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.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A few thoughts on The Secret History of Twin Peaks [SPOILERS]

This is going to be a quick, type-it-as-you-go posting.  Please forgive my mistakes and half-thought comments....

As everyone knows, Mark Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks is out and it is getting some strong reaction from fans.  Almost everyone is happy to have it in their hands, to be reading it at long last, and to be returning to the world of Twin Peaks that Frost and Lynch created back in 1989-1990.

But with happiness has come distress.

Some are many who are quite alarmed by the book.

And here is where I get into spoilers.  I'm about to discuss a big, over-arching structural spoiler (not detailed spoilers). If you haven't read the book (or all of the book) you may want to stop reading NOW.




go  . . . .

The "history' recounted in the book is not the history most fans know.  A great many details are just plain wrong.  How can this be? Some suggest that Mark Frost simply didn't do enough homework about Twin Peaks and messed things up. Others think he may have purposefully discarded established backstory in favor of new details which he preferred.

But neither of those seems plausible once you hear what Frost has said in various interviews, and once you see what kind of effort he put into the look, structure, and writing of the book.  Mark Frost knows what's what.  On Twitter, Frost has declared that "all will be revealed in time."  So, clearly there is a bigger scheme at work here: a more intricate plan is in place.

Many are suggesting the new history is the result of time-travel or alternate timelines.  Well, I think they are onto something.  When David Lynch was making Fire Walk With Me, he purposely introduced a time-travel element.  When Annie Blackburne appears to Laura, she is the Annie from the future attempting to alter the past!

How do we know?  Lynch said as much in an interview with Chris Rodley in the indispensable Lynch on Lynch.  Below is the full passage:

Lynch on Lynch, p 187.

Look at that last paragraph!  Lynch says he had hopes that someone would see Annie's message and "sort of see it all." See what?  See the future!

And then he says, "I had hopes of something coming out of that, and I like the idea of the story going back and forth in time."


There it is. I believe Lynch's interest in the story going back and forth in time stayed with him--that he and Frost discussed the idea--and implications--of time travel and then introduced those ideas into the new series. This helps explain the altered nature of the new Twin Peaks history.

What else could explain it?

UPDATE: I just found this quote on p 19 of Lynch on Lynch:

Lynch on Lynch p 19.

Lynch says there's no problem with time (which I interpret to mean time travel is possible). Did Annie go back in time and change the course of events?  Did she end up never visiting Twin Peaks? Could the Good Cooper also go back in time--maybe further back in time--and change even more events?

I'll try to provide a more detailed review of Frost's new book in the next few weeks or months.  I'm still digesting it.  There is much to study . . . . . . .

Research Materials

Monday, October 3, 2016

Collecting Twin Peaks: The Japanese Card Game

Many Twin Peaks fans might be familiar with the two Twin Peaks board games that were produced in the years following the series: The Twin Peaks Murder Mystery Game from the UK, and the Game of Twin Peaks from Japan. But there is a third game: The Twin Peaks Original Card Game, manufactured by WIZ CO., Ltd., in Japan in 1992. 

The Instruction Booklet
This game resembles the popular UNO card game; the deck contains SKIP and REVERSE cards as well as numbered cards of different colors. But, unlike UNO, there are also HOLD, LOCK, and ALL CHANGE cards. There is also a set of BOB cards with different values of 20, 30, 40 and 50 points. Oddly, the cards are printed in English while the rules are printed in Japanese. (Just who was the intended audience for this game, anyway?)

The Backs of the BOB and Play Cards
The card set comes with a small illustrated instruction pamphlet that provides detailed rules of play. There also appears to be a summary card that provides a quick overview of the game on one side and what is probably a character-relationship chart on the other.

The Twin Peaks Original Card Game is a handsomely produced game. The 60 cards comprising the game are all printed in full color and measure 2" by  3".  The summary card measures 3.25” by 6.25”.  The cards and instructions are packaged in a black plastic videocassette case where all pieces are housed in a plastic insert tray. 

Inside the "cassette case" packaging
The Front Side of the Summary Card
Back Side of the Summary Card (relationship chart)
Interior Pages (and Back and Front Pages) of Instruction Booklet
Playing Cards (including HOLD, LOCK, REVERSE, & ALL CHANGE)
Playing Cards (including SKIP and BOB)
After we featured this game in Wrapped in Plastic 66 (August, 2003), readers, Noriko Hara and Phil Eskew, translated the instructions for us. We featured the full translation in WIP 67(October, 2003). What follows is a portion of that translation.

Back of Game Case

The back of the game translated:

Do you know Twin Peaks?

Twin Peaks is a small, rural town located in the Northwest of the United States near the Canadian border.  On the morning of February 24, 1990, Laura Palmer’s dead body was found on the riverbank wrapped in plastic.  FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper has been assigned to solve the murder.  The deeper he digs, the weirder things become.

Twin Peaks, a unique suspense-drama, is the product of the creative genius of David Lynch.

Now Twin Peaks is a card game!

“Diane, it appears that Twin Peaks has become a card game.  It is a damn fine card game that involves people from the town.  I am going enjoy it with cherry pie and donuts.  One thing is worrying me.  What happened to Bob?”

Interior Pages (1-4) of the Instruction Booklet
Page One of the instruction booklet translated: 

The Twin Peaks card game is a game in which players attempt to avoid becoming possessed by Bob who appears in Twin Peaks. 

1) Each player has four “Play” cards and the rest of the “Play” cards and “Bob” cards are stacked separately.  A player picks one of the “Bob” cards and turns it over so the number is showing.

2) Then each player goes through steps A and B in order.
            A) The player picks up one of the “Play” cards [they now have 5 cards]
            B) The player picks one of his [5] cards and places it on the table so the others can see it.  Each player does so in order.  The players add the numbers on the cards as they go around the table.

3) The goal is to avoid being the player whose card causes the total number to exceed the number on the “Bob” card.  The person whose card causes the number to exceed the number on the “Bob” card, takes the “Bob” card. 

Repeat 1) – 3) and at the end of the game the player with the least amount of “Bob” card points wins.

This game is certainly a rare piece of Twin Peaks merchandise and a valuable addition to any Twin Peaks collection. (If anyone would like a translation of the complete instructions, please let me know!)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Out of Shadows: Frederick Elmes on Blue Velvet

Frederick Elmes was cinematographer on three David Lynch feature films (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart) and one short film (The Cowboy and the Frenchman). In the fascinating documentary about cinematography, Visions of Light, Elmes explained: “My job [on Eraserhead] was to find ways to extract [the film from David Lynch’s mind], to have him explain how it should look in great detail.”  Together, Lynch and Elmes have produced some of the most memorable images on film:  The puzzled/awed face of Henry (Jack Nance) before a field of swirling sparkles (Eraserhead); the voyeuristic face of Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) as he spies through closet louvers (Blue Velvet); the elegant, surreal appearance of Sandy (Laura Dern) on a shadowy sidewalk (Blue Velvet).  These are images which mesmerize.  These are images which demonstrate the unique artistic power of film.

Craig Miller and John Thorne interviewed Frederick Elmes on June 29, 2000. The full interview appeared in Wrapped In Plastic #48 (August, 2000).  The following is a small portion of that interview covering Elmes’ work on Blue Velvet.

Thorne:  Blue Velvet is memorable for its sharp and vibrant colors (the roses and fence, the fire truck).  It also made powerful use of shadow.  One of the film's most memorable scenes is when Sandy (Laura Dern) emerges from total darkness--and she's wearing a light-colored dress!
Elmes:  [Laughter] Yeah, that was a good trick!
JT:  Did you find scenes such as those particular challenging?
FE:  They were good.  They were great.  I certainly hadn't done that exact thing before.  David had a very specific thought in mind, that she really had to come out of the darkness, so what you see in the background is the willow tree blowing in the wind, and she just seems to appear out of it.  But again, it was something we could do in the camera and not do as a trick.  We just did it with the lighting, and make her look beautiful at the same time, because that's her first moment with Kyle [MacLachlan].  It was a very cool moment; I liked it a lot.
JT:  Was it a problem that needed experiments to solve, or did it turn out to be fairly simple to accomplish?
FE:  It was fairly simple to do once we came upon exactly what David wanted, once David could describe the mood of it.  It was pretty easy to do, and very, very effective.  That, and the music together, and the sound, really did it, really made it a beautiful moment in the film.

JT:  There's another great scene when Dean Stockwell sings into the prop light.  We understand that was not originally intended.  Is that true?
FE:  Right.  It seems to me that it came out of scouting a location when we were trying to determine who stands where, and which direction we'd be looking in the room.  And somebody in the art department picked up this light as a prop microphone and said, "Okay, does he stand over here?  Does he stand over there?"  And I think that's kind of what it came from.  David decided it was a great idea, and we would use that.  It turned out to be perfect.  Stockwell picks up the light and sways back and forth to sing the song, and in fact what you see is a little trick, actually, because his shadow on the wall behind him is not his real shadow.  It's an electrician back there with a little paper cut-out making the shadows rock back and forth on the wall.  We couldn't do it for real, so we did it with pretend shadows.  It worked well.

JT:  On a major film, are you often improvising the look and lighting on set, or are things usually planed out?
FE:  Certainly there's a mood and a tone to a film, which is set in the beginning, and which you want to be consistent to.  It is, in a sense, like making a painting--you have different parts of the painting, and different parts require slightly different techniques or different feelings, but it's still one painting.  And so you go into a film with one vision of how it will be, and in a sense every scene is an improvisation on that theme.  So every scene requires a little different handling, even if you're coming back to the same room again and again, like Dorothy's apartment [in Blue Velvet].  It transforms; it changes character a little bit.  Depending on whether it's daytime or nighttime, depending on what action is happening, the mood in the room changes.  We set up what we wanted it to feel like, but then you make little changes and adjustments as you go to make it appropriate for the scene.  So for me, the lighting, the feeling of it is driven by the actors and the motivations in the scene.
JT:  We actually had a question about that further down on our list, which was basically, how does character and plot influence the look of a film?  In particular, do Lynch and other directors discuss the character motivations with you, or is it something you intuit?
FE:  That's a funny question, because each director is really different.  David doesn't often tell a lot of things about the characters.  Others will tell more, but usually they're pretty tight about it.  That's something that they discuss with the actors, and I think it's my job to eke out some of that information, intuit what they're thinking and get them to talk about it a little bit, because it helps me to know what's going on with the characters.  It really helps me to be clear about what the motivations are in a big sense--where they fit in the story, and all that.  That's very important stuff, because I think it has everything to do with the visual style.  So yeah, it's important to me, and I love to spend time with the director talking about that stuff and asking lots of questions.
JT:  In the Visions of Light documentary you mention that you and Lynch had years to talk about the look of Blue Velvet.  What kind of things did you talk about?
FE:  For David and me the advantage was that we had already spent a few years together on Eraserhead, so some stuff started to come automatically and not have to talk about [them].  But the advantage with Blue Velvet was that there was a long genesis period.  We knew the film was going to get made, we just didn't know when.  The schedule changed, and things got pushed back, and we had time to talk.  David had been back there to Wilmington, North Carolina, and had driven around and seen a lot of the local towns and had found one that we wanted to model our town on, so we chose the parts of Wilmington that looked appropriate. 

Dorothy's apartment was a certain style and feeling, and it was a different neighborhood from where Jeffrey lived, where Kyle's character lived.  His was a very little street, and we knew there were lots of scenes that took place walking up and down that street, so it had to have a certain character, a certain feeling to it.  Those were really important things that we could talk about in advance.
JT:  A case can be made that the look of Blue Velvet (the town, the community, etc.) influenced Twin Peaks.  Did Lynch ever discuss any aspect of Twin Peaks with you?
FE:  No.  I wasn't really part of that at all, as much as I like it.  Certainly there are similarities in the small towns, and I know that's right up David's alley.

  You worked on Tim Hunter's film, River's Edge, which was released about the same time as Blue Velvet.  Which did you work on first?
FE:  Blue Velvet was first, and then River's Edge.  It was great to work with Dennis Hopper [in both films].
CM:  Both times he had crazy roles.
FE:  Yeah, both times crazy guys.  It was really a joy to work with him.  It's funny, a story on River's Edge.  There were a lot of young actors, and Tim Hunter's very good at casting young actors, taking advantage of people who had talent who hadn't been seen much--Keanu Reeves, and Crispin Glover, and Ione Skye--there's that handful who have gone on to keep making movies.  He put them together for the first time, and so we were doing a read-through a week before we started production.  All the actors showed up, and they're all sitting around the big table, and everybody's waiting for Dennis Hopper to show up.  This is their hero.  To be in a film with Dennis Hopper is like being in a film with James Dean, and they were all talking in hushed tones about him, and sure enough Dennis shows up wearing a three-piece suit, carrying a briefcase.  It was so completely opposed to their image of him, their jaws just dropped.  They couldn't quite make sense of what Dennis was up to.  But Dennis was an extremely professional and very responsible actor on both films.  He was a joy to work with.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Full of Insight: An Interview with David Lavery

Professor David Lavery, well known to Twin Peaks fans as editor of the book, Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, passed away on August 30, 2016. Lavery was one of the first people to bring an academic focus to Twin Peaks: He edited a special Twin Peaks issue of Literature/ Film Quarterly and then produced Full of Secrets, a landmark study of Twin Peaks that has remained in print for 22 years. Lavery went on to produce more than a dozen books of academic analysis for other well-known TV series, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Lost, and Madmen. Although Lavery would achieve great acclaim for these later works, I always felt that his first book, Full of Secrets, was his most important. It laid the groundwork for the decades of Twin Peaks academic study to follow.

When we started Wrapped In Plastic, Craig Miller and I knew that Twin Peaks was ripe for in-depth analysis and we strove to produce such analyses in the pages of our magazine.  We were excited when we heard about Full of Secrets and saw that other authors and scholars were taking Twin Peaks seriously. 

We had a chance to meet and interview David Lavery when he visited Dallas on May 21, 1994. The following interview first appeared (in slightly longer form) in WIP 13 (October, 1994).  Our talk about Twin Peaks occurred at a time when we were only beginning to investigate and fully appreciate the complexities of the series, and, as a result, some of our notions about the show had yet to fully form . . . .

Miller: When Twin Peaks first came on television what was your initial reaction?
Lavery: I didn't watch it.  I missed the whole first eight episodes. During those episodes I kept hearing everyone talking about it at the office; even the secretaries were watching it.  They were always talking about it, and a couple of colleagues of mine were always talking about it.  So, by the time the reruns started I knew I had to start watching it. 
       I was instantly hooked.  I started taping it right away.  I taped all that summer as they reran the eight episodes and had my first Twin Peaks party for the premiere of the second season.  I was just blown away by the opening of that show.  The old bellhop and all of that--and of course that was exactly the point that the secretaries stopped watching it.  I came to the office the next day and they said, "What was that?!  What was that so slow for?"  I think that happened to a lot of people.  The opening of the second season was almost a challenge to the Twin Peaks viewership. 
Thorne: Do you think that might have been deliberate?
DL:  I don't know how deliberate it was.  But all the talk was that people were disappointed because Laura's killer had not been revealed--all the disappointment in the press and outright anger about the fact that we didn't know the killer.  The first fifteen minutes are absolutely endless, up until the Giant appearing.  Of course, I was just fascinated with it.  I like TV the most is when it is so absolutely perplexing.  It certainly put up a challenge to some viewers.  And don't forget, too, there were people coming in for the first time that night hoping to finally pick up on this cultural phenomenon.  And what did it do?  It gave them that opening.   I wonder how many television sets were turned off in that first fifteen minutes?
CM: I was disappointed with the second season premiere.  I agree with David Bianculli who said that every time Twin Peaks needed a blockbuster episode, it fell down.  It was the episode after that really excelled. 
DL:  One of the reasons the network didn't like it, finally, is that they didn't know how to market it.  Genre, as Horace Newcomb has found out over the years, is essentially a marketing tool.  If they don't know what to say Twin Peaks is, then how are they going to push it?  Certainly in one sense it was a soap opera, and yet if it's soap opera, it's a given that the viewer can enter it anywhere and that it exhibits a narrative redundancy.  It allows you back into a series even if you haven't watched it in ten years.  Twin Peaks defied that.  It did some of that, but it didn't do it enough--not for somebody coming in new.
CM: It seemed to be playing into the critics worst criticisms.  Its bad rap was that the producers weren't really concerned about resolving the storyline.  Viewers wanted some hint that they were conscious of these concerns and at least interested in moving the story ahead. 
DL:  Cooper does get clues from the Giant, but they were just baffling utterances that you knew were going to take episodes and episodes to reveal.  Again, it's a matter of expectations isn't it?  If people have been watching it thinking, "this is a night-time soap" then they wouldn't have been so anxious for closure.  That's the definition of soaps--they don't have closure.
JT: That's the argument in Marc Dolan's essay in your book.
DL:  Right.  Twin Peaks did a very bad job of setting up its expectations.  Saturday Night Live had just been on with the parody of the show's endlessness with the suggestion that Cooper was perpetuating this indefinitely!  And the network ran that ad that shows the smoke-filled room with the TV executives sitting around a table saying, "Saturday night?!  You put our best shows on Saturday night?!  Heads are going to roll!"  The network, in self-reflexivity of modern television--the “deride and conquer” strategy that Mark Crispin Miller calls it--was making fun of itself as a peremptory strike.  How could they lose?  "We know we made a stupid mistake, and if it turns out to be the stupid mistake we know it is then we'll claim that we didn't do it, because we've already made fun of it!"  And when they finally changed it back to Thursday night they did that Wizard of Oz spoof, "We've been in an awful place on Saturday night.  That is a bad dream."

JT: Although you didn't watch Twin Peaks' initial first season run, were you aware of the pre-pilot hype?  The media blitz that was going on?
DL:  Yeah.  I can remember sitting in a conference in Birmingham, Alabama and reading a big story in USA Today.  I remember some big magazine articles including one in Connoisseur: "The show that will change television forever."
JT: Do you think the show lived up to that hype?  Do you think it has changed television?
DL:  Of course not.  It hasn't changed TV a bit. They put on an innovative show.  It was canceled.  Where's the change?  Isn't that what Mark Frost said, essentially? 
       You can watch TV today and see an occasional Twin Peaks influence.  You notice how it has changed the visual style.  But TV is so monolithic; it seems incredibly difficult to change it.  I think you could argue that The Simpsons has changed TV.  But I obviously think Twin Peaks is an incredibly significant show.  I have this battle with colleagues all the time.  They look at me like I'm deranged: "You've done a book on Twin Peaks?!"
JT: Many correlations have been made between Twin Peaks and various literary works, as was done in Literature/Film Quarterly.  Since you are chairman of an English department, did you notice these allusions as you watched the show?  
DL: Yeah, I noticed the allusions as we went along.  Of course that was part of the snob appeal of Twin Peaks.  Diane Hume George, in her essay, writes quite well about that.  She wrote one of the first really good articles on Twin Peaks in Ms.  She says that you were just not going to associate with anybody who didn't get Twin Peaks!  I can remember feeling that way.  Fellini used to say about Satyricon that you should take people to it to see who was your friend.  There was that kind of quality to Twin Peaks; that's part of the classic cult experience.  I write about this in my essay.  You want to have this group that you identify with.  They're your interpretive community.  You all know how to read the text.  I was actually quite gratified when the secretaries stopped watching the show.  It was, "I knew you couldn't get it."

CM: How did you go about soliciting essays for your book?
DL:  When the show was canceled I had a letter out within a week.  I wrote everybody I could think of.  I got their addresses out of the Professional Directory.  I said, "I'm going to develop a collection of essays on Twin Peaks, would you like to write something?"  I got a good number of responses.  I wrote the Modern Language Association, which had 65 people who had proposed papers for a session on Twin Peaks, which unfortunately was never held.  I think I got about 40 essays submitted for the book.  I was the sole arbiter--I judged them.  I figured out which essays would go and which would stay.
           A good number of essays that came in were literary in nature.  I wasn't pleased at how literary they were.  I knew this book was going to need a television look so it could be used in television studies classes.  I think the book does have a strong television focus to it.  I took the really good literary essays and talked Jim Welsh of Literature/Film Quarterly into doing a special literary issue.  I actually had another one planned, a Feminist issue.  I tried to talk Camera Obscura into doing that, but they didn't want to do it.
JT: It seems to me there would be a lot of interest in studying Lynch's work from a Feminist approach.
DL:  Well there are four Feminist essays in the book.  I worry that some of the essays may overlap or that there might be a little too much emphasis on the Feminist stuff. 
       I got other submissions that I just thought were hare-brained.  My favorite one was "Twin Peaks and The Fairy Queen."  The Fairy Queen was an epic poem of the early Renaissance by Edwin Spencer.  I thought, "This is what English people do!"  But then by the end of the series we have Windom Earle and Leo in their "verdant bower" which is a direct quote from The Fairy Queen!  The verdant bower is one of the famous scenes from The Fairy Queen.  I thought, "I owe these people an apology!"
       Twin Peaks had an unbelievably rich text.  It could interest people, who were semiotically inclined, on so many different levels.  Even some of the bad episodes are inexhaustibly rich.  Twin Peaks at its worst was still mesmerizing.

CM: Getting back to the book, did you consider how the various essays would "interact" with each other, so that the book would work as a whole?
DL:  Yeah, I always had an overall flow for the book in mind.  I knew there was going to be a Feminist core, and I wanted to have a couple of essays that set the show into the television industry.  I thought Dolan's essay did that very well.  I knew that the discussion section was going to go last. 
CM: Why include some essays that had already been printed elsewhere, such as the Martha Nochimson essay from Film Quarterly, or the Diane Hume-George essay from Ms.?
DL:  Some of those were so well-known that it seemed a definitive book on Twin Peaks should include them.  I think about 75% of the book is new material.  Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay was published elsewhere.  And of course he does not like Lynch.
JT: Why did you choose the Rosenbaum essay, a negative article, to lead off the book?
DL:  Rosenbaum's first for sales.  I worried about it, but Rosenbaum's such a big name.  He's done about ten books and he's one of the really well-known film critics.  Of course, that's the only essay that's totally hostile.
         I tried to get Rosenbaum to write an updated essay, because his is basically a review from when Twin Peaks first came on.  I don't agree with Rosenbaum, either.  I put it first, partly to get it out of the way.  It's a very short essay.  You have to remember that he is not a life-long "hater" of Lynch.  He happens to think Eraserhead is one of the greatest films ever made.  Rosenbaum has always been an avant-garde film advocate.  The point he makes is that Lynch has never had to explain why things happen in his movies.  Would Lynch have explained why the lights are flickering in the morgue if that scene was in Eraserhead?  Nothing is explained in Eraserhead!  It's good enough that it wasn't explained.  His argument is that there has been a gradual coarsening of Lynch. 
JT: Fire Walk With Me doesn't get as much attention in the book as the series.
DL:  That's mainly due to logistics.  The essays were written before the film came out.  I asked the authors to include anything they could about it for their final revisions.  I included a few things for my introduction, but there's not much else.
JT: Opinion of the film varies dramatically depending on who you talk to.  What did you think of it?
DL:  I thought it was interesting, but I was greatly disappointed by it.  It was only after I read the Video Watchdog essay that I thought I could convince myself that I really liked it.  I did go see it again and I liked it better.  A lot of people hated it, though.  I did include a plot summary of the film in the book, but I had a student do that.  I just couldn't force myself to sit down and do it.
CM: Were you disappointed because they did a prequel, or did you think the film just wasn't well made?
DL:  Well, there was just so much missing.  The humor, that wonderful leaven that was there in the series, was gone.  Suddenly it was this incredibly depressing, heavy-handed film.  There's still a great debate about the ending, which I know you guys liked and Video Watchdog liked.  But I disliked the ending about as much as I disliked the ending of Wild At Heart, of which it was a virtual clone, with the angels descending and all of that.  That's when I think Lynch is at his absolute worst.
       Like anybody I wanted to see the story continue.  I wanted to see Cooper get out of the bathroom.  And I guess he's never going to.

JT: But in many respects the fact that Cooper has been possessed by Bob is an ending.  The evil has, perhaps, been victorious.
DL:  Yeah, but we still don't know what happened in Pittsburgh.  If you read the Cooper Autobiography it’s pretty clear that Cooper may have killed Earle's wife.  That's something I suggest in my introduction. 
CM: You suggest that maybe Bob had entered Cooper at an early age just as he had entered Leland.
DL:  We shouldn't work under the assumption that Bob is only in one individual at a time.  I mean, Bob could be inhabiting various beings at various times.  Just because he was in Leland doesn't mean he couldn't have been in Cooper. 
CM: But there's no evidence that he can do that.
DL:  But Bob knew all about Pittsburgh.
JT: Somebody once suggested [to us] that maybe Bob's ultimate goal was to possess Cooper.  He orchestrated this entire thing--including Windom Earle and Laura--to get Cooper to that certain place and point in time where he could possess him.
DL:  As an English teacher, though, if you came to me in a literature class and suggested that theory, I would say, "What in the text leads you to say that?"  I think it's a fascinating hypothesis, but there is nothing in Twin Peaks other than a bunch of strange conjunctions that would lead you to believe that it was true.  I don't doubt for a minute that it might be where the story was going, but if you don't find some evidence for it in the text, it doesn't make any sense. 

JT: Well, excluding the Cooper Autobiography--let's just say only the series is the text--are there any clues that lead you to believe that Cooper was possessed by Bob at one point?
DL:  That Bob knows about Pittsburgh.  How does Bob know about that?
JT:  I might interpret that to say Bob had been possessing Windom Earle.
DL:  Well, we don't know his relationship with Earle.  I mean he dispatches Earle so quickly.  Earle has been this menacing figure for all these episodes and then he's done away with so quickly in the Black Lodge.  That was one of the disappointing things about the last episode. 
Do we know that Lynch and Frost knew?  Did they have it sketched out? 
JT: Frost has said that they he had a vague idea of where they would go in the third season. 
DL:  We're talking wing and a prayer here anyway, aren't we?  As Dolan shows, they were making this up as they went along--to a great degree--because they never knew how long the show was going to continue.  They had to leave it open-ended enough so that they could continue it.
CM: In that Behind the Scenes special that Alan Thicke hosted, both Lynch and Frost were asked about how well thought-out the plotlines were.  Lynch answered, "Not too thought-out."  But Frost answered, "Very thought-out." [laughter]
DL:  And which is it?  Or could it be both?