Tag Archives: David Lynch

Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks - The Return banner25 years or so ago David Lynch and Mark Frost left television and film audiences baffled as their journey to the dark heart of Americana, Twin Peaks (and spin-off movie Fire Walk With Me), came to an end with one explanation unraveling a whole host of further questions.

Now here we are in September 2017 and the 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return has come to a close, I’ll try not to give too much away, but safe to say it’s left us in a place that is, to use the cliché, ‘Lynchian’.

Dropping us right back in where we left off, but at the same time with the timeline shifted to the modern-day, we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) where we last saw him and his apparently possessed alter ego roaming free and up to no good.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

MacLachlan as Cooper

We are also taken back to the town of Twin Peaks where much has remained the same, but also things have changed, and we meet other characters new and old as the tale winds its way there and back again.

Unlike the original run the murder mystery is almost totally forgotten, replaced with a bigger sense of mystery that has wider scope and feeling, but still driven by the death of Laura Palmer.

Much like the original series to tell this story Lynch plays on television conventions with each thread of the ongoing story in this newly expanded world, having a different feel.

Amongst them there is an (intentionally ironic?) X-Files like FBI procedural that follows FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and his team’s explorations of the whereabouts of Agent Dale Cooper, the twisted soap opera of Twin Peaks town, something akin to modern crime dramas like Breaking Bad as we learn about the exploits of Mr C (MacLachlan) and then, in the extended world of Dougie Jones (MacLachlan), a kind of surreal sitcom.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Lynch as FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole

Laced through all of this is an extended exploration of the other world seen in the original series, the world of the Black and White Lodges and more, that at its most extreme feels like a sequel to Eraserhead and there are strong suggestions that we are in that same universe.

In this vein one episode around the middle of the series is entirely given over to exploring this and in some ways it feels like it offers an explanation for at least some of the goings on – though of course things are never that cut and dry.

As the series goes on and all the threads come together things escalate as Lynch’s expert sound design ties things together and at points the quaint small town feel gives way total nightmare, even outside the lodges, as it appears universe morph and mutate as much as the story and meaning.

Kyle MacLachlan as Mr C

MacLachlan as Mr C

While all the performances are excellent, whichever aspect of things they exist in, it is undeniable (and regularly reinforced) that Kyle MacLachlan is the star. Playing at least two (three… four… more?) characters it really is a tour de force spanning the whole series and all its different worlds while being the tie that binds them all together.

As things head towards their conclusion it feels like all the loose ends are being tied up, but of course this is David Lynch really at peak performance so I won’t say much more… other than to say that The Return continues the escalation of Twin Peaks into an exploration of the state of humanity, or at least that might be one way of looking at it.

This all makes for one of the greatest pieces of televisual art I can remember seeing, it has all the gripping mystery and plot of the aforementioned likes of a Breaking Bad combined with the unique world view of Lynch that marries surrealism with a mesmerising nature that makes you not want to miss a single moment for fear a crucial event will pass you by.

Nine Inch Nails at The Roadhouse

‘The Nine Inch Nails’

Added to this as a bit of bonus, but one that sits perfectly in the tone of the programme, most episodes culminate at The Roadhouse with a musical performance from various real world bands and musicians from the renowned likes of former Lynch collaborators Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, to new artists and I’m looking forward to picking up the soundtrack when it’s released.

If you’ve not seen the series and want to avoid spoilers don’t watch to the very end of this video – otherwise… The Nine Inch Nails…

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The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man posterAs I write this I seem to have begun a little David Lynch season for myself so there will no doubt be a few direct comparisons here to Lynch’s first film, Eraserhead, as I take a look at his second, a film that on paper couldn’t be much more different, the real life story of Joseph (here John) Merrick, aka The Elephant Man.

From the opening it felt a bit like we might be heading back into Eraserhead territory as we are greeted, following the titles, by a nightmarish monochrome montage with Merrick’s mother, an elephant and a noisy discordant soundtrack.

After this though it settles down, for the most part, into a more conventional period drama type piece charting Merrick’s (John Hurt) life from being seen in a ‘freak show’ by Dr Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) to being taken into the London Hospital and what happens from there.

Of course the rightly most discussed aspect of The Elephant Man is John Hurt’s performance as Merrick. Almost completely subsumed in prosthetics that are, for the most part, entirely convincing, Hurt’s portrayal is masterful, eliciting real emotion through his eyes, movements and slurred voice in truly effecting manner.

In many ways it is this performance that anchors the connection to Lynch’s other early features as Hurt’s Merrick is, like Henry in Eraserhead, something of a wide-eyed innocent being bombarded by the world around him.

The Elephant Man - Hopkins and Hurt

John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins

Added to this his growth as a young man has slight links with Kyle MacLachlan’s performance as Paul Muad’Dib Atreides in Lynch’s adaptation of Dune.

The film is something of a double-header as Hurt is accompanied throughout the story by Hopkins as Treves and, while far more conventional a piece of acting, it is equally impressive as Hopkins is when he wants to be.

Stylistically Lynch makes some interesting choices throughout the film, as you might expect. The monochrome photography, ably executed by Freddie Francis, works excellently to add to the Victorian period feel and is clean and crisp in a way that shows real detail while allowing shadows to lurk where necessary and create an unsettling atmosphere, particularly in the first and third acts.

Added to this the tone of the film switches expertly throughout from moments of melodrama to serious cinema to almost Hammer Horror to nightmarish reminiscent of the industrial apocalypse of Eraserhead. Lynch manages these changes of aspect so they don’t clash but cause a great effect on the viewer in a way rarely seen in mainstream cinema.

The Elephant Man - David Lynch

David Lynch on set of The Elephant Man

Building to an entirely satisfying climax The Elephant Man concludes on a more sedate dream-like montage which I couldn’t help but notice bears a strong resemblance to the opening images of Lynch’s next film Dune, which set my mind spinning with ideas.

On top of all this it fires ideas in the mind of the viewer around the meaning of human dignity and human rights that, while they aren’t fully explored, are clearly intentional and, like much of Lynch’s work, give the film a life long after it has ended, certainly a hallmark of a great film in any situation.

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Eraserhead

Eraserhead posterWhere does one start with David Lynch’s debut feature film, Eraserhead?

So much has been written and said about it since 1976 this may well be redundant and as I write I’m still in something of a state of shock following such a mesmerisingly intense experience.

The story follows a young man named Henry (Lynch regular Jack, here credited as John, Nance) who we (and he) discover has fathered a child with a girl named Mary (Charlotte Stewart another member of Lynch’s ensemble of players). After a quick marriage Mary moves into Henry’s rather basic apartment with their baby, and so on.

All that sounds rather normal when described like that but, surrounding a plot that could easily come from a fairly standard drama, or even soap opera, Lynch constructs a world like no other, part post-apocalyptic hell, part internalised nightmare-scape, part 1950’s Americana.

The nearest touchstone I could think of during the first part of Eraserhead was Richard Lester’s surreal vision of post-nuclear war London, The Bed Sitting Room.

eraserhead elevator - Jack Nance

Nance as Henry takes the elevator

From there though Lynch’s work adds layer upon layer of questions with absolutely no answers making the audience find what they will in the building torment of Henry.

From the start it’s hard to not conclude that everything here is designed to unsettle. The clash of standard dramatic conventions with nightmare visions is the broad stroke of this, but it comes in many forms with a non-stop barrage of noise, all seemingly diegetic but often unexplained, with volume levels often entirely mismatching what we are seeing on-screen. 

Equally the set design, limited though it is to a few rooms and exteriors, all shot in black and white, is unapologetically stark but with a decrepit industrial richness that defies its low-budget origins.

eraserhead dinner

Mr X and Henry at dinner

Moments like the early family dinner scene are at once wholesome in the way of 1950s middle America and horrifically corrupt with its man-made mini-chickens – here in particular the idea of maintaining normality in the face of extreme horror, as seen in The Bed Sitting Room, springs to mind.

And then there is the baby… I don’t think there are words to describe or translate this creation without seeing it in action but suffice to say it is at once astonishing and agonisingly atrocious, not because it’s poorly constructed, but because it is quite so convincingly real and never fully explained.

Nance’s performance as Henry is a largely understated tour de force that helps the rest of the film with creating its own sense of totally unnatural naturalism and he is as mesmerising as the visuals with his innocent, wide-eyed expression leading us through what may be his own nightmare.

Eraserhead exterior

Henry takes a walk

The second half of the film just turns this all up even further and there are moments that suggest things to come in Lynch’s later work on Dune, Twin Peaks and Lost Highway before it all comes to a sudden, enigmatic, haunting climax.

Words like unique and visionary are bandied about all too regularly but with Eraserhead David Lynch created something that is certainly both of things.

As much a work of art as it is a horror film and as much a soap opera as it is an exploration of a broken society, it sets the scene for much of Lynch’s work to come as it asks many questions and emphatically refuses to give any answers – and believe me I don’t have any either!

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

“Through the darkness of future past

The magican longs to see

One chance out between two worlds:

Fire walk with me”

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me posterBefore even embarking on Twin Peaks I had been warned that, despite it being a prequel (of sorts), Fire Walk With Me was best left until the end, and, before I go any further I would suggest the same to anyone else who hasn’t yet seen the full TV series.

Well, now I’ve watched it all, I can entirely see why as, without a knowledge of the ins and outs of at least the basic ‘who killed Laura Palmer’ thread this would be entirely nonsense – and even with that knowledge it teeters perilously close to this anyway.

Over the years though I have often learnt that this is something that director and co-creator David Lynch does and, most of the time, he seems to hold things together just enough.

Plot wise the film starts of with FBI Regional Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) getting the call that a body has been found that matches an ongoing investigation so he calls in Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) to investigate. This turns out to be a precursor to the Laura Palmer case and is instantly drenched in the paranormal goings on that gradually built across the TV show.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Here we encounter the first problem of the film. The slow build of the TV series, in a recognisable generic context, served to draw the viewer along as their expectation was confounded time and again, but in stages. Here no real convention is set as from the off this is clearly not the campy soap/Americana setting of the show, but there isn’t time to establish anything else before we are plunged back into the Red Room.

Thrown into the midst of this is a nearly unexplained cameo from David Bowie that, while it’s always nice to see Bowie, just serves to further escalate the weird and ends up seemingly over clarifying the essential mystery of the show. Though this being David Lynch things are never actually fully explained (thankfully).

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer

The second part of the film takes us to Twin Peaks itself and charts the final days of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) that lead into the TV series, with the odd reflection or interjection from Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in the Red Room.

Unfortunately, what made the TV series work so well, once again the generic conventions of a murder mystery and soap, are missing and the feel is much more that of a teenage horror, but it never quite coalesces entirely to riff on that satisfactorily. Though the denouement heads for Suspirialike levels of Grand Guignol surrealism.

The other issue is that, of course, if you’ve seen the TV series, you already know what’s going to happen.

Where Fire Walk With Me becomes most successful is in its further deepening the creepiness of Killer BOB (and his alter ego) as he becomes a primal and feral presence as we see him both in the Red Room and ‘real world’ contexts.

In the end Fire Walk With Me feels like a piece of fan-fiction filling in gaps that didn’t need filling in, and reading Lynch’s own comments on why he made the film (since I watched it) I’m not surprised I felt this way.

Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan

Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan

While the filling in of the gaps is entirely unessential it is interesting to see Lynch’s own view of this, but there were points where I couldn’t help wondering whether this even counts as canon to the TV series or whether it is purely a flight of speculative fancy.

While an engaging two hours, with some genuinely horrific and disturbing scenes, Fire Walk With Me can’t help but feel like an add-on to something that didn’t really need adding too or further explaining. Though it leaves much unanswered and does ask a few more questions that, if we’re lucky, might be explored in the upcoming new TV series.

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks bluray coverIn the 25 years since its first broadcast Twin Peaks has become a genuinely cult television series with aficionados debating seemingly every second of the show to explore its hidden (or not so hidden) meanings and in that it has become hugely influential on a lot of TV (and general pop culture) that was to follow.

Particular to this was the mid-1990s trend for supernatural themed TV that peaked with The X-Files and almost certainly led to the likes of Lost having a home on international TV. But, for a newcomer, what charms would David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks have two and a half decades on?

Going into my first watch of Twin Peaks I knew very little, simply that it was set in a remote town on the US/Canada border and that the general theme was a murder mystery with the body of a local girl called Laura Palmer being the catalyst for everything that was to follow.

For the first, shorter, season of the two, my expectations weren’t far wrong as I was plunged into an almost soap opera like setting with a host of characters; from our maguffin chasing lead, FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the always convincing, Kyle MacLachlan) down to seemingly bit part players of the various, eccentric, townsfolk.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

As the series goes on a more esoteric thread is gradually introduced through Agent Cooper and his various visions that seem at odds to the almost heightened, soapy, feel of the rest of the show. All this builds to create at atmosphere that could only come from the mind of David Lynch.

Given the extra scope of a TV series, compared to a movie, this off kilter feel is explored with great success and gradually builds in such a way that it becomes simply part of the nature of life in this town.

While some of this leads to some funny moments, that always feel intentional, the main arc of Laura’s murder and Agent Cooper’s investigation always has a serious feeling to it and the series actually deals with some pretty serious themes as the bodies pile up and drug running and prostitution get added to the mystery.

The Log Lady

The Log Lady

Ending on a great cliffhanger Season One of Twin Peaks is a tight, undeniably weird, murder mystery with hints of Lynch’s ever present theme of exploring behind the veneer of, so-called ‘normal’, small town American life.

While season one seemed content to merely hint and suggest at a paranormal aspect from the start of its second season Twin Peaks escalated this and never let up. As intrigue and mystery piled on top of one another the plot does waver at times as it develops from a relative simple murder mystery into something much more.

To the show runners’ credit despite this escalation in scale it never really loses sense of its underlying feeling of peeling back the skin of Americana as everything is heightened and cranked up further and further.

Twin Peaks - The Red Room

The Red Room

Again there is some great comedy, particular coming in Lynch’s cameo as deaf FBI chief Gordon Cole and this is very welcome as other threads becoming increasingly disturbing – particularly those surrounding the mysterious BOB and Agent Cooper’s former FBI agent partner.

The most impressive thing as the series continues is how the various, often separate storylines, are intertwined and all join together as we head towards the dénouement.

Even 25 years later it seems wrong to spoil the ending of Twin Peaks, but its safe to say that the concluding few episodes capitalise on all that’s come before to create something the likes of which I’ve never seen in a supposedly mainstream TV show.

Twin Peaks opening titles

The original opening titles

Across both series the soundtrack and score, from Angelo Badalamenti, is a permanent fixture, often leading the action and emotion of the action or counterpointing it with reverb drenched twangy guitar and bass tones that hint at Lynch’s love of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and, in this, suit the off-centre Americana of the series.

With a movie (Fire Walk With Me) following soon after and a new series in the pipeline as I write, its clear that Twin Peaks had a strong, lasting effect on pop culture and, while I know there’s a lot more to it than one watch could ever give, it more than stands up 25 years down the road as both a landmark series and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable experience that I would describe as essential viewing for any fan of modern television.

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Dune (1984)

Dune posterThis introduction will probably make it clear just how much of a mess the 1984 film of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune is, so here goes: for this review I am referring to the two and a quarter hour cut of the movie, which credits David Lynch as director, rather than the TV cut or extended cut credited to Alan Smithee.

That means, in theory, that this is the nearest to David Lynch’s original vision of the film that was ever released…

I have to admit that due to its part in my process of learning to love movies, I have something of a soft spot for Dune, but also, I am aware of its (many) flaws, so I will do my best to offer a fair review of the movie.

On its release the film was given something of a kicking by critics and audiences and I can entirely see why. From the opening monologue, which is clearly intended to set the scene, we are thrown into a universe at once as complex as that of Lord of the Rings in terms of cultures and A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of characters and noble families and, re-watching the film again, it really didn’t shed much light on the story we are dropped into.

Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides

Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides

From there it gets even more confusing as the plot seems to be at once rushed and very slow paced and often overlooks any element of emotion or sense to move it along so it can fit into its two and a bit hour frame.

As it moves on I don’t think it ever really overcomes this and, for anyone who doesn’t already know the story from the book, I can only imagine it becomes a baffling display of imagery – though I have to admit this is how I’ve felt watching other David Lynch films and could in many ways be a description of Eraserhead or Lost Highway with The Elephant Man arguably being his only mostly conventional work.

The barrage of imagery though is one place where the film does manage to claw back some worth. Produced by Dino Di Laurentiis it does retain something of the aesthetic of his previous endeavours into sci-fi, most notably Flash Gordon, but in a much darker and more luxuriant way.

Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

With each House in the story represented very much in terms of their associated production design, Dune is very impressive to look at as the militaristic and structured Atreides are reflected by the animalistic and grotesque Harkonnen and the gilded and extremely wealthy Corrinos of the Emperor’s court are reflected by the dirty, dusty and (comparatively) primitive Fremen of Arrakis

It is this description of character through production design, along with the sound design that are the films two most successful elements.

Hall of FremenIt is clear why Dune was nominated for an Academy Award for its sound design from the very opening shot of a star field with a rumbling, penetrating single tone blasting from the speakers.

Across the film this remains, as there is a near constant soundscape, be it music, sound effects or just ambient noise, which leads us, much like the production design, to fill in some of the blanks left by the unfortunately constructed story.

dunefightIn the end Dune is a mess of a movie that doesn’t tell its story in a satisfactory way and leads to general confusion and even its director all but disowning it. Nonetheless it is an interesting thing to see as it lives in a world where Return Of The Jedi had just been released and demonstrates how an ambitious folly can be a remarkable thing, even if its not actually very good.

Apparently there’s a remake in the works and it will be interesting to see if it can wrangle Herbert’s complex epic onto the silver screen or if it will be yet another valiant, but ultimately futile attempt.

There was also an earlier attempt to make Dune into a movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky with productions design from H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Moebius and Salavado Dali, there is some very interesting stuff about this, failed, version of the film on the duneinfo website as well as in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

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