Fix Your Hearts or Die

There is a school of thought which says that an artist, to do truly effective work, must always keep the audience — any audience, even an imaginary one — in mind.  I’ve never quite believed this to be true. Except in the case of explicitly commercial work, an artist can (I do not say must) create entirely for himself; his theoretical audience may consist of people whose tastes are completely his own, a step beyond imaginary and well into the fantastical.  Some of the best art I have ever seen, both from outsiders and professionals, was made for an audience of none, or, at best, one.

So it is with David Lynch.  One of the few true auteurs left in cinema, the creator of Blue Velvet and Eraserhead has returned to the scene of one of his most singular accomplishments.  In collaboration with writer Mark Frost, whose sensibilities complement his without being particularly similar, he has finally, 25 years later, released the long-rumored sequel to Twin Peaks, one of the most unusual, effective, and influential television shows ever made.  It began airing on the Showtime network this month and has immediately become one of the most talked-about shows currently broadcast; it has also galvanized the critical establishment and had very mixed reactions from a public that is accustomed to entirely different things than the one that saw the show’s first iteration.

Twin Peaks:  The Return almost didn’t get made.  It was beyond unlikely that it ever would:  the arc of Lynch’s career, the fates of the various cast members, and the changing nature of television would be daunting enough barriers, but Lynch famously scuttled many offers to produce the show by his insistence on total and complete creative control.  It’s likely that Lynch is aware not only of his advancing years but of the difficulty of getting financing in this fickle age; he hasn’t made a movie, after all, in an entire decade.  He clearly intended Twin Peaks to be, if not a last will and testament, at least a final statement of purpose, a personally guided tour through his obsessions and his occupations, a document that would leave no doubt about the kind of filmmaker he wants to be remembered as.

The result, as of this writing, is spectacular.  It is almost unthinkable that the man who made the original Twin Peaks would be able to replicate the experience of introducing such a unique, unnerving, immersive, and unforgettable vision on the small screen so many years apart; it is not only shocking that he has somehow made lightning truly strike twice, but done so with a sequel that bears very little resemblance, either in structure or in tone, to its legendary predecessor.  If the first Twin Peaks changed our expectations of television’s possibilities, the second is changing our perceptions of who David Lynch is as a filmmaker and an artist — in an entirely positive way.

It isn’t that we’re seeing a David Lynch we haven’t seen before.  Most of his aesthetic tics, artistic flourishes, and thematic fascinations are here in a more or less familiar form.  What is so stunning is his ability to rearrange them, to recombine them, to infuse them with new meaning and new menace even as the individual components seem familiar.  From the very first frame of Twin Peaks, we are watching the work of a director completely in control of his creation, definitively justifying his insistence on the final cut of the series.  I was completely transfixed, staring intently at the screen in a way that only the most compelling programming has been able to command almost since the original aired.

There was plenty of cause to be nervous about the return of Twin Peaks.  The era of ‘quality television’, which Lynch helped to usher in, has raised expectations, after all; would what played so well in 1990 appeal to audiences in 2017?  We didn’t really even know what to expect from Lynch, who hasn’t made a movie in the Hollywood equivalent of a lifetime — and his last few were not his best.  But from the first few seconds of the revival, he acts like a man in total possession of his gifts. It features some of the most audaciously conceived and beautifully filmed compositions I’ve seen this decade; the sound design is absolutely breathtaking, perhaps the finest I have ever seen on television; the casting is precise and usually perfect; and the pacing of the story is masterful, teasing us just to the edge of impatience and then hooking us right back in.  Even the parts that don’t work show Lynch’s commitment to what he likes, and the power of that conviction is enough to get us to the next sensational scene.

I’m pleased not to have to recap Twin Peaks, which seems incidentally designed to frustrate such efforts, and like the original, it has a strangeness and a charm that are almost indescribable, so reeling off a list of my favorite moments seems pointless, but here are a few just the same to give an indication of the myriad pleasures the show contains:  the silent, gorgeously paced shots of the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department meeting room; the first appearance of Bobby Briggs, and the emotional power of his seeing Laura Palmer’s photograph for the first time in years; the deranged tension of the glass box, followed by one of the most disturbing scenes of horror Lynch or anyone else has ever brought us; watching Kyle MacLachlan rip the tendons out of at least three wildly divergent interpretations of Dale Cooper; the expansive and often terrifying glimpses of life inside the Black Lodge; the ingenious stunt casting, which transcends being a stunt; the heartbreaking appearance of the Log Lady; the terrific music and atmospheric sound environments; the lived-in quality of the locations; and the angelic shot of Amanda Seyfried as she drives off with her deadbeat boyfriend.

I once saw Neil Young, then in his late 50s, perform a blistering set.  He was in a rare groove, backed by a band of pros who were in perfect lockstep with what he was doing, but he played none of the hits.  He ignored the audience and seemed completely indifferent to their existence, seeming to care only about the reaction of his four sidemen.  It was a creation borne of private passion, for an audience of one, and yet it was one of the most exquisite works of art I have ever encountered. There’s still a long way to go, but I think David Lynch is doing much the same thing right now with Twin Peaks.

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