SPOILERS IN A WORLD OF BLUE
I'll admit it: I'm very iffy about David Lynch. Some of his stuff is terrific (I think Dune is one of the great underrated movies of the 1980s), but too often it's just impenetrable gibberish: Inland Empire is a film in which the reels could be shown in any order and it wouldn't make a squeak of difference, and Mulholland Drive starts as well as anything he's done but then devolves into random nonsense. Years ago I mentioned online that I'd seen Mulholland Drive and not cared much for it after the first half hour, and promptly received a thesis-sized explanation of what it was really about and what each shot, line and hairstyle actually referred to. Call me a plodding old traditionalist but I like some form of narrative of comprehensible cause-and-effect logic.
Not that the Twin Peaks TV series was ever much about logic: it wasn't so much a soap opera, more a soap opera that had been made by Martians and beamed back to us. Partly a whodunnit centring on the murder of high-schooler Laura Palmer, partly a peek through the picket fences and lace curtains of "respectable" smalltown America revealing the maggots of corruption, abuse and misery behind the smiley apple pie facade, and partly a balls-out fantasy nightmare full of mysticism, dreams, possession and inter-dimensional dwarfs talking backwards....all set to an achingly dark Angelo Badalamenti score. It was baffling, but in a good way.
And afterwards there was the film version. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is actually a prequel to the TV series, detailing the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life and showing her less as the virginal homecoming queen we thought she was (at least at the start of the series), and more as a doomed and tormented victim of sexual abuse and drugs. But what really struck me this time around, and what escaped me completely when I first saw the film on its theatrical release, was not how horrific and nightmarish it is, but how desperately sad and moving it is. You do feel for Laura Palmer. And knowing her fate in the opening scenes of the TV show, inevitable right from the start of the film, turns it into a genuine tragedy.
Apart from the overwhelming sadness, the other area in which the film works brilliantly is as a horror film. Freed from the constraints imposed by the TV networks, it's able to be more visually and verbally graphic with moderate nudity, F-words, several scenes of drug use and moments of shocking gore; bolted onto Lynch's gift for conjuring up an atmosphere of utter, skin-crawling dread from the most innocent-looking locations, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me emerges as a truly creepy and unnerving film. Perhaps the most unsettling moment is the sight of Killer Bob (Frank Silva) hunched over Laura's dressing table in her bedroom: it's a moment of such upsetting wrongness that it's genuinely scary. (Mysteriously, despite the violence, swearing, drug abuse, nudity and sexual threat, the BBFC have unaccountably downgraded the film to a 15 certificate!)
Inevitably, shifting the focus of the film onto Laura Palmer reduces many of the other aspects of the show to tiny bit parts or out of the film completely: the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) shows up for one brief scene, Sherilyn Fenn, Piper Laurie and Jack Nance don't appear at all (although many scenes featuring the TV cast were ultimately deleted). Even Kyle MacLachlan is only the film briefly! Yet some familiarity with the series is perhaps essential as without it the Red Room and the dwarf talking backwards just feel nonsensical. (They are nonsensical, but they're all part of a larger and slightly less nonsensical nonsense, if that makes any sense.) Seeing Fire Walk With Me totally cold would probably be a chore, and in some ways that does annoy me as I've always believed a film should stand by itself and you shouldn't need to read the book or watch the TV show in order to get the most from the movie version. (Not necessarily counting sequels: Saw IV is just gibberish if you haven't seen Saws I to III, and many would say it's gibberish even if you have seen Saws I to III.)
When I'd finished with the film, I put the main title music from the film soundtrack CD on repeat for an hour with the lights dimmed, and just savoured it. Watching it again after twenty years, I loved it. I loved it more than I did twenty years ago and I liked it back then. But it's even better now and maybe it's Lynch's best film - that's possibly from a slightly wonky viewpoint as I like Dune more than I do Blue Velvet (although that's another one I probably need to rewatch). I love the darkness and horror and mysterious beauty of it. And now I want to open the box set of the TV show and run through it right from the start. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a terrific film: moving, creepy, puzzling and strangely funny. And hurrah for that.