Thursday, 18 February 2016

Andrzej Zulawski
(1940 - 2016)

For those who haven’t heard elsewhere, I’m sorry to have to pass on the news that the death was announced yesterday of Andrzej Zulawski, a director who could I think be justifiably described as one of the more extreme filmmakers ever to walk the earth.

Not ‘extreme’ in the bastardised sense of simply filling his movies with sexual and violent content you understand, but in the more literal sense of the word - Zulawski spent practically every minute of screen time in his films attempting to challenge, provoke, enrage or disturb his audience, whether in intellectual, emotional or visceral terms, or usually some gnarled and twisted combination of all three - all whilst insisting that he was doing nothing more or less than portraying truth as he saw it.

Seemingly carrying the trauma and bitterness of his wartime childhood and his upbringing in communist Poland with him like a fog of hatred and betrayal, driving his work ever onward to more furious intensity, I have an impression of him being a man whose approach to life embodied the word “uncompromising” so thoroughly that I’m willing to bet 90% of obits that appear in the coming weeks will drop it in the first sentence.

Based on interviews and commentary tracks I have listened to, he certainly came across as charismatic, frighteningly intelligent and somewhat intimidating - definitely not a guy you’d want to mess with (which must presumably have helped when it came to making such ambitious and defiantly uncommercial films within a compromised and impoverished marketplace).

Like most of his fans in the quote-unquote “cult film” milieu I’m guessing, the first Zulawski film I saw was ‘Possession’ (1981), which screened one year as part of Leicester’s much-missed Fantastic Film Festival. As a local student with a cut price season ticket in hand, I popped along one evening without any preconceived idea of what to expect, and to say the film “blew me away” would be an understatement. In fact I was so overwhelmed by it, I remember spending several hours wandering around the streets in a daze, trying to make sense of what I had just seen, eventually returning home after I was almost hit by a bus.

If we take the term literally, I still consider ‘Possession’ to be one of the best “horror films” ever made, but of course, with Zulawski being the kind of guy who never gave two shits for anybody’s idea of ‘genre’, it is so much more besides that. An unflinching record of the emotional apocalypse triggered by the collapse or a marriage, a razor’s edge fugue for the schizophrenia of Europe’s East/West separation in the drag end of the Cold War, a terrifying science fiction/conspiracy story – interpret it how you will, what's certain is that it is a unique and magnificent film, a troubled and troubling masterpiece somehow wrenched out of production circumstances that would have tried the patience of a saint, and I recommend it to everyone (assuming you’ve got the movie-watching guts to roll with the punches, so to speak).

It was only some years after that, after finally obtaining a DVD copy of ‘Possession’, that it occurred to me that this guy had probably made some other films, and that I should probably look into getting hold of them. His debut feature, ‘The Third Part of The Night’ (1971), happily available on legit UK DVD, likewise proved incredible – a surreal and disturbing take on the “coming to terms with WWII” formula that just about every ‘serious’ mid-century European filmmaker took a stab at at some point, immediately differentiated from its art-house contemporaries by a wealth of startlingly imaginative imagery and stylised technique that swings closer to Argento than it does to Wajda, allowing the film’s more shocking sequences to hit like hammer-blows, even whilst it’s obtuse socio-cultural ruminations on the Polish experience may be somewhat lost on the casual viewer (the very idea of a “casual viewer” being Zulawski’s sworn enemy throughout his life, one suspects).

That latter issue began to prove problematic as I delved further into the Zulawski filmography, acquiring scarce and relatively pricey editions of both ‘L'Amour Braque’ (1985 – essentially untranslatable French title sometimes rendered as ‘Limpet Love’, or ‘Crazy Love’) and ‘Diabeł’ (‘The Devil’, 1971), both of which I’m afraid I found gruelling and mystifying viewing experiences that I would be happy to avoid ever returning to.

That is not to say they are bad or disappointing films – on the contrary, they are grand and daring pieces of cinema, rich in harrowing performances, beautiful photography and directorial vision. It’s just that that vision is so intensely personal, so dense in obscure cultural metaphor and intellectual rigour – accompanied by a complete refusal to yield any ground whatsoever to the demands of that aforementioned “casual viewer” – that watching them often felt like being lost without a map in some nightmarish wilderness of insane pandemonium. I remember them in much the same way one might remember being beaten by the police, or spending a night on the freezing street in winter – which is to say, I remember them very well indeed, a fact that speaks for itself given my usual hazy cinematic memory.

As you might expect, this put a bit of a damper on my Zulawski-related explorations, but, after recently watching ‘Possession’ a couple more times, he remains a fascinating artist and filmmaker for whom I have a huge amount of respect, and, having recently acquired copies of his unfinished science fiction epic ‘On The Silver Globe’ (1977/88) and the controversial ‘Szamanka’ (1996), I’ve been looking forward to finding time to get back on the wagon.

And, at the time of writing, that’s that in terms of my own take on Zulawski as a director, but, as ever with these things, I hope it is a ‘take’ that will expand and deepen as time goes on.

If there is one thing that unites all of the Zulawski films I have seen to date, it is a sense of continual apocalypse: a feeling of the world being in a constant state of destructive transformation, with individual humans tossed around like leaves in a hurricane, maddened and driven to desperate acts by forces and feelings they (let alone we) can barely comprehend.

One of the director’s central goals however seems to be to convince us that we can and do understand what his characters are going through very well. Whilst I, in my stupid petit bourgeois fashion, would tend to suggest that if you regularly find yourself feeling like a character in a Zulawski movie you should probably seek professional help, he apparently saw things very differently.

I was particularly struck by this when I read somewhere a few years back that Zulawski had withdrawn his support and participation from a planned retrospective of his films in New York, because he had taken offence with the poster and blurb for the season, which made prominent use of the word ‘hysteria’.

I can’t seem to dig up his actual statement on the subject right now (comments are open below if you’re able to point me in the right direction), but I recall that the gist of his argument was that he was fucking sick of people describing the behaviour of characters in his films as “hysterical”, that such a description betrayed a complete misunderstanding of his work, and that as far as he was concerned, he was simply portraying the day to day reality of most people’s emotional life, that other filmmakers were simply too cowardly to put on screen.

Yeah, thinking back over the films, I had to blink and re-read that a few times too.

Ultimate obituary cliché though it may be, it’s rarely felt more appropriate to close by saying: he did it his way. Whilst there was precious little peace to be found in his films, we hope he rests in it now.


Working largely in Poland and France, Zulawski’s films were naturally graced with some magnificent posters, a few of which are displayed below.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Thoughts on…
Revisiting Twin Peaks.

Although it dominated my thoughts on cinema through my late teens and early twenties, my David Lynch obsession has (mercifully for the readers of this blog) lain largely dormant since shortly after the release of his last film to date, ‘Inland Empire’, (god-was-it-really) almost a decade ago.

Following the announcement last year that ‘Twin Peaks’ is due for a 25-years-later return in 2016 however, I became conscious of the fact that my recollection of the original series had faded into a mass of distant, fragmented images and half-forgotten characters buried deep in some forgotten archive in my long-term memory. Thus, I decided that I would quite like to revisit the series prior to this ‘revival’ (the nature & wisdom of which remains decidedly uncertain at the time of writing). As it turned out, my wife had never watched the series at all, so what further excuse did we need to break out the old DVDs?

And, in short, refamiliarising myself with ‘Twin Peaks - reliving its terror, mystery, absurdity and catharsis as if for the first time via my wife’s reactions - has proved an immensely enjoyable experience.

Rather than finding the show grating and insincere, as I feared I might when reassessing it from a more detached, ‘grown up’ point of view, returning to ‘Twin Peaks’ has in fact only served to deepen my appreciation for what David Lynch and Mark Frost managed to achieve through this production.

What follows therefore is merely a collection of tangents and observations that occurred to me whilst re-watching the original episodes of the series, arranged in no particular order and leading up to no particular conclusion, but hopefully perhaps providing a few new avenues for fans of the show to ponder as they nervously anticipate the forthcoming quarter century reunion.

SPOILER WARNING: Whilst I have avoided giving away the story’s Big Reveal in the post that follows, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to avoid hinting at it pretty strongly in places. As such: readers who have not watched ‘Twin Peaks’ in its entirety and intend to do so at some point in their life are STRONGLY ADVISED to skip the remainder of this post until said viewing has been completed. (I’m not usually too bothered about such things, but as those ‘in the know’ will understand in this case, prior knowledge would tend to ruin one’s full appreciation of the show to a significant extent.)

1. Twin Peaks is a rigidly moral universe.

Like many viewers I suspect, I recalled ‘Twin Peaks’ largely as a series of rambling digressions and jarring tonal shifts – but in actual fact, the feature length pilot and seven subsequent episodes that form the first series are as tight as a drum in terms of their construction: painstakingly assembled packages of soap opera-via-horror movie emotional manipulation, centred around an elemental ‘good vs evil’ dichotomy as strictly enforced as that of a Christian morality play (even as organised religion plays almost no role in the show whatsoever).

If we examine the series in terms of its most basic conflicts in fact, we find a universe that is closer in essence to the romantic fantasy of something like ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ that it is to the morally ambiguous, reality-based fiction that it at first appears to be, in spite of the myriad complications that are thrown in to put us off the scent.

When contemplating the first series of ‘Twin Peaks’, one could easily draw a diagram incorporating every single character, their positions defined within a fixed moral framework. (If I had any talent whatsoever for capturing facial likenesses in sketches, there is a chance I might have actually, literally drawn this diagram as some kind of insane work of outsider art, so… let’s all be thankful that I don’t.)

On the right hand side of the diagram, we can envisage the forces of ‘good’, clustered around Agent Cooper and the micro-community within the Sheriff’s office, also incorporating Big Ed (still my favourite character after all these years) and the protective spirit of The Bookhouse Boys, Dr Hayward, Major Briggs, Norma at the diner, and the equally steadfast presence of Pete Martell at The Mill.

These are strong characters, their moral integrity and inner peace keeping them safe from corruption or ‘attack’ by the dark terrors that swirl around the town. Whatever day-to-day perils they might face on the physical plain, on a spiritual/psychic level, they collectively constitute an unassailable fortress.

Branching off slightly from the fortress toward the centre of the diagram, we find James, Donna and Maddy – the ‘good kids’ who remain under the nominal protection of their elders, even as their Nancy Drew-like investigations frequently put them in danger of succumbing to ‘the dark’ – their youth making them susceptible to the deadly combination of personal weakness and metaphysical assault that, even whilst never given name or form within the show, adds an eerie, walking-on-eggshells quality to their scenes throughout the first series.

Far away on the other (left hand) side of the diagram meanwhile lurk the dark, dark woods, and the Evil – terrible, unknowable, unnameable, soul-destroying. In its human aspect: Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault (traditional Bad Men, their spirits so degraded they can tread close to the heart of darkness without even knowing it – literally so, on the night of Laura’s death). In its non-human aspect: the nightmare world of Killer Bob and One Armed Mike, which I will freely admit remains utterly terrifying to me to this day (because no one, but no one, in the field of popular culture pulls off that utter-fucking-terror thing like David Lynch, however old hat his tricks may seem when examined after the fact).

Skirting the line between the ‘evil’ realm and the diagram’s central no-mans-land, we have a little boat captained by Benjamin Horne (also housing Jerry, Blackie of One-Eyed Jacks, and Catherine Martell): figures whose greed and moral turpitude places them far within the influence of the dark, but not so much so that they couldn’t escape it, should they choose to try.

And in the very centre of this diagram of course: Laura Palmer. The empty space around whom everyone else in this system must define themselves from the moment the show begins. Strongly subject to the pull of both good and evil – succumbing to both, repelling both – the central area around her becomes a whirlpool of opposing forces.

Scattered in this maelstrom are the show’s ‘lost souls’ – weaker characters, many of them close to Laura, drawn to the light but damaged by the darkness, without the inner strength to know what is happening to them or to determine their own fate. Bobby Briggs, Dr. Jacoby, Audrey Horne, Josie Packard. And, closest to the centre of the whirlpool of course, the poor, tragic spirits of Leland and Sarah Palmer.

Having laid all that out, I hope I won’t sound too crazy when I state that absolutely everything in series # 1 of ‘Twin Peaks’ fits into this scheme completely. Once you have the form of this diagram in mind, there are very few loose ends, very few threads left hanging.

(One remaining anomaly of course is The Log Lady, who, based on a number of hints quietly dropped in the second series, I think might best be defined as a former victim of the town’s ‘evil’, who, as a result of the resulting trauma, has built up psychic walls to protect herself from it. She lives near the whatever-it-is, intercepts messages from it, but is no longer under threat from it.)

2. The Mike / Bobby thing is worth a mention.

One interesting red herring / unexplored avenue / random headfuck [delete as applicable] in the early episodes of ‘Twin Peaks’ is the implied relationship between the town’s “real life” Mike and Bobby – dumb teenage punks stumbling toward a life of low-level criminality (and thus into the realm of the show’s ‘evil’) – and the supernatural ‘Mike’ and ‘Bob’ whom Cooper and the other characters encounter in dreams and visions.

From the garbled and dream-mangled impressions we receive of these entities, we might initially envisage them as a pair of middle-aged criminals or sadists of some kind, who, lurking in the minds of their victims, have somehow become transfigured into fearful disembodied figures in the psychic realm, pitched somewhere between demons, malevolent magicians and elemental avatars of negative human emotion.

Given that Cooper pointedly states that his dream takes place twenty five years after the present, the logical implication here is that One-Armed Mike and Killer Bob represent the terrible beings that the real life Mike and Bobby will become a quarter century hence, should they continue to pursue their callous and destructive path through life. (Eerily, the vague similarities between the two pairs of actors are just close enough to make this seem plausible, in some dream-logic type fashion.)

Whilst this angle is understandably dropped from the storyline once One-Armed Mike becomes a real-world presence in the form of Mr. Gerard, and the circumstances surrounding Laura’s life and death begin to become clearer, it is nonetheless a queasy and potent notion that sticks in the mind longer than it has any right to. (It might make an interesting springboard for a potential 25-five-years-later storyline, perhaps..?)

3. To fight Great Evil, it takes Great Good.

If you boil down David Lynch’s feature filmography down to its basic essence, what you tend to find are stories of lonely, drifting or otherwise emotionally troubled individuals who are drawn into contact with some spirit of ‘evil’ that, whether interpreted in supernatural or psychological terms, is almost too malignant and frightening for the human mind to bear, and subsequently find themselves tranformed or destroyed by it.

Whilst ‘Twin Peaks’ contains some of the most upsetting outbreaks of this ‘evil’ ever realised by Lynch, it is also the only entry in his canon to set up an equally strong force for ‘good’ alongside the horror. Rather than being characterised as doomed victims, riding a noir-ish whirlpool to their inevitable destruction (as per so many of Lynch’s feature films), the people of Twin Peaks at least have a fighting chance.

This innovation could well be attributed to Mark Frost (whom it is all too easy to see as the Derleth to Lynch’s Lovecraft in this particular partnership), but nonetheless, in the first series at least, it is explored in purely Lynchian terms. ‘Good’, for Lynch, is represented by feelings of comfort, compassion and familiarity, and, at times, these virtues are rendered just as powerfully in ‘Twin Peaks’ as the stark terror and threat of the nameless ‘evil’.

Through the shared appreciation of “damn good coffee” and the lunch-time slice of pie, the rituals of ‘good’ are asserted, and the atmosphere cleansed. The scenes early in the series, in which Agent Cooper is initiated into the ways of The Bookhouse Boys, and in which he and the sheriff’s deputies bond on the shooting range (when Hawk memorably recites the poem he wrote for his girlfriend), convey such a spirit of acceptance and belonging that it is almost overwhelming. As long as guys like this are on the case, the viewer is invited to think, the nameless shadow that hangs over the town can never triumph.

Whilst it is all too easy for less insightful fictions to quantify ‘heroism’ in terms of intelligence and physical strength, ‘Twin Peaks’ is generally careful to side-step this misapprehension, demonstrating in its best moments that the our heroes’ ‘strength’ – that which makes them impervious to the evil into which they delve - exists primarily on a spiritual and moral level. This is expressed through their honesty and selflessness, their acceptance of ‘difference’ within their community (whether it be Cooper’s magickal detective work, the ways of The Log Lady or David Duchovny in drag) and their willingness to help others through difficult times; their love for the people around them, basically.

(As an aside, the mythos of The Bookhouse Boys is to my mind one of the most interesting and under-utilised ideas in ‘Twin Peaks’. The notion of a group of entirely conventional, down-to-earth guys feeling drawn together to organise and guard against a threat so vague and nebulous that none of them can even speak about it out loud or express what it is, is one that greatly appeals to me, and that I would very much like to see further explored in any new iteration of the series. [Whilst on the subject: why the ‘bookhouse’? What is this ‘bookhouse’? What are the nature of the books in it, and who put them there? Has no one ever summoned up the courage to say, “guys, I think the word we’re looking for here is ‘library’”? – all these are questions long overdue an answer.] )

4. Authoritarian Mysticism.

Something else about ‘Twin Peaks’ that had never really occurred to me until I started considering it in terms of the ‘good vs evil’ framework outlined above is how thoroughly conservative the assignment of roles within the show is (on the surface level, at least).

Whilst most of the show’s human villains are very traditional ‘bad guy’ types – drifters, petty criminals, pimps and corrupt businessmen, mostly identified as working class -‘Twin Peaks’ conversely paints an extraordinarily positive picture of traditional authority figures.

Police officers, federal agents, even an Air Force Major (and in one episode, a judge and a District Attorney) – these characters are presented, not only as our main protagonists and moral anchors, but as noble, complex and idiosyncratic individuals – warriors, sages and seekers-into-the-mystery, all navigating their own strange paths to enlightenment.

Of course, American popular culture is not exactly lacking in stories that glorify the exploits of unconventional law enforcement officials, but, coming from a counter-culture aligned representative of the ‘baby boomer’ generation like David Lynch – the enfant terrible director of ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Wild At Heart’, no less – such portrayals swing so far from what we might expect that they become almost transgressive. Especially so given that, as outlined in point # 2 above, the authority figures of ‘Twin Peaks’ are about as far removed from the violent rule-breakers of the John Wayne/’Dirty Harry’ tradition as it is possible to get

Instead, the show’s cops and agents all embrace the civic duty and regimental conformity of their office with almost comical solemnity, whilst simultaneously embodying a set of values that American culture more commonly assigns to lone mystics, saintly humanitarian figures, or, less charitably, just plain hippies.

By so pointedly overturning the clichés of the doltish small town cop, the hard-headed FBI agent and the bullying military dad, Lynch & Frost repeatedly create fresh, interesting and unpredictable characters for us to identify with, and perhaps even to a certain extent succeed in opening the minds of those of us who grew up images of Rodney King beatings and Vietnam massacres to a different, more measured understanding of the human beings behind this kind of civic authority, and the positive force they can exert. And in a certain sense, what could possibly be more subversive than that?

5. When quality drops, it drops hard.

Back when I first viewed ‘Twin Peaks’, the much vaunted drop in quality between the first and second series never struck me as that much of an issue, but, returning to it again with my critical faculties more carefully attuned, what can I say but - ouch.

As I suppose will be obvious to fans, all of my fine words above and below relate primary to the ‘core’ of the series – that being, the first season, and the portions of the second season directly related the mystery surrounding Laura’s murder. Outside of that, the speed with which the carefully wrought atmosphere and universe of the show’s first series falls apart in season # 2 is staggering.

Whilst the business with Major Briggs and the Black and White Lodges remains diverting, any sense of real gravitas is long gone (it’s as if a Zulawski or Herzog film suddenly turned into an episode of ‘The X Files’, effectively), and by the time the central mystery of Laura’s death is concluded, it is only the fine characterisations previously established by actors like Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Nance, Don S. Davis, Everett McGill and Sherilyn Fenn that even keep things watchable. In terms of writing and direction, we’re running on fumes from thereon in.

Whilst there is no point dwelling unduly on the negative, there are a couple of characters in particular who are very poorly served by this quality drop. In particular, it is the younger characters who seem to get their personal story arcs most cruelly bashed out of shape by the second series, and this irks me to the extent that I’d quite like to tell you about it.

Having started out as a not-terribly-likeable caricature of a swaggering teen delinquent, Bobby Briggs seemed to have turned a corner and become a potentially interesting character by the end of season #1. Breaking down under questioning from Dr Jacoby, he tearfully admits that it was Laura who convinced him to start pushing drugs and getting involved with bad guys, and, with her corrupting influence removed, we start to see a picture of the goofy, innocent teenager beneath emerging. When his father subsequently reveals his dream of his son’s future happiness, we see Bobby genuinely touched, and, perhaps boosted by his initially very positively portrayed relationship with Shelly, we start to feel that he has perhaps been ‘saved’, under the terms of the show’s moral schema.

All this goes straight out of the window in season # 2 though, as he’s immediately back to being a two-dimensional teen hood straight of a second rate sit-com – an easier sell for both actor and writers, no doubt, but a shameful betrayal of the character who was just beginning to emerge at the end of season # 1.

Even more redundant are James and Donna, who, I’d imagine I won’t be the first to observe, are a complete waste of space in season # 2. Whilst their ambiguous moral position, and the trauma of their proximity to Laura’s murder and the dark deeds of her killer, fuels the drama of their scenes very effectively in season # 1, season #2 drops the ball horrendously.

In terms of season # 1’s strict moral scheme, the mess their little gang gets into with the unfortunate Harold Smith should see them advancing further down the path of danger and corruption – ignoring their moral culpability for his death whilst they increasingly let their own self-pity and melodramatic emotional hang-ups define their actions, at the expense of those around them. If the menace of the earlier episodes was still hanging in the air, this is the point at which the show’s ‘evil’, feeding on such weakness, would make its presence felt and draw them in.

The writers and directors of season # 2 dodge this necessary judgement call entirely however, apparently expecting us to indulge and even sympathise with these solipsistic wet blankets, and, as a result, their respective plotlines drivel off into sub-soap opera tedium and irrelevance. (And, if there’s one thing worse than a daytime soap, it’s daytime soap material that thinks it is being better and cooler than a daytime soap, whilst failing to actually offer up anything at all to critique or transcend the form.)

Whilst on a roll, I could also lament the way that the entire Jean Renault / One-Eyed Jacks storyline, having been so painstakingly built up, fizzles out in an ‘action set-piece’ so flat and half-hearted it leaves no impression on the wider narrative whatsoever, and could rue the day that some script editor decided that the pantomime villainy of Windom Earle made an appropriate replacement for the genuine horror of the forces tied up with Laura’s death, but… well, you get the idea – I think we’ve dwelt on this long enough.

6. ‘Twin Peaks’ is a great work of art.

Above and beyond all of the irony, surrealism and affected quirk that ‘Twin Peaks’ wears like a cloak, the central story of Laura Palmer’s life and death remains a tragedy that no remotely sensitive viewer can remain untouched by, whilst the far-reaching implications and coded, hidden worlds that are uncovered in the course of the investigation of her death can’t help but echo those of similar, undocumented stories – cruel, painful and endlessly circular – that unfold in every city in the world, every day.

By establishing a framework that allows every single facet of one such ‘case’ to be absorbed in the form of popular entertainment – crucially keeping the audience ‘in the dark’ until it is far too late for them to withdraw their emotional investment – Lynch and Frost achieve something uniquely powerful.

Although both creators have repeatedly insisted that they never intended to reveal the identity of Laura’s killer (the lore around the show claiming that this was a decision dictated by the broadcaster ABC), I find such a dismissal difficult to believe, given how beautifully the ‘big reveal’ is eventually handled, and how thoroughly the light of the resulting knowledge retrospectively casts a dark shadow over everything we have seen up to that point – a shadow that, ultimately, defines the meaning of the entire series.

Characteristic of David Lynch’s directorial work, the scenes surrounding the ‘reveal’ operate on a level of psychic/emotional ‘truth’ that at times becomes entirely disconnected from the logic real world cause & effect. In particular, take the way that the murderer’s third killing (the moment at which the penny drops for the audience) is intercut with an almost otherworldly gathering of souls at The Roadhouse (where Julee Cruise’s band plays, and the giant appears to inform Cooper that “IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN”).

Various characters, all of them close to Laura, have gathered there for no reason that is ever made explicitly clear. As they sit separately around the room whilst Cruise and Badalamenti’s upbeat yet strangely harrowing dream-pop music plays and Coop mulls over the realisation that he has failed to anticipate or prevent another killing, a shared feeling of realisation seems to creep over all of the characters similtaneously, even though, in story terms, they do not yet know the literal truth. Why could we not see what was happening? Why did we let it continue? Somewhere deep in their souls, they – and by extension, the whole town – knew the answer. They just couldn't admit it to themselves until now. They did nothing, but what could they do, against a secret so closely guarded? We can place no blame upon them.

Without needing to utter a word out loud, the scene overwhelms us with a combination of sadness, resignation, forgiveness and horror, as the characters see that same shadow stretching back across all they’ve experienced up to this point, just as we feel it falling across the memory of this intriguing and entertaining TV show we’ve been watching over the past however many weeks.

As mentioned earlier in this piece, Lynch’s mysteries can always be approached in either supernatural or psychological/symbolic terms – but crucial to their power is the fact that neither interpretation cancels out the other. Like the work of any magician, it exists on both plains simultaneously.

Put it this way, perhaps: Lynch & Frost could easily have made a grim, real life drama about the events in the Palmer household. It might have been harrowing and compelling, with committed performances and inspired direction. But few would have had the stomach to watch it, let alone fully engage with it, and I certainly wouldn’t be talking about it today.

By drawing us instead into the dark mysteries of The Other Place, the dwarf and the giant, the occult fragments and obtuse clues that lead to the terrifying realm of Killer Bob, they have us hooked before we even know what we’re hooked with.

When Bob makes his attacks – revved up using all the tricks in the Lynch playbook, like the elemental father of every horror movie boogeyman – we feel a genuine sliver of the kind of raw terror experienced daily by victims and perpetrators alike in real life situations that mirror that of Laura's. As we don’t initially know the root of what we’re seeing and feeling, our armour is not in place, and it goes straight in like a knife.

Then, when we’ve been through the worst of it together, when Laura’s murderer eventually leaves this world at peace, the remaining part of his heart that loved her duly forgiven, and the other characters come to terms with the unpalatable truth that is now out in the clear light of day, we feel a kind of ‘closure’ that is difficult to put into words.

I should conclude here by saying that I’m speaking here as someone who has never been at all affected by any of the, uh, ‘issues’ involved in this storyline, but its resolution still left me flattened. I can’t even imagine the effect that viewing ‘Twin Peaks’ might have on someone for whom such issues did have personal significance, but, I believe that effect would ultimately be positive, and indeed, I hope it was.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Lovecraft on Film Appendum:
The Credits Out of Space

One of the only aspects of Daniel Haller’s Die Monster Die! that really stays true to the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft’s source text is the extraordinary credits sequence, which seemingly uses lurid gel lighting and clouds of slow motion gas to create the impression of swirling, deep space vistas of some vast and unguessable variety.

The quasi-psychedelic flavour of the opening sequences appended to AIP’s early '60s horror films often seem slightly ahead of their time, and this is definitely one of my favourite examples of the form, directly mirroring the kind of effects utilised in the LSD-inspired light shows that were just beginning to splutter into existence within the underground rock scenes in San Francisco and New York at around the  time ‘Die Monster Die!’ was in cinemas.

I particularly like the way that, if you enlarge and study any of these screengrabs, your eyes will tend to focus on small specks of print damage that look almost like tiny lone astronauts, adrift amid the unfathomable gulfs of infinity. And when the filmmakers eventually use a Bond-style circular ‘wipe’ to stake us straight from these mysterious interstellar visions to the quaint putterings of a small English railway station, the effect is splendidly disorientating.

I wish I could tell you who was responsible for this sequence with any degree of certainty, but unfortunately the film’s credits are, ironically, somewhat vague on the subject of their creator.

According to an entry on IMDB, no less a figure than Hammer special effects man Les Bowie was responsible for “titles (uncredited)”. I don’t know if that means he was single-handedly responsible for the entire sequence, but if so - nice one Les! It certainly must have made a change from checking that the cuts on Peter Cushing’s forehead match up between shots.