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Caffeinated Clint Greats : Interview Series

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What is Caffeinated Clint’s Greats?
I’ve had plenty of emails from you guys asking such questions as “Who were your favourite actors growing up?”, “Do you have a favourite movie?”, “You’re producing films now, any particular film that inspired you to take that road?” and “Hey man, Got Kristen Stewart’s phone number?”, and it gave my an idea – why not profile some of my favourite films? (It saves me from flaming a pimply, unintelligent publicist or another fresh-from-junior-high exec over some harebrained remake he’s just greenlit for a couple of weeks, after all) and in doing so, why not make contact with some of the people from these films?

Today’s Favourite Film Profiled :

Title : Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me
Year : 1992
Director : David Lynch
Starring : Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, Ray Wise, David Bowie, Grace Zabriskie, Lenny Von Dohlen, Chris Isaak, Gary Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton

Lynch decided to make a ”Twin Peaks” movie because, as he said in an interview, “I couldn’t get myself to leave the world of Twin Peaks. I was in love with the character of Laura Palmer and her contradictions: radiant on the surface but dying inside. I wanted to see her live, move and talk.” Tracing the events before the series pilot, “Fire Walk With Me” jets back to the last seven days of Laura Palmer (the brilliant Sheryl Lee), the murdered prom queen of the series. Out of control, hornier than ever and just begging for affliction, Palmer’s got herself mixed up in an interchanging reality where men find her alluring, she finds sex overpowering, and soul-sucking demon fiends possess those close to her, preparing for her looming death. Yep, Laura Palmer’s on a one-way trip to hell. Following the inexplicable disappearance of colleague, Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak), pro snooper Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called into action to head up an investigation to pick up where his predecessor left off. Seems a body floating in the water, belonging to a woman named Theresa Banks, leaves a path of clues and insight into revealing the man responsible for such gruesome acts.
Though Lynch was forced to make some drastic cuts to the film pre-release, “Fire Walk With Me” is still an intriguing and visually arresting film experience. Sheryl Lee gives an award-worthy performance as the demonized Laura Palmer, while 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.

I first saw “Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me” in November of 2003 at an Art House theatre in Melbourne. First session. First day. Not unexpectedly, quite a few folks turned up dressed as their favourite “Twin Peaks” characters – one lass was dressed in a plastic sheet, a few guys came as James Hurley, and those that didn’t want to go the whole hog, simply wore a “Twin Peaks” T-Shirt. It was an event though. And I can’t say I’ve been to a screening as wild as it since.

“Fire Walk With Me” is, despite it’s problems, one of the most visually stirring and thematically distributing films of the ’90s. It’s also, one of my favourite films.

Q&A with Robert Engels

Bob Engels was a writer, co-producer and executive story editor on the series, and later wrote the film “Fire Walk With Me”. I had a wonderful chat with him earlier this week about both.

Caffeinated Clint : Did you think you’d be here, twenty years later, talking about ”Twin Peaks”?’

Bob Engels : It does seem to grow – in a weird way. I don’t look at it that much but for the 20th anniversary, we joined some friends and watched it. It was the first time I’d watched it all the way through in a long time. I thought it was wonderful. So many memories of all that stuff we dreamt up. For the most part, I thought it held up. It’s so flattering to hear people like yourself talking about all of its memorable scenes.

Caffeinated Clint : Both the series and the movie had many memorable moments.

Bob Engels : A neighbour of mine was just saying to me the other day that the scene in Fire Walk With Me, at the traffic stop, where the girls are screaming and yelling at each other over the noise, was terrifying. I think that’s what great movies are – moments that you remember. The saying is ‘you got five cool scenes, you got a movie’. The film held up much better. And it definitely seems to be increasing in popularity. It’s entering some kind of pantheon… it’s not cult, it’s just a movie that influences people. The seemingly non-linear narration – it’s not, it’s very linear; there is a plot – is also very appealing. I think those type of films make great movies. We live in a time when so many movies – movies good and bad – just, well… one scene pushes to the next scene. I think there’s a whole other way to watch movies and appreciate movies. A movie doesn’t have to be scenes pushing forward, it can be about theme or what’s being discussed in the movie – I think that’s why the popularity of Fire Walk With Me grows; it’s about this young girl who died, but it’s about so much other stuff. We’re still moving forward but there’s so many wonderful detours along the way.

Caffeinated Clint : I think that’s it. What works about ”Twin Peaks” – series and the film – is that you don’t just serve it up on a plate and say, ‘this is what’s on offer’. All these years later, people are still trying to figure out what went on in ”Twin Peaks”.

Bob Engels : Yep, Yep. In terms of the movie, David [Lynch] and I know what’s going on – but we don’t share it. That’s part of the reason why we don’t do commentary tracks on these DVDs – we want you to take away from it what you take away from it.

Caffeinated Clint : So, had a third season of ”Twin Peaks” happened, would you have explained what was going on? Or would you still have left things dangling?

Bob Engels : I don’t think so. My recollection is that there wasn’t really a plan for a third season. I think, as we were going through the second, that we knew we were toast. If we were on Showtime now, or HBO now, we would’ve done six years.

Caffeinated Clint : Definitely. I was talking to Gary Cole the other day about ”American Gothic” – another quirky, supernatural series of the ‘90s – and he said the same thing. Shows like ”Gothic” and ”Peaks” were just too ahead of their time.

Bob Engels : Yeah… Oh, Yeah.

Caffeinated Clint : So all those rumours about Audrey becoming pregnant in a Season 3 outline, and so on, are bogus? There was never an outline for a third season?

Bob Engels : Audrey survived. They all survived. that world of doppelgangers and a reality that’s just behind another reality, there can be another Audrey – that was the area I would’ve liked to have explored. And yeah I think it was Harley Peyton who thought up the idea of Audrey being pregnant. We discussed the idea of going ten-years forward… the screen would say ‘Ten Years Later’ and all the characters would be doing different things. But I think, in reality, once we saw that the numbers had dwindled, we knew we were done. I also did a show called Wiseguy at the same network, and I remember checking the ratings for it and we’d just gotten like a 13. I went into the boss’s office and said, ‘We’re gone aren’t we?’. And we were. Now, a ’13’ would get you the evening! They would give you Monday night if you could deliver a 13! But twenty years ago, with those numbers, we just knew we were done.

“Twin Peaks” also did benefit from TiVo.

Yeah. And these days, so many series are successful because the DVD comes out – say it’s the first season of 24 – so it gives people a chance that missed it on TV, to catch up with it, and then they’ll watch the series when they’ve caught up.

Caffeinated Clint : So when did you decide to do ”Fire Walk With Me”? As soon as you found out the show was a goner?

Bob Engels : David and I had been writing more together. When the season ended, he asked me to write something else with him. We were writing that, and then David came up with the idea of doing a Twin Peaks prequel. I think then he went back to CIBY-2000 (the production company), or they approached him, I can’t remember, and they went for it. We then had to ask ourselves, “What would the two weeks before Laura’s death be like?”. And then we just started to think of things that would happen in those two weeks. We just started listing things we’d like to do in it – ‘what would be a cool thing to have happen to each of these characters?’. We then tried to weave their stories into those two weeks. I’m sure a lot of the things we talked about were things that David and Mark Frost had talked about before – because you can’t just build these stories from scratch without having some kind of understanding of where they’ve come from or what they’ve gone through. At one point we were going to go back to the 1950’s.At one stage the script was 200 pages of stuff. What was different about writing this, as opposed to another project, was that we already knew the project was going to happen so we could essentially do whatever we wanted to do, and they’d make it. We had to whittle the script down due to length, budget considerations and making sure the main characters got a good share of screen time – but as I said, this was a unique situation in Hollywood because we knew the movie was going to get made regardless of what we wrote.

Caffeinated Clint : I’ve heard that Kyle MacLachlan wasn’t very keen to come back for the film?

Bob Engels : I think he was afraid to be typecast – he was so identified with that role. At one stage, as I recall, he was reluctant and we still had to go [on with the film] so we came up with the character of Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak’s character). But before we started shooting, Kyle had agreed to do it. And then we decided we’d keep both characters. David thought it’d work great. I think there’s a certain point in an actor’s career where, although they’re a little frightened they’ll be forever known as a certain character, they know that great parts are hard to come by – and to not let them go. I always think about Sean Connery’s advice to Christopher Reeve, ‘I would do Superman’s until they don’t want to see Superman anymore – and then I’d find out if I can act’. Connery, of course, played 007 in four of five Bond movies and it worked out for him. I think Kyle knew that it was such a great part, and David was so terrific with him, that he was always going to return to it.

Caffeinated Clint : I remember reading that original 200-page script and, if I recall correctly, there was a lot more with Dale Cooper and Sam Stanley in it.

Bob Engels : Yeah, I think so. I don’t remember, but I think so. Like I said, the script was long but… I think we had them on another case, and then that case led to this case.

Caffeinated Clint : So none of that stuff was filmed?

Bob Engels : No, I don’t think any of that was filmed. There was, however, probably another forty-minutes or so of stuff that was actually filmed that didn’t make it into the movie. Everybody in the series we wrote a part for. And then, as I recall, there was more with the David Bowie character. But everyone had their moment – we were very faithful, we brought everyone back. A lot of it was written and a lot of it was shot. When it was clear it was too long, David started to cut it down.

Caffeinated Clint : Do you think we will ever see these legendary deleted scenes?

Bob Engels : I don’t know if those scenes still exist or not. I’m not bullshitting here – I don’t know if they exist or not. I know they shot them, and I saw some of them, but I don’t know if they’re gone or if they’re somewhere or… my guess is that they’re gone or they would’ve turned up on the internet. A film house would’ve come across them by now.

Caffeinated Clint : The character that David Bowie’s character refers to ‘Judy from Seattle’. Is that supposed to be Josie’s sister?

Bob Engels : Hmmm, that’s a good question – I don’t know. That’s good though. And I think they’re probably all related, but to be perfectly honest I don’t remember.

Caffeinated Clint : And Annie, is she dead?

Bob Engels : No, I think she’s sort of in a dream state – which carries through the whole series and movie.

Caffeinated Clint : Now I have to thank you guys for something – in a round-a-bout way Twin Peaks brought my wife and I together. We were out with mutual friends. Weren’t speaking a lot to each. In fact, I was probably intimidated by her beauty. But then, for some god unknown reason, I mentioned Twin Peaks… and we hit it off. She was obsessed with the series. So was I. And spent the rest of the night discussing it.

Bob Engels : Ha! Ha! That’s fantastic! Congratulations. Wow! It has a great effect. It was some sort of lightning in a bottle. And it really has to do with both David and Mark Frost.

Caffeinated Clint : Would you ever like to return to ”Twin Peaks”?

Bob Engels : Oh sure. It’s a funny thing… I think if we could figure out a way to do it, I think everybody would have fun going back. You just don’t want to do Return to Mayberry. It’d be a miracle to get the whole group back together again but I think, all things being equal, they’d say ‘I’m in’. I certainly would.

Caffeinated Clint : I know David has said in interviews that ‘Twin Peaks is still there’ and that he still thinks of it, so that’s what makes me think one day he might..

Bob Engels : Completely. I get a call once every six months or so from someone asking, ‘What do you think about doing Twin Peaks again?’ but it’s not my call. If David and Mark are in, then yes.

Caffeinated Clint : So these people calling – are they fans? Studio execs?

Bob Engels : Both fans and the network. The network will come to me and say ‘What do you think about this?’ Thing is, all the writers and directors from the show have gone to have nice careers, and none of them will want to come back and do, as I said, Return to Mayberry. When people think of Twin Peaks they usually think of it as this show about a town full of weird people… and that it was quirky. But I think what they’re forgetting is that it also had a lot of heart. There was so much emotion to it. It’s a quirky town, sure, but there’s so much more in it – and it gets lost when people try to revisit that.

Caffeinated Clint : Did you watch ”Lost”?

Bob Engels : Yeah, from time to time, but not much. I liked it, but I certainly wasn’t a regular viewer, I certainly saw the last episode. It was wonderful.

Caffeinated Clint : I’d think that, with the success of a show like Lost, that there’d be definite movement on resurrecting ”Twin Peaks”. ”Lost” owes so much to ”Twin Peaks”.

Bob Engels : Yeah. In fact, someone sent me a long article in a London paper that compared the two. The article basically stated that ‘there’s no Lost without Twin Peaks’. That’s very flattering, but I don’t know. David and Mark certainly did something new on Television. And suddenly it was cool for a big time director to do Television. And the whole scape of guest stars they could attract. It became cool to do television if you were on a cool show. At the same time as we were doing that, Bill Murray went and did an episode of Square Pegs – the biggest comedy star in the universe was doing a sitcom! It was a little golden era of Television.

Caffeinated Clint : I’d love to see ”Fire Walk With Me” on Blu-ray. Assume it’s on the way?

Bob Engels : I would assume so. Any way you can release material, people are for it. Like, over the next ten years we will have five more versions of Avatar, right?

Caffeinated Clint : Indeed. I mean, I have like four different DVD copies – and let’s not even talk about the VHS’s – of ”Fire Walk With Me” on my shelf. Exactly the same film, just with different covers.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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