One of the greatest TV show to movie of all time… and more turns 30.
To mark this anniversary of “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”, the prequel to the ground-breaking, influential, and iconic series, Karl reviews one of his favourite films.
My introduction to the unique dreamlike vision of David Lynch was as a teenager in the early 1980s and “The Elephant Man“, the film on everyone’s lips at the turn of the decade. The title alone was more than intriguing enough for me to want to check it out. Upon finally watching on home video it was revealed as both a mesmerising and heart-breaking experience that highlights Lynch’s genius in more of a mainstream accessible manner than his first feature “Eraserhead“. Beyond that it encompasses his compassion and empathy evident in his works, each of which ultimately explore the human condition in all it’s beauty and ugliness alongside our connection to the metaphysical world.
Four years later, in 1984, “Dune” arrived to a critical mauling and box office failure. Undeniably it is flawed, but owing in no small part to the lack of artistic freedom Lynch was given. He has stated numerous times that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and he also was denied final cut – something from that point on he never gave up. DUNE was followed in 1986 by “Blue Velvet“, with Lynch now having complete artistic freedom. A film absolutely beyond criticism that led to firmly cementing my love of his movies. Here clearly can be seen the seeds of “Twin Peaks”.
1989 would see the release in Europe of Lynch’s next “movie” the “Twin Peaks” pilot as a stand-alone on video cassette with a wrap up ending for contractual reasons so it could be sold as a film if it was not picked up as the planned series. To mine and fans joy the following year the series including the pilot in its original intended cut was unleashed upon an unsuspecting TV public, and to huge critical acclaim for this first season. With David Lynch having less input in season 2 due to working on “Wild at Heart” and co-creator Mark Frost busy with his film “Storyville” others tried admirably to replicate their styles (Tim Hunter was among a few who succeeded in lending their talents to create the best of the non-Lynch directed episodes). Sadly audience interest dwindled and in the hope of bolstering viewing figures the network forced Lynch and Frost to reveal Laura’s killer when they had not intended to. The mystery of who is the killer was never the point of “Twin Peaks”, but instead the exploration of the human condition and our link to the metaphysical world, which the mainstream television audience was maybe not ready for in such a surreal and abstract way. Out of frustration Lynch and Frost went on to create one the most powerful and shocking hours of TV ever seen. This and the next few episodes that followed would eventually lead to the legendary final episode that concluded on the most shocking and downbeat note ever witnessed before, or maybe since, on a primetime TV show. At that point in 1991 “Twin Peaks” came to an end…
Or so us passionate fans thought until the announcement of a film trilogy that would begin with a prequel which would depict the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life.
“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me“ is as ever a gruelling experience that gets under my skin and hits harder than any other movie. Yet strangely it was much misunderstood and maligned in 1992, but like all great art has come to be more appreciated in the intervening decades. English film critic Mark Kermode was one of the few who championed it from the beginning (his YouTube Kermode Uncut review is well worth checking out). He described it as one of the best horror films of the last 30 years. Myself, I would argue in cinema history.
Sadly many “Twin Peaks” fans found the direction Lynch and co-writer Robert Engels went was not to their expectations, with its appropriately far darker, more disturbing approach. Now with the TV censorship handcuffs taken off Lynch was able to tackle the themes explicitly yet honestly and tastefully rather than implicitly. All but ditched was the quirkiness of the show as the subject matter quite rightly could not be treated in a light hearted manner. Due to poor box office and a scathing critical response (particularly shameful was the Cannes Film Festival reception that broke Lynch’s heart) the two other planned films were scrapped. Which as most fans now agree has turned out to be a huge positive with the 2017 limited series picking up the story and going full blown, unfiltered Lynchian. Episode 8 taking “Twin Peaks” to a whole other level, of which fans will know what I am referring to, creating one of best, most mind-blowing, ground-breaking instalments of TV ever broadcast.
“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” realistically and honestly depicts the horrifying tragedy of Laura Palmer. Frankly a far more appropriate title maybe would have been “Fire Walk with Me: Laura Story” which would have possibly taken away assumptions it would be like the show. Lynch brilliantly, and relentlessly immerses the audience in an absolute, terrifying living hell as only he could envisaged; which was only touched upon in the show by way of Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigations. Of which the “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” starts in a similar fashion, with an opening that feels like an inverted episode set in a dark mirror of the town of Twin Peaks. Eventually this leads us to the town itself with the shot of the iconic sign as we hear Angelo Badalmenti‘s haunting theme tune. Now 20 minutes in Laura Palmer is finally introduced.
Experiencing “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” in the cinema back in 1992 the first shot of Laura herself is to this day still indescribable. A character only talked about in the series made living flesh on the big screen. The following two hours plus were all at once an incredible, disturbing, shocking, heartrending, and shattering, gut-punch experience.
Sheryl Lee‘s performance is unquestionably one of the best never to have been bestowed with any awards. Beautifully described by Mark Kermode as operatic. Grace Zabriskie said of Lee uninhibitedly bringing Laura to life “She gave everything she had, she gave more, she gave more than she could afford to give, and she spent years coming back.” From first appearance to last this was no performance but a total immersion into a character who was also very close in age to Lee at that time. So it is not at all surprising it deeply affected her. Which is why for a number of years she had to take a step back from acting. The fact numerous people over the years have reached out and told her that “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me“ helped them deal with similar terrible situations to Laura’s makes it all the more disappointing she only in recent years outside of the fan base has got the recognition deserved back in 1992. That being said, Lee has said on many occasions that helping countless others far outweighs any acclaim or awards.
And it cannot be stressed enough Ray Wise has never been better as Laura’s father Leland Palmer and deserves equal praise. Both inhabited their extremely difficult roles to perfection. Other characters from the series make appearances, some more brief than others, and it is as ever quite apparent while some are not as strong actors as Lee and Wise Lynch has a unique ability that helped them bring the very best out of themselves in service of his vision.
“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” more than ever after the limited series plays a massive part in understanding “Twin Peaks” as a whole. I will never claim to understand the symbolism and meanings behind everything and really have never felt the need to. Predominantly I have always taken from it is there maybe is no one simplistic conclusion in respect of the human condition and the metaphysical world and their interconnection.
My overriding feeling is that at its core, via the story of a young woman who is abused by a person she should be able trust and her murder, it is about the nature of good and evil, and love in whatever form it takes.
Thank you David Lynch, Mark Frost, Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan, and everyone who contributed to the amazing TV series and the ever more relevant work of art and cinematic masterpiece “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me“.
This piece is dedicated to my friends that I have made through our mutual love of the strange and wonderful worlds of Twin Peaks.