Scattered Thoughts about Watching TWIN PEAKS for the First Time

Besides being the name of a film director, David Lynch is also a genre and, more loosely, an adjective. His name is so potent with associations that his work no longer seems to need describing. But when Lynch’s movies are described, dreamlike or dreamy have to be among the most-used words. This cliche isn’t limited to writing about Lynch, but in that context it’s especially apt, to the point of being one of the most forgivable critical cliches I can think of.

The heavy use of dream/dreamy/dreamlike with regard to Lynch’s oeuvre seems inevitable, the more one thinks about what dreams are: associative, symbolically dense but not dealing strictly in metaphor, essentially forward-moving but with no consistent sense of time. Putting it another way: you could articulate–reasonably well–the general experience of dreaming with the same words used in an effective description of the films David Lynch. Take what I’ve cherry-picked from David Foster Wallace’s ’96 profile piece-cum-defense:

The absence of linearity and narrative logic, the heavy multivalence of the symbolism, the glazed opacity of the characters’ faces, the weird, ponderous quality of the dialogue, the regular deployment of grotesques as figurants, the precise, painterly way the scenes are staged and lit, and the overlush, possibly voyeuristic way that violence, deviance, and general hideousness are depicted-these all give Lynch’s movies a cool, detached quality, one that some cineasts view as more like cold and clinical.

Lynch’s movies seem to be expressions of certain anxious, obsessive . . . parts of the director’s psyche, expressions presented with little inhibition or semiotic layering.

It’s bizarre watching Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper after previously seeing him in Dune and Blue Velvet. In Dune, he’s a non-presence, despite being the lead (though in fairness, I’ve only seen the 2.5-hour cut). In Blue Velvet, he’s bland by design–maybe a little pervy deep down, but functionally the square-jawed hero. But as Cooper? Oh man. MacLachlan exudes a kind of unrestrained charisma you’d otherwise have no idea he was capable of. (The role of Cooper was probably written with MacLachlan in mind, so Lynch no doubt saw this in him all along.)

Could Lost have existed without Twin Peaks? Or more specifically: would the show’s excesses have been permitted? These are unfair questions because I’ve never really tried to watch Lost.

In spite of all the garish, context-less intrusions into Twin Peaks‘ central murder mystery, I wonder most about Lynch’s intentions when the show’s theme music plays. Which seems to be five or six times per episode. The show is drowning in recurring synth movements (co-written by Lynch, apparently). It’s like Lynch and collaborator Mark Frost are nailing the emotional tenor of each scene to the ground so it won’t get away from them–however we think an episode’s disparate plot points fit together, if at all, Lynch and Frost are determined that we only access a certain range of feelings.

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2 Comments on “Scattered Thoughts about Watching TWIN PEAKS for the First Time”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Have you seen the entirety of Twin Peaks or just the pilot? Don’t let anyone convince you that the second season isn’t worth it–they’re wrong.

    I love that Wallace essay for many of the same reasons you do, especially for getting at the heart of why Lynch’s style can’t help but invite these sorts of reductive cliches. As he points out, critics get it wrong when they say Blue Velvet “exposes the dark underbelly of suburban Americana,” or whatever, because in Lynch’s movies the darkness isn’t underground or hidden–it’s right out in the open, and the true horror comes from knowing that the characters or only half-aware, at best, of what seems to be going on. Especially in his later movies, there’s no particular vantage point to hang all this evil atmosphere–it hangs around all the characters, at all times, manifesting in bizarre ways.

  2. Greg Says:

    Halfway through season one right now. (Some friends go on TV-on-DVD binges. I have the opposite problem and can’t help stretching it out as long as possible.) I’m intent on seeing it through to the end.

    Also: Lynch’s Elephant Man is apparently one of the few films to make actor Terry Crews cry: http://www.avclub.com/articles/terry-crews,41692/


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