AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 13TH SEPTEMBER, from THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RUNNING TIME: 135 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole sends agents Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley to investigate the murder of waitress and teenage prostitute Teresa Banks in the town of Deer Meadow, Oregon. They notice that a ring is missing from her finger and a small piece of paper printed with the letter “T” has been inserted under one of her fingernails. Later, Desmond discovers Teresa’s missing ring under a trailer and inexplicably disappears. Agent Cooper is now sent to Deer Meadow to investigate Desmond’s disappearance. He finds no answers but is certain Teresa’s killer will strike again. One year later in Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer is a promiscuous, troubled teenage girl with an addiction to cocaine, two very different boyfriends, and a belief that from the age of twelve she’s been raped by a demonic man named Bob ….
With hindsight, the huge negative reception [there were boos and walkouts at the Cannes premiere] originally given to David Lynch’s prequel to Twin Peaks seems a bit surprising. Sure, much of the whimsy and humour of the TV series was gone along with many of its characters, but Lynch had already gotten himself a reputation for going dark and delivering the unexpected. Yet one can certainly argue that it didn’t really need to be made in the first place, seeing as many of the things that happen in it are either described in the series or can be worked out. Even the incest aspect that’s central to the film is mentioned; I remember being surprised by it seeing how strict network TV censorship used to be, though admittedly it’s easy to miss. I only got the Twin Peaks bug five years ago when I bought the box set on impulse with some birthday money and I just couldn’t stop watching it, staying up to ungodly hours so I could cram another episode in. I can’t say I particularly liked Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me much after viewing the series like so many fans before me, but I did hugely admire what could be Lynch’s most disturbing movie. My second watch truly revealed to me what a striking piece of work it is, and, while it does ‘kind of’ answer a few minor questions posed by the series [The Man From Another Place is The One Armed Man’s arm – right thanks David, that makes sense], and makes links here and there [we get a flash forward to Annie Blackburn who was in the last few episodes and even connections to theseries pilot], oddly enough I think that it can be appreciated as much by someone who hasn’t seen the series than by someone who has. I noticed only one discrepancy; the Palmer house is on a busy street in the film and an isolated lot in the series because one was a real location and one a set.
Apart from having a hand in the final episode, Lynch actually gave up on the series midway through Season 2 when ABC ordered that Laura’s killer be revealed, but didn’t lose his interest in its world, and he and co-writer Robert Engels conceived Fire Walk With Me as the first in a trilogy of films that would explore the mythology of the Black Lodge, though it had to be financed by French company CIBY-2000 as Lynch/Frost productions couldn’t get funding in the US, while series co-producer Mark Frost was only interested in carrying the story forward so opted not to be involved. Kyle MacLachlan said no to returning as Agent Dale Cooper, so the part was turned into two others, Agents Chet Desmond and Sam Stanley, to be played by Chris Isaac and Kiefer Sutherland. Then MacLachlan changed his mind as long as the role was reduced to only require a week’s shooting, so Isaac and Sutherland remained. Lara Flynn Boyle [who was replaced by Moira Kelly] and Sherilyn Fenn couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts, and Richard Beymer declined to participate due to a scene where his character Ben was to force Laura to kiss him in exchange for a bag of cocaine. Many other regulars filmed scenes but they were removed and Lynch had to battle red tape for decades to eventually get most of them released for home viewing. Fire Walk With Me was a major flop except in Japan, though its reputation has improved over the years and I’ve even read that it’s Lynch’s masterpiece. I wouldn’t go as far as that. But it is very good.
The titles unfold over TV static to a particularly intelligent Angelo Badalamenti theme which really does evoke the film, and Laura, musically: the saxophone and synthesiser piece is lovely, tragic, a tad sexual and goes discordant in one passage. Then we see a baseball bat smash the TV and hear a scream, cut to a body bag floating down a river, then Mr Lynch himself as the partially deaf Agent Gordon Cole shouting out an order. What humour there is exists largely in the first quarter. Our two agents visit Dear Meadow which is like a ugly, dirty parallel universe version of Twin Peaks where nobody seems to care about the murdered Teresa, the police are uncooperative, the diner is unfriendly and – worst of all – coffee was fresh about two days ago. “I’ve really gone places” says a typically memorable Harry Dean Stanton, “but I just wanna stay where I am”. Chester tells Sam that he’s deduced lots of clues from a girl dancing in a red dress but when Sam asks him the significance of a blue rose on her dress he gets the response “I can’t tell you about that”. How I love Lynchian humour. The atmosphere is constantly unsettling and sinister, Badalamenti’s brooding music going even gloomier and darker than it did in Blue Velvet. When we get to a truly weird scene where the FBI headquarters is visited [though he can’t always be seen] by none other than David Bowie as a long-lost colleague, and those mysterious spirits who show up occasionally in the series turn up as the whole picture goes static again, the pervading feeling is of dread, and you can’t say that it doesn’t set things up for the rest of the film. Even Agent Cooper isn’t his familiar chipper self.
The Twin Peaks theme starts off the rest of the film, though it’s without the vocals, and we meet Laura, juggling two guys and constantly needing a sniff of coke to get through the day. She finds pages missing from her diary, and gives the rest of it to her friend and agoraphobic recluse Harold Smith. Two spirits appear to warn her that the “man behind the mask” is in her bedroom. We work out quickly what’s going on but Laura has obviously blocked out the horrible truth. She heads off to a bar to meet with some strangers for sex, her best friend Donna following. Now most of us movie lovers probably have certain scenes that hit us emotionally, that strike a deep chord, even if we don’t always know why, and I’m going to proclaim the next few minutes as the saddest, most moving few minutes in all of Lynch – well, except for that finale to The Elephant Man which is almost too depressing for words. Laura enters the bar and, surrounded by blue lighting in an otherwise mostly red room [there’s lots of those], that ethereal-voiced singer Julee Cruise familiar from the series sings an especially beautiful song about love and anguish whose lyrics mirror Laura’s situation and state of mind. The music, the staging, the choice of shots all combine to make a scene which is incredibly emotional – though most probably prefer the following one in a red drenched, Hell-like nightclub with strange, insanely repetitious rock where the main characters can hardly be heard. Lynch had trouble deciding whether to include subtitles here and in some other moments. By the time he chose to use them, the British distributors had already made all their prints without them.
Of course we have visions [Laura even seems to know her fate in another heartbreaking moment], dreams, and a ring that gets everywhere, even through space and time. There are probably loads of fan theories about all this, though Lynch has said he doesn’t think about what he writes and puts to film and probably can’t explain things any more than we can. More than anything else though, what we’re watching is a desperately sad and sometimes genuinely harrowing tale of a victim of sickening abuse trying to live with the torment and the shame. The film tweaks the nature of Bob. In the series, he was an evil spirit who was definitely real, meaning that Leland couldn’t really be blamed for his actions. The film makes it more ambiguous, Bob being now more of a kind of alter ego for Leland similar to some later Lynch characters. The flesh-crawling sight of the grinning Bob climbing in through Laura’s bedroom window, slowly moving towards her bed and then crawling over her and starting to rape her is truly frightening, the stuff of nightmares, and proof of how brilliant a horror director Lynch is even though he’d probably never call himself one. Laura’s drug habit and her wild sexuality is clearly because she’s overwhelmed and trying to numb her pain. Revelations that the ‘prom queen with a lot of secrets’ slept with most of the male residents of Twin Peaks was kind of a joke in the series. Here, we feel incredibly sorry for her, even when she constantly brushes off the one guy who cares for her, and her actions aren’t judged, while her ‘good’ side still comes to the fore at times like when she whisks her friend Donna away from her sordid lifestyle [though Donna seems to rather enjoy her own little walk on the wild side].
Sheryl Lee wasn’t that great in the series as Laura’s cousin Maddie, but here she delivers a powerhouse performance as Laura, exuding a pain that at times we really feel. It deserved an Oscar nomination. But Ray Wise is also incredibly good when his character is clearly trying to battle his demons. Also worthy of note are the clever production design and use of colour from scene to scene often to show psychological or symbolic states, like when the two girls are dressed in black in a room win an entirely white room. Badalametit’s extraordinary score covers several musical genres; you can even hear him rapping, sounding like he’s doing it from a loudspeaker, while the sound design often favours a fog-like sound that gets under the skin. Yet one can still wonder at a few choices, such as having a few series characters do walk-ons; they just seem gratuitous and distracting here in a film that seems to distance itself from the series in so many ways, though like it or not it’s become an integral part of the overall Twin Peaks universe with Twin Peaks: The Return following on from it in several ways. A part of me still prefers the idea that Laura Palmer remains a character we never properly met, her last few days being things we pieced together. Fire Walk With Me is hard to totally warm to because it’s so harsh even though we appreciate how it has to end, and is a tad disjointed, but it has some of Lynch’s best work and exudes understanding and compassion. I’m actually grateful for Lynch descending a bit into sentimental cliche for its coda, a coda which seems to actually be set after the final episode as well as suggesting, perhaps, that the two Lodges could be the same, it’s all about perception. It gives its heroine – one of the greatest female movie characters of the ’90s – some peace and even happiness. She deserves it.
DIRECTOR APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
Restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director David Lynch
Essentially the same as Criterion’s 2017 North American Blu-ray release, this transfer looks like the same one used for the Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery box set which was truly exemplary, boasting considerable depth and clarity but always seeming natural and properly filmic.
7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, supervised by Lync
Alternate original 2.0 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
I don’t hav the means to play 7.1, but the 2.o soundtrack is still quite something, though with its extremes you may have to to keep fiddling with the sound if you think your neighbours will get annoyed; the loud bits that comer along at intense moments are very loud. There are also passages of distortion on the soundtrack but remember this is Lynch, so they were clearly intended.
The Missing Pieces” deleted and extended scenes (91:23)
Looking just as good as the main feature and properly edited, scored and sequenced, this is an absolute treasure trove for fans, though don’t expect any answers to mysteries except for a slightly more literal spirit sequence. Highlights include Agent Chet Desmond beating the crap out of Sheriff Cable after he refuses to release Teresa Banks’ body, Cooper talking to an unseen Diane which shows him more like his normal self, David Bowie’s Jeffries in Buenos Aires where he asks for “Judy” [expanded upon The Return, an unusually happy family meal between the Palmers, and some scenes that take place after the season two finale, notably Annie being taken to hospital and Cooper after being possessed by Bob. While it doesn’t seem that all the cut footage is here unless the generally reported running time of the first cut is inaccurate, we do also get to see lots of characters from the series who were cut out, plus more of ones that did appear. While there’s more flashback footage of Teresa, the only plot addition is some fake cocaine – and boy is there lots more of Laura snorting.
Would the film have been better with much of this stuff in? The reception from fans would no doubt have been warmer, but then Lynch would have had to cut other stuff out to keep the running time down. I think his decision to focus on Laura was the right one, but I’d maybe reinstate some of the earlier bits before we meet her.
Sheryl Lee from 2017 [22 mins]
This is the first of two new interview commissioned by Criterion in 2017. Lee talks with great fondness about working on Fire Walk With Me. It’s no surprise to hear that it was an intense creative process and that Lynch directs differently from other directors, resulting in that “the logical mind doesn’t have anything to grab on to”. She recalls how she couldn’t make one scene work so Lynch took the time to delve into to with her, how it was magical the moment when she heard her own thoughts again after finishing the film, and how many incestual abuse victims have spoken to her.
Angelo Badalamenti from 2017 [22 mins]
A fascinating treat for the musically inclined, this has the composer talk in detail about his work. He tells not one but two terrific stories – the first involving himself, Paul McCartney and the Queen [I won’t ruin it by going into details], the second telling of how Lynch got a hernia from laughing so much at Badalamenti doing his rapping. He also sysy how all his themes were written after Lynch had spoken to him rather than referencing any visuals, and finishes by playing the track ‘The Voice Of Love’ on his synthesiser. Great stuff all of it.
“Between Two Worlds – Actors Discussion”, 2014 conversation between co-writer/director David Lynch and actors Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, and Sheryl Lee [28 mins]
Filmed in a busy restaurant in 2014 for the Entire Mystery set, this cordial but not at all sick-making [everyone seems genuine about how rewarding working with each other was] takes place – of course – with cherry pie and coffee on the table. Lynch leads the conversation about both the seres and the film while Zabriskie [Laura’s mother Grace] gives slightly longer answers than the others, though all three give full responses to Lynch’s questions. It’s no surprise when we hear that Lynch never told his cast where things were going and if something went wrong he’s often use it, Wise being the most ethusive about praisjng Lynch, while Zabriskie tells of how she was walked on when she was supposed to lie down and people forgot that she was there, while Lee says how people were surprised to see her alive for a while for really quite obvious reasons. They even watch a deleted scene, and it’s one that Lee was hoping to see again.
Now that the air of disappointment and feeling of shock have faded, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ can now fully be appreciated as both prime Lynch and a very humane piece that’s troubling only in the best way. Criterion’s release comes Highly Recommended, though fans will no doubt want to hold onto the ‘Entire Mystery’ set as it contains another disc with a few more ‘Fire Walk With Me’ bits.