Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some Twin Peaks thoughts, or Laura is the one

I'm going to be sharing a few thoughts about Twin Peaks: The Return in relation to Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (and by extension the feature-length collection of Fire Walk With Me deleted scenes turned into a companion film called The Missing Pieces). If you haven't seen The Return (or any of the other Twin Peaks stuff) yet, some events in the story will be revealed if you keep reading. If that's the kind of thing that bugs you, please avoid the rest of this post. 

I'm not into puzzle box films or television shows where shuffling the pieces in the right order reveals the answer, and I don't think that's what Twin Peaks is about or what David Lynch does in his work, so this is not a theory explaining what the show means. That's not how I process the art I like, and art that is meant to be solved and discarded is not art I like. This is just me connecting a few ideas in my head and trying to find words for something that hit me pretty hard while watching the last episode for a second time. I'm just adding a few vague trails to the Twin Peaks map in my brain. 

Twin Peaks: The Return is a lot of things. An 18-hour movie, a TV mini-series, the third season of a television show separated from its second season by a quarter of a century, a sequel to a TV show, a sequel to a movie, an answer record to the first TV series in the vein of Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," a dream-synthesis of everything David Lynch has ever done, a love letter to frequent collaborators, and a piece of a larger mythology encompassing the show, the prequel film, the outtakes from the film, books, and websites.  
Twin Peaks: The Return is about a lot of things. Aging, mortality, the passage of time, the seductive lure and terrible cost of nostalgia, TV and film and how we watch them, the show itself and how we watch it, the characters and the actors who play them, dreams, nightmares, electricity, fragmentation of identity, alternate timelines, survivor's guilt, the lingering effects of trauma, the complementary coexistence of cruelty and kindness and how both will always be here. Mostly, though, it's about Laura Palmer, even when she's not there.

Sheryl Lee is a remarkably gifted actor, and her performance as Laura/Carrie Page from Odessa in the final episode immediately took up permanent residence in those places in me that get lost on the way to the page and the voice but flash brightly in daydream and abstract thought. Lee in Fire Walk With Me and the original series, as Laura and her identical cousin Maddy, respectively, lets loose some of the most harrowing screams caught on camera, and I initially interpreted her scream in the closing moments of The Return as a similar scream of trauma and fear. When I watched the episode for a second time, though, I had a significantly different reaction. When Dale Cooper/Richard/fusion of Mr. C and Cooper stands in the middle of the street, disoriented and confused after expecting Sarah Palmer to answer the door of the Palmer home and finding a different woman who knows nothing of the Palmers, he's rattled and unmoored. Carrie/Laura, meanwhile, whose face until then has been marked by worry or confusion, gets a dreamy look on her face that grows dreamier as Cooper's gets more anxious. Then, the lights flicker, Sarah's voice calls out for Laura, Carrie/Laura screams, and the electricity goes out. Laura's face here snaps into recognition and purpose, and her face during the scream looks determined, defiant, strong, a face that is reclaiming its power and agency.
In the previous episode, Cooper alters the timeline by "saving" Laura from her death, but she is transported somewhere else, removed from the story and the original television show, denied the moment of transcendence at the end of Fire Walk With Me, denied her own death, denied her own agency by the well-intentioned but single-minded Cooper, so focused on the mission and the task at hand that he forgets Laura is/was a human being with her own desires. At the end of the final episode, Laura takes her power back with that mighty scream. I could be so wrong about all this, and I may change my mind on a third viewing. Or this is just one possibility sharing space with all the others in the mysteriously shifting timelines of the narrative. As Judy Berman said in a recent piece for The Baffler, "[i]n a narrative where sentimentality and horror coexist in equal measure, many outcomes are possible."
Twin Peaks, the original TV series, began by killing Laura Palmer, the death of the character the reason for the existence of the show. Laura in the original series was a symbol, a projection of the other characters' desires, fantasies, fears, and identities. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the movie, turned Laura from a symbol into a complicated, three-dimensional character. Lynch's decision to set the film in the weeks leading up to the TV show instead of continuing the story, his shifting of emphasis from Cooper to Laura, and his darker and more serious investigation into the effects of the abuse Laura suffered as well as his willingness to deepen the mysteries of the show's supernatural elements without providing any answers angered audiences and critics at the time, and the film, arriving in the midst of a Lynch backlash, was unfairly trashed, but I think it's one of his best pieces of work, and it's been nice seeing its reputation improve over time. (I suspect some internalized sexism in the negative response from mainstream male critics who didn't care about spending time with a complex teenage girl and wanted more of Cooper solving problems and enjoying coffee and cherry pie, along with the understandable frustration and disappointment in not finding out what happened after Cooper/BOB returned from the Black Lodge.) In Twin Peaks: The Return, Laura is again present by her absence, this time found in the tension between the symbol of the original series and the three-dimensional person of the film and their overlap in grief, guilt, and memory, most notably in the Sarah Palmer scenes (Grace Zabriskie, so fucking great). When Laura finally returns in that last episode and lets out that powerful scream, she, in effect, kills the show that began by killing her. The electricity goes out. The Lynch/Frost production logo at the end of the episode, usually accompanied by the sound of crackling electricity, is this time soundtracked by a couple of tinny plinking noises as it searches in vain for an electrical charge. The show is about Laura, and Laura got the last word (or scream) in, turning the lights out. "It's about me, not you," I imagine Laura whispering in Cooper's ear in the closing credits.
Lynch's stories are knottier than my interpretation allows, and much in The Return also implies that Laura is a martyr-vessel of pain and trauma, forced to endure her abuse and death repeatedly in different timelines. This may contradict my take above, but I think the show allows enough space for these impressions to intertwine. Since the show is also about the actors and the show itself, the audience can always re-inflict the trauma by hitting play again, watching the story as many times as we want, over and over, putting Laura Palmer through it all again and again. Maybe the audience is Judy?
With a few loud exceptions from people who thought they weren't on screen as much as they should have been, most actors love working with Lynch, and from their stories and from interviews with Lynch himself, he loves working with them. That last episode carries some extra emotional heft if, like me, you think that his work, especially in the last twenty years, is about both the characters as written and the actors who play those characters. In that episode, the real world (or at least the world we seem to live in outside of the show) creeps in. The RR Diner is missing the "To Go" sign. The real diner used for those scenes doesn't have a "To Go" sign. Cooper and Laurie/Carrie stop at a Valero for gas, its corporate chain logo a common sight for most of us but a glaring disruption in the world of the show. Instead of Sarah Palmer, the door is answered by a different woman who's never heard of the Palmers, a character played not by an actor, but by the woman who actually owns the home. (Her character's last name, Tremond, and the name of the woman she said owned the home before her, Chalfont, are important names in Twin Peaks mythology, but I'm not going down that rabbit hole tonight.) Our world and the show's world are uneasily mingling.
Sheryl Lee has a complicated relationship with Laura Palmer, the character she's been most identified with since 1989. (Click this link for some fascinating thoughts Lee shared about her relationship with Laura and the emotional costs of playing her.) Sheryl Lee is not Laura Palmer, but Sheryl Lee is Laura Palmer. This is a deeply strange thing about acting. Like Carrie Page, who agreed to be taken to a strange town and to at least entertain the idea that she was Laura Palmer by Cooper, Sheryl Lee keeps agreeing to let David Lynch take her to Twin Peaks, to be Laura, again and again, in different contexts and timelines. Maybe that last scene is about Carrie Page, Laura Palmer, and Sheryl Lee, and maybe that scene is all of Twin Peaks in miniature.
Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the damnedest things I've ever seen, and I'll never stop returning to it. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton Is Still the Greatest Living Actor Even Though He's Dead

My favorite actor, Harry Dean Stanton, passed away today (well, actually, yesterday, if you're one of those "well, actually" people since it's past midnight but don't be one of those "well, actually" people because nobody likes those fucking guys) at the age of 91. This is a good, long, full, enviable, and beautiful life, but those of us still here on Dumb Earth are deprived of much delight by his transition to another place. We shared a birthday, July 14, which probably doesn't mean anything, but always gave me warm feelings. I share a birthday with my favorite actor, and I love movies so much (even though I find the industry predatory and horrible and a destroyer and/or Great Compromiser of insecure lives; even though these things are true, good movies are magick and spooky), so I always felt a connection, no matter how tenuous, to this guy who was always great, even when the movie wasn't. I've never been disappointed by a Harry Dean Stanton performance, but more than that, I have always been lifted out of my own bullshit and into a place where life is happening right now and is worth experiencing. Here are my favorites. Glaring omissions are because I haven't caught up to them yet. (PS: He was also a lovely musician and a singer who couldn't really sing but inhabited songs better than people who could because art belongs to anyone who knows how to make lightning from a match.)

The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock) (He's just an extra, but it's a great movie, so why not?)
Ride in the Whirlwind (Monte Hellman)
In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison)
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg)
The Rebel Rousers (Martin B. Cohen)
Kelly's Heroes (Brian G. Hutton)
Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman)
Cisco Pike (Bill L. Norton)
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah)
Cockfighter (Monte Hellman)
The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola)
Rancho Deluxe (Frank Perry)
Farewell, My Lovely (Dick Richards)
92 in the Shade (Thomas McGuane)
Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard)
Alien (Ridley Scott)
Private Benjamin (Howard Zieff)
Escape from New York (John Carpenter)
Christine (John Carpenter)
Repo Man (Alex Cox)
Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
Pretty in Pink (Howard Deutch)
The Cowboy and the Frenchman (short film) (David Lynch)
The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese)
Wild at Heart (David Lynch)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch)
Hotel Room (TV mini-series) (David Lynch)
She's So Lovely (Nick Cassavetes)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam)
The Straight Story (David Lynch)
The Pledge (Sean Penn)
Inland Empire (David Lynch)
Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

New Year's Day 2017 SLIFR quiz

The excellent movie blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule recently posted a new installment of its maddening but fun seasonal movie quizzes. Here are my answers.

1. Best movie of 2016
This may be a massive cheat, but it's a four-way tie between Moonlight (Barry Jenkins), The Love Witch (Anna Biller), The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson), and Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

2. Worst movie of 2016
The Sea of Trees (Gus Van Sant)
Sorry, Gus. I love a lot of your movies, but this is so bad.
(Runner-up: the trailer for Collateral Beauty. I can't even imagine sitting through a minute of that film.)

3. Best actress of 2016
Janelle Monae

4. Best actor of 2016
Alex R. Hibbert

5. What movie from 2016 would you prefer not hearing another word about? Why?
Nocturnal Animals, because I had to sit through the trailer roughly 37 times and was so burned out by the experience I couldn't bear to see the film, even though it may be really good

6. Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie
A New Life

7. Miriam Hopkins or Kay Francis? 
Miriam Hopkins, primarily because I've seen more of her films. I think I've only seen Kay Francis in Trouble in Paradise.

8. What's the story of your first R-rated movie?
The still-open-until-1996 drive-in movie theater in my small Nebraska hometown had a practice of showing a PG or G movie first and an R-rated movie second during the weekend double features. However, one summer night in 1984, the projectionist accidentally reversed the order, so many of my elementary school pals and I were treated to the R-rated Police Academy instead of whatever PG film was supposed to screen first (my dim memory thinks it was Deal of the Century). It's a pretty terrible movie, and a pretty soft R, but it has nudity and dirty jokes, so my friends and I all felt like we got away with something big. We couldn't believe our good luck. It felt like a secret portal to the adult world, and it was the talk of the summer for weeks afterward.

9. What movie from any era that you haven't yet seen would you be willing to resolve to see before this day next year?
I'm going to opt out because making a resolution to see a movie by a certain date makes it feel too much like homework to me.

10. Second-favorite Pedro Almodovar movie
All About My Mother

11. What movie do you think comes closest to summing up or otherwise addressing the qualities of 2016?
William Klein's Mr. Freedom (1969)

12. Chris Pine or Chris Pratt?
Not a big fan of many of their movies, but I really like Chris Pratt on Parks & Recreation 

13. Your favorite movie theater, presently or from the past
The Midwest, an old-fashioned single-screen movie palace in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and the original, much-missed Alamo Drafthouse on Colorado Street in Austin, Texas

14. Favorite movie involving a family celebration
The family celebrations in this movie all turn chaotic and messy, but I'm going with Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence

15. Second-favorite Paul Schrader movie

16. Ruth Negga or Hayley Atwell?
I've only seen one acting performance each (Negga in Loving and Atwell in an episode of Black Mirror), but Negga left a big impression and Atwell didn't

17. Last three movies you saw, in any format
Li'l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont) and The Summer of Sangaile (Alante Kavaite) on Netflix, The Black Cat (Lucio Fulci) from one of two great local video stores still open in Austin, TX

18. Your first X-rated, or porn movie
I can't remember what it was called, but we watched it at a junior high classmate's house when his parents were gone. Using the VCR clock counter, my classmate rewound it to the exact spot we started watching from and placed it back in his dad's dresser drawer where he found it when he was looking for loose change. I miss the pre-Internet days.

19. Richard Boone or Charles McGraw?
Going with Richard Boone since I recently watched one of his great performances in Budd Boetticher's The Tall T.

20. Second-favorite Chan-wook Park movie

21. Movie that best encompasses or expresses loneliness
Can't narrow it down to one, but three that come immediately to mind are Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow, Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu, and Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue

22. What's your favorite movie to watch with your best friend?
If it's not cheating to count my wife as my best friend, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. If we're going traditional best pals, anything from the '80s as long as it's accidentally stupid.

23. Who's the current actor you most look forward to seeing in 2017?
Ben Mendelsohn and everybody from Moonlight

24. Your New Year's wish for the movies
I'd like to see a revitalized film culture that stops focusing so much on TV and engages more with the movies, the lives we actually live, and the other arts, more variety in the multiplexes with less franchises and CGI behemoths, and an industry that isn't so dominated by white guys, both behind and in front of the camera. 

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