* Plot Spoilers/ Secrets of the BFI's Red Room may be revealed below - watch before reading! *
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)
“…just as damn confusing Diane”
There’s something about watching, or being about to watch a David Lynch movie, that fills you with a certain about of dread and uncertainty
Some may even call it paranoia
And so, on the evening I headed to the BFI Southbank to watch a rare screening of the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me; a prequel to the TV series that still confuses and holds captive many of its fans in some kind of weird room of endless theorising and almost-there understanding of the many twists and turns and blood red herrings that the series grew up with every episode - I encountered a great deal of strange things happening
From the start of my journey
Special Agent Dale Cooper; it’s over to you
First, let’s take a look at the group of four friends on their way from Croydon to London that I sat next to
Two of the friends (a man and a woman, younger than the other two) who were on one side of the seating area, hardly said a word
But the other two didn’t stop
Of these two more talkative women, one was considerably older than all the others (but she was not her mother – I established that fact early on) and clearly worried by her younger friend’s lack of make-up skills
And so, throughout the journey, this older fussier woman would berate the younger for not plucking her eyebrows properly
'You’ve plucked one eyebrow and not the other'
'No I haven’t'
'Yes you have'
And so it went on, the whole journey, apart from one standalone moment when the older, make-up obsessed companion, said out loud:
'This reminds me of Icarus, who flew close to the sun, and got burnt'
'Great book that'
After another pause, the conversation started up again, about the younger companion’s feet
At this point, the lone man in the group of four, spoke up, but whatever he said, absolutely nobody else heard
He said it again, after they prompted him
Again, whatever he said back, nobody understood, except for the young woman sitting next to him, who - without all the make-up she had plastered on her face, could have been a young girl, perhaps a daughter - told everyone else that the man had “made a joke”, but what that joke was, we never found out
At this point, the woman being moaned at about her lack of make-up skills was told by older fussier woman (who reads the Icarus myth) that one of her shoes didn’t match her leg
Whatever that meant
(I should point out here that all this is absolutely true, even though it doesn’t sound like it)
The younger companion seemed to know what the fussing lady meant - and she took out her lipsalve, scooped the whole lot up with one finger, and spent the rest of the journey massaging the grease into her ankle and leg
Halfway through this oddly erotic behaviour, older fussy woman said to the girl doing the smearing of grease 'You look well basted, like a KFC chicken now'
Thankfully, this was the moment my train arrived at London Bridge
The journey to Waterloo was equally strange
As I sat quietly in my seat, two unnaturally beautiful and tall girls, one like a young Grace Jones but with more free-flowing hair, both maybe mid-twenties or less, standing at the other end of the aisle and wearing the reddest red lipstick I’ve ever seen in my life – red lips so bright they were almost glowing like a beacon in a carriage or like a buoy out at sea - looked all the way down the aisle and both started grinning in a slow-motion, conspiratorial way
It looked like they were grinning at me, like my hair had just fallen off my head, or because an accomplice of theirs was making funny faces behind me
One girl leant against the train door, while the other nearest to the aisle was gripping the metal safety pole with woollen-gloved hands – she started running one of those gloved-up hands up and down the metal pole, with deliberation, and an even bigger grin, while whispering something to her friend
It felt and looked like she was doing this in slow-motion
In front of these two girls doing strange things to innocent poles, were some friends slouching across the seats and drinking from a collection of cans of lager
Leading the party of sorts were two sisters, without the elegance and poise of the two gloved-up ladies towering over them, but looking just as happy in their own way - telling stories to a group of men, also drinking from cans of lager, about the time their mother’s boyfriend ended up in one of their beds by mistake on holiday, although luckily their mother: “Took it all very well”
Taking "it all very well” obviously had some ulterior meaning
Cue: huge laughter born of a frisky Devil’s lungs from the sister telling the story
As the girls in the red lipstick standing overhead kept the same half-smiling faces rigidly held, as if entranced with the magic dust that had to be steaming out from those black gloves every so often, and that from time to time were still going up and down the pole gently (why – why are you doing that?) and so politely - as if trying to show themselves to be far removed from the earthy smut of the girls sitting down in the seats in front of them who were still telling their rude recollections of times past
It seemed like all of these people existed in different time zones, different places to everyone else on board, or were just pretending not to know each other
Finally, we arrived at Waterloo, and I headed on to the queue at the BFI for 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me' - the movie that saw director David Lynch booed at the premiere in Cannes, because it didn’t tie up all the loose threads from the TV series, and neither did it really resemble the TV series as much as it could have; being a far darker, determined piece of work
But – despite criticisms of not reaching much of a conclusion and leaving out hours of rumoured missing scenes on the cutting room floor (corrected on a later DVD release) – the film is a far more coherent and satisfying slice of madness compared to the TV series that spawned it
Twin Peaks: The Series, has dated a little bit, while the film hasn’t, at all
It would be impossible to recount too much of the plot of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, or try to explain very much of it - as some fans have spent a quarter (hopefully, and better - maybe even less) of their lifetimes trying
What the film succeeds in doing is to finally reveal the full story of the final week of Laura Palmer’s life, before her brutal murder.
This murder - and discovery of Laura's body, kick-starts the TV series, and it's probably the knowledge that we don’t know who killed her (or why) for so long, that made the show so enthralling - up to the point where the series suffered one last fatal orgasm of odd, in the actual reveal as to who actually did kill Laura Palmer, halfway through the first series
Season 2 of Twin Peaks followed, and then it was all over
Until the film: Fire Walk With Me, the year after
Of course, Lynch himself wasn’t especially concerned with who actually killed Laura Palmer, but he was always very concerned that we didn’t get to find out
The TV network and his writing partner, Mark Frost, disagreed.
It was a fatal error on their part
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me starts off with another investigation
New victim: the waitress Teresa Banks
New location: Deer Meadow
New detectives: FBI Special Agent Chet Desmond (a brilliantly driven and flashfiring laconic lunacy of a performance from Chris Isaak) and his companion, Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland in a fish-out-of-water showing, all full of blinking innocence trapped in a world where agents don’t get sleep, and where clues are found in the movements of the thumbs and eyelids of random dancing girls)
Same killer: well, I won’t tell you who that is, just in case you don’t know
After half an hour of the new case, we move on from this story and it’s dreamlike ending (but then what, in Twin Peaks, isn’t dreamlike - or based on a vision of some kind?) to the double life of Laura Palmer; part High School Prom Queen, part drug addicted lady lacking small town virtues
Thinking about the importance of dreams, in Twin Peaks, Lynch himself would base script developments on dreams he had experienced the night before
He would also cast actors depending on circumstance; the role of the mad man in the mirror - Killer Bob, was played by set-hand Frank Silva, whose reflection in the window of a cramped-in bedroom set, startled Lynch and resulted in Silva being hired for the role of Laura’s maybe real tormentor
An equally happy coincidence is the actress hired to play the role of dead Laura Palmer - Sheryl Lee.
Her image became so iconic, wrapped in plastic and dead in the water, that she was hired to play the character when alive, in flashbacks, as well as being given the role of a cousin of Laura’s
In Fire Walk With Me, she gets top billing, but not all of the original cast are back for more
In the original TV series, the role of Laura Palmer’s best friend - Donna Hayward, was played by the seemingly incomparable Lara Flynn Boyle, who was unavailable for the movie version
The role was taken by Moira Kelly, who gives a performance of such intense, wanton innocence that she, along with Sheryl Lee, carry the entire movie
Make sense of all the madness
(INCREASING SPOILERS FOLLOW . . LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU NEED TO!)
Special Agent Dale Cooper, from the TV series, does return to the case for the second part of the movie, but soon gets himself lost in a suitably demonic black lodge filled with sinister inhabitants, including backward-talking and small of stature, Michael J Anderson, as ‘Man From Another Place’, and he stays there until Laura Palmer’s spirit visits at the end of the movie
Most fans assume, without clear plot resolution in either the TV series or in the movie, that Agent Cooper is still trapped within those walls, doomed to stare at the zig-zaggedy floor of the lodge forever
Now that’s a real nightmare at the heart of Twin Peaks
We may never know for sure of Cooper’s fate, as actor Kyle MacLachlan didn’t want to be typecast as the odd, coffee-particular FBI agent forever, and only agreed to return for the movie if his role was little more than an extended cameo
He isn’t to be fair, all that much missed – this film, is more about the life and death of Laura Palmer
We know who did it, probably why they did it, and how she dies - thanks to the TV series - anyway
So the film centres on the bad things that happen to this girl instead, and how things got steadily worse - a film work of undeniable artistic flourish rooted solely in paranoia and circumstance as much as the demonic dabblings and oddball characters that populate the evil, ethereal lost world of Twin Peaks itself
It’s a movie with a wonderful, if unsettling, ability to worry and upset . . . .
So there I was in the queue at the BFI, waiting to collect my ticket, when a woman behind me, with her husband and son, started asking her family (I assume they were her family) where the bar was.
There are (I thought) two public bars in the BFI.
I turned round and told her where they were located.
She looked at me with some pity, 'Not those bars,' she said, 'The secret bar.'
I tried not to look interested: 'Oh I don’t know.'
'You don’t know where the secret smoking room is?' she almost tutted out loud at me (certainly tutted away inside her head).
I shook my head, 'No.'
Did I want to find out, I thought to myself
Was I going to let her know this?
Of course not
In the end, the woman grabbed hold of a young BFI assistant, and asked her to show her husband to the secret bar.
The assistant nodded her head, conspiratorially, and ushered her husband away.
Perhaps to the red room.
The black lodge.
The demonic shed.
I don’t know, but I bought a drink at the normal bar and took my seat.
I really wanted to go to the secret bar though.
Really I did.
The BFI screening of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was introduced by author and Lynch authority - Antony Todd, his presentation illustrated by a slideshow
Todd is the author of a new book about the director: 'Authorship and the Films of David Lynch'
In a fascinating talk we heard about how well the original series was received (very well), how the film was received (bloody awfully) and how Lynch himself only directed a handful of episodes (and my favourite is one episode he did direct - the one that reveals the identity of Laura Palmer's killer)
And this, for me, is the point where things that seemed a little odd on my earlier journey to the screening, suddenly got really weird
Twin Peakian weird
The man who now sat in front of me in the cinema, had earlier arrived a little late, after the lights had gone down and the talk had started, but was soon arguing with a couple beside me, about how they had taken his seat.
The couple checked their tickets.
No - the right seats.
The calm-hearted and helpful usherette checked all the tickets too.
Uh-huh - those two were in their allocated seats alright.
But the tall, lanky man, with bald head protruding out of a thick woolly hat, refused to be moved.
This went on for what seemed like ages.
Eventually the usherette told him to sit down in the spare chair – directly in front of me.
Now, I’m fairly tall, but this man was shaped like a pole, with an alien-like head and a neck twice the length of any neck I’d ever seen in my life.
Earlier, upon finding his seat: the tall man had taken off his coat (as the illustrated talk on stage continued) and taken it over to somewhere near the exit door to hang it up.
Then he took off the lighter coat underneath the bigger one, walking in front of everyone again as the talk continued to hang that up too.
Sat down again.
Swigged from a water bottle – a big, fat gurgly swig that carried on at irregular intervals throughout the rest of the movie.
I half expected him to put an earpiece on and shout at the screen.
Like hard of hearing FBI Chief Gordon Cole, from the movie, a role played so memorably by David Lynch himself; played so well in fact that you wonder where Cole ends and Lynch starts.
Was this man about to shout: “What was that, you say?” to poor Antony Todd who must have wondered what all the fuss was about at the back already.
But thankfully the man didn’t shout at anyone, but sat down, this time for the rest of the movie.
He did, however, keep his oddly and upside down eggily-shaped head positioned in front of wherever I had shifted my own head to wherever its new location was, in order to be able to see the screen.
I was, by now, feeling paranoid that the shadow movements of the head in front were deliberate.
You look well basted, like a KFC chicken now
Something was up.
(Or so it seemed in the darkened room – I’m sure in the light, the man in front of me would appear normal of looks, and not at all incredibly tall of neck and ET-ish of skull)
Did I even imagine him?
Like Agent Cooper keeps checking the security cameras to prove David Bowie (in an odd and needless cameo as weird Phillip Jeffries, stalking the corridors of the FBI for no good reason - although, to be fair, Bowie's role was planned as a recurring one in future movies, that in the end, never recurred) existed.
To even prove that he - Cooper - existed himself.
And then the couple who had been accused of taking the alien-headed man's seat opened a parcel, and what sounded like a picnic came out.
This reminds me of Icarus, who flew close to the sun, and got burnt
The usherette got up and approached the couple cautiously.
'No eating,' she whispered.
'You can't eat in here.'
They grumbled, but gave in.
Back to the movie.
There are three stand out scenes in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
The first has Laura and her friend Donna taken to a nightclub as bait for leering men.
The music is loud and drowns out the words; just like (for the first time I can recall in a movie) actually being there. Characters speak backwards. An inspired touch, and a genius idea to release the film without subtitles during this critical sequence - but one that may never have happened as Lynch struggled to decide, at the time of the film’s release, whether to include those subtitles or not. They were included in some released versions - I’m just glad he didn’t do that to us. Or - as is thought to have been the case - that he ran out of time to change his mind.
It's an astoundingly decadent, delirious, fierce scene.
With the blistering rock beats so loud you can’t even hear an imaginary serial killer, who just happens to be sitting in front of you in the cinema, slurping his water like a man trying too hard to keep control . .
Drugged-up girls stripping and gyrating across a drunken, hallucinogenic stage, as mind-numbing substances are slipped into the beer bottles of the innocent - real threat now creeping up on Donna, like a snake to some increasingly willing prey. Laura eventually tries to save her friend from the kind of fate she is almost eagerly resigned to herself, but - as in any David Lynch movie, you feel almost terrible that you almost hunger for the madness and depravity to continue; to be dragged in as a witness to the crime (or participant) to the nightmares that go on in the (never, never, never) kind of Neverland that this director has created for our perverse pleasure. It feels like there may be some payback involved for even being here watching.
Or for thinking that you were going to get Twin Peaks as you know it. Well - you’re not.
(Shouts like Gordon Cole) You’re not!
The scene lasts forever, but you don’t – and yet, you kind of do – want it to end, and eventually it does.
And you feel hungover.
The second standout sequence in the movie finds Laura and her father - Leland Palmer (played - with utter suburban-stained burnt out badness; that certain kind of bloody awfulness; those bad smiles all round before bedtime - by Ray Wise) being taunted by a circling truck driver as his car is stationary in traffic. Taunted about something he has done; that Laura strains to hear (but can’t quite make out) - her father getting redder and sweating like a pig, as the surreal scene gets increasingly violent.
It’s a scene of utter hopelessness; full of despair and paranoia.
It’s the moment Laura Palmer may suspect she won’t be alive long enough to get over the bad times, that the bad times are actually the last and final exit, that the slip roads have run out of track.
The third standout sequence is - as perhaps it should be - the climatic build-up to the death of Laura Palmer.
Yes we may know who the killer will be - but the reveal is still a shock and the murder intense and bloody. All this takes place in a beautiful cabin setting in the woods, like all the best fairy tales do (with Laura trapped inside - tied up, degraded by men in lumberjack shirts). And then the final ultimate degradation of all - the murder by someone she . .
Wants . .
When Laura sees who her captor is - she may think there is hope. It may not be as bad now as it was looking to be. Her expected killer may still be her saviour at the last, because of who this person is - or once was (even if they no longer are).
Perhaps all Laura wants is a happy ending to this fairy tale or a waking up from the bad dream.
Not this time
The point of the movie, is perhaps that dreams are less symbolic; more real, than we like to think.
At the end of the predicted - but no less unbearable - final scene of slaughter (following the wonderfully staged and plotted, climatic and brutal build-up to Laura Palmer’s death), the tall and apparently (but I'm sure - not at all really) alien-like man sitting in front of me, leans suddenly far enough over the edge of his seat as to block my view of the screen even more. As if he didn’t want me to see who was killing Laura Palmer on screen - or protect me from how it was done.
He leaned so far off his seat at one point (as I strained to look around him and - impossibly - even over him) that I felt he was about to fall off into the aisle. Sprawled-out for all to see; his real identity revealed - a red carpet now zig-zagged with thick black lines and a bad man’s blood that results in screams all around (until it becomes clear that it’s just the man's water bottle that leaked - turning the BFI's red carpet a slightly deeper shade of scarlet).
I shifted further along the row, so that I am almost hugging the American film buff who had earlier been trying to out film-buff his equally all-American friend sitting next to him.
It could have been the start of a beautiful relationship.
Less Twin Peaks, more London Southbank - but just as damn confusing, Diane.
Words: Mark Gordon Palmer