Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Case 7: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks turned 20 earlier this year. What does it have to offer me today?
Behind the Assumption: David Lynch, crime, darkness, challenge, intellect, serialization, absurdity, significance, it’s all there. Only The Prisoner casts a larger shadow across the TVscape.

Previous Experience: By reputation and Simpsons jokes. I also know what I’m in for when Lynch is involved.

Results: Ambivalence typifies my relationship with the works of David Lynch (though he didn’t direct everything, his fingers are all over the show). I love how strange he is, but at the same time, his strangeness can get very frustrating. The strangeness often doesn’t connect as much as I’d like. His films usually take place in a highly subjective dream-state, and that usually remains the sole reason weird things happen. It’s stupid to expect rational justifications for his bizarre phantasmagorias, but I’d usually like something deeper than “Because it’s a dream”. They’re puzzles, but instead of putting it together, you’re just supposed to admire the pieces. It’s hard to roll like that.
            That is where I come from as I approached Twin Peaks. Let me say, I don’t adore it. But let me also say I admire and respect the hell out of it, and my issues are not my usual Lynch issues. The issues that keep me at arm’s length from Twin Peaks have nothing to do with execution, but simply matters of time—its and mine. Twin Peaks landed in 1990, twenty years ago, in a very different world, and as much as it was ahead of its time, there is a lot of it still has a foot planted in the past and is unwilling to move. The first season isn’t particularly cinematic in the way it flows, the acting and writing are often (deliberately) hammy, and at times it’s clearly parodying soap operas, which isn’t a genre I care much about. It’s often filmed in the formalized old TV mode, with an unmoving medium shot of two characters talking—and unforgiving style that sometimes makes everything look cheap. Whatever film stock or early video the show was filmed with doesn’t help, it just looks old.
            Despite that, I find Twin Peaks compelling, admirable, and I’m glad to have watched it. The particulars of Laura Palmer’s murder may not shock anymore—hell, the show was infamously unplanned, and the killer’s identity is still hilariously obvious—but there’s still power in the Baroque tableaux it spawns. Laura’s murder isn’t the story, as much as her murder’s effects are, a study in how a dark act exposes and ripples through a community. I prefer to not take the talk of demons and spirits literally (though one could, and apparently many have), but rather as manifestations of the town’s psychological undercurrents. They are not “explainable”, but they work for me, the haunting phantasmagorias and their execution in the show—the show wrings a lot of sense of heightened reality by just changing the lighting. A demonic visage in a Canadian tuxedo crawling across the furniture. A red and black room where connections to the dead are made. A room of celebrants dance to the tune set by a man’s emotional devastation. A line of investigators, coffee in hand, all in a row. Callow men of power surrounded by northwest cabin kitsch. Stacks of donuts spread in a perfectly arranged grid. The Tibetan Method. The haunting refrain “Fire, walk with me.” They don’t make sense, but their power as pieces of mood is undeniable.
            So yeah, there are issues. So maybe the show’s a bit soapy, and the honky-tonk theme is grating. Maybe Nadine, and most of the 50’s stuff, is a bit pointless and silly in a bad way. Perhaps Grace Zabriskie had to wail for too long. It could be argued that the back-half of season 2 is aimless. So James starts to flounder a bit, and Catherine’s plot against Ben Horne is stupid and a little racist. It still had Agent Cooper, broken and haunted Leland Palmer, Shelly and Bobby and Leo’s good silliness, and the specter of Laura, the sadness from which all else flows. It had David Duchovny, whose arrival caused me to do a spit take (more on him in a minute). It was a show that desperately wanted to break fully out of its time, but couldn’t quite do it. Twin Peaks isn’t perfect, but it’s profoundly influential. This list would be much different without it.           

Least Sexy Moment: Nadine. She’s gross.

All-Stars Shoe Sighting: None. Twin Peaks is almost perfectly too late and too early for them.

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