50 Movies for 50 States: Week 49 – Washington, Film – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Week 49 – Washington

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), produced by New Line Cinema and CiBy 2000, directed by David Lynch, written by David Lynch and Robert Engels, with Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, David Bowie, Eric DaRe, Miguel Ferrer, Pamela Gidley, Heather Graham, Chris Isaak, Moira Kelly, Peggy Lipton, David Lynch, James Marshall, Harry Dean Stanton, Kiefer Sutherland, Lenny von Dohlen, Grace Zabriskie, Catherine E. Coulson and Frank Silva, cinematography by Ronald Victor Garcia, original music by Angelo Badalamenti

A word of caution: If you haven’t watched the television series Twin Peaks from start to finish, do not watch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I can not stress this enough. To those unfamiliar with Twin Peaks, the television show, Fire Walk With Me – the film prequel released a little over a year after the now-legendary cult television show ended its all-too-short two-season run in June of 1991 – will make no sense. Believe me. I’ve watched all 23 episodes of Twin Peaks from beginning-to-end many times, read the opinions of self-proclaimed Twin Peaks gurus whose essays have populated the internet since its inception, and there is much of Fire Walk With Me that still leaves me utterly confounded. As for someone new to Twin Peaks, just walk awayat least for now. New fans of David Lynch who haven’t watched Twin Peaks the television series may be able to appreciate Fire Walk With Me on an aesthetic level, but watching the movie before the television series is a mistake. Some of the TV show’s biggest secrets are revealed in Fire Walk With Me. That includes the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, the pretty blonde whose body is discovered in one of the first scenes of the television series and whose murder investigation is the primary storyline for much of the show. However, even if you don’t care about spoilers, be aware that you’re still in for a rough time. If you insist on watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me before the television series, you’ll watch and wonder as seemingly important characters drop in-and-out of the film without any explanation. You’ll have to constantly refer to a guidebook to keep track of the names, places and things that are referred to with no background information.

The fact is, if you want to enjoy Twin Peaks in either its large or small-screen format, you’ll have to learn to love its surreal, often times incomprehensible imagery. This shouldn’t be too hard if you’re already a fan of David Lynch. If not, you’re mind might be blown.

From hereon there be spoilers. If you haven’t seen either Twin Peaks, the television series or Twin Peaks, the movie, do not read any further.

For the rest of you, read on:

Fire Walk With Me can be divided into two parts. The first 30 minutes or so of the movie concern an investigation into the death of a young woman, Theresa Banks, who is found murdered in the town of Deer Meadow, Washington. Banks’ murder is a “blue rose” case, an X-file – so to speak – in that it involves mysterious or possible paranormal circumstances. Out-of-town detectives Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) are put in charge of the Banks murder investigation and are met with hostility from the local police force. They are able to badger their way through, however, and once they begin looking into the murder they notice a number of unusual things about the case. These include the discovery of a paper cutout of the letter “T” underneath Banks’ fingernail. Fans of the series will know the same type of evidence was located on the body of the deceased Laura Palmer.

After Stanley leaves, Desmond returns to a trailer park where Banks was staying that he and Stanley had visited earlier. Desmond investigates the area where Banks’ trailer was and finds a ring. When he touches the ring, he disappears.

The next day, in the FBI’s Philadelphia office, agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Gordon Cole (David Lynch) are discussing the Banks case.

“I was worried about today because of that dream I was telling you about,” Cooper says.

Cooper begins conducting some type of experiment with the office’s surveillance system, when suddenly a man that Cole announces to be “the long-lost agent Phillip Jeffries” (David Bowie) walks into the office. Jeffries, disheveled, is babbling incoherently (“Well now. We’re not going to talk about Judy,” he says.) We see images of what fans of the Twin Peaks series know to be the “black lodge,” “BOB,” “the man from another place,” and other lodge inhabitants. Then, before Jeffries can be pushed to explain who “Judy” is, he screams and disappears. It’s a truly weird scene, even by Lynch’s standards.

Next, Cooper and Cole are advised of Desmond’s disappearance, so Cooper is sent to Deer Meadow to investigate. He arrives at the trailer park where Desmond was last seen and sees the words “Let’s Rock” written in red on the windshield of Desmond’s vehicle. (“Let’s Rock” is a phrase spoken on the television series by “the little man from another place” aka “the dancing midget” aka “the arm of BOB.”) Lastly, Cooper is seen standing by a lake talking into his cassette recorder. He says that, although the clues as to Banks’ killer have led him to a dead end, he is certain the killer will strike again.

We are then transported to the town of Twin Peaks, Washington. The familiar theme to the television show plays over a montage of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) readying herself for school, which includes a stop in the girl’s restroom for a quick snort of cocaine.

It is at this point that the film takes a somewhat more conventional route and those who have seen the television series will be able to follow the plot pretty easily. The television series pretty much lets us in on where Laura Palmer went and who she associated with in the days leading up to her murder. The film merely takes that a step further by walking us through the final days of her life. There are a few parts where we learn new tidbits of information (as well as a few parts where the film seems to deviate slightly from the television series). For the most part, however, if you learned it happened on the television series, you get to see it here.

This brings me to my biggest complaint about Fire Walk With Me.

As a longtime Twin Peaks fan, I don’t mind so much that certain characters from the television series were left out of the movie. The movie’s intent was to focus on the character of Laura Palmer and many of the regular characters from the series had only minor connections to Laura – trying to cram everyone in would give it a forced feeling. (Some of the cameos that were left in the movie even felt forced, such as Laura’s brief encounter with the “log lady.”)

I don’t mind that the movie focused on Laura and only those characters closest to her. I think that’s appropriate.

I think it’s the idea of showing us what we already have built up in our minds that’s problematic. Twin Peaks, the television series, gave us only a portrait of Laura to build on (aside from the occasional appearance in a dream or minor flashback). We were forced to construct Laura, the person, in our heads. The movie takes a lot of the magic out of this by giving us a step-by-step guide to creating this person we previously had to build from scratch.

Fire Walk With Me isn’t a bad film. The first third is incredible and does a great job building on the mystery and mythology of the Twin Peaks universe. Like the TV series, it’s got some great quotable moments. As for the Laura Palmer section, Sheryl Lee does a commendable job as Laura, especially when the situation calls for her to bring on the intensity – she would’ve made a great “scream queen” back in the day (she’s probably a little too old for it now) It’s a shame that her career never really took off after Peaks.

I also love the way the film looks and feels. It’s a beautiful film to just sit back and absorb, especially if you can’t get enough of the television series.

It’s just that I can’t help but wonder what the point of the whole thing was. Shouldn’t the energy put toward Fire Walk With Me have been used to create a fresh, new story, rather than retelling an old one? Why not pick up where the series left off? Why not flesh out the Theresa Banks story? Why not tell us more about Agent Cooper’s experiences before he came to Twin Peaks?

I can answer that last question. Kyle MacLachlan initially was unsure whether he wanted to reprise the role of Agent Cooper, leaving Lynch and Engels without a movie. It was only when he agreed to be a part of the project that the film was made.

If it weren’t for Lynch’s love affair with Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me never would have been made. (Series co-creator Mark Frost was not involved with the movie.) Maybe the movie would’ve been a little less disjointed had Lynch taken his time before rushing into the production as soon as the television series was canceled. Still, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten the funding to make the movie if he hadn’t jumped on the project while Twin Peaks was still a semi-hot commodity.

And what if Fire Walk With Me had been a hit rather than a flop (the film was booed when it debuted at Cannes)? Lynch had planned two more Twin Peaks movies after Fire Walk With Me, but has since said the franchise is “dead as a doornail.”

We could speculate on “what ifs” forever. Or we could keep crossing our fingers and hoping that some, if not all, of the five hours of material shot that didn’t make it into the final cut of Fire Walk With Me make their way onto a future DVD release. Lynch says restoring the lost footage would make the film seem less “dark.” Making Fire Walk With Me less morbid is the least of my concerns. But if it means never-before-seen Twin Peaks, let’s hope the possibility of an uncut version of Fire Walk With Me being released sometime soon is more than just another one of Agent Cooper’s messed-up dreams.

Other movies filmed in Washington: I’ll save myself time and point you to this Web site. Films include Singles, Sleepless in Seattle, Battle of Seattle, 10 Things I Hate About You, Harry and the Hendersons and Short Circuit.

Next week: West Virginee. Miners. Coal.

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6 responses to “50 Movies for 50 States: Week 49 – Washington, Film – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

  1. haha I just watch the entire series and this movie last month for the first time. The show was amazing but this movie, not so much. Plus the movie didn’t have Audrey Horne (sexy!) or the real Donna Hayward.

    The show made me go buy donuts & black coffee on several occasions. Agent Cooper should be a spokesperson for Dunkin Donuts & Folgers.

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  2. ron – glad you caught up with this one! i absolutely love the series. i was so intrigued with the isaak/sutherland/maclachlan/bowie/lynch storylines in the beginning and so disappointed that they remained unexplained. and yeah, the whole donna hayward change in there was annoying.

    it’s a shame twin peaks got the kibbosh that it did – there’s so much more to tell, i think.

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  3. I think Matt is right when he says the first 30 mins. or so contain some great quotable moments. Even though I haven’t seen or really thought about this film in years, I can still see Sutherland muttering, “Caffeine is a drug… tobacco is a drug…” and the old woman saying with spite, “Those drugs are legal!” That always stuck with me, and I think about it when I see old women smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

    I had a roommate who had never seen the television series, but he had seen the movie and liked it quite a bit. For him, it was a existensial commentary on incest, which I think is how a lot of people interpreted it. For fans of the series, the incest-angle seems almost secondary to everything else. He didn’t understand all the plot-points, but he allowed himself to be struck by the imagery and the mood.

    I love the dance of the blue woman. “Would you say she has a sour look?” “What?” “Her face. Would you say she had a sour look on her face?”

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  4. I love Harry Dean Stanton’s character in FWWM. Loved Kiefer and Chris Isaak too. I’m sincere when I say I really would have loved to have seen more with those characters. I guess Lynch was worried about alienating fans of the TV show by bringing in all these new people, hence his decision to cut short the Theresa Banks section of the film. I still think it’s the best part. I think the ultimate result in splitting the movie up the way he did was that he wound up alienating not just fans of the show, but his own fans too.

    And yet, I still have a special place in my heart for FWWM.

    Here’s some choice Harry Dean Stanton quotes:

    “That trailer’s more popular than uncle’s day in a whorehouse!”

    “I’m gonna go get myself a cup of ‘good mornin’ America’, you want some?”

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  5. I agree if Lynch would have went more into Theresa Banks & the new characters it would have been a much better film. The beginning was good but then it just ignored all that stuff and went to the Laura Palmer story.

    P.S. I heard that they would have gone to rescue Coop from the Black Lodge in the 3rd season. That would have been entertaining.

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