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

Carl Rodd (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #70)

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys one hundred ten characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91 on ABC and 2017 on Showtime as The Return), the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. A new character study will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday although patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public. There will be spoilers.
indicates passages added or revised since 2017, if you want to skip directly to fresh material; this is a revision of an earlier piece written before the third season.

Grouchy but gregarious, Carl is much more attuned to his surroundings than he would like to be - and very late in life, he's made his peace with this by helping others.

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.

Monday, September 26, 2016
Now re-located to the town of Twin Peaks (or at least its immediate outskirts), the Fat Trout Trailer Park is still run by Carl twenty-eight years later. He is boarding a van for his morning trip to the town center when Mickey, one of the residents, runs up and asks for a ride. They converse during the drive about Carl's advanced age ("not much to look forward to...except the hammer coming down"), Mickey's wife Linda finally getting an electric wheelchair ("fucking war..." Carl mutters, adding shortly after, "...fucking government"), and Carl's seventy-five-year smoking habit. In a park, Carl stares up at the trees while savoring a cup of coffee and another cigarette, smiling as a woman chases her young son along the path in a playful game. Soon after, he hears an ear-piercing shriek and wanders over to the nearby intersection to discover the woman weeping in the middle of the road. She is holding her dead son's limp body in her arms following an apparent hit and run accident. Astonished, Carl witnesses a hazy yellow shape ascend from the two, dissipating overhead near the electrical wires. He then approaches the grieving mother and places his hand on her shoulder, offering a gaze of sympathy and comfort as she stares back at him in disbelief.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Carl plays "Red River Valley" on his guitar until his singing is interrupted by a mug crashing out of a nearby window. He hears the residents fighting inside. Later that day, he discovers the mother of one of those residents - Shelly Briggs - stumbling around near that trailer and provides a ride back to the diner where she works (her daughter has stolen her car). Inside the van he calls her ex-husband, a sheriff's deputy, on a CB radio and is surprised to hear Shelly tell the deputy that their daughter has a gun.

Saturday, September 30, 2016
Carl informs a disabled resident, Kriscol, that he shouldn't be "selling his blood to eat." Kriscol is on his way to the hospital, but Carl offers him money and forgives the next month's rent, reminding him that he installs propane tanks and mows and rakes lawns for free.

Sunday, October 2, 2016
On an overcast afternoon, resident Cyril Pons tells Carl that he's seen Steven (Shelly's son-in-law) out in the woods with someone else, and that he had a gun. He points out Steven's trailer, where a bullet appears to have been fired through the already damaged window.

Characters Carl interacts with onscreen…

Sam Stanley & Chet Desmond

Agent Cooper

Shelly Briggs

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Carl
Carl's Fat Trout may be the location that best represents the sinister (but sunny) run-down township of Deer Meadow. 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.
When I first composed this entry before the third season I noted that "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." None of which remains true, of course, now that Carl has moved up on the list (while miraculously landing at the exact same #70 amidst the expanded ensemble). In another deleted passage from my original 2017 entry I wrote, "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." Within a few months, that observation would be radically altered; in The Return, "the NEW Fat Trout Trailer Park" is very much integrated into the familiar community, with Carl laying as much claim to being the town conscience as anyone. This re-location alters our perception of Twin Peaks as well as of Fat Trout - locations which have essentially met in the middle. On the one hand, the precarious trailer park's proximity to the once comfortably middle-class mountain village speaks to the town's decline in the quarter-century since the original series. On the other hand, Fat Trout itself no longer looks quite so run-down, and Carl himself is a much more benign presence than the beleaguered grouch of Deer Meadow; if anything, the new park with its solid foundations and broad, uncluttered paved paths appears more antiseptic than the grungy and therefore more perversely picaresque place we visited in Fire Walk With Me. Carl's fiefdom anchors a new Twin Peaks committed more to carving out isolated individual portraits than weaving a grand coherent tapestry, while his new role as weary sage suggests that Twin Peaks is in trouble but endures nonetheless.

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.
In his more extended narrative, this development continues even further. That implicit likability and comfort wrested from the sixtysomething owner is now made explicit, and Carl's role as a stabilizing presence has become his primary feature. In six disparate, mostly disconnected scenes, Carl is almost invariably someone that others turn to in need and he never fails to assist them. One thread that does develop throughout his various episodes is the Becky/Steven domestic turmoil, reminding us that Carl's beneficence can only go so far given the anxiety and violence that surround him. Indeed, looking at his arc as a whole, there is a haunting symmetry: we meet him for the first time due to a violent murder in his park, and when we last see him we're confronted with the possibility of another such crime.

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.
Seven months after those words were written for the 2017 entry, and a mere twelve days after the season three finale, Stanton finally passed away at ninety-one. A couple weeks after that, his cinematic swan song Lucky was released - a fitting tribute in which he played an old man grappling with life, death, love, and loss in a Southwestern town surrounded by a group of devoted friends (including David Lynch himself as a local eccentric). 


Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

*Part 6 (Showtime title: "Don't die." - best episode)

Part 10 (Showtime title: "Laura is the one.")

Part 11 (Showtime title: "There's fire where you are going.")

Part 12 (Showtime title: "Let's rock.")

Part 15 (Showtime title: "There's some fear in letting go.")

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.”
Decades later, as Lynch returned to direct his old friend, Mark Frost was able to contribute to Carl's development for the first time as co-writer of the new series. One interesting question which emerges: who wrote the scene between Carl and Kriscol? Its one-off nature feels of a piece with other moments that we know Lynch authored on the spot, including the Mickey/Carl van conversation (and I seem to recall an interview implying this was the case, though I may be misremembering). On the other hand, Carl's role as a kind of shepherd to his flock, sticking to a personal moral code in the face of a cruel world, feels very Frostian. Certainly, Frost relished the opportunity to not just write for Stanton but to act opposite him as Cyril Pons in Carl's final moments onscreen.

Carl is onscreen for roughly sixteen minutes. He is in nine scenes in Fire Walk With Me and five episodes, taking place on two different days and then, almost three decades later, four different days over the course of a week. All but one of his scenes take place in Fat Trout Trailer Park and he shares the most screentime with Chet.

Best Scene
Part 6: In the face of almost unimaginable tragedy, Carl bears witness to spiritual phenomena and offers solace to a woman who has just lost her son.

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.)

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," I concluded when I wrote the above in 2017 - and indeed we would. We also get to see Carl experiencing a supernatural vision, building upon Frost's inclusion of him in the childhood abduction incident. The Secret History also reports that Carl served in the Coast Guard, fought in Vietnam, survived an earthquake and tsunami in Alaska, lost a wife and child, wandered the Canadian wilderness, and returned to the U.S. to perform folk songs and work as a stuntman before buying Fat Trout. "I've already gone places" indeed.

Additional Observations

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.

My round-up of character interactions provided a challenge for this revised entry, as I limit that list to other characters with ten minutes or more of screentime. In Carl's case, that means that Shelly is listed as his only season three interaction - but of course he had many, many more. Indeed, The Return makes Carl a kind of patron saint for minor members of the ensemble: aside from Shelly, he memorably encounters Mickey, the hit-and-run mother and son, Maggie the police dispatcher, Kriscol, and Cyril Pons (not to mention his own silent but reliable personal driver).

When I published my initial entry on Carl I wrote the following in the "Showtime" section: 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.”

In a comment left on my viewing diary years after Part 6 aired, Jordo made an astute observation about what Carl witnessed at the hit and run scene:

"Who is to say the shape ascends from the little boy....? My interpretation was that it was the mother's delicious (very clearly yellow??) garmonbozia being sucked up by the power lines. I never see anyone say this...People seem to think it's a beautiful depiction of a soul going to heaven, but there's ominous electricity noises and Carl looks disturbed, and he knows what's up."

The emphasis on the mother's pain and sorrow, of course, only further underscores the importance of Carl's gesture.

If Carl has softened and mellowed with age, there's one area at least in which he's grown stricter. The old prohibition on disturbing him before 9am has been modified by a half hour: the manager's hours are now quite clearly listed as "9:30 AM (never before!!!!) - 5:30 PM."

Next (available now): Andrew Packard

To immediately read a month of upcoming entries, updated weekly to stay a month ahead...

(at the time of publication, this includes full entries on new or revised characters among #69 - 46)

No comments:

Search This Blog