Can you imagine watching David Lynch’s bleaker-than-midwinter prequel to “Twin Peaks” without having seen a minute of the TV show? I did, back in 1992 when “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” was first released. I knew a little bit about the show but watching it had somehow escaped me, and so I was introduced to FBI Special Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) before I ever met Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). I was fascinated by the mysterious mention of “Judy” by David Bowie as Phillip Jeffries, affecting a weird accent from nowhere in the south. Moira Kelly has only ever been “Donna” to me, and unlike most audiences, I got to know Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) as a flesh-and-blood character during the last week of her life, before her tragic end and introduction to the series, wrapped in plastic.
It was my first visit to Twin Peaks, and my first experience with David Lynch. I remember well two things from that 1992 screening: that people walked out of the theater during the movie, and that despite the film’s violence, the scene that got the biggest audible reaction from the audience was when FBI agent Sam Stanley lifts the nail of Teresa Banks while examining her finger under a microscope. That squishy crunch was too much for some folks.
I was 19, and hadn’t seen a movie like this before. Some things, like the Black Lodge’s inhabitants, garmonbozia, and the red-dressed Lil, I identified as clues to the mystery. Other images seemed to be deliberate red herrings, or symbols looking for meaning. Through it all, I felt there was something going on here, and if anything I think I reacted to the courage, passion and conviction of the principal actors. This is a movie that midway through takes a turn from odd circumstances into very dark territory, and both Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise give fearless performances.
But here we are 25 years later, and when I watch “Fire Walk With Me” now, I see the tragedy of Laura Palmer more clearly than before. As Sheryl Lee observes during a newly conducted interview included on Criterion’s Blu-ray of “Fire Walk With Me,” the film is doubly tragic for the whole town of Twin Peaks having not seen the signs of Laura’s cocaine addiction, depression, and downward spiral. She’s being sexually abused by her father (who’s inhabited by the spirit “Evil Bob”). Only Donna seems to realize there’s something very wrong with her best friend, and as a teenager, she must feel powerless to help. The adults, the teachers… where were they? If they weren’t blind to Laura’s trouble, then they were among her users and abusers, like roadhouse owner Jacques, or Laura’s hot-tempered boyfriend, Bobby.
I pulled my “Fire Walk With Me” soundtrack off the shelf this week to pop it in the car stereo, and the italicized block letters staring back at me from the CD booklet finally clicked. “IN A TOWN LIKE TWIN PEAKS NO ONE IS INNOCENT.” How curious that I’m re-watching this movie in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and our national reckoning with powerful men whose sexual abuse went unchecked for years. The victims fear for their careers, maybe their lives in some cases. So often now we’re hearing about how said abuse or harassment was an “open secret” in Hollywood or elsewhere. Where were the friends, colleagues or other executives that could have stepped forward and said something? Seen today in the context of 2017, “Fire Walk With Me” is one of the great tragedies on film. No one is innocent.
“Fire Walk With Me” on Blu-ray/DVD
Criterion’s new Blu-ray and DVD editions of “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” each include the aforementioned interview with Sheryl Lee, as well as a conversation over pie with David Lynch and the principal actors, and a beautiful new interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti, whose haunting music is integral to the makeup of the Twin Peaks universe. At one point, he’s describing the process of writing “The Voice of Love” and turns to the camera. “Would you like to hear it?” The next thing you know, he’s at the keyboard for a beautiful solo keyboard rendition.
The Blu-ray also includes “The Missing Pieces,” 90 minutes of deleted or extended scenes that don’t necessarily unlock any more of the Twin Peaks puzzle, nor significantly change the “Fire Walk With Me” experience, but they do allow some characters to get some great moments on screen that would have otherwise slowed down the movie. I particularly liked seeing FBI agent Chester Desmond sock it to the hilariously arrogant Sheriff Cable with the exclamation, “This one’s from J. Edgar!”