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The Lynch Ledger-Entry Six: Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me (1992)

The television series, “Twin Peaks”, premiered in April of 1990, and became a mini-phenomenon. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” never quite reached the frenzy of “Who Shot J.R.?”(from “Dallas”, a decade earlier), but it was pretty palpable, all the same. Even so, I didn’t jump on board with “Twin Peaks”, until it was rebroadcast that summer. And after finally watching the two-hour pilot, and all seven episodes of that first mini-season—I was officially hooked. It wasn’t long before I was listening obsessively to the official “Twin Peaks” soundtrack. And soon after that reading The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer(penned by David’s then 22-year-old daughter, Jennifer Lynch). I even recorded an Agent Dale Cooper inspired message for my answering machine(my Grandmother absolutely hated calling, because of it!). So, by the time the first episode of season two premiered that fall, I(and much of the T.V. viewing masses)was salivating. But then something funny happened, before winter arrived.

“Twin Peaks” buzz DIED. With the public clamoring for the revelation of Laura Palmer’s murderer(and David Lynch extremely reluctant to reveal it so soon…until the studio forced his hand), once they finally got it—they simply stopped caring. Never mind that the show was starting to take on an interesting new track with the pursuit of a Dale Cooper(Lynch regular at this point, Kyle MacLachlan)adversary named Windom Earle(Kenneth Welsh), by the time 1991 rolled around, “Twin Peaks” ratings were in rapid decline. They juggled its time slot, there were weeks when they decided not to even broadcast new episodes(although after a semi-spirited fan base outcry, all filmed installments were shown), and by summer 1991…”Twin Peaks” was dead in the water…just like Laura. It ascended rapidly, and then proceeded to dive off a cliff. No, the general public has never quite known what to make of David Lynch(even though he directed roughly a 5th of the series total, it was his baby to fail, so Lynch ultimately took the entire hit). And then David became Dr. Frankenstein.

Lynch was determined to bring “Twin Peaks” back from the dead. And if television spurned him, it was simply time to find another arena. So, with ten million dollars from a France-based production company, “Twin Peaks” was about to be reborn as a major motion picture. And by September of 1991, principal photography was underway. There were complications. Series regulars, like Sherilyn Fenn and Lara Flynn Boyle, officially bailed on the project citing “scheduling conflicts”, although rumours were rife that the ladies were disappointed with the television show’s second season trajectory. Even Lynch discovery, and series star, Kyle MacLachlan was said to be reluctant to reprise his role, but eventually remained loyal to Lynch, and returned—albeit to reduced screen time participation. It was just enough however—for without him the film version probably would have never flown. Boyle’s character was recast(23-year-old Moira Kelly would be the new Donna Hayward), Fenn’s was cut completely, and by May of 1992, “Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me” was premiering at Cannes.

And the festival audiences, along with most of the major critics of the time, savaged the “Twin Peaks” film. Even filmmaker(and self-labeled David Lynch fanatic)Quentin Tarantino infamously panned it, in a 1992 interview. Eventually though, “Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me” did pick a U.S. distributor in New Line Cinema, but when it was unleashed on American audiences in late August of 1992…the response was apathetic. The film only garnered about 4 million dollars in North America after its brief stay in theaters. There was some positive attention 22 years ago when it debuted. The Independent Spirit Awards nominated Sheryl Lee(once, and always, Laura Palmer)as Best Actress, and the Saturn Awards(focusing on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films)followed suit. And perennial Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti won both of those same honors for his music duties. But the world of “Twin Peaks” had officially come to a dubious close. Or had it?

Of course, the style and quality of that original “Twin Peaks” television series has become legendary. And, like a lot of misunderstood art, the reputation of “Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me” has greatly improved over time. The film is different from the T.V. show, at least during its opening 35 minutes or so, and audiences weren’t prepared for the contrast so soon after the series finale. Throw in limited participation from Kyle MacLachlan, and a virtually unknown actress(in Moira Kelly)taking over the sizable part of Donna, and it could be said that “Twin Peaks-Fire Walk With Me” was doomed from the beginning. But distance has been kind. Even the tone-altering opening scenes of agents Chester Desmond(Chris Isaak)and Sam Stanley(Kiefer Sutherland)play out in a much smoother fashion today. Then, when that iconic “Twin Peaks” opening themes ushers in the arrival of the Laura Palmer character—well, it’s like old home week. And as a prequel, “Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me” allowed Lynch vast artistic liberty. With the film chronicling the final days of Laura Palmer, before her brutal demise, we not only are open to the introduction of new characters, but likewise get to revel in the appearances of original favorites like: Ray Wise as Leland, Dana Ashbrook as Bobby, James Marshall as James, Madchen Amick as Shelly…and Catherine Coulson as “the Log Lady”. In retrospect, it should have been accepted as a win/win.

There are still some quibbles though, after completing my recent re-watch. I really adore Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, and I think I understand the obstacles the actress was up against in the transition from the small screen to the cinemas. That being said, I’ve always found her film performance of Laura Palmer occasionally overwrought. It’s not as glaring an issue with Ray Wise as Leland Palmer(Laura’s Dad), because he’s an exceptional character actor—who also happens to be an accomplished ham—and he simply expands on what he was doing in the 1990-91 series. But when Sheryl gets in “ham mode” it becomes overkill—especially when she shares scenes with Wise. And MacLachlan’s paltry participation is still glaring. Hey, it’s better than not having him at all, but it remains a debit. One can only imagine how much richer of a motion picture it would’ve been with his full cooperation. But Lynch’s imagery and artistry remain strong, if occasionally confusing(what’s with the monkey?). In fact, an early bit involving Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley decoding the moves of Lil the Dancer(Kimberly Ann Cole)works better now, than back when the film first played in theaters. It’s a minor miracle that “Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me” even managed to get made—and we’re lucky to have it. It’s melancholy and haunting, and it fleshes out the world of Laura Palmer in ways surprising and expected. May its reputation continue to blossom.

Grade: B

next month’s Lynch Ledger Entry: 1997’s “Lost Highway”

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2 comments on “The Lynch Ledger-Entry Six: Twin Peaks-Fire Walk with Me (1992)

  1. I just finished binge-watching all of Twin Peaks for the second time and it’s just so good! Thanks for this behind the scenes write up. Very interesting!

    • So pleased that you enjoyed it, and thanks for reading! Planning on starting a fresh re watch of both “Twin Peaks” seasons starting next month…hard to believe we are approaching the 25th anniversary of the television series premiere! ML

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