If there was a glimmer of joy in what will go down in history as one of the most shameful, scandal drenched periods of the moving image industry it was of course David Lynch and Mark Frost’s triumphant return to our screens with Twin Peaks, a mere twenty four years, 6 months and 21 days since the domestic release of Fire Walk With Me. Spectacularly unburdened from any creative molestation from the studio suits and granted an impossible to believe complete freedom of expression it is pure, unadulterated Lynch, bookending his incredible career with another epochal upending of the traditions of formal visual storytelling , as well as serving as simultaneous celebration and summation of his entire forty year career. Can we now speak of an expanded Lynchian Universe™, as per the current vogue for entire franchise landscapes populated by small and large screen spigots which suckle nourishing material for the parched fans of the DCU, Marvel, Star Wars or J.K. Rowlingverse? Perhaps not, but as a parade of his greatest collaborators over the past four decades (Badalamenti, McLachlan, Dern, Coulson, Watts, Stanton, editor Duwayne Dunham, casting director Johanna Ray and DP Peter Deming) it also served as a final cosmic stew of Lynch’s fiction fetishes, his celebration of dream logic, internal damnation and the power of ideas, of the eternal and colossal struggle between the light and dark rendered as starkly as the alternating zig-zag ziggurats slithering across the Black Lodge’s floor. A mere hour or so in its May debut I sensed just how much of this was going to explore the series mysterious interdimensional mythos, relaxing into a treat as we plunged over that Great Northern Hotel waterfall into pure Eraserhead era eugenics. I still can’t believe that something so abstract has permeated the strict hermetics of the TV formula even in this era of hundreds of channels and streaming services, but then again that’s exactly what he achieved back in 1990, only this time he’s really gone to fucking town,
For a show titled Twin Peaks we really don’t spend too much time there do we? For us Lynchophiles this was a, well, a dream, his cacophonous aesthetic which he honed with Mullholland Drive sharpened over 18 mischievous hours with final resolutions leaving more questions posed than ever answered – beware ye from going forward for here be spoilers. I loved that narrative threads and ideas are not even remotely metabolised, merely spun like a web from some crepuscular core to form a discordant yet umbilical patchwork of moods, incidents and trauma. Just as the 1990’s incarnation operated (at least on one of numerous levels) as a satire on the contemporary soap and TV drama format Frost and Lynch continue to toy with the core notions of narrative itself, of cause and effect within the fictitious headspace that we all conjure internally when we watch a film, read a book or even listen to a song. Like a bittersweet, slowly expiring dream fading from the purlieus of memory Twin Peaks: The Return was also riven with a sense of melancholy and tragedy, seeing Catherine Coulson (whose relationship with Lynch tracks all the way back to the early 1970’s) reprise of the Log Lady while in thrall to final stage cancer was deeply sad, not to mention the loss of both Miguel Ferrer, Bowie and Warren Frost before the series aired. Now, I loathe the entire social media tsunami outpourings of grief when a celebrity or public figure passes on, it is in no way relevant to the actual respect or affection that the figure actually engendered and is totally about the Twitter or Facebooker signalling their virtue and their self importance, but that said I am a little frustrated with myself for not remarking on the passing of Harry Dean Stanton given that he’s among my all-time favourite actors, so it was comforting to see him grace us with one final, appropriately moving swan-song;
So long HD, long may the code endure. The fact that a number of the Sight & Sound cadre of worldwide critics have selected it as among the best of the year has caused commotion, and it’s a testament to the merging of the small and silver screens, the usurping of streaming services over traditional media that such a venerable institution now actively seeks nominations from across the moving image realm and no longer restrict the entries from just the theatrical production model. As usual, the commentary has been terrific. One reviewer remarked of this year’s Silver medal winner that ‘It’s not TV or cinema, it’s an uncanny law unto itself’. Another identified the Jacques Tati influenced antics of Dougie as he navigated the perils of both the Las Vegas housing project he found himself unceremoniously materialised within and the corporate landscape populated by mobsters, quivering showgirls, and backstabbing colleagues. Others have noted how the live acts at the Bang Bang! bar act as a tonal bridge between episodes, while how Lynch confidently expands scenes and sequences simply to let the series breathe as much as he nonchalantly turns his back on the conventions of entertainment constrained into the traditional 43 minute plus 17 minutes adverts hour long units of corporate mandated time. It was quite a dizzying nocturnal exercise, staying up until the early morning hours of Monday morning for the UK transmission almost every week, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t simply stream an entire series in one bloated digestion rather than anxiously await each weekly instalment. Those first half run episodes were staggering, a truly avant-garde assault on the senses, causing me to giggle like a sleep deprived hyena that this could pass for popular entertainment in today’s formulaic firmament – yeah, so it is reasonably clichéd at this point but I have to ask, ‘gotta light?’;
Throughout the series Lynch folds space and time like the melange addicted Navigators of Dune, the very first scene inciting queries and compulsions which were partially revealed 5 months and plateaus of space and time later. Frequently time as a narrative construct is elongated and compressed concertina style not just over episode arcs but also in individual scenes, Sarah Palmer in particular the victim of some malevolent daemon manipulating her reality for its own, abstract amusement. Alongside the mourning Twin Peaks also offers a mediation on the passage of time between 1990 and 2017, all the characters have aged, wizened and most have suffered some tragedy or loss, a gloomy ideology punctuated by the series final piece of dialogue when Cooper puzzledly inquires ‘What year is this?’
So you may have noticed I haven’t really delved into the story that we were presented with, the twin alignments of BadCoop evading the clutches of the lodge while being pursued by the Knights Templar of the FBI, while amnesiac reconstructed GoodCoop wrestled with his new found identity as a Being There akin Mid-Western insurance officer. That decision is fostered by the fact that I don’t care, reason and logic sacrificed on the altar of mood and tempo. The plot was secondary to the overall experience of the show, of simply letting the images and ideas wash over you without any intellectual inspection, as it was quite clear from episode one that this was a work that operates primarily on Lynch’s instincts, occasionally steered through the turbulence of incoherence into the blue skies of logic by co-pilot scribe Mark Frost. I do have my personal favourite moments to be sure, and it was certainly fun to inspect the numerous fan theories and theorising on-line, but there are simply no definitive answers other than those that you as viewer bring to the table which for me is the function of truly great works of art. To isolate one example of hundreds in the show is it significant that the terrifying head-crushing, zippo seeking woodsmen has a similar visage to Abraham Lincoln? Undoubtedly. Is Lynch going to explain what he means by that (and in fact does he even consciously know)? Of course not. To explain is to destroy, to evaporate the magic and diminish the audiences interpretation, forging a fixed path of cognition which serves no master;
Still eerily terrifying, no? The techniques were also a summation of the Lynchian aesthetic, yes we were subjected to the atypical strobing effects, the frankly terrifying omni-dimensional audio mix, the over and under-cranking chittering film speeds, and his utterly unique Norman Rockwell Americana perverted through the lens of 20th century European surrealism. But these techniques seemed refined and finalised in this coda defining work, concocting a witch’s brew that left me in awe – the shift of space and place via B&W and colour photography alone is majestic. I can’t think of many filmmakers who can oscillate through nodal points of the same themes without getting stale and repetitive, but his deployment of Doppelgängers, a binary light dark motif he has instructed through Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire remains fascinating and interesting, curdled with bouts of remorseless violence and trauma which the most legendary of horror directors can’t equal. OK, yes, I’ll admit to being a little conflicted at some of the decisions, the entire Las Vegas mobsters / GoodCoop arc didn’t entirely work for me, series primary antagonist Bob being dispatched by a Cockney armed with green washing up glove seemed somewhat anticlimactic, and the lack of resolution or indeed illustration of Audrey Horne’s story was frustrating, her suggested mental cage hinting at deeper, comatose horrors following the climax of Season 2. But we were blessed with this transcendent moment which operates as simultaneous tribute to her popular persona in the original series and a leitmotif of Lynch and his work, a fallen angel weaving narcotically in the throes of (to steal a phrase) some sort of ‘Bunuelian limbo’;
There is a nice documentary on Dave’s early career doing the rounds by the way. I will keep my gunpowder dry for the moment on that sequence in Episode 8, the cement of an hour of intravenous information which has instantly instilled itself as among the finest hours of television ever broadcast in any period from any country, a sequence I aim to include on my final ever entry to this blog – there is a method to my madness. It is rare but sometimes you just know when watching something for the first time that you are witnessing a potential masterpiece, an immediate entry into the cultural lexicon (the last time I remember thinking this was during the Under The Skin premiere in Toronto) and its detonation is a masterstroke which evokes Stan Brakhage, Mark Rothko, and dare I say it Stanley Kubrick, the terrifying resurgence of a species threatening event which we had hoped been stunned into hibernation at the alleged conclusion of the Cold War. Similarly the last two hours of the series were among the most gripping I’ve spent in front of a screen over the past few years, literally returning to the scene of the crime to reconceptualise and reframe the entire series and its wider cultural phenomenon. As I’m sure you’ve heard the final scene was shot at the real world Palmer house location with its real, present day 2017 occupant answering to Cooper and Laura, igniting a final, horrific, howling primordial scream – guillotine cut, run muted titles & a silent whisper, then get thee to a nunnery. Was Twin Peaks: The Return a momentous statement, apt for our current oppressive and apprehensive times? You betcha, but there is always hope among the darkness, like the dream of the Robins, two souls offering some relief, among the encroaching dark;
Well fuck me it’s darn weird being back here again, after many, many months of neglect. I could barely remember my password let alone the functions of writing a blog post, so please bear with me as I reconnect with an old but terminal exercise. The good news (I guess) is that I’m going to commit to a few year closedown posts of timid length and analysis, the bad news (if anyone really cares) is that this will lead to a final execution of this ten year project once and for all as the day job has officially overtaken this now redundant blog. What have I been doing? Phase 2 of this. What am I involved in from January 2018? This. As such I need to be spectacularly careful of my digital footprint, wary of the press for reasons myriad and numerous, especially since I’m more than positive that some of the comments and jokes I have made on here could easily be located and exploited out of context with horrific consequences. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, here is the usual December montage which isn’t particularly transcendent, and as such representative of a rather average year;
I have been relatively active over the axial orbit movie going wise, but due to project pressures I completely missed the LFF this year (didn’t see a single screening or event) as my schedule simply didn’t gel with other priorities. Ironically I am on target for seeing over 500 films this year on various eyeball assaulting formats, and have managed to cram in some mini seasons on Eric Rohmer, all of Soderbergh’s 21st century material, a revisit of Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, all of the Jarmusch films on Amazon Prime, Ōkami’s Lone Wolf & Cub series and even a revisit of a John Cassavettes box-set. I still don’t chime with the love for him, as much as I can appreciate his ground-breaking achievements in championing independent American filmmaking before Sundance was a faltering glint in Robert Redford’s azure eyes. More montage mischievousness here;
So in order to temper expectations here are my films of the year thus far, presented without commentary or debate and in no particular order – make of this what you will ; Wind River, Personal Shopper, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Moonlight, mother!, Lady Macbeth, The Death Of Stalin, Logan and maybe Malick’s Song To Song and the eerily prescient Nocturama. Alas I didn’t see The Florida Project, You Were Never Really Here, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Good Time, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer nor The Shape Of Water, some of which I’m sure could have arisen to the 2017 Menagerie pantheon if I’d seen them at the LFF. As it stands the ultimate event of 2017 was of course David Lynch’s spectacular bookend to his incredible career, maybe there more there will be more on that……later;
A slight aside today as this just made me gasp. This weekend I’m preparing to fire up for the first time my VR kit which has now all arrived – I’ve been waiting twenty-five years to experience this immersion. I think if they ported on a Godzilla style carnage application on to this platform I’d never leave the flat again;
I generally shy away from posting every god-damn trailer in our current age of x 4 previews for the same bloody film, but I don’t know about you but I could still do with a distraction from the real world with some monsters. Some huge fucking monsters;
Hmm, not fond of that speed-ramping but I assume that’s a trailer effect they’ve thrown on the piece, and at least it looks like it has a sense of humor. – here is the greatest John C. Reily impression in recorded history. In other news, yes, we can do better – Indeed, we nust…..
Here’s a trailer for what seems to be a rather different approach to movie making documentaries, naturally I was attracted to the material but I just couldn’t align the screenings with my schedule. Now I’m kicking myself as this looks fascinating, but I guess it will get a VoD release in a few months or so what with the enhanced interest in Lynch in the run-up to next year’s return to Twin Peaks;
Any outtakes of a behind the scenes Dennis Hooper as the truly terrifying Frank Booth could be appropriately distressing, In fact there is another documentary on ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’ screening this year, as you can see here;
It’s not often I divert into TV territory but a combination of small town eerie Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Winnona means that yes, I will probably be giving this a d20 Charisma check for interest;
Well this looks fairly intense, a new South Korean horror ‘descent into hell’ that has received strong plaudits from Cannes;
Well that was quite a weekend, mohitos in a skybar over St. Pauls, a friends birthday celebration pub-crawl through Soho, and three solid movies. I’ll try to find some time next week to expand on my comments but suffice to say we had good appreciative crowds, a few special guests, so there is plenty to keep me occupied next week. First of all back to Friday and the (for me) eagerly awaited Son Of Saul;
Suffice to say this was incredible, an exceptionally harrowing and tough watch, and one of those films that while admired I don’t think I ever want to see again. I mean that in a praiseworthy way, the technique was befitting the grim subject matter, and I think we have a major new talent on our hands. Next up we moved into documentary waters;
Far too short at 80 minutes as I could have easily watched another hour, especially with the likes of David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Oliver Assayas, James Gray, Paul Schrader and of course Marty educating on us why Hitch still matters. They lavished attention on Psycho and Vertigo in particular, in probably the best film theory related documentary of the year. Then we scuttled back to British waters;
One of the most eagerly anticipated films of the festival, and I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the second public screening. Wheatley did a Q&A which was quite funny, and while I still think Kill List is his best film to date this is essential viewing. A special guest arrived in the form of Loki himself who got a massive roar from the crowd, and he read a brilliantly prescient quote from a 1978 interview with Ballard which predicted reality TV, selfies, and pretty much the entire modern narcissistic & interconnected world. Several million kudos points for Wheatley selecting this as the final track as the credits rolled;
And finally the best horror Western of recent years – they warned us this was going to be exceptionally violent and they were not wrong. Alas no sign of Kurt as a special guest (seeing Macready in the flesh would probably put me in hospital anyway) but the producers were on hand for an insight into the films long gestation. Some of my reviews have dropped here, here here and here, more to come next week…..
I think, after nine months of Werner Herzog I deserve a bit of a laugh don’t I? So as we timidly enter the studios graveyard season, the August and September of the movie calendar where hesitant production houses unceremoniously dump their products and wares that they haven’t quite worked out how to market or sell, like a shamefully discarded bastard Victorian child. Some of the alternative blockbuster programing is hanging on in there, and for a change of pace I thought I’d give a comedy a try, a genre that has always been woefully unrepresented here at the Menagerie. Judd Apatow’s latest springs from the pen of writer & actress Amy Schumer, a star in the ascendant whom seems to be America’s new favourite funny lady. She stars as twenty-something New Yorker Amy who is enjoying the single life, sleeping around, getting wasted while juggiling her stressful magazine journalism career, as it seems that every twenty-something woman in every rom-com always works in the media don’t they? When she hooks up with successful doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) the usual contraptions of the rom-com spring into position, the standard complications and obstacles to the path of true love, with just a little character background of family drama to frame a life which needs to evolve and transform if transcendent happiness is to be achieved – in this case a pregnant younger sister (Brie Larson) and increasingly frail father (Colin Quinn) whom is wasting away in a care home.
Broadly speaking this works, there are enough laughs sprinkled throughout the airy romance to propel it through the rather clichéd dramatic longueurs, a path enjoyably endured mostly due to Schumer’s playful performance and intimate knowledge of the material given she is the sole screenwriter. There is a curious pastiche of a Sundance film within the film which oddly doesn’t resemble anything made since the era of Living In Oblivion or more recent mumblecore musings, and they even pay homage to Annie Hall toward the end of one city celebrating montage, a reverent moment given that movie is still widely considered as the apotheosis of the genre. So many of the scenes fall completely flat, without a single laugh being tickled out, but then a few big laughs can make you overlook some rather poor comedic dimensions – a homeless guy as recurrent comic-relief character? Really? The film relies on a number of American specific sports knowledge and cameos including an extended performance from Basketball legend LeBron James as Aaron ethnically diverse best friend, and that’s where I think some of the humour has been abandoned in the trip across the Atlantic. There is one scene where I’m guessing the American equivalent of John Motson is humorously commentating on the action between characters, which feels like an idea that would have surfaced around the Zucker movies of the 1980’s, not a bad gag on its own but the tone just doesn’t fit with the rest of this movies observational and character driven chuckles. But I don’t want to be relentlessly negative, there are about a dozen good laughs in here, mostly from the side characters which always seem to be the way with Apatow films. Amy Schmauer is a fine comedienne with a great sense of timing and a cherubic portfolio of serenely executed facial expressions, compared to the spectacularly unfunny The Interview which I also saw this weekend Train Wreck is like Life Of Brian or Duck Soup in comparison. Maybe also worth a look for an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as some antipodean, bronze perma-tan magazine harpy who makes Anna Wintour look like Mother Teresa, and a final physical gag which although you can sense coming a mile away had me and my fellow patrons roaring with laughter.
So from modern promiscuous New York of the 2010’s to the sordid debauchery of New York of the 1980’s, a sadly lost time before the Disneyfication of the Big Apple, when an enterprising young gentleman could see a blaxpoliation triple bill in Times Square, score a sweet needle of Dominican black tar heroin and purloin a back-alley blow job from a toothless transsexual and still have enough pocket-money left to catch the last A-train home. So welcome to Mike Dowd, one of the cities most depraved and corrupt drug dealing thieves, a fella who takes to embezzlement, blackmail, deceit and deception like a duck to water. There is one mild complication to this life of crime, primarily being that Mike is a cop, stationed at the notorious 75th District just South East of Manhattan. As an early context setting section imprints this was an extraordinarily dangerous environment, which in the 1980’s was awash in thousands of homicides a year as hundreds of millions of dollars of crack cocaine laid waste to entire communities and districts. This is one of those deft documentaries which is cut like a kinetic thriller, with a thundering action packed score punctuated with delirious montages, as talking head footage of a machine gun voiced Mike and his quieter partner Ken Eurell is cut between fascinating period specific photos and archival footage of their notorious crimes and the IAD investigations into their spiralling transgressions. As a keen purveyor of this type of urban depravity, as a degenerate dime-store denizen who digs the digressions of desperate dogs and worships at the altar of James Ellroy this is of course right up my graffiti choked alley, so if you find such material fascinating then this is a documentary for you. This is the kind of story that demands a fictional translation as it was born for the big-screen, although sadly Sidney Lumet has left us maybe draft in James Gray or Spike Lee to craft this tense urban thriller, as some of the scenes and scams that these guys got into are straight out of a Hollywood handbook, including international drug cartels, secret surveillance in the back of white vans, wild car chases across the East river bridge as the coke and booze flowed like a tarnished tsunami. The film would write itself with the cops own internal sense of omertà a powerful dramatic foil, as even if you know a colleague is up to no good you, never, ever, ever turn rat regardless of the circumstances. This is a solid rap-sheet, and is rather disquieting in the background of this years police brutality and institutional illness seen in Ferguson and Cleveland and North Charleston and Cincinnati and on and on…….
On paper this shouldn’t work and could be cringe-worthy bad, but this is kinda genius in its own well researched way;
Can’t believe I haven’t seen it before, that image of Kubrick pulling dance movies at the end has given me the giggles for the rest of the day. Speaking of the dude here is a glimpse and what might have been which I’ve neglected to share with you before – its rather melancholy viewing;
So I’ve just put the finishing touches to my review of the year (if you’re already bored of the festive season here is a round-up of the best web cinema studies of the month) but I have a penultimate review of 2014 to complete first – watch the skies ma homies……