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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Studio: Criterion

Oct 27, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the feature-length prequel film to the cult primetime soap opera, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, legend has it that the film was met with jeers and boos. Whether or not that’s true, the critical response was almost unanimously negative; many were downright damning of filmmaker David Lynch and his new movie in their published reviews. (Said the New York Times’ Vincent Canby, perhaps a little delicately: “It’s not the worst film ever made; it just seems to be.”) The film failed to capture the zeitgeist which had surrounded the show at its height (and had been unceremoniously canceled just one year earlier.) Fire Walk With Me did little business at the box office, recouping only half its shooting budget and earning a reputation as Lynch’s most divisive film this side of Dune.

It’s pretty easy to see how fans of the TV series would have been so disappointed with Fire Walk With Me. Star Kyle MacLachlan, who played the mercurial special agent Agent Dale Cooper, was reluctant to resume the role after the show’s tepid second season, and compromised by agreeing to a five-day shooting schedule. (He appears in Fire Walk With Me for less than 10 minutes.) Other notable cast members such as Michael Ontkean, Sherilynn Fenn, and Lara Flynn Boyle fail to make an appearance at all; the latter was replaced altogether, with Moira Kelly in the part of teenage good girl Donna Hayward. In fact, the first 35 minutes of FWWM don’t even take place in the titular hamlet fans had come to love and inhabit for two seasons, but tracks two new FBI agents (Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland) as they investigate a related murder that occurred more than a year before the show begins. The next 100 minutes of the film do take place in Twin Peaks, but in the week leading up to Laura Palmer’s murder. It’s an almost oppressively grim chronicle of the homecoming queen’s sad final days, shining a spotlight on explicit details of her many abuses but not adding little that fans who’d been dissecting the show for two years hadn’t already put together. For its last hour and a half, Fire Walk With Me shirked the show’s trademark surreal humor in favor of unwavering bleakness.

If David Lynch wasn’t making a Twin Peaks tie-in movie for the show’s die-hard fans, then who was he making it for? Contemporary critics accused him of doing it for no one but himself, and his own words — he’s said that he didn’t feel ready yet to leave the world of Twin Peaks – don’t do much to rule out self-indulgence. For better or worse, Fire Walk With Me is 100% a David Lynch film, with many of his most artsy any oblique proclivities on proud display. Fans of the director were presumably more receptive to this, but the larger mainstream audience that followed the show were likely lost in all of the slow-motion, intentionally vague symbolism, and magniloquent dialogue. Lynch himself had only directed six episodes of the original Twin Peaks, allowing other filmmakers to helm the rest. While fingers can be pointed at that for the show’s up and down quality (particularly in the second season), it did go a long way in tempering Lynch’s more out-there tendencies, and perhaps made the show that much more palatable for the casual viewer. For an idea of what a fully Lynch-led Twin Peaks might have been like, one needs to look no further than the recent revival series, which drove all but the most dedicated viewers absolutely batty.

Over the next two decades, Fire Walk With Me saw a slight reappraisal among both Peaks and Lynch fans. Audiences slowly came around to see its place in both the show’s mythos and Lynch’s filmography, especially as the TV series shrank further into the rearview mirror and its filmmaker disappeared into semi-retirement after 2006’s Inland Empire. It may not have been a total reclamation, but the film was at least being appreciated where it was due; in particular, Sheryl Lee’s dedicated performance as the doomed Laura Palmer. The young Lee absolutely acts her ass off in what has to be one of the most challenging roles of the last 30 years. And where it left out many fan favorite characters, it brought in both Harry Dean Stanton – as a tired trailer park superintendent – and David Bowie – a vanishing FBI agent – in small but highly memorable roles. Those who couldn’t get enough Twin Peaks from the series’ two seasons had somewhere to turn for their next hit of addictive, weird, small-town darkness.

The last six months, however, have turned all of this upside down. Twin Peaks: The Return happened, requiring the franchise’s loyal fanbase to not only re-assess Fire Walk With Me, but every last inch of the Twin Peaks pantheon. Those eighteen additional hours within this peculiar world not only extrapolated on ideas introduced with the prequel film, but pulled from it so heavily that it’s arguably more important for a viewer to have seen Fire Walk With Me to follow the new episodes than to have watched the first two seasons of the show. Many of the movie’s new characters, locations, and concepts – including Phillip Jeffries, Blue Rose cases, the Fat Trout trailer park – wre integral parts of the revival. Twin Peaks: The Return elevates FWWM from a questionably necessary prequel movie to an essential piece of a far larger and suddenly more cohesive mythology. Fire Walk With Me can now be viewed as the connective tissue between Twin Peaks’ two eras.

The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition provides the best audio-visual presentation the film has ever had on home video. The picture, from the deep reds of the Black Lodge to the dimly-lit scene of Laura’s murder, is as bold and clear as fans could hope for. The sound mix is fantastic, too; Angelo Badalamenti’s score sounds cleaner than on the old DVD release. (You’ll be grateful for this, particularly in scenes like the one where Laura and Donna party with Jacques Renault behind the road house, where the music intentionally drowns out everything else.)

The primary extra feature is perhaps one of the most essential bonus materials you’ll ever find. The Missing Pieces is a 90-minute assembly of deleted and extended scenes from Fire Walk With Me, put together by David Lynch himself. These cuts were long-discussed and speculated over but remained unseen until 2014, and then only released as part of the The Entire Mystery box set. This hour-and-a-half of outtakes fills in a few gaps in the film’s narrative and features many characters from the show who were omitted from the movie. This includes scenes with Sheriff Truman, Hawk, Deputy Andy and Lucy; Pete Martell and Josie Packard; Doctors Hayward and Jacoby; Big Ed Hurley, and The Log Lady. (You have to figure that these are the scenes the fans who hated the movie would have preferred to have seen.) There’s also a notable outtake that better defines the relationship Cooper and Diane, and a lot more footage of the late David Bowie, whose small role in the released film was highly confusing, even by David Lynch’s standards. Not every deleted scene carries as much weight as others, but many are important parts of the Twin Peaks saga, and fans will be glad to see them. It’s nice to have them easily available to the people who streamed the series, or already owned the Gold Edition DVD set and didn’t re-purchase the show on Blu-ray.

Other bonus materials include new interviews with Sheryl Lee and Angelo Badalamenti, as well as an extended conversation between Lynch and the actors who played the Palmer family – Lee, Ray Wise, and Grace Zabriski, both as themselves and in-character – that was also ported from the The Entire Mystery set. The booklet itself contains a long written interview with Lynch about the film, excerpted from the excellent Lynch on Lynch book. More than ever before, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is an essential purchase for fans of Lynch’s wonderfullly strange little universe.


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