Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Collector's Edition) Review
When it was announced that the director of Blue Velvet and Eraserhead was going to write and direct a primetime, mainstream US television series in collaboration with Mark Frost (‘Hill Street Blues’), there was the anticipation that we were going to see something on our television screens that had never been seen before. The TV series of Twin Peaks in 1990 certainly delivered that. Murder, torture, kidnapping, incest, prostitution, teenage drug and alcohol abuse, shady business dealings, talking logs, serial killers, psychopaths, wife-beaters, transvestite FBI agents, visions, hallucinations, old Indian legends and mysticism, American diners, cherry pie and damn fine coffee... what made Twin Peaks such compelling television viewing over two years was the sheer unpredictability of what could happen from one week to the next, with seismic shifts of tone from broad slapstick comedy to some of the most horrific scenes of violence ever shown in a mainstream television series. Lynch insinuated his Blue Velvet outlook on American society in the guise of a sweet-as-cherry-pie soap-opera, while exposing all the dark secrets, corruption and hypocrisy that small-town America is built upon. With the series taking darker and weirder turns into surrealism, the American public and TV executives eventually caught on to just how subversive the series was and abruptly pulled the plug after 29 episodes, leaving the town of Twin Peaks and its lead characters in an unresolved and nightmarish situation. David Lynch returned to the series in 1992 with Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, but rather than wrap-up the story into a neat conclusion, Lynch delved much deeper into the events prior to the start of the series, delivering a much darker, bleaker and more brutal vision that created more mysteries than it resolved.
The film is divided into two almost distinct parts. In the opening half hour of the film, FBI Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) are assigned by their boss Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to investigate the murder of Teresa Banks, a 17 year old girl who has been sexually abused, battered to death and left floating down Wind River wrapped in plastic. The case however has an unusual edge, revealed to the agents by a mysterious messenger called Lil at a small Portland airfield. It’s a Blue Rose case. Several Agents working on similar cases have already gone missing, but one of them, Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) makes a hallucinatory reappearance to warn Cole and Special Agent Dale Cooper of the involvement of supernatural entities. The second part of the film chronicles the final seven days of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), an innocent 17 year old all-American schoolgirl beauty caught up in a dissolute lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, sex-abuse and prostitution, and due, we already know from the Twin Peaks television series, to become the next victim of Bob, a mysterious figure escaped from this supernatural Black Lodge and has sexually abused the girl since she was 12 years old. Despite the efforts of her friend Donna Hayward (Moira Kelly) and secret boyfriend James Hurley (James Marshall), Laura is unable to escape the downward spiral to self-destruction that the toll of years of abuse and a cocaine addition have taken on her.
As a film, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me looks like an almost complete mess. Although nominally a prequel, it’s one that relies heavily on you already knowing what happens in the TV Series. Reportedly cut down from a 5-hour first cut - which is believable considering how many of the cast of the TV programme filmed scenes only to be completely cut from the final version - the film often makes elliptical jump cuts to scenes in the middle of dialogues. This style works partly to the film’s advantage, particularly in the Laura Palmer sequences of the film, correlating with a life that is going off the rails, flitting into fugue-like states of mental blocking against the nightly scenes of horror she undergoes. This however, makes no concession for a viewer unfamiliar with the characters and the information that needs to be known about the direction their lives are going to take. Such scenes as a bloodied Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) appearing in Laura’s bed during a nightmare or references to the “Bad Dale” in the Black Lodge, will be meaningless or at least less effective to anyone unfamiliar with events of the TV series. But the fact that the outcome is already as it is preordained only intensifies the bleak mood of horror and of Laura Palmer’s inevitable and tragic road to self-destruction. In this respect, Sheryl Lee’s performance is key to the film’s success, depicting the dramatic decline of Laura Palmer with a range that slips between sensitive reflection, hysterical horror and the tragic fatalism of a character who knows she is as good as already dead.
As a coherent film then, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me is far from consistent or meaningfully structured, but like most of David Lynch’s films, it relies on other methods than plot, storyline and performance to achieve its effect. What Lynch shows in the film is the pernicious cycle or chain of horror unleashed through child abuse. This is hinted in the television series, when Laura’s killer (I’ll try and keep the review as spoiler free as possible), confesses to Agent Cooper of his first encounter with ‘Bob’ as a child. The chain of abuse passing on its evil is symbolised through the turquoise signet ring that is passed on to each of his victims, and in one or two shots we see that Laura Palmer, whose decline into drugs and prostitution is an inevitable consequence of the abuse she has suffered, is also ‘possessed’ by ‘Bob’ and in some respects longs for release in death to break the chain. Most significantly, Lynch uses the technique of parallel events and mirrored scenes - the Twin Peaks of the title? – such as shots of angels appearing at key moments of greatest evil, underlining the magnitude of the innocence which has been violated (abused innocence is also alluded to in the bizarre schoolbus scene at the start of the film). This would come to be the most prominent narrative technique of the director in his subsequent masterpiece Lost Highway and in Mulholland Drive.
This is incredibly strong material, which as I said, had certainly never been tackled on primetime television, but its treatment in Fire Walk With Me delves even deeper into the tortured mind states of both abuser and victim in a deeply unsettling manner, with Lynch refining techniques already employed in Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart. The director’s control of locations and their ambience is unerringly accurate and profoundly disturbing. Take, for example, the sordid squalor of the trailer park where Teresa Banks lived, captured in a couple of scenes with a couple of outlandish characters. Harry Dean Stanton, in a small but brilliant cameo, underlines the tone, his face almost visibly draining of blood in one scene which on the surface has little sense or meaning, but achieves a mysteriously unsettling effect on the viewer. Elsewhere, Lynch insinuates a sense of terror through a combination of harsh sounds and strobe lighting. Although this might sound like conventional horror techniques used for jump effect, this is far from how it is employed by David Lynch. Just as he constantly amplified the lighting of a match into an explosion in Wild At Heart, he uses the same effect in Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me so that a scene where Laura discovers missing pages in her secret diary is underlined with harsh tearing sounds like the pages were ripped out of her very soul. It’s painful. Elsewhere, the simple, regular, comfortable Palmer family home is, through the whirring thump of the fan at the top of the staircase similarly converted and subverted through the effective use of sound into a sinister throb, representing the ritual nightly abuse of Laura. In most cases, the effect is underscored by Angelo Badalamenti’s music, which also assaults and unsettles, never more so than in the strobing, throbbing cacophony of the “Pink Room” scene that simply bombards the senses.
Many scenes have been cut from the finished film. From an examination of the original script, most of the cut scenes seem to underline the sexual relationships Laura Palmer had with other men in the television series – with Ben Horne who supplies her with cocaine, and with Dr Jacoby – although often it seems to be the case that many of these scenes, and others involving Sheriff Harry Truman and Josie Packard, were only included to carry across the colour of the television series. In most cases, they are hardly essential, and their omission from the final cut of the film only pushes the focus of the film back to Laura Palmer, maintaining a consistent intensity of tone. Although the film disappointed many by not wrapping-up significant events from the cancelled television series as was expected - namely the fate of Annie Blackburn and a resolution to the Good/Bad Dale situation - this was returned to in the epilogue of the film’s script. Although further killings will take place, they have already taken place. The television series, like the events in the Red Room, take place in a location beyond time, where future events are already known. It’s an appropriate ending for a film which is both prequel and sequel. In the deleted epilogue scene, a significant conversation to this effect, mirroring an earlier encounter, takes place between Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and the Man from Another Place (Michael J. Anderson):
MAN: Is it future? Or is it past? Do you know who I am? I am The Arm. And I sound like this… (Makes Indian whooping sound)
COOPER: (Looking at the Table) Where is the ring?
MAN: Someone else has it now.
COOPER: That would indicate that it’s the future.
MAN: The later events have never been kept secret.
Again this, like many other scenes, appears to have been reduced to the final tableaux of Dale and Laura in the Red Room, but it nonetheless perfectly summarises and closes the cycle of evil. The chain is broken (or at least events have been set in motion to break it in the future), forgiveness has been granted and Laura Palmer expresses her relief at her release in a laugh of heartbreaking intensity.
None of the fabled deleted scenes from the film have made it to this edition of Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me which, from the menus and logos on display, appears to be a port of the French MK2 release. Released in France earlier this year as an Edition Collector and an Edition Simple, the only difference appears to be that the special edition came with a strip of an original film print. A French 2-disc Edition Prestige has been announced, but will not apparently contain any of the deleted scenes, which remain in legal limbo. The UK release from Cinema Club is billed as a Collector’s Edition, but with only a check disc to review, I’m not sure what features that edition will have to live up to that title. The Cinema Club edition reviewed here is encoded for Region 2.
The image is very red in tone. This may well be Lynch’s preferred tone for the film – he has recently approved a similar colour timing for the Collector’s Edition of Wild At Heart and the tone also brings it very much into line with the reddish tones of the remastered Twin Peaks Season 1. While this tone certainly suits the mood of the piece, emphasising the colour red which is very prominently featured throughout the film, it does however tend to discolour the other tones particularly, if you look at comparisons to the New Line Region 1 edition, blues and whites. The Region 1 is to the left, the Region 2 to the right. Note the colouration of the white cup and shirt and blue light in the room in the screenshot of Agents Desmond and Stanley, as well as the turquoise ring turning green in the new image of the Man from Another Place. Click any of the screenshots below for an enlarged image.
The image also looks softer and less detailed on the Region 2 edition, particularly in medium to long shots, and with the red colouration, skin tones don’t appear terribly accurate, with close-ups exhibiting signs of cross colouration that would suggest a video source for the transfer. However, there is not a single flaw on the print, very little troublesome grain and no sign of any significant digital transfer artefacts, so the image here is still quite impressive. Whether it or the Region 1 is more accurate in terms of colour is going to be a matter of debate, particularly noting David Lynch’s preference for a warmer tone in his remastering of other titles, but although it is not perfect, I personally think the Region 2 looks closer to how the film ought to look.
The DVD comes with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The DTS track is fine, but not as full as you might expect and not differing greatly from the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, although at a lower volume, might even have a touch more edge and sharpness to the bass tones. The subwoofer and rear speakers on both mixes are however infrequently used, probably accurately reflecting the original stereo soundtrack. A low level of hiss can be heard in backgrounds during quieter passages. I compared the DTS mix here with the New Line Region 1 DTS mix, and again the Region 2 seems slightly stronger, most notably reverberating more in the “Pink Room” bar sequence.
One other major advantage I feel the Region 2 release has over the Region 1 is in its use of optional partial subtitles. The Region 2 release is not fully subtitled in English for hard of hearing, but it uses occasional subtitles to translate backward flipped dialogue of the Man from Another Place and the conversations in the Pink Room, which are otherwise inaudible through the noise of the music. These subtitles can be switched off, which I much prefer, since this was how I saw the film in the cinema, and found so effective, realistic and disturbing at conveying the drugged, debauched activities of the Pink Room. However, American and International prints of the film differ in this regard, with subtitles employed for these scenes and even the level of Badalamenti’s pounding score being slightly dampened. With the Region 1 edition, the subtitles are fixed, which I personally don’t like and the volume of the drunken dialogues is raised, so there is hardly even any need for subtitles. Here on the Cinema Club Region 2 edition they are automatically selected when the film is started, but can be switched off by the viewer. Other titles and captions, such as names of locations, are fixed, retained in the Twin Peaks font.
There is little in the way of extra features on the disc for this to warrant Collector’s Edition status. Scene selection is through the use of strange titles which takes us to some but not each of the 59 chapters, some of which bizarrely last only 5 or 6 seconds. For anyone who might be lost at the large cast of characters, a list is provided with a less than one-second clip to illustrate. The original Electronic Press Kit (19:44) is the only substantial extra feature, which consists of an explanatory and spoiler-filled walk-through the film, clips of some of the main characters and brief sound-bite interviews with Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly and Madchen Amick, and the excellent dialogue-free trailer. Although it is hardly the best guage, the red tones seen in the trailers and clips here seem to bear out the colour timing on the main feature.
David Lynch took a major gamble with Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, risking alienating not only viewers unfamiliar with events depicted in the Twin Peaks television series, but even those faithful viewers who came to the film expecting some resolution to the cancelled series. There was no question that the film was going to be dark and brutal, but I don’t think anyone was quite prepared for where Lynch was going to take this. The result is an often confused and confusing film that was instantly reviled by press and the general public, but has since, through Lynch’s examination of the forces of good and evil in his subsequent films, come to be seen as a breakthrough film for the director. If not the director’s finest moment, if not his most coherent or consistent film or even his most disturbing (I personally think Lost Highway surpasses it on all those levels), it’s nevertheless a bold film that deals with serious issues in the most disturbing way - not at all in the realm of realism, but at least in a state of psychological accuracy. Unfortunately, much of the film’s power rests with having a passing familiarity with the television series beyond Twin Peaks – Season 1, which is the only part currently available on DVD.
The new Cinema Club edition of the film is a vast improvement over the previous Region 2 edition from Second Sight (reviewed here on DVD Times by Mike Sutton) and it appears to be consistent with the look and feel of recent DVD remasters of Lynch titles such as Wild At Heart and Twin Peaks – Season 1, but opinions are going to vary on whether it is an accurate transfer of the original film.