A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #4: Twin Peaks, “Lonely Souls”

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 4 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast, but beware of the owls: Mege and Matt reminisce about Twin Peaks, the original series. Warning: if you don’t know who killed Laura Palmer, watch the series first! (Hint: It wasn’t the Log Lady.) Also, Mege takes a trip to the sci-fi-tinged Middle Ages through the eyes of Aleksei German and the Brothers Strugatsky, and Matt doesn’t hold back on the meagre charms of Danny Rand.

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J’ai une âme Lynchian

Wow, Bob, wow. I’ve posted in the past on Twin Peaks, especially in the early days of this blog, but darn it, if it isn’t that time of the year when you just need a post on Lynch’s special slice of pie, with or without a damn fine cup of coffee. The occasion? The imminent release of Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray. I’d heard about this one before, and so far I hadn’t even been on the fence: I am the proud owner of the slightly tacky-looking complete Twin Peaks TV series on DVD, so why upgrade an early ’90s series shot for television to a storage medium that, more likely than not, wouldn’t make it look or sound all that much better?

Cue this preview for The Missing Pieces, which is exclusive to the new release. Now, the following may not be particularly exciting or indeed mean anything much to non-fans of the series, but I remember in the early days of internet coming upon a newsgroup FAQ of Twin Peaks, and that FAQ outlined the many, many scenes that had been cut from Lynch’s follow-up/prequel to the series, Fire Walk With Me. When the film came out, many fans complained that there wasn’t enough of, well, Twin Peaks in it: many series favourites were relegated to mere cameo appearances, if indeed they were in Fire Walk With Me at all. The Missing Pieces doesn’t completely remedy that, but it comes close: it consists of 90 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes from the film, edited by the mad man himself.

If anyone had asked me a month ago if I was excited for the show’s Blu-ray release, I would have found it difficult to muster more than a profound “Meh.” I like the series, but with more than twenty years since it originally came out (and with absolutely packed DVD/Blu-ray shelves covering 1 1/2 walls of our living room), I thought that I’m absolutely okay with what I have on DVD. And then came the preview video, and it hit me right in the talking log. The circle of sycamores. Leland Palmer stomping through his living room like an ogre. The Little Man jiving it up. Agent Dale Cooper blowing someone (his eternally unseen assistant Diane, perhaps?) a kiss.

Garmonbozia

The funny thing is, there are things about Twin Peaks that is deeply iffy, first and foremost the acting. Some of it works in that stylised, surreal way that Lynch’s characters have. Some of it is middling at best. And some of it is downright painful. Yet somehow, to Pavlovian me, that doesn’t even matter so much, and that is probably exemplified best by Laura Palmer. When the series came out and I first watched it in my late teens, was I in love with poor, doomed Laura? Quite possibly a bit, as much as one can be in love with a character who is dead by the time the series begins. Not for me the lure of sexy Audrey Horne, the all-American beauty of Shelly Johnson or the more mature charms of Norma Jennings: no, for me it was all about the girl wrapped in plastic – which may explain a thing or two about my romantic history.

I don’t know what exactly I’m expecting from The Missing Pieces, and it’s unlikely the added pixels will reveal anything more about what exactly Bob is or what fate has in store for Agent Dale Cooper. Twin Peaks, even in HD, is the opposite of high definition: it gets blurrier the closer you look at it… but in the static, you may just see the sycamores swaying in the wind. And you may just see me in the branches that blow.

The Tube is not what it seems

Okay, gang. I’m afraid this entry is going to be short(ish) on words and long on film. Also, it’s only really going to be of interest to David Lynch/Twin Peaks fans. For all you other people: switch off your computers and go outside. It’s a lovely day. (At least where I am. For all I know, The Deluge: The Sequel has just started wherever you are.)

One of the features on the Twin Peaks Super Gold Fantastic Tacky Set is that the international version of the pilot is included. This was the version Lynch edited together in case the series wasn’t picked up by a network, and it ‘completes’ the plot. However, ‘complete’ has to be taken in the loosest possible sense here – for anyone who thought that Lynch’s works don’t make any sense, the international Twin Peaks pilot makes Lost Highway look like one of those “Run, Jane, run!” stories in terms of clarity.

It roughly goes like this: Mike, the one-armed man, calls Agent Cooper and tells him that Bob killed Laura. Coop and Sheriff Truman meet Mike at the hospital. They find Bob in the hospital basement. Mike shoots Bob. Cut to twenty-five years later: Coop is in the red room, little guy dances, Laura kisses Coop and whispers something in her ear. The end.

I’m somewhat reminded of the first time I watched Twin Peaks on telly. They were showing it on some second-rate channel, but they stopped roughly 2/3 into the series without saying that it wasn’t actually over. For years I thought, “No wonder people say that Twin Peaks doesn’t make any sense!” Even the ending that Lynch finally came up with had more closure and felt more coherent than what I’d seen…

P.S.: Even if the international pilot is rushed and incoherent, you gotta love Lucy and Andy.
P.P.S.: For those of you who want to see something that is more representative of the Best of Twin Peaks: this is pretty much my favourite scene in the series.

Wrapped in plastic

When I was 16 or 17, I had a crush on Laura Palmer. Not Sheryl Lee – Laura. And not because I’d actually seen Twin Peaks, but because of the little photo of her in the Twin Peaks soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti. Yes, it’s sad – but somehow it also fits the series. The little town of Twin Peaks has a clear image of who Laura is, symbolised by the framed photo of her as Homecoming Queen. They’re in love with that Laura, and many of them have no clue of what’s going on behind that all-American façade.

She’s dead, Harry… wrapped in plastic

It’s been years since I last watched the series, and coming back to it now is weird. I watched the pilot yesterday, and my emotions were intertwined so strongly with nostalgia from the first note of the title tune and the first shots of the sawmill that I found it difficult to step back and look at it somewhat more objectively. I didn’t want all my feelings towards the series to be copies of my earlier feelings, reheated moods from the early ‘90s. Especially since television has come a long way since then: back when it first came out, Twin Peaks was clearly revolutionary, but nowadays, there is more varied, more unconvential television. (HBO, I’m looking at you! Don’t screw it up!)

The series still looks surprisingly good for television. Even at 4:3 format, it’s clear in the pilot that Lynch put a lot of effort into framing his visuals. There’s none of the stagey flatness of much of ‘80s television (American television, that is – there are some real gems of English miniseries at the time). In short, Twin Peaks still looks good.

What looks less good from a distance of 15+ years is some of the acting. I never watched the series for its acting, but I don’t think I was quite that aware of how badly acted Bobby Briggs was, for instance, or Shelly and Leo Johnson, or James “Nomen est omen” Hurley. Obviously, Twin Peaks is the wrong place to look for naturalistic acting – but there’s a difference between stylised acting that works (say Kyle Maclachlan’s Dale Cooper or Russ Tamblyn’s Doc Jacoby) and the thespian crime you get from Eric Da Re, for instance.

Special agent, in every sense of the word

Nevertheless, the series still holds up pretty well, and that’s mainly thanks to the strong undercurrent of, well, Lynch. There’s a dreamlike intensity even to the first episode which is rather short on the director’s trademark weirdness. It’s not as strong as in his most cinematic work – Twin Peaks does feel like Lynch Light – but it’s there nevertheless. It’s there in the shots of douglas firs swaying in the wind or of lone traffic lights at night. It’s there in the train waggon where Laura died. It’s there in battered, bloodied Ronette Pulaski stumbling across the railway bridge in her torn chemise. And it’s there in the synthetic sounds of Angelo Badalamenti’s unforgettable soundtrack.