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Twin Peaks: television revealed
An article about Episode 8 of Twin Peaks season 3, the one that changed everything
I discovered the work of Roberto Rossellini at university. I remember being very impressed by “Rome, Open City”, (1945), but even more by “Stromboli” (Stromboli, Terra Di Dio, 1950), a film on the set of which Rossellini met Ingrid Bergman. They had three children, including the actress Isabella Rossellini (“Blue Velvet”, 1986). Rossellini did a lot of work for television, including films about great historical figures like“The seizure of power by Louis XIV”, 1966, “Socrate”, 1970, “Blaise Pascal”, 1971.
No doubt he has been one of the first cinema directors to learn to bend to the specificities and rules of television. As for these rules, I remember Rossellini saying in his book “Cinema Revealed”, appalled, that he had been told to design his films for a public of twelve years of mental age. If he found it terrible at the time, I keep in mind that now, twelve years of average mental age is not so bad if one has didactic goals.
Today, at the time of the total fragmentation of the audience, everything exists on television. On the one hand, mass stupor, a kind of high-speed mental and spiritual medication that flatters the lower instincts to better sell emptiness, and to which it would be shameful to attribute a mental age. On the other end, a creativity unimaginable for TV fiction thirty years ago. A space of relative creative freedom, no doubt made possible by the existence of american TV channels who can afford to address a specific audience. No doubt also, that the obsession of Hollywood for the return on investment, which pushes it to do almost nothing more than the adaptation of pre-existing material, has forced the authors to find new areas of expression.
Rossellini was part of a generation that considered television primarily as a means of public education, a medium to bring culture to the masses and France was certainly not left out in terms of adaptations, (“Les Rois Maudits”, 1972), but television fiction at that time was far from having reached its golden age. Today, American TV can boast of having given birth to some authentic masterpieces written and designed for television such as “The Sopranos”, “The Wire”, “Breaking Bad” or “True Detective”, to name just a few of the recent big hits, both popular and artistic. It’s hard to imagine this journey without Twin Peaks in 1989–90, a series in which David Lynch and Mark Frost cracked the narrative conventions of the time and pushed the boundaries of what was possible in television.
Twin Peaks marked its era with its soap opera style, detective series flair, combined with a surreal surge from David Lynch’s mental universe. After a brilliant first season, the channel asked in the middle of season two to reveal who killed Laura Palmer, the whodunnit of the series. Lynch had to do it, and that killed the show. The series lost all interest, in the eyes of a part of the general public but also and above all of its creator, but not in the eyes of the fans who have been rehashing for 25 years the cult quotes of the series that bogged down in the absurdity until a brilliant final raging episode directed by Lynch and that left things in suspense forever or almost forever, for 25 years.
Lynch has tried several times to come back on television without ever managing to keep the series on air (“On The Air”, 1992) or even simply to manage to produce it, even if one project has been transformed into his last , sublime, traditional film (“Mulholland Drive”, 2001), some others ended up on his website (“Rabbits”, “Dumbland”, 2002).
After a last film film, shot in digital video, exciting but confusing, with mixed success (“Inland Empire”, 2006), Lynch’s creativity has been expressed in many fields (painting, furniture, advertising, internet etc.). .), except the one of cinema. When we learned that Twin Peaks was going to have a third season, we did not know what to expect from him.
It is clear now that he achieved the same feat twenty-five years later with this new season than the one he had accomplished in 1989, he once again pushing the limits of what it was imaginable to show on TV.
I started writing this article after watching Episode 8 of the third season of Twin Peaks, point at which it was already possible to say that whatever was to happens next, nothing would be like before.
In the first seven episodes, we have seen two authors allow themselves to do what they want when they want, with an inspiration that has had time to mature, and in the service of a goal greater than the season of the series itself, which we feel is planned to make the 18 episodes work as a unit. Lynch is over seventy, and it looks like he’s enjoying patiently connecting the whole series to all his past creations. We see returns from his usual patterns (movie theaters, car accidents, concert scenes of ethereal rock or metal aggression, young couples adrift, surreal sequences, post-modern comic slapstick, grotesque ultra-violence, etc.) and details that connects with all his previous works, especially Eraserhead, but also his short films, his lithographs, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and of course the first occurrence of Twin Peaks. We can note a visual imagination unbridled by the possibilities of digital imagery, whose premises had been seen in “Inland Empire” but only fully realized here.
Episode 8 brought to television the means of experimental cinema and video art, through visually stunning digital sequences, a quote from Kubrick’s “2001”, black-and-white sequences that put this work in the perspective of classic cinema, sound devices directly in the vein of Eraserhead, which is also summoned for the description of this other world where have traveled both Henry and Dale Cooper it seems, for an episode out of the ordinary, giving the feeling at the end of its viewing of having witnessed something historic. In reality, we measure the extent of all that we have not seen on TV yet, and Lynch seems to take a jubilant pleasure in unfolding a very long, complex, totally heterogeneous narration, where “Inland Empire” gave an impression of pain and suffering and confusion.
We must not forget that Lynch is a painter by training and that he became a director almost by chance, and that he has almost quit filmmaking after the disaster of his only big budget film (“Dune”, 1983 ). We feel he’s finally at ease in a work that does what he wants, when he wants, as he wants, in which he takes his time like a novelist can to develop a work that escapes the frenzy and the traps of condensation or narrative dilution and cliffhangers. According to Lynch, cable TV is the future of auteur cinema. Coppola said something similar thirty years ago.
Twin Peaks season 3 not only topped itself in terms of narrative innovation, bit it seemed to have pioneered new paths for cinema and television.