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.”

phrasing

D: That’s Randolph Scott on the right.
E: That’s Randolph Scott? I never recognize him. It’s a mental block. I always think of him as a villainous type.
D: He is the villain in this.
E: I mean look like a villain. He looks so harmless. He looks like half of Gary Cooper.
D: Aw.
E: You know what I mean! He looks like if Gary Cooper and Ralph Bellamy got together to make a, a, a second banana.
E: … that sounded so dirty!

wiki-hole

My latest trips down the wiki-hole:

It’s a straight line from Dazed and Confused to the Austin moon towers to the Servant Girl Annihilator.

And, though I don’t remember precisely the path, it’s no surprise that I refreshed my memory of the dancing plague that afflicted 16th century Strasbourg.

But I still don’t remember what process led me to the Dugong hypothesis for the origin of the word tabernacle.

a man without a family

[note: This isn't pretty and polished. I'm hammering out rough ideas about True Detective, specifically examining the gender roles of the show and how they are apparently employed as a plot point. This is written after S1E6 aired, and I'm curious to see how it lines up with what we'll learn in the last two episodes airing in March. Next: the overlooked girls of the Light of the Way School.]

Detective Martin Hart of HBO’s True Detective immerses the show in his literally paternalistic view of the world. in the first few minutes of Ep1, “The Long Bright Dark,” he describes several types of cop, wrapping up with “There can be a burden in authority, in vigilance, like a father’s burden. It was too much for some men.”

Marty neatly pierces his father-in-law’s rants about The Young People Today as old-fogey self-centeredness, but hours later he’s incapable of seeing his own self-centered assurance that his wife and daughters exist only for his comfort and convenience. After cutting short their planned family day, Marty stands by and complains while Maggie makes dinner. Having finally deigned to spend some time with his wife and daughters, he’s upset to face criticism at home, “the one place where there’s supposed to be peace and calm!” Maggie retorts “Who told you that? It’s not always that way. It’s not supposed to be,” but Marty continues with staggering assurance, “It’s supposed to be what I want, it’s supposed to help me.”

For years, Marty luxuriates in the unthinking privilege of believing that his wife, his daughters, his home life all revolve around his pleasure and convenience, as well as the larger conviction that women exist to serve, or service, men. Maggie and Audrey both clearly, concisely refute that idea, but Marty never seems to take it in. He can’t hear what’s spoken to his face, and he can’t see what’s right in front of him.

Marty muses “past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing.” In context, he’s talking about his partner, Rust Cohle, but ss Rust points out “People that give me advice, I reckon they’re talking to themselves.”

Marty has become that bad thing, a man without a family. His wife manages to break the cycle of adultery, forgiveness, and reconciliation that has kept her trapped in their marriage by herself transgressing, and so egregiously that Marty cannot overlook or forgive it. She breaks off from him, and given Audrey and Maisey’s hostility and distance toward Marty in their teen years, and their later invisibility, it seems unlikely that they have much relationship with their insensitive, condescending, absent, neglectful father.

He does concede sorrowfully that “the solution to my whole life – that woman, those kids – was right under my nose, and I was watching everything else,” but Marty doesn’t seem to have internalized that harsh truth. Like most of the truths Marty hears about himself, it runs right off his back, even when he’s the one uttering it. Even after his wife forces an irreconcilable split, Marty comfortably invokes family – lumped in with “routine,” especially the busywork of running his own PI and security business – as a sustaining force keeping him active and engaged rather than an enterprise worthy of his attention and nurturing love.

Given his bedrock belief that women exist as accessories and ancillaries to their men, it’s no surprise that Marty also tries to prevent his young girlfriend Lisa from sleeping with other men, even if he has to frighten her into chastity. When we first see Marty visit her apartment, he breaks confidence about the ongoing investigation, urging Lisa to stay home, to stop going to bars and on dates, lest she be murdered like Dora Kelly Lange.

Lisa doesn’t seem fazed by her lover comparing her modest outings to the hazards brooked by a truck-stop sex worker with a handful of drug habits and several criminal acquaintances. She points out that Marty’s trying to have his cake and eat it by keeping her cloistered and waiting for him without making any commitment to her. Marty counters “What good is cake if you can’t eat it?”

Jan, the proprietor of the bunny ranch, immediately pegs Marty as a man keen to control women’s sexual agency. When he spouts outrage at the presence of an underaged sex worker on the ranch, she characterizes his indignation as “holy bullshit” that’s based not on the young woman’s sexual victimization but on her audacity in using sex to make money and control her own destiny rather than performing it as a favor owed to men. “Girls walk this Earth all the time screwing for free. Now, why is it you add business to the mix and boys like you can’t stand the thought? I’ll tell you. It’s ’cause suddenly you don’t own it the way you thought you did.”

Marty’s speech to the two young men caught in a car with his daughter Audrey suggests there’s truth in Jan’s assessment. Just before delivering a brutal beating, Marty taunts them from outside the jail cell, concluding “A man’s game charges a man’s price.” He’s explicitly posing sex – even with his underaged daughter – as a sport for men, and with a price exacted by men.

His logic twists around in a self-serving loop: when he spends his nights getting drunk and banging his girlfriends, he rationalizes it as a necessary release that a police officer, tasked with terrible duties and witness to unspeakable horrors, must take release and catharsis where he finds it “or where it finds you. I mean, in the end, it’s for the good of the family.”

Marty explicitly compares his duties as a lawman to his responsibilities as a father, and it’s no stretch at all to imagine that this includes a responsibility to provide release for those in authority and to cover it up for the good of society, the larger family of humankind.

Rust Cohle’s view of the same question is bleaker. As he tells his drug-supplier, the “Of course I’m dangerous. I’m police. I could do terrible things to people with impunity.”

Marty Hart’s taxonomy of police is brief and vivid: “We all fit a certain category – the bully, the charmer, the, uh, surrogate dad, the man possessed by ungovernable rage, the brain.” From the first moments, I was convinced that the end of Marty’s list described himself and his partner: the man possessed of ungovernable rages and the brain. We’ve since seen Marty’s furies given free rein, and seen Rust’s homespun nihilism and seemingly meticulous attention spin its web around suspects and interrogators alike. Next, I hope to outline the ways in which both Marty’s passions and Rust’s obsessive study both overlook the crucial points of their shared case.