of his mind.'"

Also enjoyed these quotes:

Madchen Amick: "...my parents are in that group [that just doesn't get it]." "It's getting pretty weird," her parents told her. "I don't know, we're only watching it for you."

Miguel Ferrar: "Thank God for this show because you know, no matter what happens with my acting career, 20 years from now I'll be picking up a couple of grand in Atlanta doing a TWIN PEAKS convention. I won't starve."

EDIT: Almost forgot my favorite one.

[Todd] Holland directed [Season 2] Episode 4, one episode before [Blackie] was killed. He recalls, "Victoria Caitlin, who plays Blackie, said to me, 'I don't die, do I?' I had read ahead to Episode 5 and I just sort of winced when she asked me. My face turned white; I didn't know what to say. She got really upset because she was having fun on the show and I said 'I'm sorry, I feel like the Grim Reaper."

Holland continues, "I would have been more clever if I had been prepared for it. I assumed she knew. People are dying right and left and they don't know until they crack open their script. It's a little like the hand of fate. No one takes them aside and says, 'Sorry, you're dying this week.'"

September 9, 2014 on dugpa

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was published on September 15, a couple weeks before the season two premiere. It was a big hit, making the NY Times bestseller list and receiving an A from Entertainment Weekly (although apparently some bookstores called it pornography and wouldn't carry it); considering the response to the upcoming episode it might be fair to call it the last widely successful piece of Twin Peans.

Diane: Twin Peaks Audiotapes of Agent Cooper was released on October 1, the day after the premiere aired. I don't know how it sold but MacLachlan was nominated for a Grammy for spoken-word performance (some of the recordings were from the show but others were written, by Scott Frost, and recorded specifically for this release). It includes the recordings Cooper makes in the season two premiere.

I don't know how long Frost & MacLachlan spent on the Diane tapes. As for Jennifer Lynch's Diary, according to Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes, a 1990 companion book: "She wrote the book in four days, delayed by a computer disaster in which the entire document and its later revisions were erased leaving only a rough first draft." Which seems rather jaw-dropping (it's a quick read, but still, 180 pages - including rewrites and rewrites of lost rewrites - in half a week?). The author also claims Lynch spent additional time on research: "I went hunting for 12- to 17-year-olds and I do this a lot with writing. I felt it was incredibly relevant that I not force Laura and I spent a few weeks just trying to find habits that young girls had and envision her in front of me so that I could write for her."

From what I gather (someone more cognizant at the time may have a different impression) the height of the show's hype actually arrived in September 1990, just before the second season began although there had been a ton of coverage in the spring as well (maybe the fall coverage was more consciously orchestrated, while the spring coverage was more natural - at least to the extent media buzz is ever "natural"?). This was when the Lynch cover appeared on Time and the interview in Rolling Stone, when TV Guide ran its cover story with mystery writers predicting the killer, and when it seems the first major pieces of Twin Peaks merchandise were released. Kyle MacLachlan also hosted (the season premiere of?) Saturday Night Live and played Cooper in a skit spoofing Twin Peaks.

However, the season two premiere almost instantly killed the buzz. The ratings plummeted the following week based partly on the show moving to Saturday night (the premiere, on a Sunday, received respectable numbers although nothing approaching the pilot's) but perhaps more damningly the press turned on a dime to grumble about and dismiss the show. This is when the "Who cares about Twin Peaks anymore" articles began to appear; commentators most objected to the premiere's slow opening, final violent flashback with Bob, and especially the sense that Lynch and Frost were "teasing" viewers rather than leading them toward a resolution of the Laura mystery. The supernatural elements also seem to have rubbed many people the wrong way; accusations of "weirdness for weirdness' sake" began to emerge. So the first Twin Peaks books came out right ahead of the point where the tide turned.

The next two, the Cooper autobiography (My Life, My Tapes by Scott Frost again) and the Access Guide to Twin Peaks (apparently written by a guy who wrote Access Guides to real places), are mentioned as future projects in that Behind-the-Scenes book from December '90. According to Amazon they were not published until the show was pretty much done: the bio in early May and the guide in early June, when all that remained to air was the two final episodes, shelved during sweeps and packaged together as a Monday movie-of-the-week in mid-June. So it seems fair to say they missed their intended purpose of shoring up the show's popularity at the end of a rough season. I'm not sure if they were widely reviewed (the series was no longer really considered news, unlike when the Diary was released) or how they sold - if the enthusiasm of remaining Peaks fans was enough to make them profitable. Anyone who was a fan at the time have a take on that?

Anyway, I've been really getting into the spin-off stuff lately. I haven't read the Access Guide yet but have it on hand and will soon. My feeling is that, if I'm making my way through Twin Peaks "in order" I'd pause for both the Diary & the tapes after the premiere (though the Diary came out before, I think the first flashback to Laura's murder makes a good segue, better than Cooper being shot anyway). And I'd prefer to read the autobiography and the guide after the Josie drawer pull episode, as I think both books make a good segue into the more energetic and tightly-wound final episodes (Annie, Windom's Lodge plan, and the Miss Twin Peaks contest all emerge, if I'm not mistaken, in the next couple episode). Reading books about Coop's backstory and a comprehensive sense of the TP community seems perfect at this point, even if they actually came out just before the series climax.

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