Friday, March 31, 2017

"Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd". (Twin Peaks Episode 1)

Episode 1 - "Traces to Nowhere" (April 12 1990)

The first episode of the series proper, Episode 1 goes about cementing a lot of the dynamics between the characters introduced in the Pilot.
Secure in his position as the protagonist of the piece, Agent Cooper pushes forward with his investigation. While Cooper is our lead, Sheriff Truman is the audience's touch stone and their double act is strengthened as the series goes on from the Pilot. Cooper is the odd but affable FBI agent who dabbles in mysticism and possesses amazing deduction abilities, Truman is the small town sheriff, reliable and ready for action. Their relationship in one of fellow lawmen, but also one of mutual curiosity. Cooper's bent for the mystical sparks scepticism from Truman, meanwhile Cooper is in wonder of every little element of Twin Peaks. From Trees, to Pie to Birds, Cooper is almost like a clone just stepped out of the vat and seeing the word for the first time.

So while strengthening the double act at the core of the show, we also have the start of Audrey's interest in Cooper as well. Audrey is a beloved character, she is probably the most emblematic of the "Twin Peaks Girls" but also probably the most underutilised compared to her potential especially later in the series. Sherilyn Fenn puts on an immensely charismatic performance in almost every scene she is in, even simple scenes with little to no dialogue. The scene of her dancing in the RR for example or the various short scenes of her spying on her family from her spy nook. It takes some skill to convey much more than just a base emotion from a shot of a character peering silently through a spy hole or blind. It is a pitty the character didn't become more than a motivation for Cooper as the series went on, and even that abruptly fizzles. Why it fizzles is another story, but seemed to have been a combination of concern about the romance plot (either from Kyle MacLachlan due to Audrey being under age, or Lara Flynn Boyle who was dating Maclachlan at the time) and Lynch's drift away from the series in Season 2. 

We also have Cooper meeting the Log Lady for the first time and setting up the Log as a witness. I'll talk about the Log Lady later on, her presence in the series is an important one and very much part of the way Lynch puts together the surreal elements of all his work. 
We have other character interactions develop as well, Catherine and Ben's plans are fleshed out more and we glimpse the way Catherine toys with Josie like a cat does a mouse. Also, Leo is confirmed as the worst kind of Abusive spouse, it is hinted at in the Pilot but here we see it in Lynch's characteristic style. Stylised music, terror and also off-screen apart from the setup, giving you just enough to feel the dread Shelly has towards her husband without becoming gratuitous. 
Leo and Shelly also give us the next clue in our mystery besides the potential Log testimony. Leo's Bloody shirt, which Shelly hides seeing it as a lever against her abusive husband and giving us the audience another suspect. 
We see more of the Palmers, and Sarah's visions of BOB and Laura this time occuring with Donna in the house. Bobby Briggs' home-life in all it's bizarre serenity, and some background on the oft forgotten Ronnette. The first mention of the Bookhouse Boys as well, James suggesting needing their protection after he , Bobby and Mike are released from custody. Our picture of the town and it's people slowly beginning to fill in as the writers add shading to the sketch the Pilot gave us. 
It is often said that episodic dramas are a series of set up and pay offs, and episode one gives us the first pay off on the road to solving the mystery of Laura's death. The last shot of the episode is Dr Jacoby sitting in is home listening to something and crying over the heart pendant he took from James and Donna's hiding place. Why did he take it? Was he jealous that she was seeing James? Did he kill her? Good questions creating by the set up of the mysterious removal of the pendant from its hiding place, and then the simple scene at the end of the first episode to pay it off. 

My little coconut...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

“She’s Dead...” (Twin Peaks Pilot)

Pilot aka “Northwest Passage”
Twin Peaks begins with Jack Nance. 
Very much like Lynch’s seminal work “Eraserhead”, Nance’s Pete Martel guides us into this dreamscape. In a similar way that he became an icon for underground film, Nance utters one of the most famous lines spoken in a television pilot ever. “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic” 
Nance’s Pete Martel is however not the first character we see, just the first one we follow as viewers. That is what really struck me on this rewatch, how quickly and economically Lynch and Frost are able to establish a location and characters to the audience. Within the first five minutes (credit sequence included) we are given a solid sense of place and tone. Something which is amusing to me as so many writers on the subject tend to write off Lynch’s direction and imagery as inscrutable. The opening sequence distils the setting for us set to the calming tones of Badelmenti’s score, woods, saw mills, the great northern, waterfalls, water, greens, browns and the eponymous town sign. 

The first character we first see is in fact Josie Packard, she hums to herself and applies her makeup as Pete walks into the kitchen and greets Catherine Martel, informing her that he is going fishing with a half hearted kiss. (Well he kisses his hand and touches her cheek which she only seems to tolerate.) As Pete leaves we go back to Josie, watching him leave and still humming to herself. Quickly three characters, no yet named but their relationships touched upon with minimal work. We follow Pete as he walks along the shore, we follow him as he makes his discovery of a corpse wrapped in plastic and follow him back to the lodge as he calls the sheriff’s office. Again, a very fast and efficient introduction of Sheriff Truman and Lucy, complete with Lucy’s characteristic overly precise rambling. These introductions are very, well as I have already said, efficient. They leave plenty of oxygen for the viewer to feel their way into the setting, the words that aren’t spoken speak the loudest. Pete’s show of affection to Catherine speaks volumes, as does her response silently reading the newspaper only offering a glare at his attempt. While you are told later it is a “small town”, you already know that as the first brush strokes have already outlined the setting in your mind. 
The Pilot is a series of set pieces, designed to introduce a very wide cast of characters as well as the town itself. Moving from the discovery of Laura Palmer’s body, to the Law enforcement, to her parents , to the effect on the town and onto of course Special Agent Cooper. 
Cooper is our central focus, and he is established as such as soon as we see him talking to “Diane” on his way to meet the Sheriff. With Agent Cooper introduced we have a fellow outsider who begins to peel back the onion of this little town with us. But even he is a slight mystery to us, who is Diane? Why does he seem to know about this case already, and in fact seems to know more about the killer than the Sheriff. (Knowing that this is the work of a serial killer and the link to the Teresa Banks murder) Cooper’s investigation is full of ingenious little hints and clues in this Pilot episode, and he is quickly established as an affable Holmes like detective. 

With the possible exception of a couple of upcoming Season 1 episodes, the pilot by far has the most clues and actual detective style mystery of the whole series. From the Diary, to the Letter under the fingernail, the video taped reflection of Jame’s motorcycle in Laura’s eye and of course the broken heart necklace, clues abound here and it is easy to see how this taste of mystery worked so well. As the series goes on, the detective style mystery slowly shifts towards character drama and more surreal and psychological elements. This on one hand could be seen as a failing of the series, promising a mystery and delivering a drama. (Something we will see more of towards the end of the Laura Palmer arc) While the mystery does not transition from Pilot to series as well, the characters and setting do so very well. Laura Palmer herself is presented as a utterly fascinating character, despite never appearing “alive” in the pilot itself. We hear her words, see her in video and as we go on discover that she is the real mystery of the piece. 

Like many pilots, things do change between it and the series proper. It is shot a little differently, possibly more cinematic than the rest of the series in many ways. The sense of oddness that the town and it’s inhabitants have for the viewer are possibly more pronounced as well, long silences, pauses in dialogue and bizarre symbolic (?) objects confront us. It is all draped in Lynch’s 1950′s esque aesthetic, haircuts, clothes, objects and people seeming modern but connected to some other time and some other place. I am curious to see how the 2017 series will cope without rotary telephones and incandescent lightglobes. 
The pilot climaxes with Cooper and the Sheriff investigating Laura’s ties to James Hurley, her secret second boyfriend and the man possessed with the other half of Laura’s heart necklace. We are given a few strong but obvious suspects, Bobby, Leo, Ben Horne and glints of the life Laura hid below the prom queen surface. Fittingly the Pilot ends with the first appearance of the supernatural in the series and possibly one of the happiest accidents in Television history. Sarah Palmer, is woken by a vision of a gloved hand taking the necklace piece that had been hidden by James and Donna from the earth, she screams in horror, end credits.  Not only do we see many of the repeated symbols of the series in this sequence; the traffic lights, Trees and the ceiling fan at the Palmer house, but we also get our first glimpse of BOB. Stagehand Frank Silva reflected in the mirror whilst Sarah Palmer screams…

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It is happening again

I know, that’s the most cliched heading I could possibly have written.
But it’s appropriate in this case as I am both returning to writing bloggy type stuff regularly and writing about Twin Peaks in anticipation of the 3rd season starting in May.  

It’s pretty difficult to understate just how influential the 1990 series was on the current “Golden age” of television, and not only that on myself. A lot has been written already about the cinematic sensibilities of the series and how they helped push television drama out of the realms of locked off cameras and flat editing. I specifically want to talk about how the series impacted me as a 14 year old and how it helped shape my appreciation for storytelling and genre fiction. (Other people have written more extensively and better than I can on the series influence on the so called golden age of television we now live in) 
In Australia Twin Peaks premiered on the 18th of February 1991, in those days prior to online video and other digital distribution methods it wasn’t strange for programs from the US to appear on our screens a year or so after their premier. In fact, the mystery of Laura Palmers murder had already been wrapped up in the US and the series was amongst its much talked about downturn. The premier of the series was still an enormous TV event, and as a teenager who almost exclusively consumed Sci-fi based television and animation it was hard not to get swept up in the interest. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” had to be the most notorious and successful TV hook since “Who is Number one?” or “Who shot JR?”, the newspapers ran full page ads with the suspects pictured after the pilot. Everybody watched it, I mean everybody. (When a newspaper columnist spoiled the mystery’s resolution around the time of the premier there was more than a little anger)  I was not one for watching cop shows or mysteries, preferring to spend my time on Star Trek Next Generation which had also just appeared, or Doctor Who repeats on the ABC. 
The collective experience brought me to the series, David Lynch made me stay. I had been aware of Lynch on the fringes of my young psyche, I had seen Dune and my Father was a big fan of The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet (I was too young to appreciate either when we had last watched them on VHS). Twin Peaks brought them all together as the threads my subconscious had grabbed hold of saw the reflections in this new TV show everyone was talking about. On the surface it was just Kyle MacLachlan, but there was a surreal quality that tied the series to Lynch’s other works in my mind and not to other MacLachlan films such as “The Hidden” which was a repeat VHS viewing for myself a few years before. The qualities that stood out at the time were distinctly the subconscious strings of Lynch’s visual and aural sensibilities. The weird 50s throwbacks, the velvet drapes, characters obsessed with some specific minutia of their lives, all of them hallmarks. Mark Frost helped ground the vision somewhat, weaving in elements of traditional American drama series and I am sure getting Lynch past the network as unfiltered as possible. But as the series moved on and Lynch took his attention away from it to work on “Wild at Heart” , it became very clear whose vision drew the audience, and my then teenage eyes, more. 
So it has been just over 25 years, an auspicious period of time and one I suspect our new age of adaptation and reimagining allowed the creators to take advantage of. In May 2017 Showtime will air the long awaited season 3 of Twin Peaks, with Frost and Lynch and a large part of the cast returning. So I am taking this opportunity to revisit the series here, episode by episode, in the lead up to the new series. I have rewatched Twin Peaks on a few occasions, my old VHS copies where prized until the DVD sets were released, and this time I do so with the hindsight of over two decades and the prospect of seeing the once unthinkable continuation. What works still? What doesn’t? I hope to capture at least some of that here. If I have time I will also make some side comment on the European released Film version of the Pilot, as well as Fire Walk with me and the recently released “Missing Pieces” published in the Blu Ray boxed set of the series. (And possibly the Audio version of the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, if I get time to give it a listen) 
Sit back over the next few weeks as we travel through a place both wonderful and strange.