Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Laura Walked With Me

I don't have to have experienced what Laura did to know her pain, all I really know is there is something terrifyingly wonderful about the power of feminine wiles and something horribly dark when those wiles go astray.

I think its natural to reflect or replay certain parts of your life over in your mind from time to time. Memory is a strange thing in and of itself and perhaps isn't all that reliable either, so maybe how I remember things from the past now is somewhat idealized. Either way, I usually enjoy the reflection and feel I can relearn or even garner something new from the return visit. Such is true for rewatching Twin Peaks throughout all these years. Each time I do I get a sense of something familiar, but take note of new elements or things I simply forgot. In particular, as I have been rewatching Twin Peaks with the intention of recapping the episodes for this blog, I have been finding myself adrift in memories of the first time I saw the series and Fire Walk With Me. It made me want to put an essay together that would in one part be a little thought piece on the struggles young women experience and also be a little bit of tribute to the character of Laura Palmer. 

Twin Peaks has a power to it; a certain suave magic that can't quite be duplicated or properly put into words. If you love it, it's likely because it touched you in some way, be it emotional, mental or both. The same is true for David Lynch's work in general. For those that love his work, you probably understand what I mean. Twin Peaks and Lynch's films have a way of reaching inside and touching your soul. The visual powers of his work don't always make a clear literal sense, but what always grabbed me was the feeling, the atmosphere and the visceral energy I experienced from watching his work. As if somehow transported into a different world, often a dream world, which is cluttered by dueling realities that provoke feelings of both sadness, happiness and everything else in between. For me, that was never more true than when I first saw Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. 

"The Full Blossom of the Evening"

In 1990, when Twin Peaks debuted in America, I clearly remember sitting Indian style on my bed watching the pilot on this tiny 13 inch box of a TV that I had in my childhood bedroom. I recall watching the scene of Ronette Pulaski walking off the bridge in her tethered lingerie quite vividly. It's such an iconic scene and it really struck me, especially because her bridge looked so much like a bridge near where I lived. In fact, what always resonated with me was the whole look of Twin Peaks: the town, the bridge, the wind in the trees, the weird places in the woods; all of it always reminded me so much of home. The sadness of Laura's loss touched me most of all and I think sort of marked how I would come to view TV, film, music, art and in some ways even life going forward.

I grew up in what is commonly referred to as "Weird New Jersey" and in the heart of the area that inspired a local magazine of the same name. The magazine generally features stories from two key areas of the state, the southern Pine Barren, Jersey Devil part of NJ and where I grew up in the northwest corner going toward Pennsylvania. I lived in a large town in terms of land mass, but small in the number of people. There was extensive Native American history in the area. It was also pretty close to where the first Friday the 13th was filmed at Camp Crystal Lake. When people from other areas of the country or world think of New Jersey they often think of the Sopranos and the industrial areas, but what they forget is that New Jersey is the Garden State and despite it's tiny size, there is vast wilderness in the Northern and Southern parts of the state and it is without a doubt...weird.

Growing up I heard many crazy stories about strange happenings in the woods. I lived very close to a quasi famous road in New Jersey called Shades of Death Road which borders another well known and reportedly "paranormal" lake known ironically as Ghost Lake. Right off Ghost lake used to be a rusty train car bridge that looked very similar to Ronette's. I'm not sure I believe in paranormal stuff, but I will say even without the thought of ghostly anything, Shades of Death Road and Ghost Lake are just spooky places. All the legends surrounding the area just played games with people's minds. Anyone whose grown up near woods has likely heard a ghost story or two, because they exist everywhere. Regardless I love ghost stories and campy horror movies and despite my skepticism, I've always enjoyed discussing, wondering and debuting all elements of paranormal possibilities. In that sense, I suppose I was primed to love Twin Peaks.

During that first watch of Twin Peaks I remember feeling like it was something my parents wouldn't approve of so I watched it alone and often in secret. Since I was young and my parents were sort of old fashioned, I thought they'd think it was too adult for me. As a result, Twin Peaks became my secret TV vice. I was able to follow the show faithfully during its original airing from the pilot through the episode where Maddy gets killed. At that point Twin Peaks was airing on Saturday nights in America after losing a ton of ratings in Season 2, but I didn't know anything about that. All I wanted to do was was watch. After Maddy's death episode I don't know what happened, but I never saw another live episode of Twin Peaks again. I guess between the inability to rewatch television shows at that point in time, Twin Peaks being pulled from the air for a while and the odd time slot it was being aired in, I just lost track and it absolutely killed me. I was desperate to find out what happened. I craved more of Laura's story. To leave off at Maddy's death and not know what happened from there was literal torture for me. That is until I read about Fire Walk With Me coming out.

My original FWWM poster 
Seeing Laura Palmer on the big screen in Fire Walk With Me pretty much solidified my blossoming love of film as a kid. I had the honor of seeing it in the theater. Fire Walk With Me scared the hell out of me in some ways, but also gutted me emotionally. The mythology didn't resonate fully back then at all, but Laura Palmer's sadness always hit home. Sheryl Lee's performance in that film is soul baring and incredibly powerful. As a young girl, I was honestly so effected by it. I didn't really know why either, I just was. I watched Fire Walk With Me many times as a stand alone film. It quickly became my Twin Peaks bible in a sense. I wanted to get a grasp on the mythology yes, but mostly I used to like to watch, because it touched me so much. I used to watch it alone, because I didn't want anyone else to see how it used to make me cry. I didn't think people would understand and think I was weird, so I used to rent it on VHS from the video store and wait until my family was gone to pop it in the VCR. Even though the film made me feel so sad, I liked that. I also liked that it scared me and made me think. The fact that one film could evoke so many emotions made me appreciate the power of film even more. I didn't have to experience what Laura did to know her pain, all I really knew was there is something terrifyingly wonderful about the power of feminine wiles and something horribly dark when those wiles go astray.

"The poison is in the wound you see, and the wound wouldn't heal." 

In the book Lolita, written by Vladimir Nabokov, Dolores Haze is an adolescent who becomes of the obsession of an older man named Humbert, Humbert. The story is told from his perspective and describes that way he views Dolores. He marries her mother to have access to her and Humbert coins the term "Lolita" for Dolores. He refers to her as a nymphet and essentially convinces himself that her precocious ways are evidence of her desire for him. When her mother dies in a tragic accident, Humbert seizes the opportunity to have control over Lolita and begins a sexual relationship with her. In order to avoid detection, he takes her on a journey traveling across the country. Lolita learns the only way to survive Humbert and ultimately escape him, is to lord his attraction for her over him. The above quote is my favorite from the book for many reasons. Don't we all have a wound or two that never really completely healed? In the story, the poison was Humbert's desire for young girls and the wound represents the death of his first love who died when he was an adolescent himself. Humbert was lost in the memory of her and was looking for her over and over again throughout his life. It wasn't until he found Lolita that he felt he could match that first love/lust again.

The reason I reference Lolita is because despite how wrong Humbert is for his actions, he also believed he truly loved her. It's a dark sick thing, deeply sad, but in a horrible way, starkly real. The way Nabokov writes Humbert is complicatedly masterful. He shows Humbert's cunning and sensitively; his evil and his goodness. Doesn't that seem very similar to the complicated dichotomy of Leland Palmer's story in Twin Peaks, with Laura being his Lolita? Couldn't you also make a comparison between Audrey and Ben Horne's relationship? In fact, Audrey's clothes right down to her saddle shoes are a direct copy from the Lolita story. Twin Peaks always seemed to me to be a contrast of the light and dark sides of humanity, set amongst a paranormal mystery that basically tells an unexpectedly relatable tale, which is most simply put, the horrid tragedy of a father raping and murdering his own daughter. Like Albert Rosenfield says, "Maybe Bob is just the evil that men do."

When I look back at my own life and why I think Twin Peaks and the mystery of Laura Palmer touched me so much, I can almost feel that magic again. Almost as if it's a weird coffee filled portal to a time when life was full of firsts, coveted unknowns and a sense of carefree adventure that only comes from the boldness of youth. Odd to me that my other favorite television show back then was Beverly Hills 90210. A show so polar opposite of Twin Peaks it's not even funny, but I was kid. I cared about what Brenda and Kelly were wearing to the Spring Fling and like most girls of that era, Dylan McKay pretty much rocked my world. 90210 was a mindless soapy show that everyone was watching and a show I could talk about with friends. 

Twin Peaks was a private obsession that haunted me, but challenged me to think outside the box. Twin Peaks was my domain and I never really wanted to share it with anyone. I liked getting lost in it alone, particularly with Fire Walk With Me, because alone I felt free to feel everything without concern for how others might perceive the film or my reaction to it. I suppose I took a part of it with me as I entered my teenage years and got into high school. I had TP on the brain. I had Laura's tragedy stuck in my own vernacular and parts of it began to bleed into my real life. I ran a bit wild for a time. Rebelled against everything. At times, I was a real devilish little shit. In truth, I think a certain amount of youthful indiscretion is good for the soul. Fortunately, most of that period of my life passed me by relatively unscathed. I look back at most of that stuff now and laugh, but some of it didn't. Some memories stay. 

Mostly I feel a sadness for a couple of girlfriends I had during that period that didn't bounce back. They were the "Laura Palmer's" of my real life. There was nothing supernatural about them, they were just young pretty girls who were really messed up. They had sad stories, used drugs, used people, were used by others and hated themselves in a deeply profound way. I knew them at their youthful worst and even though they may not have ended up murdered and wrapped in plastic, they did go on to have seemingly shitty lives. Especially one of them, who I think may have been abused by her father. I can't be sure about that, but I saw things. I sensed things when I was in their home; I knew something wasn't right. In fact, I would laugh with other friends about how weird her family was. Over time she got wilder and wilder to a point that scared me. Eventually I turned my back on her and moved on, but overtime I heard things about her. Her various misdeeds were aired in the local circle of gossip regularly. Every small town has a girl like that. Like Albert says in Fire Walk With Me, "You're talking about half the high schools girls in America!"  

Maybe if I'd been a bit older when I first saw Fire Walk With Me or maybe if I hadn't been so obsessed with the film thereafter I wouldn't have felt so connected to Laura, but I was. It happened how it happened. I lived in a spooky small town. I loved mystery and Twin Peaks came to me at a critical malleable time. I was obsessed with it and I guess still am. Fortunately now I have an adult viewpoint and time has broken the spell quite a bit. Now I focus less on the emotional side and wonder about the mythology more. I crave more of Dale's story for the new season and I have more of mental connection to the show vs. an emotional one. Still I find it interesting to look back at that elements that I think made Laura so captivating.

"So, You Wanna Fuck the Homecoming Queen?" 

If Laura Palmer was unattractive the appeal of her tragedy wouldn't have had the same effect. We are a visual people. We like look to at pretty things and attractive girls are literally a commodity in our society. Thinking of that kind of makes it clear why so many woman have eating disorders and get bizarre plastic surgery. I think watching Laura's heartfelt fall as Twin Peaks idolized teen queen in Fire Walk With Me, combined with Sheryl Lee's intensity, made her tragedy seem oddly relatable. I've always felt Lynch is a lover of women; often showcasing them in the nude as tormented sexual beings. Some people might even say there is a misogynistic undertone in that and who knows, maybe there is. I suppose we'd have to ask the man himself to be certain, but as a female I often saw something else in the way he portrays his female characters. I sensed a sensitivity to the plight of troubled women and a desire to almost vindicate their pain through a raw look at their dark side. Particularly with Laura Palmer, that dark side is explored in a harsh and often brutal way that puts her soul and all goodness, as the Log Lady tells her, in jeopardy. We know that was because Bob wanted Laura and kept trying to draw her to into darkness, but in real life so many women struggle without the paranormal pressure of Bob. 

In my opinion, a lot of Lynch's work features elements of this subject. Abuse, whether it comes in a verbal, physical or sexual form, is a hard subject to tackle. Often its treated as a dirty secret, which in turn shames the victim. Yet the influences that spark the defining traits of Laura Palmer's character weren't just because she was abused, it was also because she was beautiful. The idea of a beautiful troubled dead woman is historically somewhat iconic. Marilyn Monroe comes to mind. Yet I think by the end of Fire Walk With Me its clear that Laura isn't just our victim, she's also our hero. In the end, she's finally vindicated in the light when the angel comes for her. She weeps tears of joy in the final scene of the film and the viewer has a sense that her struggles are finally over. However throughout Fire Walk With Me, the viewer has a front row seat to Laura's pain. She acted out in an extreme way that seems very reminiscent of the way so many troubled young people do. She abused drugs and sex and did so to numb herself from her ugly reality. I knew girls like that; Lolita's who were slipping into the territory of Femme Fatale. Although unfair to label them as such, it was true nonetheless; it was almost like a sort of  psychological conditioning to self destruct.

Girls Gone Wild

David Lynch has said the idea for Laura came from his desire to show a beautiful person who was dying inside. I think he found in Sheryl Lee a rare combination of beauty and vulnerability that translated into a performance in Fire Walk With Me that I think a lot of women can relate to, even without living a life like Laura did. All it takes to understand is a bit of woman's intuition and a little life experience. Most women experience some form of misogyny or abuse in their lifetime and that is a sad reality. I think David Lynch expressed a variation of that very subject clearly in Fire Walk With Me as well as in Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, and even Wild at Heart. 

David Lynch never shy's from sex and nudity in his films. Most of the time I want him to bring it on; fully Lynch me: sex, drugs, nudity, horror, weirdness...I want it! However I think there are few needless nude scenes sprinkled throughout his body of work, but it doesn't bother me. Where his work stands out to me is that he seems sensitive toward women and very much intoxicated by them. He also brilliantly casts his female leads and has a knack of picking actresses that can get very dark in their performances. Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr. stands out as a stellar example of that. I always thought there was something else going on with Diane in Mulholland Dr. that was only hinted at. She was likely sexually abused at some point in her past and the audition scene from the film seems to be an indicator of that, in my opinion. Watch here ---> Betty's Audition. I think that Lynch tends to offer tidbits into his characters which allow the viewer to make their own assessments. In Betty/Diane's case if there truly was an abusive secret in her past, I think it does explain a bit of why her inter turmoil was so dark. 

In Blue Velvet, Dorothy is pretty much abused by Frank Booth throughout the entire film. It's actually kind of tough to watch at points, especially given that in was released in 1986. Lynch is often ahead of his time and although Blue Velvet isn't my favorite Lynch film, I appreciate the subject matter on many levels. Check out Siskel & Ebert's review of ---> Blue Velvet. Even though it's uncomfortable to see how Dorothy is treated, the film is making a statement about the dark under belly of small towns, sexual obsession and abuse. Dorothy's reaction to discovering Jeffrey spying on her seems right in line with that of someone who is angry and lashing out in response. Even Jeffery's reaction to his own role in Dorothy's pain is evident when he cries thinking of his experiences with her. "Hit me!"

In Wild at Heart, Lula was also a victim of sexual abuse. We learn that her uncle raped her and her mother apparently had him killed for it. Even though I think Wild at Heart isn't making the same kind of statement about abuse that Fire Walk With and Blue Velvet do, I think knowing that Lula was victimized at a young age gives some insight to her character. Her devotion to Sailor and even in her reaction to Bobby Peru when he harasses her in the motel room. In that scene its almost like she's frozen in fear, she clicks her heals like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and wishes to be somewhere else. Watch here --- Bobby PeruThe viewer knows that Lula has a traumatic past and she's in a situation where she's in over her head. There does seem to be a recurring theme of women in trouble in many of Lynch's films. Historically many movies feature, to almost a cliche' degree, the classic woman in peril who is in need of rescue or in danger from whatever the featured madman, monster or menace happens to be. Yet if done right, especially if done Lynchian, it continues to be intriguing subject matter. I think that is because women are beautiful and mysterious and because like Siskel says in his review of Blue Velvet, "In real life people get hurt, badly." 

It Was Laura

I wrote this in bits and pieces and with a loose idea hopefully threading it all together in some way. I always related to Laura Palmer. I guess I felt like I knew her, even though my arms never bent back. Maybe that's partly why so many fans love her story so much. She could have been any of us or someone we knew. For the purposes of the series and film, she really was our hero. She fought Bob at the expense of her own life. I think Sheryl Lee's performance thrust her into a sort of poster child status for sexual abuse, likely even typecast her as such for time. The film Bliss comes to mind, when she once again played a beautiful woman tormented by the memory of childhood abuse. Either way, her work as Laura Palmer will always be her legacy and I hope she's damn proud of it. Not only does Laura Palmer teach us many lessons in Twin Peaks, but Sheryl Lee as an actress really is incredibly talented and bold. As a woman, I respect her so much for the risks she took while playing Laura Palmer.

I came to understand that the character of Laura was just an extreme variation of an all to common reality; when people are deeply broken they tend to act out in the worst kinds of ways. Everyone is capable of doing bad things just as much as they are capable of doing good. We are all adrift in the gray area leaning toward one side or the other. For me, I know that Twin Peaks as a series, Fire Walk With Me as a film and Laura Palmer as a character marked me the deepest in a creative sense. David Lynch taught me to appreciate the surreal, Twin Peaks taught me to note the complexities of the simple and Laura Palmer taught me to understand that even the prettiest things in life have dark spots. Anything I learned about life after that came with an inherent understanding of human nature, because Laura walked with me. 

P.S. You can listen to me discuss this post and Fire Walk With Me, along with some other great folks here ---> Twin Peaks Unwrapped 58: Fire Walk with Me Pt 2