Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Exploring a Scene – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

David Lynch is one of those directors who makes use of just about every film making element to create maximum impact in a scene. I’m going to take a look at a scene from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, because I don’t think it has been discussed too much, and because I had to remove this part from my already long review of the film.

The scene that interests me is the opening titles for the film. Yeah it is mostly music over a slow pull back camera move. But it shows off many of the elements that make a typical David Lynch scene, including the multiple layers of meaning the simple scene takes on.

The first thing we see is a wash of blue, grey and black motion all across the screen. It isn’t immediately obvious what we are seeing, but as the camera begins its slow pull back we see that we are looking at a television showing a screen full of static. It is an interesting choice that we are seeing blue static, not grey or white static as we expect to see on a blank screen. The color blue has a deep significance for Lynch. A blue rose appears later in the film. Electricity is specifically mentioned and in other Lynch films blue lighting and electricity go hand in hand. I usually interpret this to mean that blue and "abstractions" are tied in his films. We are getting into a case tied to the supernatural or to put it in Lynch terms, the abstractions are taking over. 

Now let’s take a listen to the music. Angelo Badalamenti’s score plays a slow paced saxophone lead piece. We aren’t hearing any familiar music from the TwinPeaks television series. This is a new piece of music that is filled with a melancholy feel. But it is still done in the jazzy style that Badalamenti crafted for the series.

Even something as simple as the lettering in the credits is unfamiliar. Gone is the brown outlined with green from the television series. Instead it is white and tilted slightly. We are not getting what we expected visually or aurally.

Then there is sudden eruption of sound. A woman in distress, a brutal male grunting, and the television is smashed by a blow from an axe and the woman cries out in terror as the screen goes dark. What does it all mean?

The next shot mirrors the iconic opening sequence of the television series, where we see a body floating down a river - a body wrapped in plastic. At this point the viewer may be wondering if we are seeing a sequel, or a prequel. Is that Laura Palmer? No. The subtitle appears to tell us this is Teresa Banks, and this is all foreshadowing to the fate of Laura.

From the entire opening credit sequence, you can read a couple layers beyond simple foreshadowing. Twin Peaks the television series is gone, nothing but static. The axe crashing down gives that a further finality (Twin Peaks the television series is dead). It also implies that this film is going to smash through the barriers of the televisions series and go somewhere else. Where? The screams of horror and the violence we hear are the hints. This movie is going to a dark violent place that the television series could never go. The melancholy music hints at the tragedy that is going to unfold. 

But the next shot tells us this is all familiar and yet not what we expected at all.

All this from a simple opening credits sequence and a single shot.


  1. Though straightforward storytelling and camerawork have their place – sometime you want them to be invisible and just get on with a plot – it’s also cool to see someone put thought into even small details of a scene and to depart from simple exposition. There’s a place for burgers and for Nouvelle cuisine. Lynch is a pretty good chef with the latter and his influence on Tarantino, the Coens, and others is palpable. His influence crops up in odder places, too, which somehow is appropriate. The video I posted for a totally unrelated reason by Messer Chups (a Russian retro surf music band – yes really) last week for example contains an homage to Twin Peaks in the middle of it.

    1. Yeah Lynch did some work in commercials and music videos in the 1980s and 1990s. I think those black and white Obsession ads were all him.

      I'm with you. I don't mind a nice burger movie, one of the reasons I enjoy the Bond films so much. But when I see someone like Lynch tackle a simple scene and do so much with it I appreciate just how good a well crafted film can be. Somewhere in the middle is Kurosawa. He makes crowd pleasing flicks like "Seven Samurai" or "Yojimbo" but the craft on display in the way he shoots and executes scenes is really impressive.