Spoilers for the first two episodes of Twin Peaks follow.
It is happening again.
In South Dakota a school principal (Matthew Lillard) is implicated in the brutal murder of the local librarian. He is adamant he didn’t commit the crime, but his fingerprints at the scene say otherwise.
In New York City, a young man has a simple, strange job: make sure an empty glass box kept in a loft space is constantly videoed from several angles.
In the sleepy timber town of Twin Peaks, a phone call from the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) sends Deputy Police Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) on a strange errand into the foreboding woods outside town.
And on the road, in the bars and diners and backwoods of America, an evil man with a familiar face pursues his own terrifying, violent agenda. His fearful underlings call him Coop.
Welcome back to Twin Peaks – a bigger, stranger, more expansive place than it used to be, encompassing not just the titular rural burg, but all of America. David Lynch is done with looking for the darkness behind the white picket fences of suburbia; now he’s pulling back the still-wet skin of the entire US to show us something ugly and fascinating.
At least, that’s how it seems two episodes in. Suffice to say, there’s no telling where this journey will ultimately take us. Even this early in the game, Lynch and his creative partner Mark Frost, are already subverting expectations. This is not the nostalgia tour we might have feared; while a few familiar faces have already cropped up, we’ve also been presented with new mysteries to try and parse, and they’re as oblique and troubling as you might expect.
Having said that, prior knowledge is mandatory. If you’re not down with Twin Peaks‘ indiosyncratic mythology, if the terms “Black Lodge” and “The Man From Another Place” are meaningless to you, if you don’t know who (or what) Bob is, boy are you in for a tough time.
Bob is, of course, a malevolent spirit who killed poor Laura Palmer back in the day while possessing her father (Ray Wise, who gets a moment in TP Redux, because death is no the end in Lynch Land) and has spent the last quarter-century tooling around America doing horrible things in the body of (or possibly as a facsimile of) FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). He’s made some cosmetic changes in that time, too:
Bob is due to return to the extra-dimensional way station that is The Black Lodge, where the spirit of Dale Cooper has been trapped all these 25 years, but he has a plan to dodge that bullet. Cooper, meanwhile, wants to get out of that red-curtained limbo and reclaim his place in the world. And as for how everything else ties together, or even whether it does? No idea.
But the vibe is back, and that’s what counts. What made Twin Peaks exciting back in the day was the ever-present feeling that we were on the edge of understanding some hidden system of the world, that its bizarre symbols and affectations were not random, but imbued with some terrible meaning that studious initiates could somehow translate, if they watched close enough and were tuned in to what Lynch and Frost were broadcasting. That sense is retained, and arguably even amplified, which is far more exciting than any amount of comforting cherry pie and damn fine coffee. We have returned to Twin Peaks at last, and it is a weirder place than ever. Thank god.
While not uttered in the same breath as such halcyon cinematic partnerships as Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro, Paul Thomas Anderson and Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, the collaborative partnership between David Lynch and Kyle MacLachlan is still a marriage made in bizarro heaven.
David Lynch is a deadset legend in cinema circles. You could say he is everyone’s favourite weirdo. His surreal small screen saga Twin Peaks was the granddaddy of cult series with its noirish touches and high gloss held against those Lynchian tropes – midgets spouting nonsense, beautiful women being driven to madness. And, of course, one could go much further back. Eraserhead (1977) remains one of the most alienated and alienating films of the ’70s. It was an unforgettable calling card. Everything from the post-industrial degradation and the hero’s haircut (not unlike Lynch’s own hair) to the unforgettable mewling rabbit carcass ‘baby’ drilled straight into your subconscious and you couldn’t say quite why. Cinema wasn’t quite the same thereafter.
That film, by the way, is more or less the end point for this fascinating glimpse into the director’s world. Lynch being Lynch, this isn’t a conventional documentary. The directors John Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, and Rick Barnes, have decided to concentrate solely on the man and his ideas. (Incidentally this is not the first film about Lynch’s art. Toby Keeler’s Pretty as a Picture (1997) covers some of the same ground).
Here we don’t have any other voices or descriptions, nothing in fact to triangulate his gently obsessive perspective. He made a world of his own and he lives in one. It’s Lynch in a studio endlessly smoking and not so much chatting as expounding; letting his stories and reminiscences unfurl like a skein of smoke.
Actually, that’s not entirely true, there are some glimpses of him at home and playing very sweetly with his young daughter. Also, we do get a little account of his growing up. He has nothing but praise for his loving parents and he has siblings too, all of whom seem to have been normal. It is clear looking back that he had a comfortable start but, like many artists, something in him recoiled from the suffocating niceness of the bourgeois world and, in a way, that was to affect his whole oeuvre. He saw something almost terrible underneath all the picket fence niceness. In that sense, the flawless opening scenes of Blue Velvet could stand as his epitaph.
But the concentration here is almost solely on his fine art. Like Peter Greenaway (another notable visual stylist), Lynch was a painter long before he segued into film and it is his paintings that he seems to care about most here. He admits they are ‘not that good’ but there is a fascination to them too and the camera lingers over them to a satisfying degree. He likes huge canvases smothered in impasto pastel colours onto which he sticks little oddities; wire lettering, found objects and so on.
The paintings, like most of his films, resist easy interpretation but that has always been the point. Lynch is the fullest sense of an artist. He makes his art primarily to explore the world and himself, whether the audience ’gets it’ or not has never been the test. Those going expecting a guided tour of his films might be baffled but for the many dedicated Lynchians this explores yet another facet of a fascinating creative person.
David Lynch is an elusive man. The director’s films are celebrated, from his debut, surreal horror Eraserhead, to his most recent feature film, the 2006 mystery Inland Empire. With the revival of his cult television series Twin Peaks coming soon, now is the perfect time for a documentary on the strangest popular filmmaker of modern times. However, if you’re seeking answers about Lynch in David Lynch: The Art Life, you’ll be disappointed. That said, being in the iconic filmmaker’s presence is just as thrilling and strange as his filmography.
David Lynch: The Art Life focuses less on his films and more on his early life as an artist before making Eraserhead. Beginning from his birth, Lynch narrates his life story over clips and images from his childhood. We learn of his youth moving from town-to-town, his family, and his lifelong love of art. Interspersed throughout is footage of an older Lynch painting in his studio, contrasting with his younger self stumbling his way around art.
The documentarians fill the picture with chilling visuals and industrial grind not too dissimilar from Lynch’s own films, with Lynch himself coming across like one of the odd townsfolk from them. Lynch’s voice croaks through anecdotes about his life and the odd people he met, including hilarious stories on his first time smoking dope, and a woman who pretended to be a chicken screaming, “My nipples are hurting”. One particularly revealing tale about seeing a naked woman wandering the street could be the inspiration behind Blue Velvet.
David Lynch: The Art Life isn’t the missing piece to solving the mysteries in this enigmatic filmmaker’s work; giving enough to the audience while still being filled with the mystery that keeps audiences intrigued.
As May 22 draws ever closer and the global premiere of the third season of Twin Peaks becomes a reality… okay, a pan-dimensional reality where a home-coming queen is wrapped in plastic, fish live in coffee percolators and the owls are not what they seem… It’s time to get prepared for the biggest television event of the year, in fact, the biggest television event in the last 25 years. It’s happening again folks and here are the ‘must see’ stepping stones inspired by our last visit to Twin Peaks and looking forward to the long-awaited return. Get watching…