Twin Peaks at 30: How the terrifying weirdness of David Lynch changed television and melted our brains in the process


WWith weeks of forced isolation behind us and many more, this is a great time to reflect on Twin peaks, which marks its 30th anniversary on Wednesday. The message that circulates like a ghostly thread in David Lynch’s work is that nothing is as terrifying as life lived day after day. It’s a lesson that resonates louder than ever as we count with empty streets, frightening calm – and a feeling of deep injustice in the universe.

“It was a slow spectacle, but you never felt it dragged on,” observed Caleb Deschanel, the acclaimed director of photography who directed three episodes of Twin peaks during its first season in two seasons, from April 8, 1990 to June 10, 1991.

“You always felt that something was going on below the surface that you needed to find. The quiet rhythm of it made it look like there was a time bomb in a bag on the side of the room. He had a feeling that something terrible could happen at any time. “

Outside, Twin peaks was a conventional murder mystery set in the American small town archetype. One gray day, the body of a young woman named Laura Palmer was discovered near a bank wrapped in plastic. She was brutally killed and all Twin Peaks, a forest town in Washington state, is shocked. Enter Dale Cooper, FBI agent Kyle MacLachlan. He soon finds himself with dancing dwarfs, peeling off the layers of Palmer’s secret life and praising the excellence of the local cherry pie.

As Deschanel said, Twin peaks always felt like tiptoeing down a precipice. One of Lynch’s big ideas is that few things intertwine more easily than evil and everyday life. To this, he added lashes of his signature strangeness. Here’s a director who can spill an existential fear into something as cliché as the skyline of downtown Manhattan glistening at night, like he did when he reconnected to the extended universe by Dale Cooper for the first episode of Twin Peaks: the return in 2017.

Yet he did it while tapping into a reservoir of nostalgia for better days. Either way, this surreal thriller has doubled as a heartfelt tribute to America’s picket fences, refills of coffee and comfort food fresh out of the oven. And then he removed it again with Twin Peaks: the return – a more starred, bolder and more confusing reconditioning of the themes and obsessions of the original. There has never been such an impressive second act on American television.

Twin peaks was also partly autobiographical. Lynch, the son of a researcher in the United States Department of Agriculture, traveled extensively with his family as a child. Growing up, he lived at different times in Sandpoint, Idaho; Alexandria, Virginia; and Spokane, Washington, which may have served as a gateway to the mid-western Pacific.

Kyle MacLachlan starred in the series, well-known FBI agent Dale Cooper

In MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper, in particular, it has been theorized that Lynch saw something of himself. Cooper is a straight man in a world vacillating with madness. This is how Lynch is often described at the start – softly spoken and steeped in the chaos of a big production working through the gears.

This was the idea of ​​his ex-wife Mary Sweeney. And this is confirmed by those who worked with him on Twin peaks and recall his behavior as Agent Cooper.

“It is not difficult to work with David, but he absolutely must have what he wants. He’s not a rude person or a crier at all. He’s really a gentleman, but he has to have what he wants, “set designer Leslie Morales told Brad Dukes in his book. Reflections: an oral history of Twin Peaks. “The only times I saw him act completely differently was when he talked to studio executives for more money or an extra day – he was very different from the David you worked with as a than director. “

Twin peaks is too meticulous to be considered an accident. But her gestation was surprisingly random. In the mid-80s, after his Oscar nominee the Elephant Man (1980) but before Lynchian’s final document which is Blue velvet (1986), Lynch had agreed to collaborate with the scriptwriter Mark Frost on an adaptation of the biography of Marilyn Monroe Goddess.

Frost and Lynch came from different worlds. The first one cut his teeth during a police broadcast Hill street blues, as executive editor from 1982 to 1985. As a screenwriter, he didn’t make fun of. His scripts arrived at the point, and without pretension nor affect.

Strangely, however, he and Lynch, the winner of the nightclub, immediately struck him. Goddess would become trapped in developmental purgatory, the studio frowning upon learning that the film would imply that Bobby Kennedy had arranged Monroe’s death. However, Lynch and Frost stayed close.

Several years later, when Lynch needed a friend, Frost was there for him. Blue velvet had been a critical and commercial success. He also foreshadowed Twin peaks in his negative image of the American idyll – Norman Rockwell overturned, dragged, moaning and hyperventilating, through the mirror. And it included a 26-year-old MacLachlan Agent Cooper-esque performance (already a Lynch veteran who starred in his confusing but brilliant 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert) Dune).

Lynch had done weird before, but never so clearly. In The elephant man, Dune and Eraserhead (1977), he had examined freakishness as a doctor could an open wound. With Blue velvet, he would go out and say what he really felt: that we, all of us, were monsters.

And yet it was then, at the time of his greatest artistic triumph, that the carpet was torn off. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, which owned rights to several of Lynch’s upcoming projects, went bankrupt after a series of flops, including 1986 King kong lives and the vampire thriller Kathryn Bigelow 1987, Near the dark. All of Lynch’s plans have been eliminated. These included A bubble of saliva, a conspiracy comedy that starred Steve Martin and Martin Short and took place in a small town in Kansas.

“We all had our scouts, we threw it away, we were ready to go,” said Lynch in 1990. “Dino [De Laurentiis] kept on delaying it, delaying it, delaying it. It became clear that this was not going to happen: there was no money. Shortly after, his business went bankrupt. We saw the writing on the wall. “

Lynch, then 44, had to start over. In this case, his agent had urged him to consider working on television and suggested Frost as a potential collaborator. Having nothing to lose – he had already lost so much – Lynch agreed to take a meeting.

During a coffee, maybe a pie (the recordings are vague), he and Frost thought about it. Their ideas were cheerful and wacky – and completely removed from the picket line environment that Lynch had invented with Twin peaks. The Lemurs were talking about a lost race of underground beings trying to take over the world, with only the FBI to stop them. Lynch and Frost were offered a film contract. Lynch felt it should be a series.

Then came the lunch date that would change everything. Lynch met his agent, Tony Krantz, at Nibblers, a restaurant on Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles (“It’s like a time warp,” said a recent review on Yelp. “). Krantz had a suggestion: rather than science fiction, Lynch should deepen the themes explored in Blue velvet. At one point, the officer motioned to the guests, drinking their coffee and sliding into their pie. “You should do a show for these people, the customers here at Nibblers … A show for real life in America – your vision of America, the way you demonstrated it in Blue velvet. “

David Lynch and his team film in the emblematic wooded setting of the show

Lynch and Frost gave the project the working title “Passage du Nord-Ouest”. The murder-mystery component was developed by the duo in another favorite meeting place. “We were at Du Par’s, the cafe on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura,” said the director. “Suddenly, Mark and I got this picture of a plastic-wrapped woman washing herself on the shore of a lake. “

Frost had a vacation home in Sand Lake, New York. He recalled the story of a murdered girl and how her death in 1908 had breached a place of unimaginable darkness in the community. “There is said to be a ghost in the realm of this crime that some people have said they saw on occasion. I went down to the town hall and I dug and found that a murder had taken place there, either in the 1900s or in the 1910s. I believe the girl’s name was Hazel Gray. “

“They spoke of a real sense of humor in this northwestern city where everything was pristine and beautiful, but that behind the curtains there was a world with the lives of people who were completely opposed to it. ‘environment in which they lived,’ Chad Hoffman, vice president of theater at the ABC network, told Dukes. “These were secrets and I remember David and Mark talking about what you see in the foreground, not what’s going on in the background. “

They had left for the races. It was decided to film on site in Snoqualmie, a population of 10,000 and 28 miles east of Seattle. MacLachlan, a Washington native who had attended the city’s university, was delighted to return home. Sheryl Lee was also originally from the area, a newcomer with modest acting experience that Lynch molded on the spot, so convinced that he was supposed to play Laura Palmer.

“When you work with David Lynch, you have to accept that you are working with the unknown,” said Lee at a 2018 fan convention in Australia. “It’s about being in the present. A logical approach, you know, “What is my motivation? What does it mean? Why do I say that? “It will never work. For me, I have to trust and surrender. By being present like this, you open up and you can access this greater force. “

But it is with music that Twin peaks really become Twin peaks. Lynch was close to composer Angelo Badalamenti, who wrote the score for Blue velvet. In New York, they often hung out together. Recalling the creation of Laura Palmer’s theme, Badalamenti described Lynch painting a picture for him – and the haunting progression of piano notes that arose from the conversation.

“Slow things down and it gets better,” Lynch told Badalamenti. He asked the composer to imagine a young woman, clearly upset, emerging from the tree line. It gets closer and closer and the music swells towards a catharsis. Twenty minutes later, the play was over. “Don’t change a single note,” said Lynch. ” I see Twin peaks. “

“If the show was a moving boat, Angelo’s music was the river that carried it,” said Frost. “It helped create and sustain the atmosphere for the show. It gave you a very precise sense of time and place that felt outside of real time and real place. This helped elevate the show to a mythological realm that really separated it from the usual television view of what the world is. I can’t imagine the show without the music. Angelo is such a fun and fun guy to work with, it’s just as important Twin peaks tapestry like someone else’s contribution and you know, it went pretty well. “

The music had gathered in a flash of haunting serendipity. Likewise, many Twin peaksThe most emblematic moments. The demonic figure of BOB was an impromptu creation of Lynch. He was struck by the threatening decorator Frank Silva presented when the camera accidentally caught him looking in the mirror of Laura Palmer’s room.

“The picture we were about to take was the view of Laura’s mother in her daughter’s room after she wanted her to go down to lunch. So the camera was in the doorway, David was in the hallway, where the ceiling fan is. I was tweaking the whole room, preparing everything to get everything in place, “said Silva.

“David joked,” Frank, you better get out of there, you’re going to get caught in the camera. ” And then suddenly he said, “Wait a minute !! Frank, go to the base of the bed, crouch down, look through these wrought iron bars, and scare! And then they shot the POV, with me at the base of the bed. And it just snowballed from there. “

Frank Silva tray dresser was chosen as BOB after Lynch liked the way her figure was taken in front of the camera

Later, fluorescent light flickers as Agent Cooper examines Palmer’s body. Lynch decided to leave it in place, presumably on the grounds that it reinforced the sense of the strange. Flickering electricity would become a recurring visual tic. Lynch never explained why, although it was interpreted as a commentary on duality, and how light and dark, good and evil can exist in close proximity. Maybe he just liked how it went on the screen.

With a budget of $ 1.8 million and a cast largely made up of strangers or character actors who had seen better days, a pilot was shot down in Washington. ABC executives were waiting to watch it in LA. Under the direction of new boss Bob Iger, the network was anxious to move away from the family image it had cultivated in the 80s with prices such as The Cosby Show and Family ties.

This strategy had already given two critical hits in China beach and Thirty and a few (as well as the less successful Cop Rock, “Police musical” with songs by Randy Newman). And it was out of a desire to be taken seriously that the studio decided to work with Lynch. However, a series of test screenings, for executives and the public, did not exactly set the room on fire.

“They seemed to like the idea,” said Lynch. “Behind the scenes, I think they were nervous and asking people questions – is it a good idea? I know that after shooting the pilot, they did a lot of testing. The tests weren’t horrible. But it didn’t go well either.

“I can’t confirm it,” producer Harley Peyton told Brad Dukes in his oral history. “I heard that when they projected it for the network brass in New York, I guess an old pro, one of the best guys in the business, said, ‘It’s never going to appear on ABC. These are garbage. It’s horrible. That will never happen “.

But it happened. With the pilot in the box and the actual filming of the series, ABC’s marketing department sent videotapes to all journalists on their contact list, including the editors of in-flight magazines and local newspapers. The idea was to give Twin peaks enough hype to overcome his bizarre quirk (we’re not in an hour and Agent Cooper is already talking to a woman cradling a pet log).

Sherilyn Fenn is back for the 2015 revival series with almost all of the original cast

In the short term, the campaign worked. Twin peaks demonstrated on April 8 in a buzz wave. The critics were also kind. ” Twin peaks looks like nothing you’ve seen in prime time – or in the Land of God, “said Time. “It is perhaps the most haunting work ever made for American television.”

“Will it be all for everyone? “Said the Washington Post. ” Certainly not. But for the adventurous explorer in the normally tamed desert of television, Twin peaks is just that side of a bargain. “

Week by week, however, the inherently Lynchian nature of the business has become very off-putting to the general public. Notes dropped: at the end of the season, Twin peaks only represented 17% of the public during prime time. Despite everything, ABC, aware of the critics’ praise and the younger audience of the series, renewed it for a second broadcast.

However, Lynch’s enthusiasm faded with that of the audience. One potential reason was that his film career was suddenly on an upward trajectory. At the time of the second season, he was successful with Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage in The heart that is in the Desert. It was then that he was otherwise busy – though he still spent time to play with FBI agent Gordon Cole – that the killer of Laura Palmer was revealed in the third of season two.

The murderer was his own father Leland. He did it when he was possessed by the demonic BOB. “I guess you want to ask him a few questions,” says BOB as Leland. “Did you kill Laura Palmer? Asked Cooper. “Oooooh … oooooh …. oooooh,” yells BOB / Leland. “It’s a yes. “

With that, Twin peaks seemed to get its bolt. These few viewers who had lingered to find out the identity of the killer are out. A new screenplay focusing on the rivalry between Cooper and former FBI mentor Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh). “His mind is like a diamond: cold, hard and shiny,” Cooper said of his sworn enemy. Nobody cared, Lynch especially.

And then: a last devastating twist as Lynch climbed to lead the final. It would be one of the most disturbing 50 minutes of television ever broadcast. Lynch threw much of the existing script from Mark Frost, Harley Peyton and Robert Engels. But he kept their original plan to send Agent Cooper back to the red room of the supernatural Black Lodge and into Twin peaksThe heart of darkness.

Harry Dean Stanton and Kyle Maclachlan in Fire Walk With Me (1992)

As soon as Lynch returned to the set, he made his presence felt. Welsh, aka Windom Earle, recalled that the filmmaker approached and immediately challenged the way the character was portrayed.

“I was wearing this particular outfit which was sort of a plaid jacket with a strange tie,” he said. “David approached, stopped and said,” This is wrong. ” I don’t remember if it was the director but the one who was with me said, “What do you mean? Said David. ‘No no. Windom wouldn’t look like that. ” They asked what he should wear and he replied, “Like an FBI suit that is all covered in soot and all ripped and torn. Worn out. He sleeps in the bushes ”. It was the first time I met him. “

“As far as the red room is concerned, it was, in my opinion, completely and totally false,” said Lynch of the original script. “Completely and totally false. And so I changed this part. Many other parts were things that had been started and that were on a certain route, so they had to continue. But you can still run them in a certain way. “

In the red room, an extra-dimensional place of “absolute evil”, Cooper is confronted with Laura Palmer. She says she will see him “in 25 years”. A lot of madness ensued – including a screaming Palmer lookalike and an appearance by Windom Earle. The episode ends with Cooper, possessed by BOB, smiling and screaming in a mirror – “How is Annie… how is Annie?” – in reference to the love interest of Cooper Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham).

This is where we leave it until Lynch picks up the story with the 1992 prequel film, Walk with fire with me. A disappointment at the box office, Fire march was, if possible, even more hallucinogenic than Twin peaks. Among other thrills, he featured David Bowie’s most disturbing cameo – like missing FBI agent Phillip Jeffries – on this side of the Dancing in the street video. And, 25 years after that, slipped Twin Peaks: the return.

But what was it ultimately? The enduring nature of evil? The culprits of life in a small town? The cosmic transcendence of a good share of pie? Perhaps all of the above. Maybe not at all. One thing is certain, there is no point in trying to get the truth from Lynch. He doesn’t say it and probably never will.

“When you finish something, people want you to talk about it. And I think it’s almost like a crime, “he once explained, prompted to unpack Twin peaks. “A film or a painting – everything is its own language and it’s not fair to try to say the same thing with words. The words are not there. The language of the film, the cinema, is the language in which it was put, and the English language – it’s not going to translate. It will lose. “


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