Friday, June 10, 2016

Twin Peaks: 25 Years

It might seem odd that I've written about David Lynch and Twin Peaks more than a few times on a blog about Philadelphia. But in addition to Peaks' characters Dale Cooper and Gordon Cole hailing from an FBI office in Philadelphia, Lynch credit's his years studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as influencing him more than any filmmaker. Living in what's become Philadelphia's cushy Callowhill Loft District, in the early 1970s Lynch described Philadelphia as "the sickest, most corrupt, decaying, fear-ridden city imaginable."

Harsh, right? But to the master of modern day film noir, "it was fantastic at the same time."

Visually, the town of Twin Peaks is about as far removed from Philadelphia as you can get. Set in a fictional northeast Washington that looks more like the outskirts of Seattle than the high desert it is, the town is nestled in the picturesque mountains of the Pacific Northwest. To Philadelphia's explosive 1.5 million residents, Twin Peaks has little more than 5000 (the 51,201 printed on the sign is allegedly a mistake). On the surface, its denizens are those you'd expect to find in small townships throughout the Poconos and the Pine Barrens. Teenagers teeming with anxiety, bumbling police officers, and small-town big shots auctioning off pristine wilderness to the highest urban bidder.

But Twin Peaks has a seedy underbelly, and like everything Lynch aims a camera at, nothing is as it seems. From Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive, Lynch has set the duality of nature - human and not so human - against the backdrop of an all-but-lost cinematography that delivered Vertigo and Sunset Boulevard. But he's more than just a neo-noir filmmaker: he weaves elements of daytime drama, horror, and comedy into his art; all of which when combined can make the most benign scenes far more disturbing than they really are.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Twin Peaks season finale, a disturbing cliffhanger which left our hero, Dale Cooper, trapped in the Black Lodge, and his doppleganger possessed by the demon BOB. After bashing his head into a bathroom mirror, he chillingly echoed Cooper's own concern for his girlfriend, "How's Annie? How's Annie? How's Annie?" 25 years ago, Laura Palmer said we'd see her again in 25 years. And 25 years later, here we are with Lynch's production of a third series wrapping up. 

Lynch is nothing if not a man of many mediums. To call him an outsider artist would simplistically undermine the breadth of his art. His works range from paintings recently displayed at PAFA, cinematic shorts like Rabbits, original television shows, feature films, and even a regular voice role on Seth MacFarlane's The Cleveland Show. But more than any of his outlets, the ways in which he's managed to tether so many together may be his greatest, and most unique, masterpiece. 

One can watch Mullholland Drive and assume Betty is actually Audrey Horne, a young woman destined for bigger and better places than Twin Peaks, but lost in a grim Hollywood few outside Los Angeles ever see. After all, the idea for Mullholland Drive began as a spinoff of Twin Peaks, with Audrey's Sherilyn Fenn in the lead role. 

Over the last 25 years, speculations of a revived Twin Peaks have run amok. Whenever fans were ready to resign themselves to their own imaginations, a new rumor would emerge. Not long before the Twin Tweets from David Lynch and Mark Frost - Twin Peaks' co-creators - that announced Showtime's interest in a third season, it had become seemingly apparent that David Lynch not only had no interest in returning to Twin Peaks, but that the show itself might have been a burdensome bore to the man. 

But when those Twin Tweets came, Lynch did what Lynch does best. He made something so incredible banal - Twitter, the internet, social media - into an art form no one had ever known before. Suddenly, we the Tweeters, the Facebookers, the Instargrammers, were interacting with veterans of the cast. Some had moved on from acting, some were still working in minor roles, others were big. But for a brief moment before the resurgence of Peaks Mania broke out, we were speaking with Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, and Dana Ashbrook as if we were rekindling a long dormant high school relationship through social media. 

To those of us who grew up with Twin Peaks, we felt as thought we were part of their world. And the cast of Twin Peaks told us they felt the same way. The world Lynch created in Twin Peaks, WA was more than a television show, it was a work of art his actors and fans have carried with them throughout their lives.

Since its finale, and its under-appreciated prequel, Twin Peaks has had a wide array of fans. Cop drama fanatics were drawn to the procedural elements brought to Twin Peaks by Hill Street Blues' Mark Frost. Fans of Blue Velvet, Dune, and Eraserhead were curious about Lynch's foray into television. Throughout its various DVD releases, new audiences have come to appreciate the world of Twin Peaks.

Today, the biggest divide between Peaks fans seems to be between those who regard it as a work of art and those who view it as nostalgic '90s kitsch. While there is ample arrogance in the former camp that says you had to live in the '90s to "get it," there is a frustrating level of exploitation in the latter that has used a story about incest, rape, and murder to peddle hipster fashions and ironic photo-shoots. 

How Season 3 will be received is likely more predictable than many think, and those who view Twin Peaks and its inhabitants as quirky caricatures of a bygone era will likely be disappointed. Much of the show's most superficially campy episodes came from Season 2, when Lynch and Frost were all but absent. It had devolved into the Spelling produced soap opera that it was, with Lynch returning for the series finale that brought it back to its roots. 

Lynch has directed every episode of its revival for Showtime, so don't expect any of the shallow drama from Season 2 to rear its ugly head. Those who don't get its prequel, Fire Walk With Me, likely won't get Season 3, and they'll likely find themselves frustrated. There is more to the town of Twin Peaks than a murder and the decadently reckless behaviors of its inhabitants. 

There is something greater, something that has to do with the darkness within all of us, the BOB all of our dopplegangers carry with them. Twin Peaks was never meant to end with the revelation of Laura Palmer's killer, the questions answered in its prequel, and I doubt Season 3 will wrap much up. The lives of those who live in Twin Peaks, detached as they may seem, are our lives. And ours' are never neatly wrapped up in a bow and concluded. They carry on, in and out of the dark recesses of and out of the Black and White Lodges. That's Twin Peaks. That's us

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