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.

Monday, December 5, 2016

We Must Pay Strict Attention

Back in 1990 and 1991, while Twin Peaks was on the air, some critics considered the show too confusing; some even went so far as to label it "impenetrable."  Back then, Twin Peaks was more demanding than most television fare: the show had a very large number of characters and numerous complicated plots.  If you hadn't been watching it from the beginning—or if you missed an episode or two in the middle—you could become hopelessly lost.
While some claim that Twin Peaks' complex nature was a primary cause for the show's downfall, others believe that the show's complicated structure was its most engaging feature.  Both viewpoints may be right.  The complexity of Twin Peaks was certainly an appealing factor, but in the second season, when the show splintered into a number of minor (and inconsequential) subplots, it lost some of that appeal.
Author Brad Chisholm cited Twin Peaks when writing about the "pleasures of complex viewing" in a 1991 essay for Critical Studies in Mass Communication.  Chisholm explained that the writers of Twin Peaks "exceeded the average number of simultaneous plot-lines" that television audiences were used to seeing.  Most serial dramas featured four or five plot-lines per episode and rarely stretched storylines over more than four or five weeks.  Twin Peaks, by contrast, regularly featured twice that many plots in storylines that lasted months rather than weeks.  Chisholm states that many Twin Peaks fans "considered the unending plot-lines and unfathomable occurrences central to the show's appeal." 
In order to better understand just how complicated and expansive many of Twin Peaks' stories were, I "graphed" all the show's major plot-lines. (Click to enlarge.)
The Plots of Twin Peaks, Plotted

As you can see, the series packed a lot into thirty episodes. 

Each plot-line is represented by a horizontal line.  In some cases, where a plot evolved into another (e.g. Leo is brain-dead, and later Shelly and Bobby care for him), the line is both dashed and solid.  The beginning or ending of a plot is represented by bullets.  Diagonal lines indicate where plots branched off (or flowed into) others.  The storyline involving Josie Packard is disjointed due to Josie's lengthy disappearances from the show.  Her plot-lines, however, are directly connected, and so I've represented the story "gaps" with connecting arcs. Some plot developments are not easily "graphable" (such as Josie shooting Cooper and Albert later discovering her identity) and are not represented here, further proof of the complexity of the Twin Peaks narrative. Finally, I've separated the first season from the second with a vertical dashed line.

The chart reveals some interesting patterns.  It clearly indicates a dividing line between episode 16 and 17.  In 16, Agent Cooper solves the Laura Palmer murder, a story which dominates the series from the beginning.  With that storyline concluded, the show's writers introduce a number of smaller storylines in the following episode.  Six new major plots are started (among them:  Cooper is framed, the Black Lodge mystery is introduced, Ben goes crazy, Evelyn Marsh blackmails James, etc.)  By episode 23, most of these storylines conclude, and a series of new plot-lines begin (the Cooper/Annie romance, Save the Pine Weasel campaign, Miss Twin Peaks, etc.). 
It's easy to see that the second half of the second season consisted of two parts.  The first part, which begins at episode 17, is where Twin Peaks receives the most criticism.  Many of the storylines in the subsequent seven-episode span are simplistic to the point of silliness. Ben Horne's Civil War fantasies, Andy and Dick's involvement with Little Nicky, the marriage of Dougie Milfordall these stories served as "space fillers" so that the show's large cast would have something to do. 
Meanwhile, Cooper and Earle's chess game, and their subsequent involvement with the Black Lodge, is a plot that practically simmers in the background.  Mark Frost commented on this phase of the series in Wrapped In Plastic #9:  "In retrospect, I think the Windom Earle story started too slowly.  Laura was a very hard act to follow in terms of storytelling, and we probably should have come out of the gate a little quicker with the Windom Earle story."
Once the Laura Palmer plot concludes, the producers of Twin Peaks fail to develop another strong, encompassing mystery in which to involve the cast.  Instead, they rely on a variety of shorter, inconsequential subplots to keep the series moving. Unfortunately, most of these small storylines are isolated entities, existing and unfolding on their own. Twin Peaks worked best when its characters shared a deeper connection, when they were components of a larger plot such as the Laura Palmer mystery.  (The show seemed to get back on track near the end—too late to save it from cancellation, however.)
Mark Frost was right.  Had the Windom Earle story been "up and running" earlier, the show might have stayed stronger for a longer period of time.  But, as the chart shows, that story was initially lost in a collage of meaningless mini-plots.  In the end, Twin Peaks may have collapsed under its own weight; losing momentum to fractured subplots and silly storylines. 
All of this was a sad result of network demands and the pressure to deliver satisfactory ratings on a weekly basis—relics of a different television era. The new Twin Peaks of 2017, however, will not suffer from the arbitrary demands of network TV. It will not drift and shift according to ratings and cast considerations, or become diluted by commercial pressures.  The new Twin Peaks will reflect the keen artistic sensibilities of its creators.  From the moment it first airs, it will be complete and substantial, deliberate and fully-defined.
We won’t need a chart to tell us that.

(A slightly different version of this article first appeared in Wrapped In Plastic, #14, (December, 1994).  Whew! 22 years ago!)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mark Frost at Texas Book Festival; Austin, TX

My wife and I drove from Dallas to Austin on November 6 to hear Mark Frost read from--and answer questions about--his new book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Frost was appearing as part of the Texas Book Festival, and this would be his last appearance promoting his book in the US. We were quite happy he was visiting our neck of the woods before heading overseas.

Mark Frost at the Texas Book Festival

We arrived about two hours early and decided to grab lunch in the hotel where the event was taking place.  Not long before we finished, I looked up to see Frost entering the restaurant. Now, I have had about half-a-dozen encounters with Mr. Frost over the past twenty years (some in person, most by phone) but I was still a bit intimidated about going over to say hello and re-introduce myself. Luckily, my wife encouraged me . . . and so I did.

Well, Mark Frost couldn't have been nicer or more accommodating. I apologized for interrupting the start of his meal and he graciously asked me to come back and join him for a chat after he finished. So, about half-an-hour later, I did. We had a wonderful visit, basically talking about our favorite television shows (he and I are both big fans of Fargo season 2), and the changing nature of television over the past 25 years.  We spoke very briefly about the new Twin Peaks (it was all off the record but, honestly, he didn't reveal anything that fans don't already know) and how the old show raised a high bar for all others to meet.

Fargo Season 2

Soon after, Frost appeared on stage, read from his book and answered a great many questions from fans (season 3 was an off-limit topic). One of the nice take-aways, for me, was Mark's description of "mysteries" versus "secrets."  I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of it was: mysteries help us access the beauty and wonder of life (and can be akin to religious experiences) whereas secrets are a creation of man, often in an effort to gain power. There is a yin-yang, here, (and a possible spectrum, of sorts) which Frost highlighted by reading the "Opening Statement" of the Archivist from The Secret History.

Frost, preparing to read (w/moderator, Barbara Morgan)

This discussion really helped me appreciate the book in a new way.  We all knew it was a puzzle (and yes, I believe there are answers hidden inside it), but maybe it is something more--a cautionary tale of what can happen when we try too hard to find all the answers, when we try to define, in exact terms, all that we find curious and enigmatic. In short, the book supports the Lynchian axiom that "there's a beauty in not knowing."

I think it is safe to say The Secret History of Twin Peaks is a great preamble to the upcoming new season of Twin Peaks.  I have a good feeling that we are going to be quite surprised. :)

Mark Frost and a Fan

Monday, October 31, 2016

Memories of Wrapped In Plastic: Issue 17 - Painted Cover & Peyton Interview

Wrapped In Plastic #17 stands out to me as a particularly fine issue for a number of reasons:  First, it contained a wonderful essay by Rhonda Wilcox about vampirism in Twin Peaks. Second, it included a lengthy letter from Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog fame.  Third, it featured a long interview with Harley Peyton about Twin Peaks and other Peyton projects.

This Harley Peyton interview “co-stars” Eric Stoltz and James Spader, both of whom were present when we interviewed Peyton. (All three gentlemen were on location in Fort Worth making a film, and Craig Miller and I were lucky enough to visit the set.) Spader and Stoltz contributed a few crazy interjections as we attempted to stay focused on our interview.  Here’s one exchange:

Peyton: All the actors [on Twin Peaks] were great; we had no problems with them.  The running of it was pretty simple.
Stoltz:  Well, then, how come Kyle refused to cooperate?
Peyton: A very good question.
Thorne: We had heard that he didn't feel his character should be involved with someone who was supposedly under-age.
Peyton: Oh, Kyle! I don't know! You'd have to ask him. As I said, everyone was great.  Michael Ontkean was tremendous.  He's actually in the James Spader mold--he just wanted to stay at home. No, I shouldn't say that.  I'm kidding! [laughter]
Spader:  Just leave me out of it!
Stoltz:  [To Spader] Don't talk to Harley!
Peyton: All these guys were great because they loved it.  It really was a fun job.  You'd go to this place every day and you'd do the work and everyone got along pretty well.  So that part of it was wonderful.
Craig Miller (center) animatedly discusses Twin Peaks with Harley Peyton (right).
(That's me on the left, chewing on a pen.)
Photo likely by Eric Stoltz, 1995 
I recommend tracking down WIP 17 for the full interview.  It’s something else.

But, wait, I’m getting sidetracked. . . .

What also excited me about WIP 17 was the cover. 

Because we were printing our first in-depth interview with one of the producers of Twin Peaks, we wanted to convey a “behind-the-scenes” concept for the cover. We did not have any good photographs to use, so we decided to go with an illustration.  Craig Miller had been in touch with Chris Moeller, an accomplished artist who, at that time, was working on the Shadows Empire comic book for Dark Horse Comics. Craig commissioned Chris to do the cover for WIP 17 with a “behind-the-scenes” theme. 

Chris produced a beautiful acrylic painting that depicts a possible scenario from the making of the Twin Peaks pilot: a make-up artist tends to Sheryl Lee as she waits, wrapped in plastic, for the shoot to begin.  

I love the detail in the painting.

The make-up artist, with her cosmetics and blow-dryer, kneels carefully in the shadow of the giant log where Laura has washed ashore;

the plastic that wraps Lee has a hint of translucence revealing some skin tone underneath,

the smooth stones and driftwood are an embellishment, yet these elements delicately balance the composition. 

It’s a beautiful work of art!

For some reason, the painting took on a brown tone when the cover was printed.  I’m not sure why, as the original was bluer and definitely had a “cooler” look to it.

For years, Craig had Chris Moeller’s original painting prominently displayed in his office.  After Craig passed away, Howard Miller (Craig’s father) generously offered the painting to me. I was thrilled and honored to get it; the original cover to issue 17 is one of the great treasures from my years working on Wrapped In Plastic.