Does Twin Peaks Hold Up?

Recently a friend admitted he hasn’t seen Twin Peaks, and asked me if it holds up to TV today. I hit him with a log and told him I’ve been too big a fan too long to have any objectivity. But I started thinking about it, and I don’t think a yes or no answer does justice to the question.

Twin Peaks was a bit of an experiment. The network took a chance on something different and it took off. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” became an international issue. The build up was tremendous, but the network wanted the mystery solved shortly into season two, basically dismantling the underlying story engine.

The pilot episode of Twin Peaks remains one of the best pieces of television ever made. The opening pulls us into the town where dozens of unique characters live idiosyncratic lives and there are secrets in every shadow. The writing is incredible, and the visual style, oneiric music and sense of place form an absorbing cinematic landscape.

Mark Frost and David Lynch mapped out the full first season before production (a mid-season pick-up of 7 episodes), and I think the show grew into its serial form well, expanding the town and getting markedly stranger. Many shows take us into weird territory these days, but they didn’t then, and even now they can’t touch Twin Peaks‘ sense of style.

The second season was much more troubled. 22 episodes were written on the fly and they proceeded with a fairly embattled production. This season comes on strong, and then after its finest moments the story begins to lag. Lynch and Frost were away from the production on other projects, and gradually the humour became more absurd, the mystery lost traction, and it took nearly to the end of the second season to start producing great TV again.

So does Twin Peaks hold up? It’s a very uneven show. When they were in the groove, they made some of the finest television of all time. When they lost their way, some of it is weak and just plain silly. If you can get past the surface flaws and into the mythological space of the show, the dream realms and darkness in the woods, it’s a captivating world you’ll never want to leave.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch the pilot. It is 90 minutes, the same runtime as most throwaway comedies, and it is available on Netflix. (Make sure you don’t watch the European version of the pilot, as it has a false ending.) If it doesn’t grab you, you can walk away, but I might look at you funny.

Welcome To The Waiting Room: Twin Peaks 2016

Twin Peaks trended worldwide yesterday when Showtime announced that a third season of the show will air in 2016. The event will be a 9-episode miniseries, written by original creators David Lynch and Mark Frost with Lynch directing every coffee-soaked episode.

Rumors of a reboot have piled up for years, at one point prompting Lynch to flatly deny there would ever be a continuation of the show. But on October 3rd, Lynch and Frost simultaneously tweeted THIS:

If you’re like me, you know that when two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention. Fans of the show have been waiting for something to happen for 25 years, and Monday morning, they saw THIS:

It was fun to wheel through the timeline and see everyone lighting up. Social media has already brought us Twin Peaks blogs and podcasts, artwork and custom coffee cups, spoofs and mash-ups, and more content than any fan could absorb. But the online craze is its own event.

Social media is hard proof that Twin Peaks fans are a serious market force; they’re fiercely addicted and loyal to the show and Amazon knows it. But I’ve consciously tried to avoid the Packard Rumor Mill to keep my expectations realistic.

Twin Peaks was the first great piece of art I ever ‘got’. It became my benchmark for genius on television (and elsewhere). And the best part of the show, and its creators, was their ability to deliver the unexpected. So I’m confident in the reboot. Lynch and Frost had something then, and they’ve both grown as artists.

I’ve had over 20 years to re-watch, ponder and mythologize (I saw it first in 1994), and the show has a very personal meaning for me. If I try to keep up with all the speculation on Twitter my head will probably explode. Ignoring it is nearly impossible, but ideally I’d like to sit down in 2016 to new content without thinking about any of the speculation, like a babe in the woods, if you will.

2016 is a long way off, so welcome to The Waiting Room. Fortunately I have my gorgeous Blu-ray box set to keep me company until then. And when the reboot does finally arrive…well, one day my blog will have something to say about that.

 

No Pressure, David Lynch

The phrase “ahead of his time” seems like a bit of a backhanded compliment. It’s like an apology for why an artist does not have popular appeal despite being head and shoulders above his competition. Like the artist has too much vision. So much that most people don’t get it.

Twin Peaks The Entire MysteryIt’s been 8 years since his last film, but David Lynch‘s popularity seems bigger than ever. 2014 sees the Blu-ray release of Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, which includes the pilot, 29 episodes, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and an infamous 90-minutes-worth of deleted from FWWM.

Twin Peaks, labeled “ahead of its time” in 1990, has shaped television and film culture for twenty-five years and it is widely regarded as a must-see television classic. And it’s nice to see such enthusiasm around this release in social media. The Blu-ray release is apparently a big enough deal to warrant live events, like the August 30th TIFF Bell Lightbox screening of FWWM with stars Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise and Sherilyn Fenn (Fenn didn’t make the final cut of the movie, but remains one of the most alluring women in television history).

EraserheadSo I guess Lynch was really ahead of his time with Eraserhead (1977), which is set for a sickeningly overdue Blu-ray release from Criterion this September. The disc boasts 4K resolution, which will make it far and away the best picture available shy of a film print. Incidentally, I once saw a 35mm screening in LA, but the picture was misaligned, some very crucial framing botched, and some of the special effects magic was ruined by the mistake. The audience was pissed. I was, anyway.

Might audiences be finally catching up with Lynch? His last film wasn’t even a film, proper, but a DV experiment in complexly layered identities. But despite its dark, baffling structure, 3-hour length and deeply idiosyncratic symbolism, Inland Empire wasn’t reviled by critics nearly as much as I expected.

What a great coincidence it would be if Lynch came out of his self-imposed retirement from film. We know he would have an audience. It’s a niche audience, sure, but many will go see anything he puts out. However, Lynch’s films have a tendency to be savagely unexpected and rarely cater to anything resembling a popular market. He obviously only makes films when he feels inspired to do so. But seriously Mr. Lynch, get on that.

My Favorite Characters Hate Themselves

Recently I did a little writing exercise. I thought about my favorite characters from movies and television and drafted up a few paragraphs on each. I focused on their strengths, weaknesses, and the various inner conflicts that give them depth. Now it seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but once I had it all on the page, I realized that all my favorite characters are highly self-destructive.

Okay, so maybe they don’t hate themselves, but they all have internal compulsions that drive them in conflicting directions. They do things they know they shouldn’t; a dark side compels them, and they seem to have little or no control over that darkness. Even as they do their best to be good, they are subconsciously their own worst enemy.

Don Draper is a perfect example of a great, three-dimensional character. He is a brilliant ad man because he quickly knows what people want, what drives them to act, and he plays on their primal urges. But when it comes to Don’s own urges and wants, he seems oblivious, and so he treads upon himself with profligate sex and alcoholism, trying to fill a gulf of want, but wearing himself down until he can’t find his talent.

One of my favorite movie characters is Dignan from Bottle Rocket. Owen Wilson’s wannabe career criminal has an infectious enthusiasm that is so innocent and childlike he draws otherwise upstanding people into poorly considered criminal schemes. He’s a terrible criminal and realistically has no hope of fulfilling his dreams, but his wide-eyed charisma makes it hard for people to say no, or to be honest with him about his ridiculous plans. Dignan doesn’t hate himself, but if he ever faces the reality of his decisions, he might.

Conflict is necessary; without it, there cannot be a story. But most characters lack that subconscious self-loathing that dominates my list of favorites. (I’m not sure what that says about me.) Generally the more divided a character is, the more rich their internal struggle. It’s easy to say that The Dude from The Big Lebowski is self destructive since he’s so generally sloppy, but he is just too easygoing to hate himself, and his character isn’t as rich or compelling as Dignan in the same measure that Lebowski is less tragic.

Think about Breaking Bad’s Walter White, True Detective’s Rust Cohle, Bill Murray from Groundhog Day or Ghostbusters or Scrooged or Lost In Translation, Eddy from Hurlyburly, Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul from The Conversation or “Popeye” Doyle from The French Connection, Jake LaMotta from Raging Bull, Humbert Humbert from Lolita, Romeo, Hamlet, Dracula.

These characters are some of my favorites. Their internal tensions drive the respective plots forward with an sharp edge. The problems generated by these inner conflicts give me a thrill because I sense that I’m not just watching an external narrative advance step by step; I’m seeing an existential crisis in action. I get the sense these characters sometimes wonder, “How can I be this way?”

Even when the plot doesn’t have to move forward, great inner conflicts lead to memorable characters. Sam Malone from Cheers is a recovering alcoholic, a washed up baseball player who, since he knows nothing else, buys a bar and works his days away with his ex-coach, nailing as many ladies as possible. Diane Chambers, a self-styled intellectual and scholar, takes a job as a barmaid and cannot resist Sam’s charm. To my mind, this is one of the best premises ever for a sitcom.

I resonate with these characters. I feel quickly and deeply invested. I want these characters to struggle with themselves and I usually want to see their better natures win in the end. We all have inner conflicts, and we generally see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. A well-crafted character should gradually invite us to project our conflicts, to see ourselves in the character’s skin (to some extent) and reciprocally, to share in their emotions.

And the best characters aren’t necessarily revealed right away. Sometimes it can take multiple viewings or readings to tease apart the antipodal motivations, to really get inside a character’s head and start to understand those primal urges that drive him or her. A great character should be rich enough with content that they can surprise us, but once we get inside their heads, it should all make perfect sense.

My favorite character ever might be the darkest of all: Laura Palmer. Her death at the beginning of Twin Peaks marks the beginning of our discovery. In 30 episodes we never properly meet her, but we learn so much of her inner conflicts we can infer depths to her that most characters cannot touch. And when we finally meet her in the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, we get a touching and disturbing portrait of struggle between light and darkness. Laura is a heroine who still resonates with culture today, echoing all over the media landscape in shows like The Killing.

Truly great characters live forever.

The True Detective Finale [SPOILERS]

[WARNING: This is not a show you want spoiled for you.]

Easily the hottest new television show this season is HBO’s True Detective. Social media sites have been crackling with theories, projections, analyses, breakdowns, synopses, praise, criticism, and so forth, and speculation on season two is in full swing as we speak.

The build up to the final episode, fueled by social media, was intense and exciting, and the scope and depth of the show made it impossible to forecast what direction the finale would take. Now that it has has come and gone, I find myself feeling a bit deflated. All that hype sweetens the anticipation but contributes to disappointment later; with so much chatter and speculation, it’s easy to feel let down, to be critical and cynical.

True Detective was easily the best show I’ve seen this year. From the start, the show was an example of visual storytelling at its finest. McConaughey and Harrelson gave truly impressive performances, the writing and directing were riveting, the cinematography was beautiful, and the show seemed to open into the mysterious worlds of psychosis and even the supernatural. This stuff is right in my wheelhouse.

The build up to the finale was intense. There were so many questions that needed answers: Who or what is the green-eared spaghetti monster? Has Cohle lost it completely? Has Hart made up his might to end Cohle? With such a network of horror out there in the Bayou, can Hart and Cohle even make a difference?

I thought the finale was great. The bad guy was thoroughly twisted, the chase and showdown made my heart thump in my ears, the denouement was touching and solidified McConaughey as the best performance of the year (as if anyone had any doubt), the detective work was engaging, and the dialogue was sharp and memorable.

So why do I feel let down? It might just be because it’s over (a 2-hour special might have been nice), or it might be because the wild twists I imagined would happen might have been more mind-blowing. Should they have let the bottom drop out and reached into the supernatural abyss of Chtulu? To be sure, a CGI demon would have been stupid, would have short-circuited the whole series. Yet somehow Cohle’s “vortex of chaos” hallucination worked perfectly.

Sure, I would have loved to learn more about the occult ethos, sure I would have loved it if the ending involved Maggie, the daughter, or that cellphone-selling rocket that Marty…did things to. Sure I would have been okay with one or both of the main characters dying, and of course I would have loved some sort of bizarre black magic showdown, but what would I be willing to trade away from the finale as shot to accommodate these speculations?

A dip into the supernatural would have been a mistake. True Detective is not Twin Peaks. The latter wove the supernatural or dream elements into the fabric of the show from the start, which allowed them to knock the roof off in the mind-blowing finale. But True Detective was always about real people chasing real people who may or may not be insane.

A wider focus on the evil underground network of child abusers might have meant a less penetrating look into our main characters. To delve into the occult rituals and sacrifices might have been delicious, but those details would never be the focus in a police investigation. There is only so much narrative, and I think Nic Pizzolatto made strong decisions throughout.

The one decision I immediately questioned—something that usually rubs me the wrong way in detective shows—is that the final episode showed us Errol’s world, even showed us three or four of his personalities without any detective work. The infraction here being that, in a detective show, the audience should learn about the bad guy at the same pace as the detectives. But if Pizzolatto had shown only what the detectives saw, the finale would have been 45 minutes of detective work and then a five minutes showdown. The audience wouldn’t have tasted Errol’s mania, which drives the anticipation through that beautiful Heart Of Darkness chase scene.

We can all nitpick from our couches, but here’s the thing: I don’t know what would have made True Detective better. What are your opinions?

True Detective

HBO’s new drama True Detective has a lot going for it, and it feels strangely familiar at times. It is a gritty procedural with complex characters and gratuitous nudity, nothing new for the network, but there is an edgy new darkness brooding around all the things that make this familiar as a cop show.

Like the dark woods surrounding Twin Peaks or the irrepressible Seattle drizzle in The Killing, the landscape of True Detective is haunted with secrets. From a seedy truck stop teeming with hookers to a grimy trailer park, also teeming with hookers, to a burned out church on a desolate farm with no hookers but a frightening smudge drawing and a portentous flock of birds, episode two (“Seeing Things”) smothered us with the underbelly of Louisiana.

Like all truly great cop shows, when we explore the territory we really explore the characters. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey have dug right in from the start as two deeply conflicted detectives with opposing philosophies. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle seems like a brilliant, existential isolate while we get the sense that Harrelson’s Martin Hart would be lost without his family, even if he doesn’t act like it.

We start with an occult murder and our leading man has lingering drug issues from his time as an undercover narc. I expect to explore some exciting, strange psychological territory here. We don’t need to believe in black magic; it’s enough that someone does. That is scary. And I get the sense Cohle knows a thing or two about this type of behavior already.

Only two episodes in and I already feel like Sunday is too far away.

Going Abroad

I recently had to make a tough decision about a very dear item. My Twin Peaks VHS box-set had to go. There is no way I could just throw it out; this is the series that started my high school obsession. It blew my mind and made me realize I wanted to make movies. It also introduced me to worlds I never knew existed.

Fortunately I’ve found the box-set a good home, and I hope the recipient will get from it even a fraction of what I did. I have a lot of history with those tapes. They were my first introduction to the work of David Lynch, who quickly ousted Stanley Kubrick as my favorite director. I think Kubrick is probably the greatest that ever lived, but there’s something mysterious about Lynch that I can’t resist.

I think it was in the biography Lynch on Lynch where he mentioned that Federico Fellini was one of his major influences. The first Fellini movie I watched was . I find it hard to talk about  because it hit me on such a personal level, but suffice it to say that I think it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made. So I lost myself in the Italian auteur’s catalog. This was a breakthrough for me because I don’t believe I had ever seen a foreign film before 8½, or if I had, it wasn’t memorable.

Now I had a taste for it. I was interested to see movies from other cultures, movies from filmmakers who had a different way of life. I quickly realized that the Hollywood system seemed content within a certain set of values, a homogenous morality and thin, nearly meaningless output. So I unconsciously decided to become a film snob. Fortunately, my brother Jay had a copy of Agurre: The Wrath of God.

That stunning, visceral, hallucinatory take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (the same source material as Apocalypse Now) made me giddy, and Aguirre is still one of my favorites. German master Werner Herzog became my next guru. He is one of the most exciting and prolific filmmakers I know of, even to this day, and the book Herzog on Herzog made me laugh my ass off. His genius is unique.

From Germany my tastes headed north, to Denmark, when Lars von Trier hypnotized me with The Element of Crime. I really did not connect with all of von Trier’s movies, but he is a magician when he hits, and his recent return to form has me considering, maybe masochistically, of going to see his new film Nymphomaniac.

Near that time my brother showed me Alphaville by Jean Luc Godard. It was funny, it was noir, it was smart, and it was beautiful. Plus, it had Anna Karina. I balanced Godard’s panache with the solemnity of Ingmar Bergman in Sweden. While Masculin Feminin had me giggling, Scenes From A Marriage left me gutted.

But when I caught wind of Andrei Tarkovsky, I started a pilgrimage to Russia starting with the sci-fi classic Solaris. It could easily be argued that Tarkovsky films are boring. He even joked about it himself. But the word boring tends to lose all meaning for me when I get wrapped up in a journey of Tarkovsky’s. Even the bizarre, didactic Stalkera 2 hour, 40 minute sci-fi allegory about transcendence–ranks as one of my favorite films.

Just like that, I had made it from a small logging town in Washington state all the way across Europe. It’s rare that we can trace the cause of our decisions in such clear ways, but I have no doubt that if it wasn’t for that Twin Peaks VHS box-set, I wouldn’t have seen so much of Europe so fast. And now it’s time to move on. After all, the Twin Peaks Blu-ray box-set comes out this year.

Walking With Fire

Early in university I had a pretty nasty bout of insomnia. After a few weeks I really started to notice the bizarre mood swings that result from no sleep. In the course of one hour I could laugh hysterically at the most unfunny things, then almost weep because my coffee was cold. At night I couldn’t shut off my thoughts, and I couldn’t ignore them enough to fall asleep. My brain jumped from topic to topic without any focus, like flicking through channels on the television. By morning, after five or six hours of this without any break, I’d get up and go to school. It wasn’t long before my life felt like a hallucination. It wasn’t as awesome as it sounds.

I had a good friend who wasn’t sleeping either, and we both compounded the issue by overdrinking coffee. We decided to watch all of Twin Peaks consecutively. This includes a 1.5-hour pilot episode, twenty-nine episodes and the feature film that is the crown jewel of the experience, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It took us about thirty-five hours. Even though sleep wasn’t a real option for either of us, the quality of consciousness during and after a marathon like that is particularly strange. We must have drank three pots of coffee, eaten two pies (one cherry, one apple), and snacked on junk food between pies, so by the time we were finished our brain chemistry was in shambles.

We finished around three or four in the morning and I walked the short distance home to clear my head. But I had been about a week without a night of sleep and had just been on the multidimensional roller coaster ride of Twin Peaks, plus I was full of caffeine and sugar, so my head was anything but clear. The walk home was like wading through neon porridge.

I noticed a bright, warm glow coming from down my street. Closer inspection revealed that the front porch of my house was blazing with fire, flames about five feet tall. I ran up the porch, reached over the fire to ring the doorbell hoping to wake someone up. I tried to stamp out the flames before they caught the awning on fire.

It was a big, blocky, wooden planter in the shape of a swan that burned. The thing used to hold plants. The thing was put together with nails.

My foot came right down on a nail that drove through the sole of my shoe into the ball of my foot. When I lifted my foot there was a smoldering piece of wood attached to it. I backed down the porch on one foot, hands on the railings, as my mom opened the front door and realized what was going on. She got water while I pulled off my shoe, prying the nail out of my foot at a painful angle.

A pitcher of water put out the blackened swan. The fire was under control.

Inside I pulled off my sock and was surprised to find no blood. The nail had been hot enough to cauterize the opening so my foot was swelling up with blood. With an old pair of fingernail scissors I punctured the skin and blood shot out with such a force that it painted a thin red line on the far wall, like a big squirt from a ketchup bottle. I laughed my ass off.

An hour later I was in a deep sleep.

“Is this real Ben? Or is it some strange and twisted dream?” - Jerry Horne

South Beach Baptism

2013-01-16_14-13-59_830

Lying in the sun this morning in South Beach, Miami, I realized there are some things in life you actually cannot get from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Radiation burns from your television don’t count as a tan.

Instead of kicking her to death for fun, try talking to your neighbourhood hooker. She might have hilarious, horrifying stories.

In real life it takes much more nerve to drag a cop out of his car and steal his shotgun. But it’s worth it.

The best thing I found in Miami that I never found in video games is religion. You can make a lot of money starting a religion. L. Ron Hubbard seems to have invented Scientology without much spiritual wisdom or intelligence, so I always assumed I would gather a decent cult following eventually.

But the wisdom of a child has shown me the light. Check out this yarmulke:

Power Ranger Yarmulke

Power Ranger Judaism.

In the beginning was the Zord.

Based on the successful television show, this franchise appears to have expanded into the newest form of get-‘em-while-they’re-young religions. Each of us has a pantheon of colourful power rangers within us. By communicating in mime-gestures and flying fists, we make our Power Rangers work together to defeat the awakened Godzillas and Mothras of our lesser nature.

Why don’t we see more designer or pop culture religions in society? During the acid craze of the sixties Timothy Leary talked about inventing personal religions. But you never hear about them.

For a while now I have been High Priest of my own religion based on the cult television series Twin Peaks. Initiation is rigorous and time consuming, but gives participants the ability to peek behind a certain red curtain.

It seems today’s religious institutions aren’t raking it in like they once were. Re-branding might be in order. If religion was as appealing to kids as Grand Theft Auto the churches would be making it rain.

 

 

 

Interiority Complex

I grew up Roman Catholic but never felt anything “holy” when I went to church. It was something like school – something that had to be done. Maybe this is my own personality, or maybe it’s the religion itself. It was the Romans who killed Jesus, after all.

Watching Twin Peaks in high school I realized something mysterious existed just below the surface. That feeling of mystery eventually spread from the television to all parts of my life, but it wasn’t until late university that I took an interest in other religions and philosophies and became preoccupied with getting to know the unknown.

Middle Eastern and Asian religions appealed to me aesthetically. Spires and colourful mosaics, sitars and multi-armed deities seemed more appropriate to worship, but this is likely because those schema were culturally alien to me and therefore had a stronger connection to the unknown.

Discovering yoga, meditation, shamanism and other techniques in my spare time helped me augment my nervous system and take an active role in the development of my consciousness. Those self-disciplines used to seem socially unacceptable somehow, probably a result of the anhedonic attitude of Roman Catholicism. Oddly enough, now I can find that “holy” feeling just about anywhere quiet.

When I read The Varieties of Religious Experience by the American philosopher William James, I was impressed with how clearly he laid out my some of my convictions. Why should anyone be able to call into question the authenticity of my interior reality? Experience shows me what is true and false, especially in those tricky interior realms where language breaks down. The value of those experiences is personal, but it infuses everything I do.

At one point in my life I would have called myself an atheist. Fortunately, having had my mind blown by interior experiences, I realized that “God” was just a word, a tool used to describe the unification of everything, and I didn’t have to worry about believing or not believing because the name is not the thing named. What matters is cause and effect. If I can sit still and see the universe as a unified whole, it doesn’t matter to me what path brought me there. The personal sacred experience is what matters. I’ve been meditating twice every day without fail for many years because it’s worth it.

One of my favorite words is psychedelic, from the Greek psyche, as in “mind”, and delos, “manifesting”. Psychedelic = Mind Manifesting. Unfortunately the word psychedelic is all caught up with drugs, hippies, trippy colours, and other bullshit that take away from what the word could mean. I find the definition of this word in dictionaries to be lazy.

Psychedelia should be synonymous with art. I believe all art to be psychedelic. What you are reading right now is a written manifestation of my mind. I had an idea, I thought about it, and made it manifest. Tattoos are psychedelic too; a person finds meaning in a symbol and they alter their physical body to represent that idea. Music works similarly.

Art is a sensory creation that adds something unique, meaningful, and valuable to the mental landscape. That’s what real art is to me, anyway. The rest is just filler. Industries apply the word “artist” to anybody who writes a book, acts in a movie, plays a song, without questioning the value of what is made. An unfortunate amount of movies, music, and books are either meaningless, or their meaning has no value. Fortunately for the world some people take art seriously and give out in love what is taken in by contemplation.

Literature is telepathy. Music is empathy. Film is orchestrated hallucination. These are powerful tools we’ve developed. If you can find transcendent meaning in a piece of art, let that be an acceptable road to the sacred. Incidentally, Catholic and Jewish religions are already based on a book, aren’t they? Sometimes I get a kick imagining that the authors of the Bible were intentionally trying to write the weirdest novel ever.

What I’m trying to say is that you should all pay close attention to “In Your Mind” by Built to Spill.