Lost in the Movies: Carl Rodd (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #70)

Carl Rodd (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #70)

*A revised entry will be published separately in 2023 for an updated character series (which will be collected here). This is the original entry written before The Return.

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys eighty-two characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91) and the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) as well as The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. A new character study will appear every weekday morning until the premiere of Showtime's new season of Twin Peaks on May 21, 2017. There will be spoilers for the original series and film.

Grouchy but gregarious, Carl is much more attuned to his surroundings than he would like to be.

Saturday, February 13, 1988
Despite the unambiguous warning scrawled on his door (“DO NOT EVER DISTURB BEFORE 9 AM……EVER”), Carl is awakened by a loud knock early this morning. Proprietor of the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Deer Meadow, he’s accustomed to demanding tenants - but the figures on his doorstep aren’t who he expected. He’s greeted by two FBI badges and a request to see the trailer of a recent murder victim, Teresa Banks. Carl shows Agents Chet Desmond and Sam Stanley around, sharing coffee and eventually warming up to their company…until an old woman holding an ice pack to her face approaches the trailer and then backs away without saying a word. Carl looks like he’s seen a ghost. That evening, Desmond returns to the trailer park and Carl shows him where Deputy Cliff Howard lives before departing with a tenant who wants hot water.

Wednesday, February 17, 1988
Carl shows another FBI agent, Dale Cooper, around the trailer park. Desmond has been missing since the previous Saturday and Carl was apparently the last to see him. Cooper doesn’t ask about Teresa’s or Howard’s trailer, instead staring at a vacant lot. Carl tells the agent that an old woman lived there with her grandson, and that they were the second family named Chalfont to take that spot. Then Carl and Cooper approach Desmond’s empty car, where someone has scrawled “Let’s Rock!” on the windshield.

Characters Carl interacts with onscreen…

Sam Stanley & Chet Desmond

Agent Cooper

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Carl
Well, first off, like Nancy and Jeffries before him in these character studies, Carl never actually sets foot in the town of Twin Peaks, at least not onscreen. This is the first character study to reference the mysterious “grandmother and grandson” (named the Chalfonts here), as well as Teresa Banks, the drifter murdered in similar fashion to Laura a year before her. And Carl is the first character in this series to introduce us to Deer Meadow, Twin Peaks’ grungy doppelganger. His Fat Trout may be the location that best represents that sinister (but sunny) run-down township. Unlike Twin Peaks, nothing here seems hidden – although in fact, much is. The doors to the trailers are open and the walkways between them are exposed to the air but whatever haunts the area can't quite be glimpsed. There’s something thrilling about the Twin Peaks that Carl conveys – a woozy, impressionistic style not present in the series, only in the film Fire Walk With Me (which introduced Carl and is, to date, his only onscreen appearance). Cross-dissolves allow us to linger in the sense of a woozy morning; the camera wobbles a bit as it captures these characters; and the relaxed but vaguely ominous jazzy soundtrack especially contributes to the anything-is-possible buzz. This is a Twin Peaks that feels conspicuously lived-in, calmly harboring mysteries that refuse to yield to our investigation.

Carl’s journey
In his short time with us, Carl develops from a hostile curmudgeon to a likable, even comforting presence. Partly this is due to the strangeness of his surroundings: the cryptic FBI investigation of Teresa, the weird woman with the ice pack, the eerie Chalfont coincidence and the vandalized car (with a message we may recognize from the Red Room on the TV series). However crotchety, Carl begins to seem like an anchor in this unsettling environment. And partly, of course, this is due to the actor himself.

Actor: Harry Dean Stanton
Stanton is not only prolific – over two hundred credits on IMDb (not including multiple episodes on the same series) – he’s enduring. His television career began in 1954 (in 1956, he had a bit part in his first big-screen feature, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Wrong Man) and sixty-three years later he’s still working at a feverish pace with four projects forthcoming this year, and another just completed. An actor who can both embellish a film with a character part and carry it as a lead, Stanton has appeared in everything from Cool Hand Luke to The Godfather Part II to Alien to Red Dawn to Pretty in Pink to The Last Temptation of Christ to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to The Green Mile to The Avengers, as well as countless Westerns, not to mention guest spots on shows as varied as Gunsmoke (playing eight different characters), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, and Two and a Half Men with a recurring role in thirty-nine episodes of Big Love. His most celebrated character is probably Travis Henderson, the star of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. That's the central role in one of the most acclaimed films of all time, yet Stanton also frequently takes uncredited cameos in work as varied as Anger Management (“Blind Man”) and A Civil Action (“land watcher”). He has also been one of Lynch’s most frequent collaborators, appearing in The Cowboy and the Frenchman, Wild at Heart, Hotel Room, The Straight Story, and Inland Empire. A World War II veteran who landed at Okinawa, Stanton celebrated his ninetieth birthday last summer. He really has gone places.

Never appeared on TV series

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

Carl was written by David Lynch and Robert Engels, and directed by Lynch. His most famous line – wait for it – was apparently conceived on the set; according to Engels, “it was just a real cool thing that happened … I’m sure it sprung from Harry’s and David’s friendship.”

Carl is onscreen for roughly five minutes. He is in three scenes in Fire Walk With Me, taking place on two different days. All of his scenes take place in Fat Trout Trailer Park and he shares the most screentime with Desmond.

Best Scene
Confronted with a mysterious visitor, Carl develops a thousand-yard stare, then drags on his cigarette and clears his throat to haltingly stutter…

Best Line
“Y…you see, I’ve already gone places. I, ah…I j-…uh I…I just wanna stay where I am.”

(This is probably my favorite line in all of Twin Peaks, mostly because of how Stanton delivers it, though I always have trouble remembering if he says “gone” or “been.” Turns out it’s “gone,” like a turkey in the corn.)

Additional Observations

• Carl is one of several Fire Walk With Me characters/motifs that Frost mentions in The Secret History of Twin Peaks (Frost did not participate in the prequel, aside from a purely formal executive-producer credit; for years it was a sore subject, but he seems to have made his peace with its place in the canon). According to Frost, Carl was one of three children to disappear mysteriously in the woods in the late forties – this was the incident when the Log Lady got her tattoo. The book mentions Carl’s stewardship of Fat Trout, but suggests the trailer park is in Twin Peaks, not Deer Meadow. We’ll have to wait for the new series to discover the implications of that switcheroo.

• As I mentioned in the brief runner-up entry on the “wounded lady,” Christian Hartleban has an interesting theory about Carl’s reaction to her appearance. Does Carl fear going back to jail? Or, as Frost suggests, are the places he’s “gone” (and wants to avoid) more supernatural/extraterrestrial spaces? While these possibilities are intriguing, I prefer to leave Carl’s statement more vague than that, a metaphysical manifesto rather than a statement of noirish or sci-fi specificity. The meaning of that deeply-felt credo can, I suspect, only be felt, not articulated.

• Studying his credits on IMDb, I realized that the first role I ever saw Harry Dean Stanton in was Rip Van Winkle on Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. I cherished those videotapes, renting them religiously from local stores until I’d seen them all and can still remember the preview (watch it here) that would appear on every cassette, proclaiming all the stars’ names to let me know they were important, Stanton ending the lineup with a bang.

SHOWTIME: Yes, Stanton is on the cast list for 2017. Hallelujah! I’m not sure there was an actor I was more delighted to hear about. Carl is a favorite and I’ve already heard a few whispers of what he was up to on set, so I’ll avoid any particular speculation. It’s not at all surprising that Lynch would bring back one of his favorite actors, and it’s truly a joy to observe that the once-maligned Fire Walk With Me is being cemented as an integral part of Twin Peaks. Besides (as if we needed further evidence), it’s a harbinger of quality. As Roger Ebert once stated as a veritable dictum (one he unfortunately didn’t consider in his pan of Fire Walk With Me), no movie featuring Harry Dean Stanton in a supporting role “can be altogether bad.”

Tomorrow: Einar Thorson
Last Week: "Dougie" Milford

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