Dennis Lim wrote the book on David Lynch — the slim, smart The Man From Another Place, published by New Harvest in November 2015 — but that doesn’t mean he has any idea what’s going on with Showtime’s eighteen-part Twin Peaks revival, debuting Sunday. “I don’t even know who’s coming back,” he says at the offices of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where he’s been the director of programming since 2013. “I like going in not knowing much.”
The former film editor at the Voice (a position he held from 2000 to 2006) and the compiler of The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies From Classics to Cult Hits (2006), Lim discussed with me Twin Peaks, the hysteria of the Cannes Film Festival, and a jarring quality of Lynch’s work that he terms an “alienation effect”: the crying. Here are some highlights.
Let’s start with the notion of Lynch and expectation. The first episodes debut Sunday and will be screened at Cannes, but it will be incomplete — just an impression of the whole work.
Everything, at this point, is purely speculative. They’re keeping this tightly under wraps, which I respect, and it’s also very Lynch. He has the luxury of being able to do that. He typically doesn’t reveal much in interviews anyway, but he doesn’t have to do much press for this. And I think that’s working as a strategy.
Will you be seeing the episodes at Cannes?
If I can brave the lines [laughs]. Lynch has quite a history at the festival. He’s a Palme d’Or winner, a former jury president. His films have been received favorably, in the case of Mulholland Drive, which was the last time he was in competition, and also unfavorably, in the case of Wild at Heart, even though it won the Palme d’Or, but even more so, and most notoriously, in the case of Fire Walk With Me. There were violent reactions to that. But he’s revered in France. It isn’t surprising that he would [show] the episodes there.
What was your reaction when you learned Lynch would be returning to Twin Peaks?
With Inland Empire, Lynch did something new with digital video. And now, with the freedom and budget he’s been given, and with eighteen hours to cover — I think he’s going to do something new with serial narrative, how stories are told and how they can be kept alive. He talks about his films as worlds that he wants to inhabit, and I can’t wait to see what he does with a canvas of this size.
As you note in the book, newspapers ran shot-by-shot analyses of Twin Peaks at the time, which in a way anticipates today’s screenshot-level dissection of television episodes on the internet.
Today, there are instant recaps and live-tweeting; back then, we had a different way of engaging with the medium. But it was striking. I saw it as a teenager as it was airing, and remember that people were engaging with it much more actively than anything else. It was tapping into this collective hunger to participate in this unfolding fiction, to demystify, decode, and solve it. There are so many symbols and signs besides the central murder-mystery to grab onto.
Your exploration of the crying in Lynch’s work is inspired, and I thought about it while rewatching Twin Peaks. The tears are overbearing, and a common response among friends I recently watched it with was laughter.
One thing I noticed in writing about Lynch is that there’s crying in every single film. And the most striking thing, if you rewatch the Twin Peaks pilot, is the sheer amount of weeping: not just crying, but convulsive sobbing. For Lynch, I think he’s attracted to the strangeness of it: crying as a physical process. And the laughter is typical. One of the defining things about the idea of the Lynchian is not knowing what to think or how to feel, and when you’re confronted with something discomfiting, laughter is one possible, and perfectly reasonable, response. Grace Zabriskie talked once about the excitement of working with material that can elicit laughter and tears at the same time, and that’s very Lynchian. The first and last episodes of Twin Peaks are some of the most radical things that have ever aired on network television.
You describe the “disconcerting atmosphere of sunlit terror” in Fire Walk With Me. I associate this with Lynch generally: the monster behind the diner in Mulholland Drive, or the opening of Inland Empire, with the afternoon sun beating down on Zabriskie and Laura Dern. Do you think this is a product of Lynch’s moving to Los Angeles? There’s not much sunlight in Eraserhead, for instance.
Lynch rhapsodizes about the quality of the light in Los Angeles. He did those online weather reports for years, and each one is like a little ode to the wonders of Southern California weather. I think it’s related to the idea of horrors lurking where you would least expect. And Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, all of these works, are really about domestic horror, home invasions in a sense. We think of home as a sanctuary, a place where you’re supposed to be protected, but home is where the worst things happen in Lynch’s films. You certainly have all these moody, nocturnal passages — the woods at night in Twin Peaks — but in Fire Walk With Me the sunlight is especially disconcerting. They were back on location in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s noticeably a lot more exteriors, whereas the series was a studio production, with more controlled lighting.