Diane: Even before the recent announcement of a returning Twin Peaks miniseries (2016, Showtime, will probably become the most pirated show on the web after Game of Thrones) I’d found myself thinking about the series again. Strange synchronicities.
Balance is the key to many things. Do we understand balance? The word “balance” has seven letters. Seven is difficult to balance, but not impossible if we are able to divide. There are, of course, the pros and cons of division. – The Log Lady
I never got to see the original Fire Walk With Me, for a number of reasons – distracted by other things as a child, and when I finally got old enough, I couldn’t find a damn copy of the thing online for love or money. You still can’t buy the original theatrical version on Amazon for streaming view. All that are to be found are just snips on Youtube – fractions, hardly indicating a whole. The reviews were and mostly remain blistering: monumental failure, walkout at Cannes, Lynch becoming a parody of himself, etc. Only in the last few years, it seems, has anyone been able to look at the movie with an unbiased eye. However, I’ve read the online script several times.
And only in July of this year, almost 25 years later, did the rest of the pieces of Twin Peaks emerge.
The Internet being what it is, of course a fan got the bright idea of cutting the nearly 90 minutes of (unclassified? Escaped from the Black Lodge?) “new” Twin Peaks footage into the length of Fire Walk With Me, creating a close to 4 hour supercut that adheres chronologically and structurally to the original shooting script – including cameos and dead-end subplot appearances from nearly the entire full cast of Twin Peaks.
I can’t contrast it to the original because I never got to see the original, Diane, but I will say that the fan edit is stunning. In some ways the new FWWM feels more compelling than the original series, because the centrifugal force isn’t diverted by development schemes or sawmills on fire, but on the only plot that truly matters – the life and death of Laura Palmer, given a stunning and compelling enormity by Sheryl Lee. Through her virtuoso performance – there’s a scene that will stick in your mind forever once you’ve seen it – we can easily see how Laura captivated the entire town, made herself its center, the spider-queen at the core of the web. At the same time, we also see how thoroughly that web traps her, keeps her stuck in her place – suspended, frustrated, and vulnerable.
The fan cut is basically seamless – production wise, very well put together. I didn’t notice any particular feeling of ‘this was cut in from somewhere else’ apart from a couple of sequences that looked a bit ‘grainier’ than others- viewing on my tablet. It flows tremendously well, and even though the length is quite excessive, it goes down smooth. I was caught up in its web, too.
The greater question – is the replacing of scenes featuring dead-end (non-Laura-centric) subplots like Norma and Ed’s guilty affair or Leo and Shelly’s stark spousal abuse really appropriate or helpful in understanding Laura Palmer’s ultimate journey – is hard to answer, and hard to justify even though the “missing pieces” fit so easily into their places.
At best, like the original series, the extended cameos and side plots serve to create an overall atmosphere more than illuminate character – to point out, as the series did, that violence and the power balance of every couple in town is a mirror or echo of the decay between Laura and her family and friends. In a similar way to how Revolutionary Girl Utena used its Student Council characters to mimic the original trauma between Anthy and Akio, all the relationships in Twin Peaks tend to be very much about women and men, struggling for clarity amidst violence, and no one is spared. But for all that, it may broaden the scope too far to include the entire town and all its machinations – Fire Walk With Me is supposed to be about the intimate decay of Laura Palmer. Satisfying for the hard core Twin Peaks fan, and revealing some valuable information – but the hardcore fans already know the real story of Laura from her Secret Diary.
It may be, ultimately, too much of a tone shift. Fire Walk With Me is meant to be pretty dark, grim and unrelenting – as its themes would indicate, there’s nothing fun about Laura’s journey. It turned off viewers in its original form for this exact reason; America was and still isn’t ready to deal with the realities looming behind those red curtains. And yet, in a longer edit, the scenes with the most impact on this front are now stretched out, separated and in some way I wonder if they’ve been lessened. I’m still not sure, on contemplation, if the balance of the story is better served by this or not. It risks making Laura’s traumatic journey more ‘comfortable’ by camouflaging the worst sequences within a larger pattern of systemic problems throughout the town. Strange things happen every day in Twin Peaks, and with all the new scenes, Laura is at risk of disappearing inside her own story.
Which, to be fair, is part of the larger point.
To me, this long cut sucks you into a living place, and implies that life goes on beyond Laura Palmer. I’m not sure this is a math that serves this particular facet of the story. But then again, as the recut movie painstakingly shows us over and over again with any number of visual shots featuring ‘halves’ of things, it can ever only be half the story anyway.
Many things disappear in Fire Walk With Me, and the longer length does nothing to relieve the fact that the Twin Peaks cameo characters and subplots their scenes introduce can not be resolved – except by watching the series itself, creating an infinite recursive loop. Watch the movie to understand the series. Watch the series to understand the movie. Which leaves us, the viewers, always holding only half a heart – half a whole.
What emerges in the long cut is a rambling story of a living place – of Twin Peaks itself – that can never have any true conclusion. Laura dies, another Laura emerges, relationships collapse and reform, FBI agents appear and disappear, Teresa Banks is dead and then alive (and never dies – her eyes water and she is visibly breathing on the autopsy table where her body is examined, which would clearly be a continuity error of catastrophic proportions except that you can call it an unintentional Lynchian bonus – she is clearly both dead and alive, in a liminal state like many other Peaks characters). The series, too, is incomplete, given its legendary and abrupt cliffhanger. Like life, nothing is cleanly resolved in the world of Twin Peaks.
But the new scenes, all oriented in Twin Peaks, give us no further insight into, say, the movie’s creation of the entire town of Deer Meadow and how it turned so utterly rotten – apart from a number of implications that two members of the Black Lodge were ‘squatting’ there for a while. It doesn’t tell us why Deer Meadow was necessary (The whole first 40 minutes feels almost too much like an End of Evangelion-style ‘fuck you’ from Lynch to the TV-Peaks audience to me, especially as the first image is a television being destroyed). It doesn’t really tell us where Chester Desmond disappeared to – although the implication is that he either fell into the Black Lodge or into the central hole at the heart of the film, and that’s if he ever actually existed to begin with. It certainly doesn’t explain Judy. And it doesn’t fully explain the splitting of Dale Cooper that happens before he ever goes to Twin Peaks. Time and narrative can always be fluid, but only at the expense of coherency equal to the distortion.
I highly recommend it, nonetheless. The fan edit is clearly a labor of fan love, well-constructed and carefully researched as to where things should go and when, and is a very useful addition to the Twin Peaks broader lore. If you want more context to Laura’s story, a version that extends beyond her Secret Diary or Dale’s tapes or the other supplemental material, this is the go-to. It’s still probably not what Lynch ultimately intended to create, probably still not the real truth of Fire Walk With Me, but we can’t ever know that for sure anyway. Maybe in 2016 we’ll finally get some answers.
Village Voice: Fire Walk With Me is David Lynch’s Masterpiece
Grantland: Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me