Caffeinated Clint : Twin Peaks Turns 20


I can’t believe it’s been 20 goddamn years since we traveled to that “place both wonderful and strange”.

On April 8, 1990 “Twin Peaks” premiered on TV.

There had been TV spots for it for months.

I was too excited about the cinema release of “The Hunt for Red October” and “Tremors” (which, as luck would have it, was released on the Thursday I was admitted to hospital to have my tonsils out!) to pay the “ads” much attention.

Yet, if only because my “Platoon” video had been chewed, I decided to give this new series a try. After all, back in those days (in the country), we had one main commercial TV channel – didn’t have many options when it came to choosing what to watch.

But I digress, I watched it….and then I sat there rattled for about ten minutes before plonking something ‘lighter’ like “Beetlejuice” or “Weekend at Bernie’s” into the VHS.

God, I remember my first viewing well – scared the hemoglobin’s out of me, and I’ve probably got the stained underwear somewhere to prove it.

I remember the first episode of many a popular series being broadcast for the first time (“The Greatest American Hero” being one), but none are so etched-in-my-memory as the “Twin Peaks” pilot.

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s supernatural mystery series was like soiled crack – probably wasn’t going to do me any favors psychologically, but I couldn’t stop taking it in. And I returned… week after week… to aide Agent Dale Cooper in his investigation into the Palmer pummeling. It was weird… but I loved it.

And before the series was even half-way through its first season I’d purchased every book, every cassette (that’s music, kids!), and every magazine (remember the terrific mag, Wrapped in Plastic?!) that was somehow linked or covered the superbly-written, strangely-seductive series. I recall later having a cassette in my car, a mix-tape, that featured Paul Lekakis’ “Boom, Boom, Boom”, Ice-T’s “Bodycount”, NWA’ s “Straight Outta Compton” and Julee Cruise’s “Falling”. Considering my other tastes at the time (in my ‘bad boy’ stage I was all about the hardcore rap, so hearing an unhurried sonata like ‘Falling’ on my play-list was quite a shock for many) it really was the odd track out.

The surprising thing is, considering its large fan base, “Twin Peaks” only ran for two seasons. And in fact, that second season ender was a cliff-hanger…. One which would never be resolved (There’s been talk of a web-series featuring Cooper, and for a while there an independent company was trying to get a feature film up, but none have come to fruition). So it’s rather remarkable that something so short-lived and so non-conclusive is so fucking adored. “Twin Peaks” is the pretty bitch that fucked you over in high school – she did you wrong, but you can’t get you out of your head. I still scrawl the web, week-after-week, reading articles on the show… reading fans’ theories… and watch/listen-to YouTube videos of Angelo Badalamenti’s music.

I know many who didn’t like the series. And still don’t. And I still remember a mate of mine wondering why I’d want to spend $18 on an imported poster of “Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me” when it caught me eyes at Central Records in Melbourne one Winters day in 1992. If I recall correctly, it was “a good lunch” or “a poster with a chick and a red curtain” – and the one-sheeter seemed more desirable at the time. I didn’t give a shit if I went hungry – I wanted Laura on my wall!

“Twin Peaks” was a show you either loved or hated – and where I hailed from, I was in the minority at the time.

Michael J. Anderson, the ‘little actor’ who played “The Man from Another Place” on the series, said it took us fans to really teach him “the rich depth to this work. The more I have come to understand it, the more it has come to serve my life as I’ve lived and grown older and moved into the future. But at the time, when I was on the series, I didn’t even watch it because I didn’t get it”.

Anderson wasn’t alone.

I know many who watched the pilot when it first aired on TV here – but then quickly switched off once it went “weird” (their words). Nobody could quite figure out why I stuck with it, not to mention my increasing fascination with it. But I was the kid who didn’t like “90210” – so it was clear my tastes were packaged by another vendor to everyone else. I was always trying to get friends (even dates) to watch the show – most wouldn’t, but even those that did (I forced a girlfriend to sit through the first season) “didn’t get it” and consistently asked “are you on drugs, Clint!?”.

In fact, I don’t think I met another tied-to-the-wool fan until college – instead of listening to a lecturer ramble on about marketing research techniques, this chick and I would talk for hours about the mythology and theories surrounding the series’ plots and plights. And when we got drunk, we’d delve deeper into the conversation. And shortly after, I met my now-wife who, upon giving a glimpse of some of my old “Peaks” scrapbooks and lobby-cards, confessed to being an avid fan of the short-lived series too. It was a match made in….. the white lodge. But it’s amazing, in the years that have passed, who I’ve discovered is as much a nut about “Twin Peaks” as I am – Rian Johnson, director of “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”, for instance, has admitted to me on a couple of occasions just how much the series influenced his work, particularly ‘murder mystery’ “Brick”.

“Twin Peaks” lived beyond television though.

There was the movie.

I had just started working in radio when I went along to a screening of “Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me” at the Lumiere Theater in Melbourne in 2003.

It’d been some months since the film had been released in the states (and a good six months since the film’s premiere at the St. Kilda Film Festival – which I’d had to miss because I was completing my Year 12 exams), so the ‘bad word’ was already out there – and yet, as if having to feed my no-good habit, ran to the theatre on the first day to get my fix.

It left me intoxicated for days.

A fellow radio announcer and I (You’d all know him well – he’s still a regular on both TV and the wireless) were left scratching our heads – but smiled as we did. We also complained a lot about it – but continued to smile as we whined. And we questioned for days about the axing of Lara Flynn Boyle for Moira Kelly (As Donna) – but recurrently smiling. But you know what? Til this day, we both claim it’s one of our favourite movies – so go figure. I guess, for all of it’s bumfuckery, it’s still a magnificently alluring picture (not that many of it’s stars agree – I remember talking to musician and sometimes actor Chris Isaak about his role in the film once, backstage at a concert, and it was quite clear he wasn’t too fond of it – questioning whether the thing even had a plot).

Here’s a transcript of my review from radio in 1993 of “Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me” :

There’s a lot wrong with “Fire Walk With Me”. You could say it’s weird and incomprehensible because they’re the kind of films director David Lynch makes – and I will say, Mark Frost – who was busy filming his own movie “Storyville” at the time and so couldn’t fit this in – really should’ve been a part of it, because you really miss the humour of the series; too much of this thing is just ‘nuts for nuts sake’ – but in this case, I think it turned out the way it did because of studio interference.
Lynch’s cut was several hours long (try 5!) – and included a heap more characters, as well as plot points – and that rubbed the studio – always keen to fit in as many sessions of a film a day it can – up the wrong way. New Line decided to cut it down to a couple of hours long – but not only that, cut the film in a way that didn’t make sense at all. If you’ve ever read the script for “Twin Peaks : Fire Walk with Me” you’ll know that in paper form, it does flow a lot better, and that the film skips over huge plot points. Worst of all, the structure is all off – it’s like someone switched reels 3 with 1 and just went with it. There’s a whole chunk of the story – Kiefer Sutherland’s character has a lot more to do, as does Dale Cooper; not to mention many of the residents of “Twin Peaks” like Big Ed and Sheriff Truman, who don’t even show up in this cut – missing from the finished film and to this day, fans are still petitioning the studio to let us see the movie the way it was meant to be seen. Also disappointing is that Lara Flynn Boyle didn’t return – due to the nude scenes required – to reprise her role as Laura’s best friend, Donna Haywood. Though her replacement Moira Kelly was good enough, it’s Boyle that we signified with the part and therefore, couldn’t get past the change of face. Fans weren’t impressed that Lynch didn’t resolve the series’ cliff-hanger ending (with Cooper’s doppelganger free in the real world, whilst the real one’s stuck in the Red Room) either.
BUT If you loved the show, you’ll like the movie. It’s nowhere near as good as the show – for abovementioned reasons – but it’s still an intriguing and visually arresting film experience. Sheryl Lee gives an award-worthy performance as the demonised Laura Palmer, whilst there’s great (if even too brief) turns from the likes of Kyle MacLachlan (briefly reprising his role as agent Dale Cooper – – who, quite frankly, the film needed more of), Harry Dean Stanton, crooner Chris Isaak, Gary Bullock and a twitchy Kiefer Sutherland. The star of the show might be Ray Wise though – again brilliant as the maniacal Leland Palmer. The cinematography, music and production design is also excellent.
Most of Lynch’s films are crazy, but they look great, sound great, have great performances in them and are so imaginative that you can’t resist them – this one is no exception. Jack-all of it makes sense, but it’s still strangely appealing and fans were thankful that at least they did get a movie version of their favourite TV series…. Something many series creators talk about, but rarely get to do.
And while on the subject of weird, I’m befuddled by the increasing interest in Toni Pearen – nevertheless here she is with her no.1 single, In Your Room.

I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with a few “Peaks” players over the years. I bumped into the lovely Madchen Amick (Shelley Johnson) when I was developing a movie at Warner Bros a few years ago (she was there shooting “E.R” from memory); After he retired I got in touch with Everett McGill (Big Ed Hurley) to see if he’d reconsider his stance on acting to play a role in a film I’d written; and over the years I’ve developed a friendship with Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings), who I discovered was a reader of Moviehole.

So here we are, 20 years after the first airing of “Peaks” – a show that undoubtedly my favourite series of all time. As much as I love “The A-Team”, “Knight Rider”, “Spin City”, “Family Ties”, “”…. I’m not still hung up on them like I am “Peaks”. It’s etched into my soul. Don’t think it’ll ever leave. But you know what? I think it’s driven my tastes. I think it’s partly responsible for my tendency to look beyond what’s going on in a film, and see the bigger picture -appreciate the frame that surrounds the picture, if you will. I’ve been reviewing films for about 15 years now… and I tell ya, I don’t think I’ve been as quite excited to attend a screening as I have been “The Twin Peaks Movie”. Sure, I was rapt to check out Tim Burton’s “Batman” at any advance screening in 1989, and the Saturday afternoon I checked out “Return of the Jedi” will forever be remembered, but mops were needed for “Peaks”. And still today, as far as I’m concerned, The Owls are Not What They Seem.

Oh, and I guess you know where my love of coffee comes from now?

Thanks Lynch and Frost.