"I hear all these stories about people not wanting to meet me..."
David Lynch seems genuinely surprised. This mild-mannered film-maker shocked the world, not to mention the censors, with "Eraserhead", "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart", and now he`s about to shock British TV audiences with "Twin Peaks", his enormously successfull distortion of the soap opera genre, but he can`t really see what all this fuss is about. Underneath it all, he`ll tell you, he`s just your average nice guy. And pigs might fly. "Twin Peaks" had a staggering effect on American television audiences. Probably not since Orson Welles` notorious radio production of "War Of The Worlds" had so unlikely a programme created such a stir on any broadcast medium. America`s most controversial and ambitiously surreal arthouse director caught the imagination of a public not best acquainted with the idea of having to use its imagination. Most successfull US TV is, at best, cosy and at worst mind-numbingly dumb (thanks largely to the influence of sponsors who are paying vast amounts of money to advertise). "Twin Peaks" is complex and dense. And in this context, subversive. It was run opposite "Cheers", and beat it in the ratings war. Whether "Peaks" has any lasting impact remains to be seen, but even if it was only a freakish one-off, it was a glorious one-off. Time magazine described it as, "Like nothing else on prime-time...or on God`s earth."
Co-scripted by "Hill Street Blues" writer Mark Frost, "Peaks" finds Lynch on familiar ground, spilling the concealed guts of backwoods America across the small screen in the same way that "Blue Velvet" did in the cinema. It begins with the body of a beautiful young woman being washed up on a beach, wrapped in a plastic sheeting. Laura Palmer was the pride of her community, it seems; the cream of the crop - homecoming queen, straight-A student, the girl most likely to. Why would someone do this? Is there a psycho in their midst? - in a town where everybody knows everbody else, this is an eerie enough notion.
But a more complex and sinister explanation is suggested by the fact that FBI agent, Dale Cooper, immediately arrives to investigate. He appears to know a good deal more than he`s letting on, his unstated suspicious being progessively confirmed as the six episodes move through a series of ever darker twists and turns, before reaching a climax of such disturbing surreality that it`s guaranteed to stay in the minds for weeks. Throughout, the series teems with typically Lynchesque black humour (in the persons of characters like the Log Lady) and unsettling moments, at least one of which prevented me from sleeping a few hours afterwards. "Twin Peaks", in short, is something of a triumph, a hundred times better than the sporadic "Wild At Heart". It won`t create the same stir here as across the water, simply because we`re more used to quality drama, but the fact remains that your mum will hate it and it shouldn`t be missed.
To coincide with the transmission of the first
episode of "Twin Peaks", Joanthan Ross is presenting a one hour
documentary on Lynch, the first of series of film profiles of some of
the world`s more unorthodox directors (these to include Pedro Almovodar
and Alejandro "Sante Sangre" Jodorowski). As Ross himself pointed out
at the press screening, this is rather magnanimous of Channel 4, seeing
as "Twin Peaks" is showing on BBC2. (In fact, C4 are salving their
consciences in this respect by showing Lynch`s disastrous adaptation of
"Dune" immediately afterwards, a cause of great embarrassment to Mr
Ross, but you can`t win Žem all). "For One Week Only: David Lynch" is a
revealing document. What everyone has always wanted to know about the
man can be summed up in a single sentence: "Is he onto something the
rest of us aren`t (or even on something the rest of us aren`t), or is
he just a sicko?" Ross` film goes some way towards answering this
Dennis Hopper, who turned in what is undoubtedly the ugliest performance to be found in a Lynch film when he portrayed the psychotic Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet", Laura Dern, Jennifer Lynch (the daughter whose birth apparently inspired "Eraserhead"!) and an impressive number of colleagues and ex-colleagues all shed interesting and ingenuous light on the subject. Nicholas Cage, star of "Wild at Heart", is just plain weird. Hopper, one of Hollywod`s most consistently threatening presences, relates how he got the part in "Blue Velvet". He read the script, got on the phone to Lynch immediately and said, "I am Frank Booth. I am that man." Upon replacing the receiver, Lynch apparently turned to his girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini, who eventually co-starred with Hopper), with a worried expression on his face. "I`ve just had Dennis Hopper on the line. Says he`s Frank Booth. That`s great for the movie, but how are we gonna have Lunch with him?" he asked. Then he added, "I`m not sure I want someone like that."
Asked by Ross if Lynch`s script really contained the spectacular number of "f***s" that rained from his mouth like acid in "Blue Velvet", Hopper confirms that there most definitely were, then goes on to describe how the genteel Lynch would never actually say the word himself, preferring to point to it on a page and call it "that word".
"He seems to be able to write f***, but not say it," he chuckles. "David is so straight, it`s very difficult to think that he has such a sick, twisted mind." To be described as sick and twisted by Dennis Hopper is a serious business. Cut to Lynch inisiting that, "Of course, Dennis used that word many more times than I`d actually written it down". Several people in the screening room died laughing. Lynch talks about his own small-town upbringing, his earliest film, his time at art school in Philadelphia, where he was known for his eccentric dress sense, and in particular his espousal of the necktie as fashion item (this was in the Sixies, man). He describes his various careers as shed bulider, plumber - "to direct water successfully is a very satisfying thing, Jonathan" - and cartoonist, as well as the eight-years period where he spent every afternoon in the Big Boy Diner, drinking coffee with lots of sugar and writing scripts on the back of napkins. I still can`t decide whether Lynch is fantastically normal or unbelievably strange. Actors seem to like working with Lynch. He`s a sympathetic presence, they say, and after watching "One Week Only", you can see why. Ross guides the whole thing with the right mixture of playfulness and respect and, as a prelude to "Twin Peaks", it`s matchless. This is going to be Lynch`s year.
"Twin Peaks", the pilot film will be shown on October 23rd, 9pm, on BBC2 and the series starts the following week. "For One Week Only: David Lynch" is on Friday, October 19th, 11.05 pm, on Channel 4, followed by "Dune" at 12.05 am.