Cooper Union

Shelf Life

I feel it's possibly true that there are aliens on earth, and they work in television.David Lynch

Strange as it may seem that ABC wasted the chance to run Mulholland Drive as a series pilot, it was always stranger still that the network suits ever let David Lynch anywhere near their airwaves in the first place. A seven-hour immersion in Twin Peaks: The First Season, just out on DVD from Artisan, does nothing to demystify that weird, fleeting moment in the spring of 1990 when a languid, anachronistic melodrama, tangled in convolutions and runaway absurdity, became a mass-media phenomenon. The all-points hype and healthy ratings were the biggest non sequitur of all.

Short stack of griddle cakes, maple syrup slightly heated, melted butter, slice of ham. Nothing beats the taste sensation when maple syrup(claps hands) collides with ham. —Special Agent Dale Cooper

Centered on the unsolved murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer in a sleepy Pacific Northwest lumber town, Twin Peaks fused the sensibilities of Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, formerly a writer and story editor on Hill Street Blues. Lynch was off shooting Wild at Heart during much of the first season's production, but his masterful pilot (sadly missing from the Artisan package) established a blueprint for subsequent directors, who included renowned cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and River's Edge director Tim Hunter. Static, stubbornly held master and medium shots built to rapt hyper-closeups. Slow-burn pacing (the series opens with the discovery of Laura's body; her luridly spectacular funeral takes place in hour five) commingled with a wildly oscillating tone. Dr. Hayward, the kindly local GP, begins to tear up looking at Laura's police-file picture; his sorrow is interrupted by a hard cut to wife-beater Leo Johnson's truck, emblazoned "BIG PUSSYCAT."

Yes, look in the mirror. What do you see? Is it a dream, or a nightmare? Are we being introduced against our will? Are they mirrors? —The Log Lady

Twin Peaks is rife with invocations: Vertigo, The Fugitive, Preminger's Laura and Fallen Angel, Touch of Evil. No mere wink-nudge cleverness, the references cohered as a dream-logic distillation of murder mysteries past, populated by the ghosts of noir. (There was even a One-Armed Man.) The various directors were encouraged to bring their own obsessions to bear on the usual Lynchian doppelgängers and food fixations and sleuthing innocents. On the commentary track, glossing a lengthy scene in which good-girl Donna and bad-girl Audrey primp and smoke in their high school bathroom, Hunter confesses, "Whenever I see a mirror, I think of Sirk, and there's nothing much that I can do about it."

Sometimes I get so flushed. It's interesting. Do your palms ever itch? —Audrey Horne

Do not adjust your set: Twin Peaks was filmed using coral filters, so the creamy-frosting photography emanates a reddish glow. Teenagers blush; middle-aged men sweat. Some rooms give off a comforting fireside warmth; other interiors seem to pulse, about to burst into flames. (Tattooed on the killer's arm: "Fire walk with me.") High crimson tide arrives in the infamous Lynch-directed second episode: Daft, brilliant Agent Cooper dreams himself inside the Red Room, where he meets Laura Palmer's ghost and the Man From Another Place. Having brazenly shepherded Dada performance art—replete with backward-speaking midget—into American living rooms, Lynch & co. perhaps felt the need to give the people an arousing cliffhanger for their trouble, and thus Coop awakens to declare, "I know who killed Laura Palmer." One week later, our Special Agent informed 20 million viewers that he'd forgotten.

This must be where pies go when they die. —Agent Cooper

Lynch always rejected the idea that Twin Peaks was "subversive"—indeed, it's touching how earnestly he engaged with the television format, how generously he estimated his viewers' attention spans. ("Those beautiful Nielsen families are in the driver's seat," he once said.) But Agent Cooper's memory lapse was the first indication that the show was, however inadvertently, something of a Situationist experiment gone wondrously awry, and so the clock was ticking. Twin Peaks lasted just 29 episodes, and only about half of them are any good. We were lucky to have it so long, or at all.

 
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