Monday, November 24, 2014

It's the final Monday of November and, once again, I'm still working on this month's entry in Journey Through Twin Peaks, my 4-part video series covering the series and film in chronological order. Part 3, "The Whole Damned Town," is my most ambitious video yet, covering the most episodes (from the extremely weak post-Laura episodes to the stunning Lynch-directed finale) while also devoting half its chapters to important asides: the cast of characters, the atmosphere of Twin Peaks (show and town), Cooper's character arc, and the series mythology. Among other elements, Part 3 explores the good and bad points of season two, spin-off books like My Life, My Tapes (the Cooper "autobiography") and the Access Guide, the influence of Theosophy, and divergences in Lynch's and Frost's interpretation of Agent Cooper. There will be eight chapters in this entry; in lieu of the eventual upload here is a sneak preview of what's on the way (descriptions include spoilers, as will the videos obviously)...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Online commentary from the original Usenet newsgroup (1990-93)

What if the internet had existed when Twin Peaks originally aired? did. Sort of. The average viewer did not have online access when the first episode aired on April 8, 1990, nor when Laura Palmer's killer was finally revealed on November 10, 1990, nor when the final episode aired as a Monday night movie-of-the-week on June 10, 1991, nor when the prequel film limped into theaters on August 28, 1992. Of course, the average viewer wasn't paying attention to Twin Peaks at all by those later points - so the following commentators are exceptional not only for their internet savvy, but for their enthusiastic devotion to David Lynch's and Mark Frost's unique world.

I'm not going to attempt to explain Usenet or newsgroups or the pre-World Wide Web internet because I don't really understand them myself. As far as I was aware, the "Information Superhighway" popped out of nowhere in the fall of 1995, when I entered jr. high. Yet since the late seventies, computer networks had been facilitating communication between people with (I believe) institutional access to the internet. Usenet (which is still available today) was among the most popular of these networks. Newsgroups conducted conversations on particular topics, and quickly became one of the most noted newsgroups. Episodes were immediately analyzed, theories were tossed about, and hoaxes were pulled by clever fans.

The newsgroup remains active today, nearly twenty-five years later, as a Google group with over 28,000 topics archived. Through keyword searches, I was able to bookmark many of the early posts, from the show's initial run. Then I made a completely subjective selection of 108 posts that seemed interesting and representative. Consider this a companion piece to my round-up of Twin Peaks media commentary this spring. I am endlessly fascinated by how new viewers react to the show as it unfolds, as well as how the show was received when it first aired, so for me this was pig heaven. (Also worth checking out is this thread I started for fans to share their memories of the original series run).

In 2016, fans from all over the world will share immediate reactions and attempt to make sense of the insensible via Twitter, Facebook, and all variety of internet forums, using phones, tablets, and other devices. Though their numbers will be greater, they will be not be the first do so. Here then, is a glimpse of the first generation of online Twin Peaks fans attempting to figure out who killed Laura Palmer, praising and complaining about the show's twists and turns, and reacting to Dick Tremayne's famous death scene (you'll see). The further we go, the more absorbing the commentary becomes: detailed psychological evaluations of the characters and situations, evocative first-hand accounts of the Fire Walk With Me shoot, even speculative predictions that Twin Peaks will return in 2014! "Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see," indeed...

Monday, November 10, 2014

This summer I spent an hour or two chatting with Cameron Cloutier, prolific host of the "Obnoxious and Anonymous" podcast, about Twin Peaks. Since then so much has changed - Brad Dukes' Reflections book has clarified a lot of Twin Peaks history, The Entire Mystery blu-ray unveiled the "missing pieces" of Fire Walk With Me along with a new look at the Palmer family, and most notably David Lynch and Mark Frost announced that they would be (gasp!) returning to Twin Peaks after all. With all that in mind, Cameron and I joined forces for another lively discussion. This time we cover (among other topics) the nature of David Lynch's collaboration with Mark Frost (and editor Mary Sweeney), the difference in how the two creators treat Agent Cooper, Ronnete Pulaski's importance to the Laura Palmer tale, and the strange contradiction between Lynch's desire to keep Laura's killer a secret (perhaps forever) and to explore that secret in detail in Fire Walk With Me. Quite a lot to unpack, so please share your own thoughts below.

I also encourage you to check out Twin Peaks Worldwide, a new blog spun off from the popular Facebook group. The latest post addresses that perennial question haunting Twin Peaks (second only to "How's Annie?"): who is Judy? Share your thoughts over there; I already have.

My podcast with Cameron follows the jump. And stay tuned over the coming month as 12 Weeks of Twin Peaks continues with a new entry every Monday, including further chapters in my Journey Through Twin Peaks video series (which I hope you'll check out if you haven't yet - this is some of the work I'm proudest of in my six years of blogging.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Martha Nochimson, author of the critical analyses The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood (1997) and David Lynch Swerves (2013), has recently written two notable essays: "Don't call 'Twin Peaks' a 'cult classic'" and "David Chase finally reveals Tony's fate on 'The Sopranos.'"

When I returned to Twin Peaks earlier this year, it was through a book, Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Some essays were more compelling than others, but two immediately caught my interest. Both addressed what remained "unsettled" (unsettling?) about Twin Peaks for me - and thus what drew me back into that world after a five-year break. Diane Stevenson's essay "Family Romance, Family Violence, and the Fantastic in Twin Peaks" tackled one of the show's most troubled and tangled points, the intersection of real-world trauma with depictions of an otherworldly mythology. And Martha Nochimson's "Desire Under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks," in contrast to some of the other essays in the book, explicitly analyzed the troubled making of the show. She rooted her analysis of the series finale - particularly Cooper's "defeat" in the Red Room - in careful research, observing not only what David Lynch and Mark Frost had done, but what they believed. The result perceptively located the psychological and spiritual resonance of Cooper's experiences rather than relegating them to narrative exigencies or over-theoretical impositions.

I soon learned that this essay had been followed by one of the most acclaimed books on Lynch. The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood extends the author's analysis of Lynch's (and, briefly, Frost's) visions, bringing a Jungian and feminist perspective to bear on the director's work. Her primary guide, however, is the work itself - and Lynch himself (she spoke with him several times before writing the book). She expected, according to the introduction to Passion, to "get an enormously precious something, which I would transmit in my book. As it turned out, much of the value of my time with David Lynch came as a result of letting go." Later, in one of the most important passages, she describes viewing a Jackson Pollack painting alongside Lynch. When she said she didn't understand it, he told her she did because her eyes were moving. "I saw that I could not contain the painting in some theoretical framework; he saw me performing with the painting." Throughout this book, Martha Nochimson performs with David Lynch's work in similar fashion. For me, reading the book was a series of epiphanies. Did I agree with everything she wrote about the work? No (and below we will discuss some of the interpretations I found more challenging). But there was a consistent sense of revelation I hadn't felt with other analyses of this work - a sense that the central phenomenon was always the emotional experience of what Lynch was presenting rather than a cerebral rationalization.

The follow-up book, David Lynch Swerves, brings a more pronounced framework to the table: using the Vedic scriptures and (especially) quantum mechanics to interpret Lynch's "second-stage" films, from Lost Highway to Inland Empire, in which a purely psychological reading limits what he is doing (the book very firmly rebuts the "it's all a dream" interpretation of the first two-thirds of Mulholland Drive). This, of course, runs the risk of applying a rigid grid to Lynch's films but instead the book is as revelatory as its predecessor: the focus on the Vedas and physics are based on Lynch's own curiosity about these subjects and, again, the interpretation is determined by the experience of the work itself. Besides, these unconventional tools remain shockingly apt. Lynch bends reality yet maintains (indeed deepens) emotional resonance in his later work, a process I see beginning even earlier than the "second stage," in Fire Walk With Me and, to a lesser extent, Twin Peaks. As with Diane Stevenson's earlier essay on "the fantastic," David Lynch Swerves distinguishes the director's visions from Hollywood's traditional genre approaches: "In the Lynchverse, the marketplace blocks experience of the larger energies of the real in the name of a fictitious normality. In horror, science fiction, and fantasy, the larger energies are violations of a highly valued normality conceived of as the real. In the Lynchverse, normality is questioned; in horror, science fiction, and dream/fantasy, it has traditionally been defended."

The most useful quantum concepts in the Lynch experience may be "entanglement" - in which multiple particles react as if they are one (much like the shifting and overlapping identities in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire) and "superposition" - in which a particle can be two places at the same time (recall the Mystery Man's phone conversation in Lost Highway, among other relevant phenomena in that film). The analysis even finds a way to incorporate The Straight Story, through the concept of "decoherence," which explains how traditional Newtonian physics appears to operate under certain conditions (indeed, this is how we perceive day-to-day life) even as experimentation proves that the larger physical reality is far more complex. Reading The Straight Story this way - as a narrative that takes place within what Swerves refers to as the "Lynchverse" but miraculously avoids the physical and psychological reality-bending of his other works - can seem like a stretch. However, the film is certainly a part of Lynch's oeuvre (and it is clearly a film he was passionate about, even calling it his most "experimental" work), consistent with his vision despite being exceptional in many ways. Recall, too, that Alvin's journey is all about self-imposed limits and sticking to a particular path, and "decoherence" becomes perhaps the most perceptive reading of a film near and dear to Lynch's heart, even as that heart was devoted to a very different perception of reality than Alvin Straight's.

Finally, David Lynch Swerves provides the most penetrating and clear-headed reading of Inland Empire that I've yet encountered. Early in the film, the strange woman who enters Nikki Grace's home borrows language from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation and David Lynch's own spiritual teacher. She speaks of "the Marketplace" (the confusion of day-to-day reality, also akin to the limited vision of classical physics) and "the Palace" (cosmic wisdom, to put it perhaps too simply). With these evocative words as guiding concepts, the book gently roots the swirling realities of the film's prologue in three distinct locales. There is the Rabbit Room, a "vision of faith" in which "three actors wearing rabbit suits wait for understanding in a state of Pinteresque/Beckettian confusion." "The world of human need," as represented by the Lost Girl's Room, "combines an elaborately appointed but realistic looking hotel room with a magic mirror shaped like an ordinary television." The self-descriptive Rage Room is inhabited by "two men, one of whom is filled with violent, negative energy in a beautiful, traditional, gilt-covered European salon." These physical places are visualized psychological concepts: "It is unorthodox to think of emotional states of being as places we can enter, which Lynch does here. Lynch also challenges the way we usually think about time by locating these 'feeling places' - bubble worlds - in a future that is already present when the film begins, way before Nikki finds these worlds." Nikki's visitor in the film also speaks of an "alleyway" through which one can avoid the Marketplace and reach the Palace. My own feeling is that David Lynch's films provide such an alleyway. Despite its elusive, "challenging" air, his work may in fact create a path to better understanding of art, the world, and our place within it.

After reading The Passion of David Lynch and David Lynch Swerves, I knew I wanted to speak to Martha about her work and David Lynch's films. The following conversation was conducted primarily through a single phone call, although preliminary questions and minor revisions were made via email as well.

• • •

Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Center Cannot Hold" continues my 4-part video series analyzing the narrative cycle of Twin Peaks from the pilot through Fire Walk With Me. This second entry begins before the last, exploring the creation and development of Laura Palmer (juxtaposed with the films Laura and Vertigo as well as the abandoned Mark Frost-David Lynch project The Goddess, about Marilyn Monroe). After an examination of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, we pick up where we left off in season two, covering episodes 9 through the beginning of episode 17, with a long pause to analyze the killer's reveal, including a montage accompanied by W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming," from which this video essay draws its title. Part 2 in its entirety is fifty minutes long but I've also split it into six individual chapters, running between five and eleven minutes each, for easier viewing. Along the way, of course, there are disturbing images and spoilers (although I don't spoil episodes ahead of the ones I'm discussing).

Completing this video took far longer than expected but I am very happy with the result (well, except for my voiceover work which I am, at best, mildly happy with...). I hope you find it informative, absorbing, and thought-provoking. These episodes feature some of the most distinctive and controversial material on the show so I also hope viewers will share their own thoughts below. Part 3, scheduled for November, will cover the rest of the TV episodes with asides to explore the show's mythological influences, distinctive atmosphere, and colorful ensemble. Part 4, scheduled for December, will focus on Fire Walk With MePart 1 - "Harmony of the Dark Woods" examining the well-balanced first season and controversial season two premiere.

Journey Through Twin Peaks follows the jump accompanied by several representative images taken from the video.

Monday, October 27, 2014

As the giant says, "It is happening again." For the second time in a month, an entry in my Journey Through Twin Peaks video series is taking longer than expected and cannot go up on schedule. Part 2 of the series, "The Center Cannot Hold," will go online this week, hopefully within the next few days but is proving far more complex and challenging than I imagined. This portion of the series will cover season two from the second episode to the resolution of the Laura Palmer mystery, but it also makes room for several asides: the creation of Laura's character, connections to Vertigo and Laura, excerpts from The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch, and a meditation on the nature of the killer's reveal and how Lynch's and Frost's previous work led up to this point. I've completed some of the most important parts and am quite pleased with the results, but I want to make sure I don't rush the rest of it so here we are (if you haven't watched it yet, here is Part 1).

In the meantime, I have posted an excerpt on YouTube; this is the introduction to the "Killer's Reveal" chapter, which couples "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats (as read by Harold Pinter) with some of the more unsettling moments from the series, Fire Walk With Me, and The Missing Pieces. I thought the poem would go well with the visuals and it really did, especially with the selected music. Needless to say, the video features spoilers and disturbing images. You can watch the excerpt below and keep your eyes peeled for the rest within a few days:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Needless to say (although I'm saying it anyway), this interview with John Thorne - co-editor/publisher/writer behind Twin Peaks magazine Wrapped in Plastic - will include many, many spoilers for the series and film.

When I spoke to John Thorne for the first time in July about the history of his magazine Wrapped in Plastic, I only planned to publish one interview. Yet as we spoke about the upcoming Entire Mystery blu-ray release, I realized we'd have to talk again to discuss what would probably be the last addition to the Twin Peaks canon. It took a couple months, but I was finally able to follow up with him about the deleted scenes, the mysterious Palmer family reunion, and other special features. We also spoke about the possibility of David Lynch and Mark Frost returning to Twin Peaks and both of us thought it extremely unlikely. There was even a wistful tone in John's voice as he commented about The Missing Pieces: "I would say, it felt like he was done. That this is an end point. In a way this is sort of a door closing. Arguably it could be a door opening too." He then added, referring to Lynch's recent art show in Philadelphia, "I would hope that he looks at these paintings again and thinks, I want to see these paintings move and he’s ready to do it again."

Well, here we are a month later and a third interview was obviously necessary. If you're reading this, you surely already know, but on October 6, Showtime announced it will be airing a 9-episode continuation of Twin Peaks. Every episode will be written by Mark Frost and David Lynch, and they will all be directed by Lynch. Many cast members have already declared their interest in returning, and last week (after this interview was conducted - it's impossible to keep up with the news!) Frost also announced an upcoming novel which will divulge what's happened in the town of Twin Peaks over the past twenty-five years. Clearly, John and I had a lot to discuss so we eagerly got back to it. Part three, the final installment of our ongoing conversation (for now), covers questions about the new series, John's interpretation of the original series finale, and why the media still doesn't get Twin Peaks.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Needless to say (although I'm saying it anyway), this interview with John Thorne - co-editor/publisher/writer behind Twin Peaks magazine Wrapped in Plastic - will include many, many spoilers for the series and film.

In Part 1 of this interview, conducted in early July, John and I discussed Wrapped in Plastic and his theories about Fire Walk With Me. In this installment, conducted a month ago, we discussed the blu-ray boxset Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, released a few weeks after our last conversation, particularly The Missing Pieces (90 minutes of deleted footage from Fire Walk With Me). We also discussed the second season of Twin Peaks and why David Lynch seemed unlikely to return to Twin Peaks (little did we know). In a week I will present part 3 of the interview, conducted earlier this week, discussing the amazing news from last Monday (originally part 3 was scheduled for two weeks hence, but I've moved it forward).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Needless to say (although I'm saying it anyway), this interview with John Thorne - co-editor/publisher/writer behind Twin Peaks magazine Wrapped in Plastic - will include many, many spoilers for the series and film.

For thirteen years and seventy-five issues, Twin Peaks fans had one safe haven in a media landscape completely indifferent, even hostile, to the strange, wonderful world they loved. Publishing its first issue in October 1992, a month after the critically-reviled Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me bombed at the box office, and going on permanent hiatus in September 2005, two years before the Gold Box DVD collection would introduce a new generation to the TV series, Wrapped in Plastic carried the torch during the long dark age of Twin Peaks. Or rather, it ensured that this dark age was in fact a golden era, with vital new interviews, deeply insightful essays, and the latest cast-and-crew news bundled into a slick, appealing package every couple months. Wrapped in Plastic was a fanzine but it was also something more: a vital source of scholarship in an era when one of the most iconic, original, and influential TV shows of all time was rarely discussed.

Wrapped in Plastic unearthed countless insights into the production of the series which still resonate today, via extensive interviews and close readings of production documents and other details. It solicited contributions from all quarters, publishing rich and provocative analyses of the series in light of literary criticism, television history, esoteric philosophy, even Arthurian legend. And, in the style of the show it honored, it broke the mould, mixing fanservice with erudition, commercial calculation with aesthetic consideration, personal passion with objective research. And, of course, the entire project was homemade: Craig Miller and John Thorne edited and published every single issue, barely squeaking out a profit while writing a substantial number of the essays themselves. It's no wonder they eventually felt burnt-out - what's amazing is that it took so long for the pace to get to them. Sadly, Craig Miller passed away in 2010 and with that, Wrapped in Plastic was officially over.

I discovered John Thorne's work this past spring, as I gathered quotes for a massive round-up of Twin Peaks commentary, trying to trace the elusive history of the show, the film, and their reception. Intrigued by his long-dormant blog (particularly a post called "The Subject of Laura Palmer"), and heartened by his quick responses to my inquiries, I contacted him to propose an interview. Having come to Twin Peaks only after the magazine went out of print (like many others wooed by the show in the digital/social media era), I was only dimly aware of Wrapped in Plastic and had never had the chance to sample its contents. John shared some of his work with me and I investigated the descriptions of previous issues to get a tantalizing sense of the magazine's treasures (though I haven't been able to yet, I plan to invest soon in its archives - as Gordon Cole would put it, "MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES" of back issues!).

The following conversation was conducted nearly three months ago, several weeks before the release of The Entire Mystery blu-ray (with its 90 minutes of deleted scenes from the film) re-ignited interest in Twin Peaks in late summer. John and I discussed his own experience watching the show, the backstory of Wrapped in Plastic, his insight into Mark Frost and David Lynch, and particularly two essays on Fire Walk With Me, "Dreams of Deer Meadow" and "The Transformation of Laura Palmer." The first, Wrapped in Plastic's most controversial article, proposes that the entire prologue of the film is best - and most accurately - interpreted as Agent Dale Cooper's dream. The second, a much longer version of the blog post that hooked me, digs deeply into the process behind the development of Laura Palmer's character. Taken together, the discussion of these two essays makes up more than half of the following exchange which has been dramatically cut down from a three-hour phone conversation. Two months later, John and I would speak again - intending to touch base for half an hour, and again talking for three hours - about The Missing Pieces and other matters. That interview will appear next week as a follow-up.

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the big news. Rumor has it that later today, Mark Frost and David Lynch will announce one of the greatest comebacks in TV history: the return of Twin Peaks in some form, probably a miniseries on premium cable. [As expected, a few hours later Showtime declared that it will be running a brand new nine-episode Twin Peaks miniseries in 2016, which will be entirely written by Frost & Lynch and directed by Lynch. Later in the day, John Thorne posted on his blog for the first time in over two years, declaring that he is now planning to renew the mission of Wrapped in Plastic in one form or another.] In an amazing reversal for a series ignominiously cancelled after a season and a half, maligned in the mainstream media, and viciously shot down when it attempted to take cinematic form, it looks like - as Lynch and Frost simultaneously and cryptically tweeted last week - "that gum you like is going to come back in style." If this is true, we can expect the deluge of new, curious fans of the classic Twin Peaks to dwarf anything since the original series aired nearly twenty-five years ago, and it is my hope that as the torch ignites once again, we can remember the folks who carried that flickering flame in the years when the show was nearly forgotten. So let's part the red curtains, cross the threshold, and unwrap Wrapped in Plastic one more time...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Harmony of the Dark Woods" kicks off a 4-part video series analyzing the narrative cycle of Twin Peaks from the pilot through Fire Walk With Me. This first entry introduces the hybrid tone/style of the series and focuses on the essential triptych of Laura Palmer, the town of Twin Peaks, and Agent Cooper. It covers the pilot through the season two premiere (with no spoilers for subsequent episodes, so I don't reveal the killer in this entry). The entire video runs for thirty minutes (my longest video essay yet) - but you can also watch it in five separate, short video chapters for easier viewing. Taken together, the entire video series will be feature-length.

Each month's video opens with a musical montage set to a different Julee Cruise song not featured on the Twin Peaks soundtrack (although contemporaneous with the show and film), provides a larger context for the upcoming material, and then closely - and chronologically - examines the subtle twists and turns in David Lynch's and Mark Frost's storytelling. Hopefully viewers will find this approach insightful; my goal is not simply to reiterate the events of the show but to present them in an illuminating, informative light so that when the series is finished the often bewildering saga will appear as a messy but cohesive whole.

This is my first narrated video essay in nearly two years, and I have written, narrated, and edited the project myself. The parts will appear at three-week intervals: Part 2 will go up on October 27, Part 3 will appear on November 17, and the series will conclude with Part 4 on December 8 (originally the dates were each a week earlier, but I have pushed them back. -10/19). These will be my video posts for the coming months (this one just barely made it up in time for September). The first three entries are also a part of this blog's Six Weeks of Twin Peaks.

Hope you enjoy my "Journey Through Twin Peaks." Share your own thoughts on season one and the season two premiere (and hell, anything else that comes to mind) below.