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


  1. These commentaries are indeed great! I think in the Bob Engels one he describes the more 'supernatural' elements of the show as 'a metaphor for familial abuse'. This, I think, was Lynch and Frost's true intention...too much of the Black Lodge stuff was taken too literally (for me) by some. But I think the kind of unambiguous statement which Engels made is also exactly why Lynch dislikes commentaries :-)

    FYI- the UK (Region 2) version of this set did also include the Pilot.

    1. Good points about Engels. And it's important to remember that he made these comments after he co-wrote FWWM with Lynch. He had a unique perspective.

    2. Lynch doesn't like commentaries at a fundamental level because people are watching the visuals with an audio track that takes the viewer out of the experience. He equally disliked chapter breaks on DVDs because he didn't want people to be able to jump into the middle of a film.

    3. So true. It's sometimes frustrating to watch some of the old Lynch DVDs. We created a "chapter breaks" guide for his films in WIP, listing parts of the film and the time-code you could use to access them.

  2. Thanks for diving into these, John. My wife and I recently re-watched everything included on The Entire Mystery blu-ray set in preparation for season 3, and as we worked through the extra features, it occurred to me that, although I own the original season 1 and 2 DVD sets, I've never gone through all of their bonus materials; much less compared those features to what's included in the Gold Set. Which led me here, where you've confirmed that the commentaries are indeed unique and worth listening to. So thank you! Only one sour note for me - I long ago lent disc 1 from season 1 to a friend, and it was never returned. So a special thanks for the summaries above.

    As season three debuts, I hope you return to the blog often! I know there are WIP fans out there like myself who look forward to your insights. Thanks for all the work.

    1. Thanks for the nice words, Donald. Part 2 of the Artisan DVD commentaries is coming soon. I'm glad you are finding them useful!

  3. Good to know about these commentaries! I had this set for years, but sold it after the Gold Box edition came out. Had forgotten about the commentaries, so I'll be looking to re-buy this set in the near future! Do you know if the second season DVD set or Gold Box have any exclusive material not included in the 'Complete Mystery' bluray set?

  4. I intend to treat myself to those Artisan DVDs. It's interesting that on The Art Life Lynch has a completely different origin for the fish in the percolator scene, He says that when he was young he went to the studio of his friend's father, the artist Bushnell Keeler. Keeler made coffee for Lynch and his son but the latter complained that the coffee tasted foul. Lynch hadn't said anything as he thought Bushnell would be angry. Which he was until it was discovered that he'd left a bar of soap in the percolator. Lynch says he changed the soap into fish for Twin Peaks. Which is the real story? I haven't a clue!

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