Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me [DVD]
Screenplay : David Lynch & Mark Frost
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1992
Stars : Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer), Ray Wise (Leland Palmer), Moira Kelly (Donna Hayward), Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper), Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), James Marshall (James Hurley), Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer), Chris Isaak (Special Agent Chester Desmond), Kiefer Sutherland (Sam Stanley), David Lynch (Gordon Cole), Harry Dean Stanton (Carl Rodd)
One thing that David Lynch does consistently well is confound and perplex audience expectations. Many of his films are consciously structured to draw the audience in one direction before suddenly revealing that there is an entirely different agenda—the sudden character shifts and refusal to solve mysteries in both Lost Highway (1997) and MulhollandDrive (2001) are the most obvious examples. The famed opening sequence of his 1986 Blue Velvet is a compact visual metaphor for this tendency, starting as it does with glossy images of squeaky-clean small-town Americana before diving beneath the neatly manicured lawns and exposing hoards of viciously chomping insects.
When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the "prequel" to Twin Peaks, Lynch's television series that was cancelled after only two seasons by ABC, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, it was nearly booed off the screen. Critics savaged it, as did the vast majority of American audiences, including many who had watched the TV series. While such a scathing reception on both the critical and popular front is usually a sure sign that the film in question is troubled, in this case it was an excellent example of the vitriolic response that often accompanies shattered expectations, not a bad movie. Many went into the theater expecting an extension of the television show, only to see it blatantly subverted on-screen for something much darker and much more sinister.
Lynch and his coscreenwriter, David Frost, with whom he created the TV series, seems to be fully aware of this, as the opening act of Fire Walk With Me is done right in the spirit of the quirky dark humor of the series. With Angelo Badalamenti's insouciant bass tones thumping quietly on the soundtrack, we are introduced to two new FBI G-men, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Chris Isaak) and Special Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) who are investigating the murder of a 17-year-old girl named Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley). Cooper and Stanley are sent on the assignment by FBI director Gordon Cole, played in a high effective and amusing cameo by Lynch himself as man who talks several decibels too loud because he's going deaf and over-enunciates every word to levels of near-absurdity.
This opening act is punctuated by some surrealistic Lynch weirdness, including the intrusion of the alternate universe always threatening to rupture the surface of Twin Peaks. The story then jumps forward a year, and the soundtrack swells with the familiar cadence of the Twin Peaks theme music as the story picks up with Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose dead body found floating in the river was the event that set the TV series in motion. Fire Walk With Me proceeds to show us the final week of Laura's life, in the process filling in narrative gaps left when the TV show was cancelled and showing us once and for all who killed Laura Palmer.
It is here, though, that the film swerves off the well-oiled tracks along which it had glided for the first half-hour. Ironically, it is when the story shifts to the familiar location of Twin Peaks that the film completely separates from the tone of the TV show, veering off into a twisted social underbelly that is all-too reminiscent of Lynch's exploration of barely concealed perversity in Blue Velvet. Laura turns out to be hardly the clean-cut prom queen whose seemingly inexplicable murder rocked the small town. Rather, she is a dangerous young woman leading a double life. While she appears prim and proper at school in plaid skirts and generic flat shoes, flirting with boys and joking with her best friend, Donna (Moira Kelly, filling the role played by Lara Flynn Boyle in the series), at night she trades sexual favors with skuzzy lumberjacks in a red-light French-Canadian bar for cocaine.
Ultimately, comparing Fire Walk With Me with the TV series is futile, especially for those who complain that characters are either relegated to virtual walk-on cameos or left out completely. This misunderstands the fundamental differences between film and TV narratives, as even a lengthy film (and Fire Walk With Me is not short at 135 minutes) cannot hope to cover the breadth of character storylines that are a given in a TV series designed for multiple episodes over a period of years. In the film, Lynch is essentially using the premise of the TV show to explore different themes in a more graphic manner, and it is probably this sense of the series being "used" for the film that most infuriated some viewers (although many fans of the TV show are also the most ardent defenders of the film).
Of course, much of Fire Walk With Me is painfully salacious, and it is hard to escape completely the feeling that Lynch is exploiting his characters, a sort of cinematic middle finger thrust at those who cut short his series. He takes the naughty cliche of teen sexuality and makes it truly dirty by showing it to be both tawdry and pathetic (it is, in this case, a result of five years of molestation). The scenes of Laura cavorting in the bar are both surreal and vaguely pornographic, wallowing as they do in sleaze and sadomasochist self-destruction.
In the role of the tragically doomed Laura, Sheryl Lee, in her first starring role, is put through both psychological and physical brutalizing, and it is a great credit to her ability that she draws sympathy and understanding for this victimized character. Considering that she spends most of the film either slinking like a coked-up vixen or breaking down into sobs, the power of her performance is something of a miracle. Underneath the film's melodramatic seediness, there is strong current of sentimental affection for Laura Palmer, and this is more to Lee's credit that to Lynch's, although it recalls the success of Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980) to invoke the deepest humanity beneath both deformed flesh and societal hypocrisy.
This is not to say, however, that Lynch does not have his moments. Always the consummate artist as provocateur, Lynch does not fail to twist your emotions and shock your sensibilities, as well as just plain confuse you. The grinding downward spiral of Fire Walk With Me allows him to wallow in some of his more sordid tendencies, but the artistry of his compositions and the skill with which he evokes the desperation of human beings pushed to the edge by terrors both real and fantastical is impossible to dismiss, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. The surface reality in Fire Walk With Me is both porous and fragile, and Lynch plays with multiple dimensions of existence in a way that is both intriguing and pretentious, especially given the way the film's narrative is built on the exposure of double lives and deeply repressed secrets.
Of course, Lynch is also slippery in his ability to shift tones, moving smoothly from the darkly comical to the utterly horrifying. Fire Walk With Me has a deeply ingrained internal logic that drags its narrative into an utter abyss, so that by the end there is little hope for reverting to anything like the quirky humor of the film's opening passages. That we know Laura Palmer's ultimate demise from the outset only makes her plight that much more tragic, as we watch her debasement, knowing it will all be over soon. In a strange way, Lynch actually makes her murder seem like a blessing.
|Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me DVD|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 surround|
DTS 5.1 surround
Dolby 2.0 surround
|Languages||English (DD 5.1, 2.0, DTS 5.1)|
|Supplements|| Theatrical trailer|
"Reflections on the Phenomenon of Twin Peaks" cast and crew interviews
|Distributor||New Line Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 26, 2002|
|Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is presented in a sharp new high-definition anamorphic transfer that preserves its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and was approved by David Lynch. The film looks better than it ever has on home video, with bright, well-saturated colors and deep, solid blacks with only the slightest traces of grain. The transfer handles the red-lit bar scene particularly well, maintaining good detail without the bleeding and blooming that is always a risk in scenes with a predominance of red. The transfer is clean throughout, with no dirt or signs of artifacting.|
|The soundtrack has been remixed into both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround under Lynch's supervision at his Asymmetrical Studio. The result is uniformly good, allowing Angelo Baladameni's musical score to expand out while also taking advantage of increased imaging and directionality. Bass levels are solid, though not particularly thundering.|
| The bad news, of course, is that New Line was unable to secure the rights from a third-party holder to include the much-discussed deleted scenes and extra footage (apparently, Lynch shot enough for a five-hour movie, and he trimmed some 20 minutes from the final cut after the disastrous screening at Cannes). To their credit, New Line has been very forthcoming in letting us know that the deleted scenes would not be included, and is offering the disc at a reduced price as a form of compensation (unfortunately, it is beginning to look like we may never see the footage). |
On the bright side, the disc does include "Reflection on the Phenomenon of Twin Peaks, an appropriately odd amalgam of interviews conducted in mid-2001 of virtually every significant cast member involved with the TV show, the movie, or both. It is obviously aimed at fans, as the producers never identify who is who on-screen. Most of the recollections and reflections are engaging and insightful, and there are times when the editor purposefully juxtaposes conflicting comments in truly Lynchian fashion to underscore the impossibility of ever getting a "true" record of the productions (for instance, Dana Ashbrook claims the scene in the phone booth was completely improvised, and in the next scene his statement is contradicted by somone who swears that Lynch never improvised anything). This featurette, which runs about 30 minutes in length, is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Other than that, the only supplement is the original theatrical trailer, also presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick