Friday, June 2, 2017

Some Early Theories on Twin Peaks: The Return

The following is some quick ideas I developed during a recent re-watch of the new Twin Peaks (Parts 1, 2 and some of 3). I am well aware that all of what I've written here could be proven wrong in just a matter of days, but I wanted to put my thoughts down and maybe get a few reactions.

In Part 2 of the new Twin Peaks, The Arm says to Cooper: “253” and “time and time again.” Can we assume 253 is a time, as in 2:53? Quite possibly. In Part 3, Cooper encounters American Girl in the otherworldly room of the “socket portal.” There, when her watch turns exactly to 2:53, a lamp illuminates on a table next to Cooper, indicating, it would seem, that Cooper’s portal is now accessible.  And, indeed, he does travel through the portal and exchange places with Dougie.

But what does “time and time again” mean?

Earlier in Part 2, Cooper encounters the One Armed Man who says, “It is future or is it past?” Cooper then sees Laura and experiences some visions. Then he abruptly finds himself back with the One Armed Man who again asks, “Is it future or is it past?”

Is Cooper caught in a time loop? Does he attempt to leave the Red Room over and over again, only to be shunted off to the “socket room” where he experiences 2:53 “time and time again?” This repetitive experience might be illustrated by what happens to Cooper when he appears in the glass box in New York. He seems to undergo a shuffling of sorts, his image shrinking and growing along a vanishing point within the box. Are these shuffled appearances of Cooper “echoes” of earlier visits to the box? Has he already been there many times before, always to end up in the socket room?

Could it also be that the evil Cooper, or another force, is continually re-routing Cooper to alternate—manufactured—realities (like Dougie’s) to prevent him from exchanging places with the evil Cooper? (After all, hitmen are poised to take out Dougie just after Cooper arrives.)

These are just idle speculations, ideas that seem to fit with what little information we have in the first four hours of the new Twin Peaks. Still, it’s an intriguing scenario: that Cooper has been many times tricked into a manufactured world. (Note that he is referred to as a “dream weaver” by Janey-E (Naomi Watts)). If he is killed there, the Evil Cooper remains at large.

But time-loops within the Red Room continually allow Cooper the opportunity to get it right: To exchange places with his doppelganger either by jumping through the curtains just as the Evil Cooper drives by, or by refusing to exit through the electric portal when urged by the American Girl. What if Cooper’s proper exit from the socket room is through the barred metal door? What if the banging he hears on the other side is not a threat but a warning—an attempt to stop Cooper from leaving via the socket?

It’s all hard to say, of course. The Dougie scenario so far seems to promise much more for Cooper than a simple parallel existence. And right now, after Part 4, Cooper might be slowly “awakening.” There is evidence that implies he remembers being shot or stabbed (note how he looks at his stomach when the boy, Sonny Jim, appears in the hallway).

So who knows? I’ve always liked parsing Twin Peaks and I’m happy to be doing so again.  The new show is rich with possibility and it allows for many curious ways to connect the narrative dots we’ve been given so far. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Red Room Redo

It's undeniable that the Red Room plays an important role in the Twin Peaks saga.  Not only are these scenes some of the most memorable of the series, but the final events of both Fire Walk With Me and (except for a brief epilogue) the television series take place there. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper's ability to tap into the secrets and mysteries of the Red Room helps him solve the crime of the murder of Laura Palmer.  In FWWM, the Red Room is the place in which Laura's angel meets her, allowing Laura finally to experience the peace and joy that eluded her in life.

Upon examining the presentations of the Red Room throughout the series and film, however, one notices a difference of interpretation among the show's writers as to the identity and function of this place.

Lynch first committed the Red Room to film in the so-called "European version" of the Twin Peaks pilot in which Lynch ad-libbed an ending that would allow the episode to be presented as a film.  In this version, Sarah Palmer remembers seeing the killer hiding at the foot of Laura's bed.  Deputy Hawk makes a sketch based on Sarah's description.  Meanwhile, Mike, the one-armed man, has information about the killing and calls Cooper, who meets him at the hospital.  Cooper, Sheriff Truman, and Mike find Killer Bob in the basement.  Mike shoots and kills Bob, then mysteriously dies himself.  Cooper says, "Make a wish," and a ring of candles blows out.  Suddenly it's "25 years later" (as a subtitle on the screen tells us), and Cooper is in the Red Room.  The Little Man introduces his "cousin, who looks almost exactly like Laura Palmer," and the footage is virtually identical to what would appear at the end of the second Twin Peaks episode, but re-purposed there as Dale Cooper’s dream.

Unlike in the series, the scenes in the alternate (Euro) version are not part of a dream--or if they are, they're not identified as such.  The story simply moves ahead twenty-five years.  Obviously something strange is going on--Cooper is considerably older, yet Laura has not aged.  The speaking is odd, the room is peculiar--everything is quirky, yet the viewer is not told why or given any context for the events.  It doesn't make any sense and doesn't conclude the story at all.  Lynch admitted to Chris Rodley that he was "just winging stuff for this ending that we had to do.  Feeling our way." (Lynch on Lynch, P. 165)  He also admitted that "it had the feeling of an ending that may or may not relate to anything else....It all happens so fast and nothing was really that thought out." (LoL, p. 167)

We can only wonder what Lynch was thinking when shooting these Red Room scenes, and what his ideas of the place really were.  And though written and directed by Lynch, the scenes, as existing in the European edit, are hard to consider as part of the official Twin Peaks canon, falling, as they do, so far outside the television series and FWWM continuity.

When episode 2 of Twin Peaks was developed, however, the Red Room footage appeared, though altered.  Most importantly, the scenes take place within the context of a dream that Cooper has one night.  Also, the "25 years later" line has been deleted--though it was obvious from Cooper's age that many years had passed, and in fact in the next episode, Cooper tells Truman and Lucy that in his dream, "suddenly it was twenty-five years later."  (In the final episode, when Cooper physically enters the Red Room, Laura tells him that "I'll see you again in twenty-five years.")

Whatever Lynch intended the Red Room to be in the European edit, the third episode clearly establishes it as a dream-world, a gateway to the subconscious, full of secrets that provide guidance to Cooper and answers to the mystery of his case if only he will utilize them.

However, when the Red Room appears in the final episode of Twin Peaks, something has changed.  As noted above, Lynch went so far as to say that "it was  . . .  completely and totally wrong."

Television is a collaborative medium, and Twin Peaks had two primary co-creators, Lynch and Mark Frost.  But Harley Peyton and Robert Engels also contributed significant elements.  As the second season progressed, the involvement of Lynch and Frost varied.  An element like the Red Room--vague and mysterious to begin with, and quite possibly intended to exist only in subjective reality anyway--was bound to experience some change as different writers brought their own interpretations.

For Mark Frost, there were two aspects of the Red Room, which he called the Black and White Lodges, an idea he had picked up from the works of Alice Bailey and Dion Fortune.  In an interview with Wrapped In Plastic, Frost said, "I brought it [the idea of the Lodges] in, in general."  More specifically, he notes that the Bailey writings "influenced me as a young person..., and it becomes the basis for your thinking about the duality of good and evil in the world.  Is evil, in fact, made manifest anywhere in the world?  And the Black Lodge was all about  . . . the idea that there was, in fact, a true manifestation of evil that needs to be actively and physically combated." (WIP 9, 1994, p.2.)

For Frost, then, the Red Room becomes a place that can be physically entered. This interpretation would become a critical element of the final episode, in which Dale Cooper leaves this world for the world of the Red Room.  But when David Lynch returned to direct the final episode he was not comfortable with what the Red Room had become. Discussing the Frost/Peyton/Engels script for the final episode, Lynch said, "[W]hen it came to The Red Room, it was, in my opinion, completely and totally wrong.  Completely and totally wrong.  And so I changed that part." (LoL p. 182). Unfortunately, Lynch does not elaborate, and interviewer Chris Rodley does not press him on the point, so we are left to guess what Lynch was referring to.

But although Lynch told Rodley that the script's presentation of the Red Room was "wrong,” he is careful not to state categorically that his version of the final episode is better than what Frost, Peyton, and Engels had written.  "I'm not making a judgment on it....If Mark and I had been working together, it would've been different." (LoL p. 182.)

This is a very important comment. Lynch acknowledges that he and Frost had not been working together on the final run of Twin Peaks episodes, and he admits that a collaborative effort between the two may have resulted in a stronger interpretation of the Red Room. 

We are now on the cusp of new Twin Peaks. The fact that David Lynch and Mark Frost are creating Twin Peaks together is a cause for celebration. Perhaps we will soon find out how they mutually interpret the Red Room. Will it be a physical place? Will it be a realm of the subconscious? Or will it be something else entirely?  On May 21, we may have our first answers. Stay tuned.

A much, much, longer version of this article first appeared in Wrapped In Plastic 54; it is worth seeking out for the deep analysis of the Red Room it provides.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Twin Peaks Pilot: Comments from Creators, Cast, and Others

“Originally [Twin Peaks] was going to bet set in North Dakota but I said to David that I spent a weekend there once, there’s not a lot going on in North Dakota. . . . We moved it to the Northwest where David spent his time growing up and he felt very connected to the landscape.  The big primeval forests are very important to the tone of the show.” – Mark Frost (producer and co-writer, Twin Peaks pilot), Seattle Weekly (as reported in Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes, by Mark Altman, p. 17.)

“Once it became the Northwest we just went up there and did a lot of location scouting and found a lot of great, great places.  Like the sawmill—that was pretty incredible because it was a beautiful old sawmill. . . . [W]e had maybe four days shooting inside and outside and we were always using those images—the saw blades and stuff.” – David Lynch, (director and co-writer, Twin Peaks pilot), Lynch on Lynch (ed. by Chris Rodley), p. 160-161.

“One of the first questions people ask is, ‘How did they find you?’  How did they find the Mar-T?  They sent out a location scout in February of 1989.  We weren't very busy and I said, ‘You can use it, but we're fixing to do some remodeling.’  But they said, ‘Oh no, don't do anything like that.  We want it just like it is.’  About two weeks later, they said that David Lynch will be up on the weekend and he'll decide.  So they came up and told us they wanted to use it.  They came up about the 28th of February and I'd never seen so much equipment.  There was about seventy-five people that were working, and there was another hundred that were watching from the outside.” – Pat Cokewell, (former owner of the Mar T Café – a.k.a. “the Double R Diner”), Wrapped in Plastic #7, p. 13.

“There’s this story about the Double R Diner.  See, the highway used to go through there and the diner was, you know, doing business.  And then the big freeway went in and nobody was stopping there.  And the owner . . . used to make, like, maybe six pies a day when we got there, if that.  After Twin Peaks she was making sixty pies a day!  That place is on the map, you know, forever.” – David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch, p. 161.

“The day we were doing the town hall scene was actually the last day of filming on the mainland.  The following day, we were going to Bainbridge to the Kiana Lodge to do the Great Northern stuff.  So we were doing the town hall scene, and I was standing next to David and Debbie Trutnik, his secretary.  David leans over, and he goes, ‘Debbie, did you give Frank his scene yet?’  And I went, ‘Scene?  What do you mean “scene?”’  Debbie went, ‘No.’  ‘Well, you better give it to him.  We're shooting it after lunch.’  And I thought, you know, it's probably like one word, or one line.  So then Debbie comes and brings me this huge scene in a boiler room with Kyle [MacLachlan], Michael Ontkean, and Al [Strobel] as the One-Armed Man. . . . . So they say, ‘We're shooting this after lunch.’
            “So I look at this scene, and it's a long scene.  And there's this monologue that Bob has to do.  And David's going, ‘See this?  We do this scene.  And see these four lines here?  Well, that's a song, Frank.  Those are lyrics.  Make up a tune.  Just make something up.’  So I was totally flipping out.  Here I was, a part of the crew for months.  They're running around looking for a location--they didn't even have the location for this scene yet.  We're running late.  It's now probably 11:00 at night.  We have to catch the last ferry to Bainbridge at 1:30.  We're still trying to shoot this stupid scene.  So I didn't know what I was doing.  I thought, ‘Here I am, I'm a crew member.  If I'm horrible, everybody's going to laugh at me.  I'm going to be this big joke doing this scene.’  So every ounce of energy, every ounce of everything, was drawn up.  I don't know how I did it.” – Frank Silva (On-set dresser, Twin Peaks pilot, actor, “Killer Bob”) Wrapped in Plastic #7, p. 9

“I would say that generally a lot of the scenes from the pilot were shot from the hip.  There was a lot of improvisation.  So we might go into one scene with expectations we had from the script, and David would change the format and change the intent of the scene. . . . [A]nd of course he was influenced by the powerful setting up there.  The weather was changing by the minute. . . . So sometimes we'd have to move the scene in under a shelter because it was lightly snowing, and of course that would change the mood.  It was a wonderful experience, shooting that.”  Everett McGill, (actor, “Big Ed Hurley”) Wrapped in Plastic #44, p. 14

“I remember we shot the pilot here [at the Kiana Lodge].  It was so cold and rainy--it was so freezing!  I had a call at 11:00 in the morning.  I came and got make-up and got dressed, and my scene went up at 11:30 that night!  I stood around and froze.  We came over here [to the banquet hall] and had dinner around 9:00 at night.  They were going to have my scene the next day, but David said, ‘No.’  [Mine] was the last scene that they got here.”  Jan D’Arcy, (actor, “Sylvia Horne”) Wrapped in Plastic #25, p. 3

“When we shot [Sheryl Lee] it was cold—I mean, it was so cold.  And she lay out there, and then we’d have to take her away, where they had these blankets and heaters set up behind this giant log.  So she’d run fifteen and go into this warm little tent and get her body temperature back up, and then go back and shoot.  She was a great sport” – David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch, p. 172.

“I was hired for the pilot as a guest, and they said, ‘possible recurring,’ which they always say to anybody who’s a guest and they don’t really know what they’re going to do with the character.  What happened was, we did the pilot, I rambled on, they liked it, and it just worked.  I think that’s how my part got bigger. . . . When they screened the pilot at the Director’s Guild everybody laughed after I did the phone thing.  Then, when I came on again, everybody cheered.  Nobody else in the pilot got the same boisterous response as I did.  I was completely shocked.  I couldn’t shut my mouth.  I have witnesses; they were there with me.  Afterwards, David and Mark came up and said, ‘We’ve got plans for you.’”  -- Kimmy Robertson, (actor, “Lucy Moran”) Wrapped in Plastic #43, p. 3

“I remember I went home and my dear, dear friend, Brandon Lee was over, and I said, ‘Watch this Lynch thing with me.  They want me to do this TV show.  Let’s sit back and watch this.’  So we opened up a couple of beers and watched the pilot of Twin Peaks.  And it was unbelievable!  We didn’t say a word to each other the whole two hours!  It was just incredible.  It was the kind of TV I had never seen.  I’ll never forget that endless shot of the telephone cord.  Oh, man!  It affected me as much as any movie I had ever seen.  The two of us just sat there and said, ‘Let’s watch it again!’  And we did!  I couldn’t wait for Monday to roll around so I could call Mark Frost and just say, ‘God bless you.  It’s phenomenal.’” -- Miguel Ferrer (actor, “Albert Rosenfield”), Wrapped in Plastic #35, p. 4

“So, we had shot the pilot, and then it aired.  And I remember that night as if it were yesterday.  We had a big party at our house and lot of the cast members and crew were there.  It was airing on television and the phone started ringing.  People on the East Coast had just finished watching it.  There was this wave of people across the United States calling as soon as it finished airing in their time zone.  It never occurred to me that it was going to air on other people's televisions!  I thought it was only on mine!  Very surreal!” – Sheryl Lee (actor, “Laura Palmer”) Wrapped in Plastic #16, p. 5

(A longer version of this piece originally appeared in Wrapped In Plastic #46, (April, 2000).)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Twin Peaks Season One: The Artisan DVD Audio Commentaries (Part 2)

On December 18, 2001, Artisan Home Entertainment released a four-disc DVD set containing episodes 1-7 of Twin Peaks. Due to legal issues at the time, the set did not contain the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

The most valuable thing about this set, and what makes it a unique and important Twin Peaks collectible, is that all the episodes feature audio commentaries, either from directors, writers or other production members from the series. No other DVD or Blu-ray release of Twin Peaks features these kinds of commentaries. The Artisan set was produced without the cooperation of David Lynch, who does not support audio commentaries. Hence, these valuable insights will only ever appear on this set. And they are very interesting insights, indeed.  The Artisan DVD is worth having, if only for these astounding, informative audio commentaries.

This report discusses discs Three and Four of the set and the audio commentaries that they contain.

Disc Three:
Episode 5: Director, Lesli Linka Glatter, notes that, unlike most television programs in which directors would pop in, work on their episode, and pop out, most of the directors on Twin Peaks were present during much of the first-season shooting.  So while she was preparing for her episode, Tina Rathborne and Tim Hunter were still a presence.  Glatter thinks that she may have been the one who started the running joke of always having a convention going on in the background of the Great Northern during those scenes.  In this episode it is the American Indian Movement; later would come a Tuba and Cheerleader Convention and a Square Dancing Convention, just on her episodes.

Glatter was most interested in exploring the themes of sensuality and unspoken longing (especially in Cooper and Audrey).  Most of the characters had this element, or something closely related.  The Shelly/Bobby relationship, for example, is spoken, but hidden.  As Glatter saw it, James expressed "the big theme" of the show in his meeting with Donna--that secrets destroy happiness.

Cooper could "see more" than other people and was open to another level of consciousness, but Twin Peaks was "a world where mysteries can't really be solved, so something happened when the mystery got solved....It was a world of mystery, so you might be able to gain more truths, but you might never be able to solve it."

Episode 6 features commentary from director, Caleb Deschanel, and writer, Harley Peyton, who supply a detailed commentary on the episode, as well as the entirety of the series.  Peyton offers a number of fascinating observations and insights.  He talks about writing in the voices of the characters--"hearing" their voices and trying to capture the appropriate cadence for their delivery.  Cooper was the hardest character for him to write and it was very rewarding when he came up with a good Cooper line (Peyton cites Cooper's "give yourself a present" line as an example). 

Peyton provides an interesting comparison between Cooper and Josie, describing them both as outsiders who came to the insulated world of Twin Peaks.  As such, they were never quite part of the community, and Josie's "outsider" status played into her eventual demise.

Peyton also discusses the many Twin Peaks sets that were built and the opportunity it allowed the writers to enter the fictional world.  He called it "a place of magic" and mentions sitting in the Double R Diner set while writing a scene. 

Caleb Deschanel provides some terrific comments to complement Peyton's.  He describes some of his directorial decisions and (like Duwayne Dunham) the editorial considerations that went into them.  He shot some scenes to imply someone was listening to the characters.  So, in the middle of the conversation between Donna, James, and Maddy (in act 1), Deschanel cuts to a distant wide shot to convey the sense of another person watching.  This approach fits perfectly with concept of "evil in the woods" (as Truman explained in episode 3) and with the eventual direction of the storyline (the idea of the demonic Bob being a presence in and around Twin Peaks).  But, more importantly, this shot foreshadows the scene in Act 4, in which there really will be "someone else" watching them at the park.

Deschanel's most interesting comment comes when he talks about the subversive nature of the show.  There was an implied "sexiness" to Twin Peaks, and although the network did censor a few things, they often did not perceive the subtext of the show.  Deschanel explains that the implication of certain ideas and themes (including sexuality) was a strength to Twin Peaks because it allowed the audience to use their imaginations. 

Disc Four
Episode 7: Production designer Richard Hoover supplies commentary to episode 7 and although Hoover's observations are invaluable and certainly worth having on the DVD set, his comments would have been better suited to a different episode--much of 7 was shot either on location (the hospital), outside (the park), or on one-time sets (the exteriors of the burning mill). 

Hoover's production designs were important to the effectiveness of the series.  He explains that he would work with the director of photography and the director to establish the look of the show.  Hoover was responsible for the decorating group, prop group, construction crew, and painters.

Hoover credits Lynch with teaching him about the importance of color.  Twin Peaks is a world of darkness and rich colors, especially red.  But, he notes, each location should have its own look.  Leo and Shelly's house is very "working class."  The Hayward house is a typical upper-middle-class home that contains safe colors such as gray, white, and beige, with some bits of color throughout (such as yellow to imply a sense of insecurity.)  The sheriff's station is a place of logic and therefore contains many horizontal lines.Nadine's house, however, is "demented" because she's gone through a lot of stress in her life.  The big, empty house represents the state of her relationship with Ed.  Nadine is trapped in the past; the relationship is frozen in time, like a frozen wedding cake.

Hoover acknowledges the difficulty in shooting in the Double R Diner and admits that, in the speed of designing all the sets, he did not design the set properly.  He mentions that they tried to improve it for the second season.

Hoover notes that they "fought to have ceilings" in the sets because it provided a more realistic environment and one that would "compress" the characters.  They also used real wood on all the set decor (rather than paint or fiberglass) because it provided a more authentic look.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Miguel Ferrer

Few characters from the vast Twin Peaks ensemble are as memorable as Albert Rosenfield, the acid-tonged FBI pathologist who aided Agent Cooper is in his quest to find Laura Palmer’s murderer.  The charm of Albert was largely due to the talented actor who portrayed him—Miguel Ferrer. Although Ferrer credited Albert’s appeal to the writing of his character, Albert Rosenfield resonates, years after Twin Peaks ended, because of Ferrer’s unique talents. Ferrer acknowledged, “There’s something in my sensibilities—the way that I approach a character—[that] I’m able to make a pretty despicable guy likable on some level.”

On January 19, 2017 Miguel Ferrer passed away from throat cancer. This was terribly sad news, especially as Twin Peaks fans everywhere were excited by Ferrer’s imminent return to the new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. We are grateful—and lucky—that he had the opportunity to reprise his most indelible character, and that he was able to work again with David Lynch, a director he greatly admired.  Ferrer will be sorely missed.

Although Twin Peaks fans remember Ferrer for his portrayal of Albert, the actor had a prolific career in Hollywood both before and after Twin Peaks. In addition to acting, he was also a drummer (playing in a number of bands) and a comic-book writer. Ferrer came from a performing family; his father was the renowned actor Jose Ferrer, and his mother the popular singer Rosemary Clooney. Ferrer was deeply connected to the creative scene in Hollywood. He had friends everywhere and was respected and well-liked by his fellow performers.

In February of 1998, Craig Miller and I interviewed Ferrer for Wrapped In Plastic. At the time, Ferrer was involved in two high-profile projects for television: the sitcom Lateline, and the miniseries Brave New World. We were eager to learn more about Ferrer’s latest projects, and also ask him about his past work. We found the actor to be enthusiastic about both his craft and his association with David Lynch and Twin Peaks. Ferrer was a joy to interview; he recounted a number of stories about his career that were both funny and refreshingly candid.

Below are a few fascinating excerpts from that interview:

Meeting Al Franken and working on the short-lived sitcom, Lateline:
I met with Al Franken and John Markus and we got along very well. I asked them, “Why do you guys think I can do comedy, when the rest of the world tells me I can’t?” I remember meeting Al at a party for Saturday Night Live when my cousin George [Clooney] hosted for the first time. I went back to New York with him just to cheer him on. At the after-party I met Franken and we talked for about five minutes and he said, “I’ve always thought you were really funny.” I thought he was really drunk! But he thought I was funny! Then it was his job to convince Paramount, and then all of their jobs to convince NBC. Nobody there thought I could make anybody smile. They thought I could just hold guns to people’s heads and rape nuns and things. So that’s how it worked out.

Working With Leonard Nimoy on Brave New World and Star Trek III:

[Brave New World] was really interesting. It was fairly well-written, a pretty true adaptation of Aldous Huxley novel, which was one of my favorites in high school. Although it was very much updated, with genetic engineering and stuff like that. I was very intrigued by the cast. Peter Gallagher I’ve always admired, and Leonard Nimoy I’ve worshiped since the first episode of Star Trek. I hadn’t seen him since he hired me to work on Star Trek III, in one little scene. Remember the Excelsior, the other ship? Jim Sikking was the other captain, and I was the only other guy who talked on the bridge! [Laughter] I was his first officer. It was just incredibly cool.

First Exposure to David Lynch:
I saw Eraserhead way back when, and I thought, “This guy is nuts.” I really didn’t get it the first time I saw it. Then, of course, there was the great movie, The Elephant Man. I remember I read a wonderful article Rolling Stone did on Lynch when The Elephant Man came out. I was fascinated by that interview and really wanted to meet him from then on.

Friendship with Carrie Fisher and rehearsing Star Wars:
Carrie and I have been friends since I was fifteen and she was fourteen. We went to high school together. What happened was, we were out at some party or something, or we went to dinner. I was bringing her home and she said, “Oh, look! Here’s this script. I’m auditioning for this movie and I’m really excited about this. C’mon inside.” We went inside and she took out the script. She said, “Let’s take a look at this. It’s called Star Wars and it’s going to be this wild, crazy science-fiction movie by the guy who did American Graffiti.” I said, “You’re kidding!” She said, “No, you want to take a look at it? It’s supposed to be pretty cool.” So we sat there and read the script to the first Star Wars aloud to each other. We were doing all the different parts. This was way before I even thought of being an actor. It was great! She auditioned for the role a couple of weeks later, and got it.

Strangely enough, when they were shooting that in London, I was in London playing drums for Bing Crosby at the London Palladium. Carrie would come to the shows sometimes at night. And I had nothing to do during the day so I would ride out to the studio, out in the country outside of London, and hang out with them all day. I knew Mark [Hamill] a little bit. So we hung out a lot that summer. Then, a few years later, Bing played the Palladium again and they were back to do Star Wars 2. So those two summers Mark and Carrie and I hung out a lot.

I remember asking those guys [the first time], “So, is this going to be a good movie?” They would say, “I don’t know, we’re standing in front the blue-screen saying, ‘Oh look at that! They’re coming in from the right!” Nobody knew if it was going to be good. But I guess that picture kind of worked out. [Laughter]

There’s much more to the interview, which appears in WIP 35.  It’s worth seeking out. 

(Most of Miguel Ferrer’s comments about Twin Peaks also appear in my book, The Essential Wrapped In Plastic.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Twin Peaks Season One: The Artisan DVD Audio Commentaries (Part 1)

On December 18, 2001, Artisan Home Entertainment released a four-disc DVD set containing episodes 1-7 of Twin Peaks. Due to legal issues at the time, the set did not contain the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

The most valuable thing about this set, and what makes it a unique and important Twin Peaks collectible, is that all the episodes feature audio commentaries from directors, writers or other production members from the series. No other DVD or Blu ray release of Twin Peaks features these kinds of commentaries. The Artisan set was produced without the cooperation of David Lynch, who does not support audio commentaries. Hence, these valuable insights will only ever appear on this set. And they are very interesting insights, indeed. The Artisan DVD is worth having, if only for these astounding, informative audio extras.

This report discusses discs one and two (episodes 1-4) of the set and the audio commentaries they contain.

Disc One:
Episode 1: Director Dwayne Dunham describes how, as editor of the pilot, he had an intimate knowledge of the world of Twin Peaks and its characters. He was, therefore, a logical and appropriate choice to direct the first hour-long episode. Since some time had passed between shooting the pilot and filming the first season, Dunham was able to help the actors "re-find their characters." He also explains how he used the pilot as a blueprint to provide a specific style and tone to the series. 

Dunham brought an editorial sensibility his directing. He would attempt to frame scenes so that all the action could be conveyed in a single shot, thereby easing the need to cut to close-ups or to rely on action/reaction shots. Dunham discusses the Bobby and Mike jail scene (Act 2) and the Audrey and Ben scene (Act 4) and how the action in each was choreographed so as to require a single shot. Note that at some point in both scenes, the characters are positioned so that they both face the camera—a classic soap opera technique called a "two-shot west."

Dunham provides a number of other interesting observations:  It was he who recognized the beauty and usefulness of the Laura Palmer close-up that appears in the picnic video; editing for Twin Peaks episodes 1 and 2 was being done simultaneously with Lynch's editing of Wild at Heart  (further evidence to dispel the persistent, and erroneous, rumor that Lynch was filming WAH during the second season); and finally,  the "fish-in-the-percolator" scene was inspired by a real incident that happened to Dunham (his kids put raw hot dogs in a thermos of hot coffee).

Episode 2: Director of Photography, Frank Byers, provides an invaluable commentary, and although portions become extremely technical (his description of lighting the Bobby/Mike/Leo night scene requires a degree in cinematography to decipher), his comments reveal how Twin Peaks achieved such a unique and memorable look. 

Byers describes how he lit close-ups, exteriors, interiors, and night shots. He describes the lighting from the floor and the pushing of contrast (most television at the time emphasized flattening-out the color because it transmitted better). Byers believed the women should always be lit to make them look great, so he used softer lighting, often underexposed, with a close light source that made the skin glow. This created creamy flesh tones and a glamour look, without making them look artificial.

Byers strove to provide a warm look to the interiors, emphasizing red, orange, and brown tones. Exteriors were more difficult, because they had to make the bright, sunny environs of southern California look like the Pacific Northwest. In particular, Byers mentions the rock-throwing scene, which contains a lot of bright sunshine.   

Byers describes how he used wide-angle lenses to provide a more cinematic look to the show, even during close-ups. Lynch preferred the show to look this way, and Byers used a noir film, Orson Welles's Touch of Evil, as a template for composing these kinds of shots. 

Disc Two:
Episode 3: Director, Tina Rathborne (who directed Lynch in the 1988 film, Zelly and Me (with Isabella Rossellini), remarks that directing Twin Peaks, "felt like making a feature film on a very tight budget" with grueling time constraints. There was no money for rehearsals, so she called a number of the actors and invited them for coffee in order to know them and their characters better. What fascinated her most was exploring the mysteries of the characters. Cooper is learning about both his innocent side (the idyllic life in the secluded town) and his dark side (he's willing to be seduced by Audrey, to a degree). In this show, "the psyche goes public....Cooper takes his clues from inside his own psyche," and this kind of thing had not been seen before on television.

Rathborne initially considered Major Briggs to be a simplistic character—a "blowhard," to use her words—but Lynch explained that he was a wise man. Briggs's wise characteristics do not become evident until season two, but Lynch and Frost had the character well-defined even in season one.

Bobby's speech at the funeral presented "that mixture of sincerity and cruelty....The show is always walking that edge."

Rathborne discusses the Ed and Nadine scene that opens Act 3 and explains that she wishes she had allowed Ed to show more compassion for Nadine. Rathborne recognized that a strong relationship once existed between the two characters, and only realized later that echoes of that relationship might still have been evident. As directed, Ed seems uncomfortably tolerant of Nadine.

Though the women were in many ways "isolated" and sometimes "hemmed in by violence" (especially Shelly), Audrey was "powerful in a Marilyn Monroe way," and Truman was a "sitting duck for Josie." Josie was setting him up and was much more powerful than Truman.

Episode 4: Director Tim Hunter and writer Robert Engels supply one of the liveliest and most interesting commentaries on the DVD set. 

Engels talks about how David Lynch found the Invitation to Love segments too much of an explicit satire of Twin Peaks. Engels explains that even though Twin Peaks was filled with clichés (such as Maddy, Laura's twin cousin), they were accepted by the audience because the clichés were so obvious. Although Engels does not say so explicitly, he seems to acknowledge the postmodern nature of the show; the writers and the viewers are both in on the joke—each knows the other party is aware of the fictional nature of the show and so neither rejects clichés as part of the narrative. 

Engels speaks of the shows that influenced him in the writing of Twin Peaks—Wild, Wild West, The Fugitive and The Andy Griffith Show. He explains that he saw the sheriff's department as a sort of homage to Mayberry of The Andy Griffith Show.

Engels talks about the conscious decision to place odd "extras" into the show, and he mentions the bizarre tennis players visible just before Cooper and the police raid Jacques' apartment.

Tim Hunter provides a great many fascinating details about shooting this episode. Although confined to a specific script and strict schedule, Hunter found shooting television liberating.  Many of the decisions about character and plot were beyond his control and so he had more time to think about the composition and framing of shots. Hunter talks about how he used camera movement in scenes to underscore emotions of characters. For example, in Act 3, he moves from a close-up of James (who is in an important, but intimate, conversation with Donna) to a wide shot of Maddy arriving at the diner (thereby visually emphasizing a major change in James's world). 

Hunter speaks about the influence of Douglas Sirk and Otto Preminger on his directing of Twin Peaks. Sirk's use of mirrors is "reflected" in the way Hunter directed Donna and Audrey in the school bathroom, and Preminger's work on the film, Fallen Angel is evident in the way Hunter chose to shoot the various diner scenes. (Hunter describes how difficult it was to shoot in the Double R Diner; the set was designed in such a way that it was not easy to find a good angle.) 

Hunter credits the invaluable contribution of music editor, Lori Eschler. Angelo Badalamenti had provided pre-recorded music cues, and Eschler had an excellent working knowledge of the show's music library. When a director needed a new or specific cue, Eschler would find it.  Much of the unique musical sound of Twin Peaks can be attributed to Eschler's good work.

Next: Part 2 of the Artisan DVD Commentaries

Friday, December 16, 2016

Jedi Walk With Me

In 1981, George Lucas approached David Lynch about directing the third Star Wars film in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi (aka Episode VI). According to the book, David Lynch, by Michael Chion, Lynch refused the offer for various reasons, including the fact that he acknowledged Jedi would “not have been his film but, in a large part, [George] Lucas’s.”

The mind boggles at what a Lynch-directed Return of the Jedi might have looked like. The closest we can come to imagining such a film is to look at Dune—Lynch’s one true science fiction film (and, ironically, one based on another man’s vision—that of Dune author, Frank Herbert). The 1984 film was a commercial and critical failure. But although Dune was not a success, it was (and still is) a good example of Lynch’s visual imagination and directorial skill, even though he was working within the strict confines of studio control.

So, what could one expect from Lynch’s Star Wars if he had had some directorial freedom? For one thing, the film would have been slower. Lynch often describes his films as dreams—moody places that are open to interpretation. Given the epic science fiction nature of Herbert's Dune, one would have expected a more action-oriented, kinetic film. Instead, Lynch gave us spaceships that don’t move and scenes where characters stand around and think their dialogue. In effect, Dune was a slow-motion, internalized film. A bold experiment, to be sure, but hardly the kind of direction one would apply to a Star Wars film.

Lynch’s Jedi would likely have been dark and uncomfortable. Lynch is fascinated by the frail and vulnerable nature of the human body and characters in his films are susceptible to being bruised and battered. The heroes in Lynch's film would hardly escape their encounters with the Empire unscathed, rather they would probably emerge from their conflicts disabled and disfigured. And one cringes at the thought of what brutality might be inflicted on the ever-hapless Imperial Stormtroopers.

Lynch often exposes human physicality as an organic piece of a larger world. In Dune, Lynch envisions human bodies as components of mechanized entities (see the First Stage Guild navigators who have tubes going in and out of their heads). One wonders what Lynch could have done with the figure of Darth Vader, who was "more machine, now, than man.” Undoubtedly, this aspect of the character would have been a draw to Lynch, and his depiction of the conflicted Sith Lord could have been both repulsive and mesmerizing.  Darth Vader could, ultimately, have reminded us of John Merrick in Lynch’s The Elephant Man.

But what of other characters and settings? How would they differ under Lynch’s direction? We can imagine changes to specific elements of Return of the Jedi by comparing them to other Lynch films:

Instead of a puffy, muppety Jabba The Hutt, imagine a Jabba that looked more like a Third Stage Guild Navigator and who acted like the oozing and festering Baron Harkonnen from Dune. (Jabba was supposed to be disgusting—and he was, by Star Wars standards—but a Lvnchian Jabba would have been a true gross-out, complete with open sores on his skin and an oily, sticky complexion.) And Jabba would have been more than nasty—he would have been cruel, subjecting his entourage to torture and terror.

Instead of the cartoonish, Tolkienesque Emperor who acted like a comic-book super-villain (complete with dastardly dialogue and super powers), imagine the Emperor as a Lynch villain similar to Bob from Twin Peaks or Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. Lynch’s Emperor would not have been creaky and withered, but manic and brutal—an Emperor who physically assaults Luke (perhaps pummeling him with his fists), rather than standing back and throwing lightning bolts at him.

Instead of the sunny, magical woods of Endor complete with cuddly Ewok fauna, imagine a dark, damp, ominous forest like those found in Twin Peaks, with tribes of misshapen (but Samaritan) outcasts similar to the circus freaks that help John Merrick in The Elephant Man.

Instead of the shiny, pristine, antiseptic corridors of the new Death Star, imagine a shadowy, steamy, sooty interior punctuated by the rhythmic noises of heavy machinery and hissing exhaust. And all these sounds would be overlaid on an organic, throbbing ambient soundtrack.

There’s also Lynch’s recurring theme of dysfunctional families that breed incest, adultery, rape, and other traumatic calamities. While Lynch would not have been able to tamper with the basic family unit of Vader/Luke/Leia, who knows what twisted nuances he would have introduced into, say, the Vader/Leia relationship?

These are but a few examples of how David Lynch might envision Return of the Jedi. But such a version was clearly never going to happen. Because Lynch realized early on that he didn’t fit into the Star Wars universe.

The original Star Wars trilogy presents a rare instance where directors lost much of their authorial presence. Despite the fact that The Empire Strikes Back was directed by Irvin Kershner and Return of The Jedi by Richard Marquand, these were still Lucas’s films. They bear his imprint, his style. In the Star Wars trilogy it was the producer (Lucas) who was the auteur.

As part of the Star Wars cadre of directors, Lynch would have been expected to follow Lucas’s designs and desires—to create a Star Wars film according to strict parameters—a situation that Lynch would have found stifling and restrictive and may have led to a clash between Lynch and Lucas.

Fortunately such conflict never came to be. David Lynch understood that Lucas’s vision superseded his. Lynch clearly made the correct decision when he chose not to pursue Lucas’s original offer. Because no matter how striking and original a Lynch-directed Return of The Jedi might have been (had it actually been made), it undoubtedly would have been a perplexing, heavy, and uninviting episode of Star Wars.