And there’s always music in the air

David Lynch & Mark Frost’s groundbreaking weird-crime series “Twin Peaks” first aired 24 years ago this week. In commemoration, here are a few of the pieces I’ve written about the sleepy town and dreamy landscape of Twin Peaks over the years.

How “Twin Peaks” helped free television dramas from the yoke of pure plot:

In most shows, every moment must move the plot forward. In “Twin Peaks” (the show and the town), things move at a slower pace and odd digressions are not only allowed but encouraged. “Twin Peaks” embraces homey mundanity, which makes the deep horror more jarring and effective. And there are terrible horrors in that town, and deeply tangled personal tragedies, compulsions, and secrets. It is, in effect, a soap opera without the sudsy, fluffy, forgettable qualities.

Ronette PulaskiMy meditation on the moral gaps of “Twin Peaks” – the contrasts between golden girl Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski and how the show creates a moral loophole for the monstrous killer – contains huge, enormous, show-ruining spoilers preceded by a BIG BOLDED SPOILER ALERT, so click at your own discretion:

… but what about Ronette? Ronette Pulaski, a surviving victim of the same killer whom we first see staggering out of the wilderness across a railroad trestle, stunned and all but catatonic. In this image, she is presented to us as a girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks.

And it shows: in the lack of concern that the characters and writers (and presumably the viewers) show over Ronette’s reasons for the same behavior. Tacitly, the cops (and writers) of Twin Peaks are telling us that a child of privilege must be gravely damaged to sully herself so, but that a townie consorting with the same skeevy drug dealers, posing for smutty photos, and whoring needs no explanation.

How Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me redresses that imbalance and rebukes the television audience who witnessed the dark tale of a tormented young woman driven to death by her demons while we tittered about cherry pie and doughnuts and damn fine coffee:

The film relies upon the viewer’s familiarity with the cozy-quirky world of the TV series, but even as it employs the mythology and grammar of the show’s world, the movie viciously rejects the comforts we found in the drowsy little town of Twin Peaks.

I rethink the supposed virtues of Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Harry S. Truman:

Visiting investigator Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI (Kyle MacLachlan) takes to him right away, and it’s easy to see why: Harry’s welcoming and professional, quietly competent and well-respected, but completely without the posturing and rivalry Cooper faces from some local DPs when he steps into the lead on a hot case.

Harry’s appeal lies his down-home folksiness, his easy pace and unflappable manner. Even our putative hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, sums him up with “Harry, you’re alllll right!” But is he? Is Sheriff Truman all right? Is he a good guy? Is he the boy scout he’s presented as, upright and true?

“Twin Peaks” and a memory 20 years old, in which I reminisce on the weekly ritual of walking home my friend S, who would come over to watch the show, then get too spooked to walk through the dark streets home alone… which meant I ended up walking home alone every week:

And every week, I would leave S at her brightly lit doorstep, take a deep breath as if I could breathe in that bright light and carry it with me into the night… and then I would step into the dark to start walking home.

Silence of the Lambs

A sort of Babette’s Feast of the American West, Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs shows how the strength of one determined woman can save a ranch, a flock of sickly sheep, and a family – with a little bit of help, and a lot of quid pro quo.

Determined to save her elderly uncle’s foundering sheep ranch, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) gives up her demanding training with the FBI and moves to rural Montana to take over the operation. The opening scene shows that, however out of her element she may be, Starling knows how to show up when duty calls: rough, unsteady, but rugged and ready for action.

When the struggle becomes too much for one set of hands, veterinarian and father-figure Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) pitches in, joining her on the lonely landscape of the isolated ranch, and proves to be as adept in the field and the kitchen as he is in the clinic. Be sure to have a good Chianti on hand for the luscious dinner scene.

Check out all this week’s movie recommendations in the newest VideoReport!

Jaws

Jaws screencapA sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for the super-spy set, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws is a witty, bittersweet character study of the often-disregarded henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel).

The James Bond franchise typically focused on Jaws’ attention-grabbing superficial attributes and abilities: his towering height and massive strength, his nine-lives-style survival skills, and, of course, the steel-capped teeth that allow him to bite through metal cables and human bones alike. But Jaws is more than a pair of murderously-powerful hands and a terrifying bite radius.

More than any other character in the 007 universe, Jaws has insight into the daily lives, motives, and machinations of the most elite villains ever to threaten the earth’s very existence. He’s been employed at high levels in at least three different supervillain consortia, yet never before has a film addressed the ins and outs of Jaws’ fascinating life.

Check out all our movie recommendations in this week’s VideoReport!

Dial M for Motif

Dial M scissors“Superficially, Dial M for Murder (1954) looks unambitious, a simple stage-to-set recreation of Frederick Knott’s hit play. Even Hitchcock, perhaps disingenuously, described it as a phoned-in effort knocked off between the location shooting of I, Confess and the elaborate staging of Rear Window. But the tightly-staged thriller bristles with symbols of objectification and possession, reducing Margot Wendice to a property passed from hand to hand, from man to man, as readily as the key around which the plot revolves.”

Today at The Toast, my analysis of symbols in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.

cellar

[SPOILERS for S2 ep 4 of Hannibal]

Hannibal screenshot

I just figured out what’s in Hannibal’s basement that would shock Beverly Katz into lowering her guard (and her gun) by simple dint of asking myself “Well, if I were a monster in a human suit, what would I keep in my cannibal surgery cellar?” and the answer rose in lazy majesty like the sun over the horizon, shining its bright face in certainty.

What? I said “if.”

tears

The family was gathering for Thanksgiving, oh so many years ago, when my beloved elderly aunt called from Florida. Her long-planned flight to join us was cancelled in deference to a storm and she didn’t see the sense in trying to reschedule; she’d stay safely home raise a glass to us on the day.

My little niece L. burst out “But what about her turkey?” She didn’t mean a plate overflowing with meat and gravy and stuffing. She meant a piece of paper on which L. had traced out her hand, then lavishly illustrated it in marker, adding feet and feathers and a landscape of spiky green grass and, incongruously, a wide-brimmed cockel hat with shiny buckle jauntily posed on the turkey’s head. She’d drawn one for each of the diners expected on Thursday and written their names on each picture.

“We’ll mail it to her,” the grown-ups assured her. And on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my father (L.’s grandfather) and I went out to do a last errand and took L. with us. We stopped at a mailbox and held L.’s hand as she strained up to drop the stamped envelope into the box.

“Aunt P. will love getting this, L.,” I murmured.

“Yeah?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah. It was sweet of you to draw it for her, and to send it to her. It will be such a good surprise!”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah! Imagine her opening her mailbox to find that envelope in it, and opening it to see your picture! She’ll be so touched you thought of her.”

L. screwed up her face in serious thought, picturing Aunt P. at some imagined mailbox. Then her eyes lit up. “Will she CRY?!?”

Over smothered laughter (and not-so-smothered laughter from my father, ahead of us), I said “… I think it might, a little bit.”

GOOD.”

I’ve been telling this story, now and again, for a dozen years – because L.’s question gets to the heart of what we are often asking ourselves about gestures of kindness and consideration. Is this a big gesture? Is this a small gesture? Will it make a mark in the heart of the beloved? How can we know what word or gesture makes a difference until it does – or it doesn’t?

Aunt P. is gone. L. is a high-spirited, talented young woman at a college halfway across the country from her family. And I am a writer who just finished a film essay about Mother’s Day – a film essay that made me tear up a bit when I wrote it, and again when I proof-read it.

And I understand L.’s question better than ever. Because when I wiped away the trickle of tears, I thought with great satisfaction “Will this make them CRY?” and “Yeah, I think it will.”

GOOD.”