Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Year:  1992
Director:  David Lynch
Screenplay:  David Lynch and Robert Engels, based on the television series Twin Peaks created by David Lynch and Mark Frost
Starring:  Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, Kyle MacLachlan
Running Time:  134 minutes
Genre:  Drama, horror, crime, surreal

The television series Twin Peaks ran to thirty episodes between 1989 and 1991, and at it's height was pretty much a cultural phenomenon with buckets of merchandise and endless references, parodies and homages throughout popular media.  The show centred on the investigation into the murder of small town high-school girl Laura Palmer (Lee) and the dark underbelly of American small town life which is stirred up by the murder.  With it's blend of crime drama, soap opera, comedy, surrealism and horror it was groundbreaking TV.  However the show suffered from steeply declining ratings and a drop in quality during it's second season, and was cancelled.  The show had been officially cancelled for less than a month when co-creator David Lynch announced the feature film.

The film serves as a prequel to the series.  The movie opens with the investigation into the murder of seventeen year old Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley) by FBI agents Chester Desmond (Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Sutherland).  The murder is not solved and during the investigation Desmond mysteriously disappears.  The strange circumstances surrounding the case, including the bizarre reappearance of eccentric agent Philip Jeffries (David Bowie) and subsequent disappearance, lead Special Agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) to believe that the killer will strike again.  The film moves forward a year to the small rural town of Twin Peaks, and focuses on Laura Palmer during her last seven days alive.  On the surface Laura is the all-American Homecoming Queen, but in reality she has a severe drug habit, occasionally works as a prostitute and is threatened by an evil, abusive entity called "BOB" (Frank Silvera) who she fears has some link with her father, Leland (Wise).

The film was  ahuge commercial failure on it's original release, except, interestingly enough, in Japan where it was a box office hit playing to packed cinemas of mostly female audiences.  With it's complex narrative constantly referencing the series and obscure aspects of the show's mythology, it is very difficult for those unfamiliar with Twin Peaks to understand the movie, the film even has some references to the show's bizarre ending.  However, many fans of the series were very upset by the film, partly because many of the characters from the show were either barely glimpsed or completely absent from the film, and partly because the film lacks the series trademark warmth and humour which was always a counterbalance to the horror and darkness.  In this film, the horror and darkness is central and it plunges into areas of bleakness which the TV series could only hint at.  The original cut of the film was about five hours, and Lynch understandably had to cut a lot of material, and most of what was cut was the humour and warmth, and characters which Lynch felt were extraneous to the Laura Palmer story.  Also a number of the actors from the TV series did not want to appear in the film, due to the fact that many of them felt abandoned during the show's second season when Lynch's commitment to Wild at Heart (1990) meant that he had to take a much less hands-on role in the series.  As a result Lara Flynn Boyle declined to return as Donna Hayward, Laura's best friend, and her part was played by Moira Kelly in the film.  The series' star Kyle MacLachlan originally declined to take part in the film, but changed his mind on condition that his role was substantially reduced, as a result, Dale Cooper, who was the lead character in the show, only appears briefly in a few scenes.

Watching the film, you get the feeling, that this is Twin Peaks, as David Lynch would have liked it to have been.  Despite working in the confines of a prequel and thereby having to stick to the series continuity and mythology, the film is pure David Lynch.  The film is a dark and savage look at the heart of darkness in the neatly manicured lawns and white picket fences of small town America.  It also deserves points for turning the feature film spin-off of a TV show into an experimental, surrealistic nightmare which makes little concession to viewer's expectations.  This is a powerful and gruelling film, even though it does bear scars from the heavy editing - hopefully at some point an extended cut will be released.  Whatever, this is one of David Lynch's best.  The first time I saw it I had never seen any of the TV series, and so a lot of it completely went over my head, however I still loved it because it is so powerful and disturbing and so deeply strange.  By the way, David Lynch does make an acting appearance in the film as hard of hearing FBI chief Gordon Cole.

"Faster and faster... until after a while you wouldn't feel anything... and then your body would just burst into fire. And the angels wouldn't help you, 'cause they've all gone away..."
- Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) speculates on falling into space

Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) sees the light in Twin Peaks:  Fire Walk with Me          

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