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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Eternal Struggle

Friday, when I wrote:

"...a Twin Peaks movie that not only didn't resolve the cliffhanger of the show - it was a flashback to events before the series - it mostly just planted in my mind the idea that David Lynch is really a dirty old man in indie auteur's clothing. All that cool back story to explore, and we just see a lot of footage of Moira Kelly ... getting skanky.
[Lynch] really does have a thing for putting his story on hold and having his lead actresses be nude in publicly humiliating ways. I'm just saying."

Knowing that John is a huge Lynch fan (apologist), I suspected it wouldn't be long before I got a lashing about that, and it came this morning. I now share with you the comments that lead to tonight's Rambler.

John: "You're wrong, man. The film could never have been the Twin Peaks Season Three 2-hour premiere. That's not a film. That's a marketing gimmick. It had to involve Laura Palmer, as she was the paradigm of what the show was (the corruption of purity, the lure of evil, all that David Lynch as Boy Scout stuff); but it had to be separate in form and substance from the series, i.e. it is a film, not a tv show, and a David Lynch film at that."

To which I replied:

"Well, if you're going to argue FWWM, at least argue what I wrote. Did I say anything about whether it should or should not have focused on Laura Palmer? No. You're having an argument with something in your head, not me.
I wasn't aware that opinions about works of art could be 'wrong,' but thanks for setting me straight"


So, John said: "Well, you did fault it for not resolving the Season Two cliffhanger.

And when you fault it for featuring too much (skanky) Donna you are by association faulting it for too much Laura.

And well, hey, you're not "wrong." You're just part of the critical consensus on this one, which I always disagreed with (at the time, to the point of despair)."


(At which point I started to write some crap that just got so long, I figured I'd make it front page meterial.)

On the issue of it being solely a David Lynch film, and not the T.V. show:

See, here's the thing: the television series was a three-way artistic collaboration between Lynch, Mark Frost and Kyle MacLachlan. Frost was entirely absent from the film and MacLachlan really didn't want to appear, so he has about - what? - fifteen minutes of screen time?

Given that Frost was the guy who gave the series its brain, and MacLachlan its heart and soul, Lynch could only go ahead with a film that lacks a brain, heart and soul. Which just leaves vision. And don't get me wrong - there are some magnificent scenes (the slow-motion Bobby walk across the campus, the above-hinted at club scene with the Moira Kelly/Donna and the subtitles, the visitation from David Bowie's displaced agent) - all of which add up to not much.

It was very much a forerunner of Lynch's later films in that way - films that start with a shaky sense of reality and just keep pulling rug after rug away from the viewer - but for anything to bear the name of Twin Peaks and not feature the presence of Lynch's primary collaborators was a huge mistake, and it hurt the film. Badly.

And, yes: it deserves every faulting for not resolving the themes- if not the plot - of the series. Because the mechanics of the plot (from Frost) were still in place, and the film fails to resolve them even on its own terms. It's an unsatisfying enterprise whether you're a stone TP fan or if the film is your first exposure, because it does introduce all of the supernatural elements, it does weave hints of the show's deepening mystery and the pre-X-Files mystical FBI agents.

All for naught. If you show Agent Cooper in the lodge as part of your 'climactic' sequence, well, if the film doesn't extend the show, why even have that in there? The audience of the film hasn't spent more than a few minutes with the character of the... what, fourth FBI agent they've met? Why should his appearance with Laura in the Lodge at the end mean anything more to us than if it were Chris Isaak, or David Bowie, or Kiefer Sutherland? I'm just saying, that's bad filmmaking on the order of many film sequels, that just assume that you know the characters because you watched the show, and that's why you should care about them.

Moving onto my second and deeper issue with Lynch films in general is his constant reuse of the abuse and degradation of women as a recurring motiff.

A... well, THE central problem is that Lynch - as you note - likes one story and one story only: innocent young girls being driven insane through sexual debauchery. Which points to a very, very strange and kind of sad spectacle of a lot of talented - and not so talented - young actresses streaking around and crying through white-out snap cuts in film after film. After film.

It's distasteful and kind of creepy, sort of like looking back at Woody Allen's old comedies and noting with slight nausea the clockwork recurrence of the child molestation jokes in every film. I guess Lynch's sexual hang-ups are more socially acceptable, but - alright, already.

On the issue of Laura Palmer:

The problem I have isn't with the story of Laura Palmer. If it were told well, it would be a film of interest. The problem is in trading a truly iconic character and actor (Cooper/MacLachlan) for a total cypher (Palmer/Sheryl Lee). Kyle MacLachlan radiated charm and watchability, and inhabited his role perfectly. Sheryl Lee radiated somnolence and sounds as though she learned her lines phonetically.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the grand tradition of adapting beloved cult sci-fi T.V. series into feature films, that's like trading back to Jeffrey Hunter from William Shatner for Star Trek:The Motion Picture.*

Finally, to dissect the theme of seduction/destruction:

Twin Peaks, the movie, may have been about the corruption of the innocent. In which case, why even throw in any of the other elements? Window dressing? Twin Peaks, the series, was about the quest for knowledge. It was a religious quest, wherein the central character - Agent Cooper, not Laura Palmer - eventually pays the price of transcendental knowledge. The entirety of the series taken together documents the rite of purification that Cooper - perhaps - ultimately fails.

To make a film with the central plot in place but without the implied spiritual quest leaves the film - the film, mind you - without any structure. Sure, Lynch's gifts as a director are on display, but what (really) is the point? It got away from him, and no amount of foreign funding could bring it back. He was able to use it as a springboard to divide his early, more narrative films from his later, more melodic ones, and every director is certainly allowed to have their growing pains on film.

But, I gotta say: when people defend this film, they sound a lot like me when I mount a defense of The Phantom Menace. That's just basic geekery for you - we're unable to separate the wheat from the chaff when we love too well.

D.

*Which would have been especially impressive when you consider that Hunter died in 1969.

8 comments:

John said...

I disagree on many points:

1. Sheryl Lee delivered an excellent, riveting peformance. She's a good actress.

2. The story of Laura Palmer WAS told well. And it was moving and interesting.

3. Your point about the absence of Frost and MacLachlan is a good one, but then you completely discount one of the other "souls" of the show, Leland Palmer, who is in the film a lot. Ray Wise is phenomenal in the role (especially in FWWM). You obviously have only watched the movie once, dispassionately. To have neglected any mention of Ray Wise in your analysis says volumes about your lack of real consideration for the film.

I have to go to a production meeting. I'll pick this up later.

Dave Kopperman said...

1. Sure, why not? "Backbeat" was genius work. Genius.

2. Okay, great.

3. Ray Wise was quite good, no denying.

3.5. I saw the full film once, in the theater. (I have reviewed segments over the years.) From where do you get the idea that I watched it dispassionately? "Devoid of or unaffected by passion, emotion, or bias." I really don't think you're using that word right. Anyone who spends 1300 words writing about how much something bugged them probably is anything other than dispassionate.

For the record: I was stoked to see the film, ignored the negative reviews, saw it opening night and yelled at the screen in dismay when it was over.

D.

John said...

I suppose I just don't recall you being a big Twin Peaks fan. Sorry.

To continue my response to your post:

I think the issue of the film as "a David Lynch movie" vs. the film as a big-screen Twin Peaks episode is interesting. Much of the continuity leading into the first season is there, very strong and detailed. The molestation of Laura. Harold Smith, and the hiding of the diary. "Bobby killed a guy once." The one-armed man. Theresa Banks. If anything this aspect was too subtle, too intricate. It was quality Twin Peaks screen-time, which could certainly be finely parsed by any true fan of the show, it just wasn't what most people wanted or expected to see. I realize probably no one really cared about seeing Harold Smith again. But... this was the story of Laura Palmer, and Lynch had to be true to it. As you said, he goes with the theme and story he goes with. And, as I've said, he was making a movie, and he has his certain way of doing that. So I think the film for most TP fans was achingly close to what they wanted (the opening 20 minutes), but then unreachably out of phase with their "geek" desires. Sort of like a depressing dream one might have had of what the movie would be like the night before it came out. But isn't that what a David Lynch film ideally is meant to be?

Dave Kopperman said...

Not a TP geek? You're talking to the ONE person on Earth who bought The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. I think I still have that fucker, somewhere. And, you know? That damn thing acutally got more into the character and eventual decline of Laura Palmer better than the film and Sheryl Lee.

I think David Lynch's daugther wrote it? I'll have to check that.

Sadly, I don't own the "Diane Tapes."

If you're saying that a David Lynch film is supposed to be a disappointment, well, I guess I don't have an argument to mount against you - if only becuase, as a defense, it's kind of a non-defense.

John said...

What I mean is it's typically not what one expects. There are always emotional cul-de-sacs, lulls that are intended to keep the viewer firmly submersed in the mood. His movies are meant to be experienced purely, like experiencing a dream, without any sort of excuse for the experience (e.g. excessive plotting or character development, or any recognizable thematic structure besides, you know: "a young girl in trouble.").

That gets back to my overriding point that it's unfair to judge FWWM as a "failed" big-screen continuation of the series. It was "a David Lynch movie" doing it's best to serve that purpose. That is, in my opinion, the only fair way to judge it.

Dave Kopperman said...

Well, I already presented all my arguments for why it couldn't and wouldn't be regarded as a David Lynch film, so there you go.

John said...

Alrighty. You can keep your A.I. and Matrix Reloaded, and I'll keep my FWWM and Ghost Dog.

And Freddy Got Fingered, eh, we can split custody.

Dave Kopperman said...

Works for me. I don't need Freddy Got Fingered, but I would like to rewatch the Tom Green SNL now and then.