Revisiting Lynch – Part Four: Fire Walk With Backlash and 21st Century...

Revisiting Lynch – Part Four: Fire Walk With Backlash and 21st Century Noir

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David-Lynch

revisiting lynch part four banner Revisiting Lynch   Part Four: Fire Walk With Backlash and 21st Century Noir

With the series over and having made a decision to not leave Twin Peaks just yet, David Lynch set about making a prequel to the TV series as part of a newly signed four picture deal with production company CIBY 2000. Much of the cast would be reprising their roles from the series to tell the tale of the last seven days of Laura Palmer.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Filming began in September 1991 back in Snoqualmie, Washington. Sheryl Lee went from being mainly dead in the series to being the main role in the movie. The film begins with a television set being destroyed signifying that the safe standards of television censorship are over. We then find ourselves in the company of one FBI Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) who is assigned to the murder of Teresa Banks with his bookish partner Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland). The two of them investigate the murder, talking to the strange locals and meeting lots of strange folk (including a brilliant Harry Dean Stanton). Eventually they learn that Teresa Banks was missing a ring, Desmond finds this in a trailer park and vanishes.

Back in Washington DC, Agent Dale Cooper is having a lot of strange dreams as usual and lets his boss Gordon Cole (Lynch himself) know about it just as FBI Agent Philip Jeffries (David Bowie) appears and recounts tales of evil beings who live above a convenience store and then vanishes. Cooper is assigned to the investigation of Agent Desmond which leads to a dead end. We then cut to the town of Twin Peaks and the life of high school student Laura Palmer. Laura is using drugs, is two timing her boyfriend Bobby Briggs with James Hurley and is engaging in a sleazy lifestyle with lots of lowlife truck driver types. As things go on we learn that Laura is haunted by some kind of entity known only as Bob and that this may or may not be her father. Strange things happen that may or may not be real all leading to the eventual tragic conclusion.

When Twin Peaks; Fire Walk with Me debuted at the Cannes film festival in June 1992 it was met with universal derision and booing.  An oblivious David Lynch entered the following press conference and was greeted with the same boos and jeers of disapproval. Many journalists attacked Lynch for daring to attack the American dream with such a laborious piece of film. When the film eventually came out later that summer the critical consensus was that it was not a good film. People complained that because of the inevitable outcome, there was no tension or suspense and it was a box office dud.

Watching the film today, it’s clear why the general critical opinion was against it. Despite being a prequel, Fire Walk with Me has definitely got a lot going on that won’t make sense to the general viewer who hasn’t seen the entire TV series. It also has a lot of drawn out scenes which don’t seem to lead anywhere. Overall though time has been kind to this film and it is now seen as one of Lynch’s great films. I think that the power and lasting impression that this film gives stems from the fact that if you take away the dwarves, the rings and the FBI agents then what you are left with is a disturbing and well acted portrait of a young girl whose soul has been devastated as a victim of incest. The film is almost unbearably sad once they get to Twin Peaks, as you watch this young life once full of promise on a downward spiral to the depths of despair and eventually death.

For those of you left frustrated by the ending of the series, there are a couple of scenes here that hint at what happened after the events of the TV series. Agent Jeffries as played by David Bowie points directly at Cooper and asks ‘Who do you think that is?’. Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) also appears covered in blood next to Laura at one point and tells her to write in her diary that ‘The good Dale is trapped in the lodge and can’t get out’. If the film was a big success its more likely we would have seen a proper sequel eventually. An additional scene was shot but not included in the final cut which takes place in Dale Cooper’s room at the Great Northern just after he has head butted the mirror. In fact there is nearly an hours worth of deleted scenes that never made it into the film, many involving more characters from the series. To this day these scenes have not seen the light of day and a petition to get them on an eventual DVD or Blu-Ray has existed for a number of years.

Fire Walk with Me remains fairly underrated in Lynch’s canon but is a triumph of visuals, sound design and acting.

Lost Highway: A 21st Century Noir Horror Film (1997)

After an absence of about four years, David Lynch announced that his next project would be a ‘21st century noir horror film’ and would be based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Barry Gifford, the author of the Sailor and Lulu books.  Lynch had the picture financed through his deal with CIBY 2000 inked in 91 with a 15 million budget and some serious talent to put in front of the camera. Bill Pullman would take a central role and at this point he was red hot property due to the massive success of Independence Day the previous year. Patricia Arquette was at that point still a hot young actress and Balthazar Getty was a promising up and comer before his personal troubles.

The supporting cast was filled out with a who’s who of cult names, superstars of yesteryear and Lynch mob regulars. The film featured the likes of Robert Loggia, Henry Rollins, Gary Busey, Jack Nance, Marilyn Manson and Richard Pryor. Trent Reznor (at a time long before The Social Network) would supervise the soundtrack and compose music much the way he did with Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. It all seemed like the elements were in place for David Lynch’s biggest commercial success to date. Lost Highway tells the story of jazz musician Fred (Bill Pullman) who suspects that his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) is having an affair. They live a creepy house in Los Angeles and start receiving video tapes left at their front door. The tapes at first show their house and then grow more sinister when they show the couple in bed. Fred meets a weird man at a party (Robert Blake) held by Renee’s sleazy friend Andy and the final tape shows Fred having brutally murdered Renee.

Fred is convicted and sentenced to death, whilst on death row Fred gets a headache and is mysteriously transformed into young mechanic Pete (Balthazar Getty). The authorities release him and Pete goes back to his old life of driving around and getting wasted with his friends. At his workshop one day, Pete meets Alice (Arquette again) and is instantly smitten. Alice is the girlfriend of sleazy gangster Mr Eddy (Robert Loggia) and the two of them begin an affair. Parts of Pete’s old life as Fred start to intrude on this new life and Pete uncovers a sordid underbelly of pornographic films and crime which Alice/Renee is involved in.

Lost Highway’s story is possibly the most ‘out there’ of all of David Lynch’s work and yet oddly it feels like his most commercial movie. Unlike some of his films, Lost Highway is positively fast paced and looks fantastic. Working with Evil Dead 2 director of photography Peter Deming, Lynch really captures the darkness and shadows of his sets and makes a convincing vision of Los Angeles as hell where things like time and identity are out of control. The mix of the perfectly selected soundtrack and the visuals make this one of Lynch’s most complete feeling visions. This is also officially Bill Pullman’s best performance to date as a major sick puppy. Pullman doesn’t feel as stiff and ill at ease as he has done previously and is simultaneously a figure of the audience’s sympathy as well as a creepy guy with major issues.

Despite the commercial appeal of much of the elements that make up Lost Highway, the film was not a big success at the box office taking only 3 million in total.  It’s possible that the story was too obtuse even by Lynch’s standards and it feels a lot like Lynch’s most underrated after Twin Peaks: FWWM. Interestingly enough the director has claimed that Twin Peaks and Lost Highway take place in the same world, which makes a scary kind of sense when you think about it. Lynch has since said of the film that subconsciously he feels that the story is a reaction to the OJ Simpson murder trial in that it revolves around a man so convinced of his own innocence that he becomes someone else. Disturbingly, actor Robert Blake who played the mystery man (who seems to be pulling some strange strings behind the scenes) would later go on trial for the murder of his own wife.

Next: Going Straight…

  • Stonewind

    Nice article. One thing about FWWM, Cooper is stationed at the Philadelphia office of the FBI, not Washington DC.