Monday, January 21, 2008

David Lynch, "Fire Walk With Me" (1992).

My viewing of the Twin Peaks series really wouldn't have been complete without seeing the follow-up feature, Fire Walk With Me. The film traces the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer, the young woman whose body is discovered in the series pilot. Technically FWWM is a prologue, but I wouldn't recommend watching it first if you've never seen the show. As I wrote yesterday, the mystery surrounding Laura's death is what drives Twin Peaks. Once you know who the perpetrator was, the story loses a lot of steam. The topic of the second season came up in a conversation today, and the person I was talking to was adamant about disliking it.

So why the hell did Lynch shoot a follow-up, a year after the conclusion of the series? Apparently he believed that there was still some tale left untold. If you watched the 29 episodes of the television run, then you already have some vague outline of Laura's final days. The movie fills in some of the details. You could make the case that the depiction of the back-story is best made in the viewer's imagination. That may have been why the film was booed so vigorously when it played the Cannes film festival. It had a similarly negative reception in the States. Critics panned it. The audience was naturally limited to those fans who still loved the original series. Obviously, it was completely impenetrable to anyone who hadn't watched the show previously. Therefore it did quite poorly at the box office.

There are also reports that people resented the lack of humor that was so evident in the series. On the other hand, the silliness of the back half of the second season was a sticking point for many of its detractors. FWWM is almost relentlessly dark. Unfettered by the limitations of network television, Lynch pulled no punches in the portrayal of the disturbing relationship that underpins the narrative. He also expands upon the imagery originally presented in the "Red Room"- the dreamworld sequences that illuminate the core nightmare behind Twin Peaks. The "Man From Another Place" (Michael Anderson), "The One Armed Man" (Al Strobel), and "BOB" (Frank Silva) are all back, and they are joined by others. Minor characters Mrs. Chalfont and her grandson also return, and play more prominent roles. All these characters add to the general surrealist tone of FWWM.

Some star power was added for a bit of extra marquee glitz. Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland and David Bowie all appear as FBI agents. They figure in a story that predates the events surrounding Laura Palmer. Kyle McGlaughlin (the heart of the series) plays a limited role, as he was reluctant to reappear in his original role. Absent altogether is Lara Flynn Boyle, who is replaced in the role of Donna Heyward by Moira Kelly. In addition, many of the main players from Twin Peaks were peripheral to Palmer's death, and are therefore omitted as well. There is no doubt at all that this is Laura's story. Of course this means that characters like the Palmer parents, Leo Johnson, James Hurley, Jacques Renault and Bobby Briggs are indispensable.

Sheryl Lee (who was an inexperienced local actress originally picked by Lynch merely to play the dead girl) ends up being given a lot of work in her role as Laura Palmer. It is fascinating to get to know the personality that affected so many of the players in the television series. She is confused, possessed, sexy, and dynamic in turn. And she could have been a major disappointment if she hadn't been able to deliver the goods. But in my opinion she did quite well. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the cursory attempts Lynch made to clear up some of the lingering mysteries of the series. For example, we see a brief appearance by Agent Cooper's love interest about half way through the film. It seems like nothing more than an afterthought, and serves only to disrupt the continuity of the particular scene. Perhaps the talented director could have left well enough alone, and kept his eye on the main thread. Regardless FWWM was still enjoyable, and constitutes essential viewing for any Twin Peaks enthusiast.

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