Monday, August 25, 2014

Rather than a video essay, this month's Lost in the Movies video is an experimental film. It was created in 2005-2007, before I was familiar with the video essay form; nonetheless it overlaps with that approach (it is structured in part around a VHS tape of 1987 TV programs, particularly the Rankin-Bass cartoon The Wind in the Willows). Combining this found footage with home movies and original footage, the film depicts an inner/outer journey in impressionistic, hopefully enjoyable fashion.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It took longer than usual, but here's my latest round-up of the last twenty books I read, with excerpts from each (you can also check out previous #JoelsReadingList round-ups). After the first six books, which I selected randomly, a conscious pattern emerged. I began alternating fiction and nonfiction, hoping to balance between my instinct for information and a desire to spark my imagination. I also assembled a backlog of books that were thematically-linked, so that each title would lead subtly into the next based on a similar theme or subject; not only did I think this would provide an enjoyable reading list, I knew it would make for an interesting round-up when I finally published the result. These approaches emerged around the time I began reading Full of Secrets, a compendium of Twin Peaks essays; unexpectedly, that book also led to an unforeseen development. I became obsessed with Twin Peaks and David Lynch again and was soon writing, watching, and otherwise engaging with those subjects to the exclusion of much else. That's one reason, after moving at a fast clip, it took me forever to finish the reading list I'd assembled.

It also occurred to me, after the fact, that the last fourteen books in the lineup (and even perhaps some of the early ones) are all linked by an overarching theme: the importance of mythology - dreams, fairy tales, spiritual riddles - in making sense of life. Whether battling demons both literal and figural, struggling to purify their souls, or seeking the Grail itself, the authors, subjects, and characters involved in the following books exist in a realm limited to neither tangible, material reality nor otherworldly fantasy. Instead, they embrace both and risk getting lost in the quest for a greater truth.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The following interview was conducted in mid-July, between the release of Brad Dukes' book Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks and the release of the blu-ray Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, featuring The Missing Pieces (deleted scenes from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which I reviewed last week). The discussion includes spoilers for the TV show Twin Peaks. As an introduction to the conversation, I've included an overview of the book's accomplishment, modified and shortened from my original Amazon review.

As interest in Twin Peaks hits arguably its highest point since 1990 (when the show first aired), the well-timed release of Brad Dukes' oral history provides fans, new and old, with a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the magic was created 25 years ago...and perhaps even more fascinatingly, how it dissipated.  Interviewing almost everyone involved with the show, from co-creator Mark Frost on down, Brad weaves a spellbinding tapestry embracing everything from the nitty-gritty of recording technique in composer Angelo Badalamenti's New York studio to the fast-paced Hollywood packaging of the show for nervous executives to the ineffable magic David Lynch evoked with his hardy band of fellow travelers/co-conspirators on location in Seattle. The book's greatest strength is its ability to structure all of this material as something not only coherent, but narrative. Brad casts a sensitive and sympathetic eye on the many elements of this wildly diverse show - exploring each character and storyline in turn. While I (like many) am not a big fan of the second half of season two (after the killer is revealed), I was nonetheless absorbed and even touched reading about the actors' excited explorations of their characters. At the same time, the actors and creators themselves don't hide their disappointment with the turn of events, even as they're not quite able to explain them. Turns out that in the eye of the storm, participants had even less of an idea what was going wrong than those on the outside. Reflections does not offer a grand reveal of what precisely killed Twin Peaks, only more clues.

Among the areas Brad is able to explore more in-depth than I (at least) have seen before: the involvement of various writers and directors, most fascinatingly the contentious and autocratic presence of German director Uli Edel (whom Russ Tamblyn hated working for), the eccentric touch of Diane Keaton, and the disastrous blood-covered script submitted by heroin-addicted Jerry Stahl; the discussions between Mark Frost and Steven Spielberg, who expressed interest in directing the infamous season two premiere (until Lynch decided he wanted to do it himself); the loving detail lavished on Badalamenti's scoring, with due attention paid to his numerous and usually-overlooked collaborators in the studio; Kyle MacLachlan's always-controversial decision to nix Cooper's romance with Audrey (supposedly because his girlfriend Lara Flynn Boyle was jealous of her attention), which is fleshed-out but not solidified - although Sherilyn Fenn entertainingly harbors no doubts about what went down; Harley Peyton's increased involvement with the series to the point where he was basically running it while Mark Frost and David Lynch were off working on other projects, leading to some pointed confrontations with Lynch in particular; the personalities of various actors shining through in new and unforeseen ways - veteran actor Michael Parks gets some hilarious anecdotes about his confrontation with "gal director" Lesli Linka Glatter (who seems to take his condescension in stride), and Michael Ontkean surprises us as a more offbeat, soulful fellow (with a penchant to refer to himself in the third person) than we might suspect from his performance as the stable, easygoing Sheriff Truman.

The most prominent figure Brad was unable to interview is David Lynch, co-creator of the series and the most famous name attached to it. This is unsurprising - as Lynch is often loath to discuss his work - and also less unfortunate than it might seem, for that very reason: it's impossible to imagine the director letting down his guard enough to offer Dukes new information, or expose his reasons for apparently abandoning the series when it was at its most troubled (he would later return, but it was too late). That said, the absence of Lynch does create a bit of a void when it comes to his side of the story, particularly what the director sees as the centrality of Laura Palmer; for Brad, like Frost and Harley Peyton, Laura is more important as the gateway into the world of Twin Peaks than as a character in her own right (this also leads him to de-emphasize Fire Walk With Me). While this isn't a viewpoint I share, it's actually beneficial to the book because Brad's wideranging love of the show allows him to explore every facet with equal respect and curiosity, picking up on tidbits others might neglect. Twin Peaks was, after all, an entire world, populated with more characters than several other shows combined, a potpourri of different tones and themes and stories.

In our conversation, Brad and I discussed his discovery of the show as a precocious 9-year-old (with parents far more permissive than my own, it seems!), the development of Reflections, and the personalities involved - from the musicians to the writers and directors to the network execs. Surprisingly - in retrospect - I didn't ask him many questions about the cast, but he's already shared great anecdotes about Peaks actors in other interviews with The Red Room Podcast, Obnoxious and Anonymous, and Welcome to Twin Peaks. Check them all out, as I sought to avoid redundant questions. In the second part of the interview, we discuss the tumultuous second season of Twin Peaks. Questions include: Whose idea was it to go supernatural? Did Lynch and Frost really know who killed Laura Palmer? Was it a bad idea to reveal the killer? Should the reveal have come even sooner? What happened to the show, behind-the-scenes, when Laura's mystery ended? Brad's answers, often expanding on information from the book, may surprise you. Reflections, like Twin Peaks, is filled with secrets and while not all these secrets can be discovered, the investigation is half the fun.

That investigation begins on a summer night nearly a quarter-century ago. A nine-year-old Brad Dukes discovers his mother glued to the television, absorbed by the evocative images onscreen. Two teenagers are whispering in the spooky, mysterious forest. The Douglas Firs stir in the breeze...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Released as part of the 12-disc blu-ray series TWIN PEAKS: THE ENTIRE MYSTERY, "The Missing Pieces" compiles deleted and extended scenes from "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" into a stand-alone 90-minute presentation - as David Lynch has also done for "Inland Empire" and "Wild at Heart" (though I didn't know about the latter approach until after writing this response). 

This piece was written in the middle of the night after watching the scenes, and slightly revised the next day before I'd read any other responses. As such it represents my immediate, unfiltered impression. Needless to say, there are spoilers for all aspects of "Twin Peaks."

In a way, The Missing Pieces is a misleading title, suggesting ultimate clues which will unlock "The Entire Mystery" of the town of Twin Peaks. But that mystery is already unlocked, in radical fashion, by the prequel film from which these scenes were originally cut. That movie irreversibly remains the spiritual endpoint of the journey which began one lonely morning when Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washed ashore, dead and wrapped in plastic, disturbing the melancholy tranquility of a sad small town. And yet...The Missing Pieces is a perfect title because this piece of the puzzle - not just a random collection of scenes but an experience with its own distinct mood and style - is a crucial missing link. It belongs between two worlds, the eerie yet oddly comforting community of the TV show Twin Peaks and the searingly raw, subjective psyche displayed in the film Fire Walk With Me. A fragile film-of-sorts, The Missing Pieces serves a poignant marker of the divide separating Laura from the neighbors who, despite their love, fascination, and frustration, finally could not help her in life and were therefore haunted by her death.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cross-posted at Wonders in the Dark, where the 1955 version placed at #54 in the Romance Countdown.

"I think of this as a great rainy afternoon movie. You're flipping through the channels on one of those great lazy's summer but it's raining outdoors and you're stuck inside. You come across a classic movie channel (AMC, TCM--take your pick) and pause. What's this? Ernest Borgnine? You always like him, why not stop for a moment and watch. It looks like it's just beginning. 'Marty'? Yeah, you've heard of it, vaguely. Won the Oscar or something, but it's been kind of forgotten. So you start watching and before long you're totally enchanted, completely charmed, by the simple story and realistic characters. Who can't sympathize with Borgnine's sensitive butcher, hanging out with his Italian friends and their goofy conversations about Mickey Spillane, all the while pining away with his heart of gold for a girl that his buddies call a 'dog'? The conversations have the kind of natural humor and warmth that remind you of the old days hanging out with your pals. As you watch the movie, you find yourself enthralled and you never change the channel, watching it till the end, realizing that you've seen this plot riffed on and spoofed on various TV shows, films, and cartoons over the years. When the movie's done, you're really excited--this is one of those films you discovered on your own and nothing can beat that thrill.

"Now, this isn't the way I saw 'Marty'--I rented it and now own it on DVD--but it's the spirit I get from it. I love the conversation between Marty and his best friend, its street poetry that's entertaining without being false, in the diner as their Friday night lays out ahead of them. I love Marty and Clara's walk, their honesty and his enthusiasm; you worry is he going too far, being too gregarious for the shy Clara? Will it work? I love the preparations for Sunday Mass, the fight between the married couple, and Marty agonizing over standing up his girl while his friends have an amusingly banal and silly conversation in which they keep repeating themselves. It's really just a charming and wonderful film, joyful even in its sad moments. If you don't enjoy it, what can I say, but my recommendation comes completely honest and from the heart. This is one of those personal favorites that also happens to be an underrated classic--but just underrated enough so that the joy of discovering it on a rainy Saturday afternoon remains undiluted." - Me, April 24, 2003, my first online review (IMDb)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Every month I am posting a new video essay. This month's video also doubles as an entry in Wonders in the Dark's latest genre poll, the Romance Countdown, where Lady and the Tramp placed at #57.

Lady and the Tramp is one of the great romances of all time…but it’s much more as well. In fact, the animated classic samples numerous mid-century film (and TV) genres. “Lady in Movieland” explores many of them while also observing Lady’s anxiety and eventual acceptance of a new member of the family (and what this means for her own comfort and independence). Hope you have as much fun watching this as I had making it.

Videos follow the jump. If you're also in the mood for something completely different (although it too involves an unwanted infant and dark nighttime attack), check out last month's video essay on David Lynch.

Monday, July 14, 2014

We begin on Coronation Day, when many other fairy tales have ended. In the isolated kingdom of Arendelle everyone has their role to play. Crowds gather to celebrate their new queen (whose parents died at sea in the extended prologue) while servants bustle around the castle opening the windows and doors for the first time in years. Younger Princess Anna falls for a foreign prince who proposes marriage within hours. And the new Queen Elsa, a beautiful but aloof and conspicuously gloved blonde, accepts her new responsibilities with a pronounced reserve. And no wonder: once shocked by her sister's impending engagement, Elsa loses control (and glove) and shoots ice from her fingertips before fleeing her horrified subjects and escaping to the mountains; a long-concealed secret has been revealed and the kingdom turned upside down. Winter hits in the middle of summer, the good queen forswears her monarchical prerogative, the sidekick princess emphatically steps in as our heroine, and now we know all bets are off - Frozen will be stuffed with welcome surprises.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Although from now on I'll be alternating Lynch-focused pieces with other material (particularly my upcoming entries into the Wonders in the Dark romantic countdown, summer reading list round-ups, and an already-written but long-postponed review of Frozen) my attention to Twin Peaks won't really be wavering in the upcoming months. How could it? When I fell back under the spell of the series and its co-creator David Lynch this spring, I didn't yet know about the upcoming blu-ray boxset, featuring ninety minutes of deleted footage from Fire Walk With Me and a bevy of special features that would make even the most casual fans' mouths water. I'm particularly looking forward to Between Two Worlds, in which Lynch himself will interview Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, and Grace Zabriskie, the actors who played the Palmer family so central to Peaks lore. He will not only be interviewing them as themselves but as the characters they played - a fantastic idea albeit one that probably only Lynch could pull off. I'm particularly excited to see the underrated Lee return to the role that defined her forever; and in a sense, this feature will also be the closest we get to a new Lynch dramatic film for some time - unless his rumored upcoming project comes to fruition. I can't wait, and in early August I will be reviewing both Between Two Worlds and The Missing Pieces (Lynch's title for the Fire Walk With Me deleted scenes edited into their own standalone feature, a fantastic and necessary approach).

Meanwhile, I've participated in my first-ever podcast, Cameron Cloutier's "Obnoxious and Anonymous." Cameron, whose fondness for long, unedited conversations defines a channel just packed with in-depth goodies, was someone whose work I discovered via his interview with filmmaker/author Jennifer Lynch. It's probably the longest interview she's ever done, full of insights into The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and her father's work, as well as her own film career. Cameron invited me to participate after I commented on a previous podcast, and we spent over two hours discussing (and sometimes disagreeing about) both Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me, touching on what was good and bad about the show's controversial second season, how the show attracted and then turned away viewers, and why the film was so poorly received. It was a great conversation and there may be more in store after the blu-ray comes out. I've placed the podcast after the jump but you can also visit the YouTube page to check out some of the fascinating links Cameron included in the description.

In other news, friend and fellow blogger Bob Clark has launched a webcomic well worth checking out. Dubbed "Neo Westchester", the strip cleverly combines savvy social commentary with geeky references, taking an affectionate but clear-eyed view of gaming and anime culture. Beginning with the simple scenario of two fans waiting in line for a game release, the series branches off into surreal fantasies, political satires, and the eventual inclusion of genuine sci-fi intrigue. Ambitiously and accurately, Bob himself describes it as "Bloom County meets Akira," adding, "I hope I can offer a nice taste of political and cultural humor and commentary laced with a healthy dose of action and adventure in the form of deadly robots, evil corporations, and the ragtag rebels fighting them both in the streets and the technicolor carnage of online gaming." Join the battle here.

And now, since I'm already using this post as a catch-all, a status update. As noted, I'll be continuing Twin Peaks posts at least once a month from now on. This will include the aforementioned review of The Entire Mystery box set, perhaps some further podcasts, and hopefully some interviews which I've recently put out feelers for. Additionally, since I've focused so much on Lynch's involvement with Peaks lately, I'd like to list my favorite 20 moments not directed by him (though some will be written by him, or feature him as an actor, they still won't have been covered in my recent directorial retrospective). I am also hoping to end the year with an in-depth study of Sheryl Lee's performance as Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me. While this may be my favorite aspect of the film, until now my numerous Fire Walk With Me pieces haven't actually addressed it in much detail. I'm hoping this upcoming essay (which will also touch on her overlooked post-Peaks career) will be the first of many to examine great, underrated performances in screen history. Perhaps the next one can explore Bing Crosby's role in The Country Girl, another brilliant but infrequently-discussed piece of acting.

So that's the general idea and a provisional outline of where we're headed. Which is not to say I haven't already produced a lot of Twin Peaks commentary for you to explore in the interim. I recently updated my Twin Peaks directory from 2010 to include all the Peaks posts, images, video clips, and even brief mentions which have occurred on Lost in the Movies over the past six years (I'm also linking up entries in my episode guide and other Peaks pieces each morning on Twitter). Primarily, of course, this includes recent work. I spent the last two months exclusively focused on the work of David Lynch. If you missed them, I definitely encourage you to visit both my conversation with Tony Dayoub on Fire Walk With Me and my recently-concluded David Lynch Month, which probably constitutes the most ambitious series of posts I've ever assembled for this blog. Every week of that month, I posed a "Question in a World of Blue" and the discussion never closes so please jump in now if you have anything to say.

Finally and most importantly, I want to highlight my video on David Lynch's early work. I think it's the best piece I offered all month, and one of my strongest posts in any format. Sadly, it remains the least-viewed of all the month's posts, as is often the case with videos. Please take this opportunity to watch my tribute to Lynch (spoiler and graphic content warnings apply, of course), or at least to bookmark it for viewing at a more convenient time. I promise it's worthwhile - and if you think so too, please share it with others. This is the only way it will reach a wider audience.

And here is the full "Obnoxious and Anonymous" podcast I participated in:

Monday, June 30, 2014

This is my fifth and final entry in David Lynch Month, an essay examining long-term changes in Lynch's work. You don't necessarily need to read "part one" first, particularly if you're already familiar with Lynch. There are spoilers for all of his films.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: What does the term "Lynchian" mean to you? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

David Lynch has been making films for almost half a century. Because it took him another ten years to release his first feature, and nearly another decade to achieve his full-on "Lynchian" breakthrough into the mainstream, we tend to forget he's been around for so long. But Lynch's work stretches from the avant-garde cinematic renaissance of the late sixties (with its reliance on celluloid and aesthetic discipline) to the digital free-for-all of the twenty-first century teens (unmoored and immersed in its own video hyperactivity). He has both shaped his times and been shaped by them, but he's also stood apart - a one-man band beating his own crazy clown drum, sometimes celebrated as a true and timeless American original, sometimes scorned as a self-indulgent sideshow to the larger world, societal and cinematic.

From my recent Lynch marathon, two distinct and somewhat paradoxical observations emerged: a sense of unpredictability alongside an awareness of trajectory. On the one hand, Lynch's body of work is more wildly diverse than is usually credited: yes, there is a special "Lynchian" mood, style, and sensibility, but within that world there is incredible flexibility, ranging from the gentle, G-rated sincerity of The Straight Story (1999) to the raw, hallucinatory terror of Inland Empire (2006). Not only does Lynch's oeuvre feature wild fluctuations in tone, look, and subject matter, these wild fluctuations often occur from one project to the next. This marathon reminded me that the wacky, light-hearted TV pilot On the Air (1992) premiered a mere month after the intensely dark and emotional Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), while Lynch's tragic, stylish Mulholland Drive (2001) was shot around the time he recorded the gleefully juvenile Thank You Judge (2002).

Yet if Lynch can't be simplistically pigeonholed, he can - with caution and qualification - be placed. Over nearly fifty years his work, and the voice expressed in that work, has undergone gradual and long-lasting transformations: despite the variations film to film, strong patterns and an overall evolution emerge when looking at the big picture. This means not only recognizing links and echoes between far-flung films (say, the mirrored endings of Eraserhead (1977) and Fire Walk With Me) but also observing a tidal flow to the themes and styles presented onscreen. There is a chronological march in which claustrophobic panic gives way to rootless wandering, classical restraint dissolves into multilayered impressionism, and recognition of corruption from within slowly overtakes the quest against external evil. Just as in Lynch's films random experimentation and apparent non sequiturs coalesce into powerful, perhaps unintentionally resonant psychodramas, so several narrative arcs emerge when examining the totality of Lynch's expression.

Monday, June 23, 2014

This is my fourth entry in David Lynch Month. It is a chronological overview of his career, including full reviews of every single feature and capsules on every available short.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Do you see particularly important turning points in David Lynch's career? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

Over three days, I watched almost every single film Lynch has created since 1967, and as "film" I include not just features or shorts, but commercials, music videos, TV pilots, even the occasional promo tag. Next week I will examine the overall evolution of his career, in theme, storytelling, and visual style. Today I'm going to focus more on the nitty-gritty, the "trees" that make up the Lynchian "forest" (if you want to avoid spoilers, just read about the films you've seen - the only entry that contains a spoiler for a separate film is Inland Empire, which discusses the end of Eraserhead in its last paragraph). I will examine each of his works in turn, starting with Six Figures Getting Sick, a painting-in-motion installation he created as an art student in the late sixties, and concluding with Came Back Haunted, a Nine Inch Nails video so rapid-fire it contains a health disclaimer. Thus his filmmaking work begins and (for now) ends in the service of other arts - painting and music - but along the way he emerged as one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century, his work appearing in cinemas, on television, and eventually streaming over the internet. He's bridged all motion-picture mediums and approaches, told stories and immersed himself in irrational imagery, accomplished himself as a humanist director of sensitive performance and a formalist photographer of abstract images.

Despite his surprising range, there is a distinctly "Lynchian" flavor to all of his films, which we'll discover as we move through them one by one. Each feature film is covered in five paragraphs (except for Blue Velvet, Fire Walk With Me, and Inland Empire, which get six, and Mulholland Drive, which gets ten), his seven TV episodes are covered in three, particularly distinctive short projects in two, and the rest of his work in single short paragraphs (often a couple commercials are discussed together). Here's what I couldn't see: a fictitious Anacin commercial (1967), the "Champions" episode of the Lynch-Frost American Chronicles (1990), a low budget video for his song "A Real Indication" (1993), HBO's Hotel Room sketch Blackout (1993), advertisements for Alka-Seltzer and American Cancer Society (both 1993), video documentary Lamp (2007), the Wild at Heart deleted-scenes "sidequel" (2008), playful greetings to the 2008 Hollyshorts awards and the 2010 Twin Peaks festival, a concert film for Duran Duran (2011), and probably dozens or even hundreds of short clips from, which aren't listed in online filmographies unless they also appeared on DVD (all I can verify missing are two episodes of his goofy Over Yonder web series, but there must be plenty more where that came from). Even with those exclusions, I covered sixty-seven titles below. For a filmmaker with only ten features under his belt, Lynch has been shockingly prolific.

Feel free to browse for the projects that interest you (it may be best to bookmark the post and return for several visits) or follow the entire overview chronologically - this retrospective can be read either way. Indeed, one could say the same of many of his films...