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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Welcome to the Overlooked Hotel, where guests are invited to disagree with the conventional wisdom and re-evaluate the underappreciated.

When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, the event should have served as a triumphant coda to one of television’s most unlikely success stories. Co-created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, Twin Peaks was truly unlike anything else showing on prime time American television in the early 1990s, with its mix of post-modern pastiche, arch sense of humour, and a serial narrative with surreal paranormal elements. For a brief period, audiences were hooked on the series’ central premise - who killed Laura Palmer? - and the frenzied speculation saw the show quickly become a true pop culture phenomenon. However, once that mystery was solved in the second season, it lost much of its momentum, and limped to an ambiguous conclusion that would remain unresolved due to the ABC Network’s decision not to order further episodes of the series.

So by the time it was announced the Lynch was helming a Twin Peaks feature, its devoted fan base were well and truly clamouring for some sort of closure for the many unresolved plot threads teasingly included in the series finale. However, what they didn’t count on was that there was one man who had little to no interest in making a film which picked up where the television series left off, and that man happened to be none other than David Lynch himself.  Instead, audiences were presented with a film that barely included any of the beloved central characters, was mostly set prior to the events depicted in Twin Peaks, and featured a parade of bizarre celebrity cameos (most notably the Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie).

Unsurprisingly, the reaction from critics and audiences was less than positive. Following its near disastrous showing at Cannes, and a subsequent poor theatrical release, Lynch found himself once again on the fringes of the pop culture landscape after a brief period in the limelight. After the initial wave of disappointment, the film’s reputation has slowly been rehabilitated as the years have passed, and my decision to select it for this feature is motivated by my conviction that it stands as Lynch’s most underappreciated and misunderstood piece of work.

It’s easy now to see why Fire Walk With Me attracted the criticism that it did upon its initial presentation to the public. Other than some of the more interesting creative decisions outlined earlier, the film was much closer in tone to Lynch’s previous cinematic output, and as a result was significantly darker, more graphic and more sexually explicit than the TV series ever was. This inevitably meant that Twin Peaks fans that were otherwise able to stomach the watered-down version of Lynch on the small screen were suddenly confronted with a much more extreme viewing experience.

For the rest of us though, there is much to admire in the fact that the film presents Lynch’s virtually unfiltered take on the Twin Peaks mythology, with whatever moderating collaborators from the television series seemingly absent from this particular project. Despite it focusing on events that were well and truly previously elaborated upon, Lynch’s mastery of mood and texture ensures that their depictions of the moments leading to Laura Palmer’s death are no less chilling. And with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Fire Walk With Me marked a significant stylistic evolution for David Lynch as a filmmaker, since in many ways it foreshadowed the claustrophobic, psycho-sexual fever dreams of later triumphs including Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

If you’re a true diehard who has so far resisted exploring this neglected corner of the Twin Peaks universe, I strongly urge you to rectify this oversight at the first available opportunity.

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