Saturday, March 29, 2014

Part One: The Pilot Episode, First Half

Notes on Twin Peaks

~ a chronological examination of the tv series and film ~

 some preliminaries:
  • this series of posts will  based on a close re-watching of Twin Peaks and the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (TP FWWM)
  • spoilers will abound: details from the series and the film will be discussed throughout - if you haven't seen both in their entirety, you may not want to read ahead
  • I am not necessarily contending that every detail that I've spotted in Twin Peaks was placed there as part of an over-arching vision by David Lynch, or Mark Frost: more than any other part of Lynch's body of work, Twin Peaks was obviously a collaborative effort, involving many other writers and directors. Still, I think the series has it's origin in the world of David Lynch's mind, and that the collaborative efforts sort of build up an echo chamber of various people's inputs vibrating & reverberating with Lynch's original impulse, and are quite interesting in that respect
  • Along those lines, I also wonder if, when a work of art establishes a set of symbols that achieve a certain degree of coherence and resonance, that they can almost generate meaning for the observer that doesn't necessarily have to have been intended by the author(s). For me, the films of Stanley Kubrick and the plays of Shakespeare are examples of this, and also, I wonder if systems like the Tarot or the I Ching may owe their powers to establishing a set of coherent symbols that somehow generates insight into the workings of the wider world?
  • two other connections that I'd return to throughout the posts:
    • the films of Stanley Kubrick: not that Kubrick's films are the most important influence on Lynch, but, along with directors like Hitchcock, Polanski, and Billy Wilder, he was a definite influence and many interesting connections can be made
    • the ideas and symbols of the Western Mystery Tradition: I'm not sure how intentional these are, or if maybe they originate more with Mark Frost than with Lynch, but I've noticed a fair amount of connections to ideas and symbols from Western esotericism, most obviously astrology, but also to alchemy, magic, etc. 
  • some beautiful reading music? : 

Part One: Establishing The Setting

1) The Opening Credits

The strange and beautiful title sequence was what initially drew me to seek out & watch Twin Peaks. Right away it reminded me of the power of Lynch's work, which had drifted out of my awareness for over a decade or so. The odd, dreamlike world of Blue Velvet, and the The Straight Story's appreciation for the natural world and for small town American life, were for me both immediately brought to mind.

The title sequence can almost stand alone as a unique and powerful short film: Lynch's deliberate pacing and his powerful, organic imagery paired with Angelo Badalamenti's haunting synthetic music. The progression of the credits seems to introduce many themes that later grow and unfold throughout the series, and like most of Lynch's work, it establishes connections to the films, music and art that came before it, and to that which followed after.

2) The Robin

Twin Peaks Robin

The sequence opens with a reference to Blue Velvet, an image of a robin, and it seems implied that Twin Peaks will be in some ways a continuation of that earlier film. The image reminds us of Sandy's dream regarding the Conquest of Love, and of the strange, robotic robin at that film's close, a beetle writhing in it's beak, suggesting a victory of love over a world of violence and decay.

There is a goodness like those blue skies and flowers and stuff, but there is always a force, a sort of wild pain and decay, accompanying everything. 
David Lynch, from Beautiful Dark
Blue Velvet Robin

3) The Lumber Mill

A shot of a blade being ground and sharpened again connects us back to Blue Velvet and the town of Lumberton. (Wood! Wood! Wood!) I wonder if the these grinding blades aren't also symbols of this force of "wild pain and decay", like the subterranean insects of BV: an almost inevitable process of violent decomposition standing as a counterpoint to the image of the robin. The first shots can be seen as introducing a struggle between Love and Fear, which becomes a major theme of the series.

There is something oddly touching about the way the mechanical arms cooperatively guide the blades to the grinding wheels, and at the same time there something a little eerie in its mechanical autonomy.

The mill shots remind me of Lynch’s industrial photography, and the industrial images in the early scenes of Eraserhead.

4) Juxtapositions

Part of what I love about Lynch’s work is (I tried to come up with a academic-sounding phrase to try to pin down this intangible quality)  his juxtaposition of incongruous aesthetics: in Twin Peaks in particular, I notice the contrast between:
  • nature and industry: there are many artists who excel at celebrating the processes of the natural world, and many others who are great at depicting the gritty, textured realities of the industrial world, but I can't think of many who combine an appreciation for both aesthetics in a single work
  • powerful, timeless spiritual forces and the trivial details of our modern consumer culture. The spirit world that seems to hover around everything that happens in Twin Peaks seems to have no understanding of our own systems of cultural reference. Everything from diner coffee & pie, to creamed corn, convenience stores and trailer parks seem initially like absurdist humor, but on reflection become bizarre portals to some greater mystery
  • a transcendent force of love and the darkest blackness. Lynch has a cultural reputation for depicting depravity and violence (the core story of Twin Peaks is as dark as they come), but at the same time Lynch has a gift for composing really surprising moments of transcendence, love, compassion, & a sort of mystical awareness. There are artists whose works are very dark, and others who seem very spiritual, but I find very few that move between the two so fluidly and unpredictably

5) An Interesting Dissolve

The images of the mill suggest a conflict between the town of Twin Peaks and it’s surroundings: like Lumberton, it's a logging town, and its industry is sustained by the consumption of the very trees that seem so important & alive & significant throughout the series. The following shot is a dissolve that seems to convey this tension, fading from a grinding blade to a giant cross-section of a tree, on display.

Thematically, it's a remarkable image, seeming to tie together a lot of the ideas & forces that follow in the series: a violent, destructive force, connected, like BOB, to the idea of fire, in opposition to a more peaceful force connected with trees and wood (the Log Lady, Cooper's Douglas Firs, the residence of Josie Packard's spirit.) 

The cross-section of the tree seems like a sacrificial victim, sitting on display - on a train car no less, with tracks in the foreground, tying into a thread of symbolism connecting into the story of Laura Palmer's final days and to some of Lynch's more recent work like INLAND EMPIRE and his collaboration with Chrysta Bell, This Train, where distant train horns and the rhythmic clacking of moving train cars often form a part of the soundscape.

This train stops for no one,
Yet we're all aboard.
No soul knows where home is,
Except the one who knows the Lord.

6) Welcome To Twin Peaks Shot

The placement of this shot seems to signify to me how Twin Peaks will be the story of a community, exploring how the death of one individual reveals all the hidden interconnections within that community, and the connections out into the natural and spiritual environments it exists within.

The number 51, 201 is of also of interest:
  • apparently the final "1" was added, increasing the population of Twin Peaks by a factor of ten, due to network pressure to imply that Twin Peaks was not-such-a-small sized town, for fear of alienating metropolitan audiences. 
  • The figure might reflect Lynch's interest in numerology, in which numbers have symbolic qualities and significance as omens. In numerology, larger numbers are often reduced down to a basic symbol by taking the sum of the integers they contain: 5+1+2+0+1 reduces to 9, which seems to be a number of key significance in Lynch's early work, though it seems to shift to 7 in later works like Mulholland Dr. (Examples of Lynch engaging in this sort of numerological reduction, with license plates, can be found in the interviews in Chris Rodley's Lynch On Lynch.) Interesting, without Laura, the population reduces to an 8, which I believe is much less auspicious in Lynch's symbology.

7) Water

The credits end with images of water, flowing over the Falls at the Great Northern Hotel, then with the camera floating slowly downstream. The fluid motions perhaps connect these visuals to the kinesthetic states of floating and falling referenced so often in the music of Lynch, Badalamenti and Julee Cruise that accompanies the series. I think it also subtly connects us as the audience to the image of Laura's corpse (and later, of Theresa Banks), wrapped in plastic, set adrift in the water.

8) Greg Olsen's summary of the opening credits from Beautiful Dark:
Lynch bathes our senses with a progression of aqueous images [...] waters flow hypnotically in a reverie of slow motion, stirring the deep currents of our subconscious. These opening moments signal that Twin Peaks will be awash in dreamy inner journeys, as well as dualities [...] two smokestacks to two showers of sparks, to two river flows joining in a singe falling cascade to two ducks on a lake shore, to two black ceramic greyhounds [...] objects and qualities that appear to be separate from each other can actually be conjoined on some hidden level; a singular-seeming phenomenon can mask and contain its opposite within. Reality is multivalent.

9) Dog Statuette

The Pilot episode moves from a pair of ducks coming ashore beside to a statuette of a pair of black dogs.

Interesting to note, the statuette seems to refer back to a similar figurine from Eraserhead, on a cornerstand between Henry and Bill in the dinner scene with Mary X's family.

The scene at Mary's family's house also contained the strange image of the dog with suckling puppies in the living room, and ties into a longer thread of canine symbols, from the TP series and movie to the main street of Laurens, Iowa in The Straight Story. In each instance, the presence of a dog seems to herald a descent into a deeper reality, into the depths, the underworld, or the unconscious aspects of the psyche. 

Here, as at a few other points, I wonder if there is a reference to Greek & Roman mythology. From what I understand of Lynch's creative process, it seems pretty unlikely that he would try to insert classical allusions into his work,  but there are a lot of points, particularly in the etymology of names, where the reference seems like more than a coincidence; here, a connection to Cerebus, the guard-dog at the gates of Hades, seems like an obvious link. Maybe Lynch is simply drawing from an idea embedded in our culture, or maybe he & the makers of the ancient myths are drawing from a common source of inspiration?

10) Josie In The Looking Glass

The camera slides to the left to revel a mirrored image of an Asian-American woman making herself up. (Olson in Beautiful Dark notes how bizarre and mysterious this would have likely appeared to initial viewers, set up by advertising and the title sequence to anticipate the story of a small town murder mystery).

The themes expressed in this initial shot, of duality, of hidden truths, of mirrored selves and a descent into the underworld provide uncanny foreshadowing of the series’ finale, of the mirror world of Black Lodge and its collection of doppelgangers.

Likewise, the look of fear and worry in Josie’s eyes right away establishes the narrative of Twin Peaks within Lynch’s concern of “A Woman In Trouble”, from Laura Palmer's story, to the line of characters from Dorothy Valens to Betty Elms/Dianne Selwyn and Nikki Grace/Sue Blue.

Josie Packard’s arc will carry on from Blue Velvet the idea of the compromised woman, who is certainly victimized, and yet at the same time comes close to being almost complicit in her condition (Isabella Rosselini was originally slated to play the character that became Josie Chen.)

11) Fishing

The opening line of the series: “Gone fishing.”

Lynch would later write, Catching the Big Fish, which uses fishing as a metaphor for the process of meditation, ideas being like fish moving around in the waters of consciousness.

“A distant foghorn blows,” similar to those haunting, distant train whistles.  It stopes Pete in his tracks, and causes him to turn around and discover Laura's body, which has washed up alongside a massive piece of driftwood.

13) Twin Peaks and the Animal World

All the mounted fish and animal trophies that decorate the hunting/fishing lodge Pete Martell lives in (as well as The Great Northern Hotel and so much of the town of Twin Peaks), again remind me of the decor of Eraserhead, of a mounted fish on the wall of the dining room of Mary X's family:

A small detail maybe, but I don't believe there are many insignificant details in Eraserhead. I'm not sure if there is any direct intention behind the inclusion of all these mounted animals, but the sheer repetition of their display, gives them a mysterious weight in the narrative. To me, they almost become totemic animals: behind all these woodsy, kitschy decorations seem to be powerful spirits of nature, of which I notice at least four major ones throughout the series, with a variety of possible associations & correspondences:

  • Fish – meditation, ideas swimming around in consciousness, “a fish in the percolator”, connections to water as a metaphor of consciousness, to “Deep River” of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive

The Black Dog Runs At Night
  • Dogs – presage a journey in to the underworld, into Hades, hell, into the night, into dreams

  • Birds – referenced in many of the songs connected to the series (Floating Into the Night, The Swan, The Nightingale, The World Spins), connection between robins and love, owls and some sort of supernatural remote viewing, also with characters who are prone to psychic visions perhaps, connection to the air, the wind, to the mind perhaps

  • Deer – seem to be connected to the idea of innocence, and to the idea of being hunted, being a victim, perhaps of being a sacrificial victim; often seem connected with young women in the series, or the younger generation of Twin Peaks

Moving near the edge at night
Dust is dancing in the space
A dog and bird are far away
The sun comes up and down each day
Light and shadow change the walls
Halley's comet's come and gone
The things I touch are made of stone
Falling through this night alone

David Lynch, "The World Spins"

14) The Tableau in the Windowsill

In Beautiful Dark, Olsen has an interesting theory regarding the tableau in the window at the back of the frame, that the arrangement is a subtle display of the dynamics of the Palmer family.

Almost emerging out to the back of Sarah Palmer's head (just outside of her conscious awareness?), in the moments before she discovers what happened to Laura:
  • a magician figure representing Leland - perhaps a connection to the “Fire Walk With Me” verse about the magician who “longs to see”
  • a wreath, connected to symbolism related to death, being Laura, 
  • a bird, possibly relating a bird's eye view to Sarah's tendency to experience the psychic visions. The bird is at a remove from the other figures, but looking in, maybe symbolizing that Sarah is moving towards a full consciousness of a reality she had suppressed and that was kept hidden from her.

The first shot of Brigg's household also contains some possibly emblematic decorations: do the three geese represent the Briggs family? Who is the isolated rooster to the left?

More interesting to me are the figures on their fridge, of a tonsured monk placed before an angelic figure. Does this represent Garland, perhaps connecting to a spirit of the White Lodge? Re-watching the series, it is interesting to see the inclusion of this hidden away angelic symbol, knowing what the final scene of Laura in FWWM will be.

15) Upwards Shot of the Hallway & Domestic Horror

The initial shots of the Palmer household, in the moment's before Laura's death is acknowledged, establish it as a place of tension: there is something very unsettling about the upwards shot of the stairs to the second floor (a transition shot that recurs again and again throughout the series), with the spinning ceiling fan taking on a strange significance right from these early scenes.

The scene ends with that horrific scream of Sarah Palmer - the scream, like her hair, seeming to radiate with tension, an expression of her frayed & worn nerves, her sheer horror and grief. Lynch, in these opening shots of the Palmer household, long before we know anything about the details of Laura's death, imbues her domestic environment with such a heaviness and sense of hidden-away dread. The house seems to have taken on the mystery of what happened to Laura, and we get glimpses of it with Maddy Ferguson's visions of the rose-coloured carpet, and in FWWM, the claustrophobic scenes of the Palmers at the dinner table.

16) The Diner

Norma's diner (which seems much dimmer here than in the series proper, somewhat more akin to Hap's Diner in FWWM) in which Norma, Bobby, and Shelly are introduced. Heidi enters, in a sequence that will be mirrored in the series finale. We can notice an unlit traffic light decoration hanging from the ceiling, initiating the numerous shots of swaying traffic lights that pepper the series and the film. An interesting line of dialogue as Bobby and Shelly exit the scene:

Bobby: Norma, I'll see you in my dreams.
Norma: Not if I see you first.

Cue the very odd Badalamenti piece on the jukebox. The dialogue and the music sort of intimates the strange, subconscious linkages between the people of Twin Peaks, connecting together in the below, in the state of dreams.

17) The High School

The sequence at the high school, like the one that follows of Josie shutting down the sawmill, highlights again for me that Twin Peaks will be the story of an interconnected community, and of the strange sort of spiritual, psychic ties that seem to exist between them: it is as if no one needs to be told about what happened to Laura, a heavy grief just seems to descend, and people subconsciously know the horrible truth.

18) Audrey at School

One monochromatic flat, black & white like the Black Lodge floor pattern, and a red pump, the colour of fire.

I appreciate the Smokey the Bear astray in her locker, seems fitting for a mischievous daughter of a businessman & forest developer, in whose life fire will have a significant role at the end of the first season.

Just below the ashtray, the word "ATOMIC" juts out.

19) The Principal's Address

I liked the principal's address to the school. He reminds me of dynamic I often find in Lynch's films, of a person whose physical appearance almost seems like a joke on first impression, but whose actions make you take a second look at the depths of their personality.

I'm reminded of Lynch's Interview Project, and online series where he features interviews with many out-of-the-way people, whose initial appearance likely seems comical, but, through their stories of their lives, remind us of their worth & interest & common humanity. David Lynch himself, with his unusual hairstyle & manner of speech is perhaps an exemplar of this dynamic: an almost comic appearance as an exterior to inner depths. I think a lot of the elderly people in this series could be viewed in this light.

Something about the way that the principal breaks down during his address seemed very heartfelt & decent to me; I wish we would see more of him in the subsequent series (though he isn't seen outside the Pilot episode.)

20) Abe Lincoln Poster

References to American presidents crop up fairly often in Lynch's life & works, and the symbolism surrounding the office of the President seems significant in his films. Sheriff Harry Truman is a primary reference in Twin Peaks. Lynch, as a boyscout, was a present for Kennedy's inauguration, and apparently went to see Kennedy's body lying in state after his assassination. Lynch was often on record in the 80's for his admiration of the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and in more recent time supported the candidacy of Barack Obama. Screenwriter Robert Engles mentioned in an interview an idea Lynch and he had for FWWM, involving an a backstory for the mythology of Twin Peaks, in which ants, crawling beneath a card table (formica, perhaps?) recieved some sort of mutagenic radiation during the Eisenhower's inauguration ball (which was interrupted by a special episode of I Love Lucy!)

Lincoln in particular is referenced heavily in Blue Velvet: there is a Lincoln Street that seems to divide the town of Lumberton, and on which the severed ear is found. The villain of the film shares the last name of Lincoln's assassin, and he drives a Lincoln. The Civil War plays a large (and bizarre) part in Ben Horne's character arc. In Mulholland Dr., many have commented on how the Blue Haired Lady sits in a theatre balcony much like Lincoln did, and that the details of missing pearl earrings (the material of John Wilkes Booth's Derringer revovler) and the Lincoln car in which an assassination attempt on Camilla Rhodes occurs, all connect strangely to the details of Lincoln's life.

We can save some of this discussion for the second season of Twin Peaks, but in general I wonder if this reference to Lincoln isn't connected to the idea of the Civil War, and to the idea of characters in Lynch's works having divided consciousness & personalities, and as a result, having a sort of civil war in their own minds. (Examples can be found in Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Mulholland Dr., and INLAND EMPIRE.)

21) Check the Mirrors

Fairly early in the episode, in the scene where Sheriff Truman questions Sarah Palmer at her home, you can see a little black owl peering out a mirror in the back of the shot. At the end of the episode, you can see BOB peering out of that same mirror, as Sarah has a terrifying vision regarding Laura's divided heart necklace.

22) Ronette Pulaski

The shot of Ronette Pulaski, stunned, crossing the railway bridge before the background of snow peaked mountains, is one of the most searing,  surrealistic images of Twin Peaks.

The character of Ronette is given very little dialogue, remaining a largely silent figure in the few episodes that she has a role in. Interestingly, her appearances take place largely in the Lynch-directed episodes and in FWWM, and she basically is in the beginning, middle and end of the series, being in the Pilot, the first three episodes of the second season, the finale and the movie. Trying to speak to Ronette is the first thing Agent Cooper does after briefing Sheriff Truman, and one of last things he does before entering the Black Lodge in the finale.

We meet Ronette's father in the episode, Janek Pulaski, and one thing that struck me was the connection to INLAND EMPIRE, in which a Polish sub-plot plays a major role in film, and there is a character with the name of Janek. INLAND EMPIRE, particularly the Polish scenes in that film, contain the presence of a train and that distant train horn in the soundscape, and likewise Ronette seems connected to the train car symbolism, first seen walking down the train tracks and present in the train car scene at the end of FWWM.

Ronette also seems to appear with Laura in the audience of Club Silencio in Mulholland Dr.

As Cooper first tries to speak with Ronette, her only lines, spoken in half-consciousness: “Don't go there, don't go there.” She seems connected to a theme running through Twin Peaks and much of Lynch's subsequent work, that of divided consciousness, of people walling-off areas of their own awareness, creating dividers around things that are too painful to acknowledge, and are therefore hidden away, almost a foreshadowing of the Leland Palmer's seperate personalities, or Laura's fractured reality, symbolized by the divided heart emblem, whose contradictions are explored in in depth in FWWM.

Ronette, who spends the first season in a coma, seems to be a character of the unconscious, completely immersed in the underworld – as Deputy Hawk remarks, “Body and spirit are still far apart.”

Next Up: Part Two: Cooper's Arrival

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