USC Twin Peaks Retrospective: March 3
If you’ve watched “Twin Peaks,” then you know it is filled with secrets. If you read this blog, then you probably already know it is filled with spoilers. Hopefully, you have seen “Twin Peaks.” However, in this blog, I’m going to drop the biggest spoiler of all – the answer to the question, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” If you don’t want to know, stop reading now. In other words, SPOILER ALERT!
The March 3 USC Twin Peaks Retrospective screened the following episodes: episode 2.6 (“Demons”), episode 2.7 (“Lonely Souls”), episode 2.8 (“Drive with a Dead Girl”), and episode 2.9 (“Arbitrary Law”). A lot happened in these episodes: Harold Smith commits suicide, Cooper learns that someone molested Laura Palmer, Bob brutally murders Maddy, and the Giant appears in the Roadhouse and returns Cooper’s ring because he has finally discovered Laura Palmer’s father killed her. Although it wasn’t actually Leland Palmer who murdered her – it was Bob. Bob had inhabited Leland ever since Leland was a child. Episode 2.7 (“Lonely Souls”) and episode 2.9 (“Arbitrary Law”) reveal the iconic scenes of Maddy’s murder and Leland’s death, respectively. In “Lonely Souls,” directed by David Lynch and written by Mark Frost, Dale Cooper visits the Roadhouse at the request of the Log Lady. The scene is a series of jump cuts from the Roadhouse featuring the main cast and the angelic voice of Julee Cruise to the brutal murder of Maddy by Leland Palmer/Bob. See the scene here. In “Arbitrary Law,” directed by Tim Hunter (a panelist) and written by Mark Frost, Harley Peyton and Robert Engels, Leland Palmer, while captured, realizes what horrid acts he has committed as Bob. The scene ends with him dying in the arms of Dale Cooper, who encourages him to embrace the light. Devastating and transcendent cinema. Unfortunately, Ray Wise (Actor, “Leland Palmer”) could not make it to the March 3 panel because of a scheduling conflict. His performance in these episodes is incredible – especially the way he switches back and forth between Leland and Bob.
After the screening and some delicious donuts and David Lynch Signature coffee, the panel entered the stage. This week’s panel included an impressive array of actors, prop specialists, a director, a cinematographer and a script editor.
1) FRANK BYERS (Director of Photography)
2) TIM HUNTER (Director, Episodes 1.5, 2.9 & 2.21)
3) PIPER LAURIE (Actor, “Catherine Martell”)
4) JEFFREY MOORE (Property Master)
5) RICH ROBINSON (Property Assistant)
6) AL STROBEL (Actor, “Philip Michael Gerard/One-Armed Man”)
7) MARY SWEENEY (Script Supervisor on “Twin Peaks” and Editor on “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”)
8) PAUL TREJO (Editor, Episodes 1.5, 1.8, 2.3, 2.6, 2.9, 2.12, 2.15, 2.18, 2.21)
Piper Laurie looked regal and elegant with her strawberry hair and her black shawl. Laurie specifically wanted to come to the retrospective after the introduction of the Japanese businessman Tajamura (aka Fumio Yamaguchi). David Lynch told Laurie he wanted the audience and the characters of “Twin Peaks” to believe that Catherine Martell was dead after the Packard Sawmill fire. He told her, “I want you to come back as a man and make trouble for everyone. I want your name taken off the credits.” Laurie laughed and said she thought that was David’s strange way of firing her. Thankfully, it turned out he was not firing her after all.
Paula Shimatsu-u (Unit Publicist and Assistant to Mark Frost at the time) came up with the idea of the fake actor Fumio Yamaguchi who would play the Japanese businessman Tajamura. Laurie said no one on the cast or crew was supposed to know her real identity. She could not speak or laugh in her own voice. She recalled Shimatsu-u lining up an interview with a journalist from Hollywood Reporter. Shimatsu-u told the journalist that Yamaguchi was a big-time actor in Japan. She tried to convince the journalist that Yamaguchi even worked with the famed director Akira Kurosawa. Piper Laurie decided to do the interview with the Hollywood Reporter journalist over the phone because she was worried that her disguise might reveal her true identity. After the interview, Laurie went to Mark Frost’s office. The reporter was present. Laurie began revealing aspects of the interview and then spoke in Yamaguchi’s voice. The reporter was stunned.
Laurie said Lynch gave her one of the biggest gifts as an actor – to invent my own character. She described David Lynch as not the “least bit weird” despite his reputation, saying he was soft-spoken and had a quick wit. At one point, toward the end of the Q&A session, an audience member asked Piper Laurie to do Tajamura’s voice. She said no, apologized and explained that performing the voice damages her vocal chords. She did, however, perform the voice of Margaret White, Carrie White’s zealous mother in the classic Stephen King horror flick, “Carrie.” While in line for photos, a fan asked her to belt out the classic line she tells her daughter – “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” She did. I was in fandom heaven. This moment seriously made my night. For the original voice, check out the clip from "Carrie" here.
Frank Byers (Director of Photography) told the audience “Twin Peaks” had a cinematic look to it. He said, “From the first episode I did, there wasn’t a plan other than to do something that was not on TV.” He explained how they used wide-angle prime lenses and single-camera shots. They also utilized Dutch angles – a camera angle in which the camera is tilted off to one side in order to create a sense of uneasiness in the viewer. He said because they used a single camera, they could focus more on lighting the scene and creating a mood. Byers said the shots were “allowed to play out,” and this is what gave the show a specific mood.
Tim Hunter (Director: Episodes 1.5, 2.9 & 2.21) said Mark Frost and David Lynch were very encouraging. They told the director to “Make the show the way you want to make it.” Hunter told Byers and the audience that he was struck by the intensity of the close-ups in the episodes. He said the wide-angle lenses really provided a different feel. There was some discussion among the panel members about the amazing music by Angelo Badalamenti. According to Hunter, who praised Badalamenti’s score, the unsung hero regarding the music was Music Editor Lori Eschler Frystak (who will be attending the March 10 panel). Hunter said Badalamenti wrote the cues for the show before the season began because he didn’t want to score each individual episode. Eschler (now Frystak) had the library of Badalamenti’s cues, which she used to score each episode. She would edit the music by slowing it down, speeding it up and remixing it. Trejo (Editor) agreed with Hunter. He said Eschler was also a pioneer by using an early form of electronic music mixer like today’s Pro Tools.
Tim Hunter was asked how he handled the direction of the scene in episode 2.9 (“Arbitrary Law”) in which Leland Palmer realizes the gravity of what he did to Laura as Bob leaves his body. Leland dies as a sympathetic character despite the horrid crimes he committed as Bob. Hunter told the audience, “We had to end [the scene] with a kind of grace. I tend to advocate for my characters.” And what a touching and painful scene it was.
Paul Trejo (Editor, Episodes 1.5, 1.8, 2.3, 2.6, 2.9, 2.12, 2.15, 2.18, 2.21) said that “Twin Peaks” had a distinct rhythm and mood, saying, “The thing that sticks with me is the rhythm of the show.” Trejo explained that a show like “Twin Peaks” would not be aired on a main TV network today – it would be “impossible unless it was a non-commercial cable channel or AMC.”
Mary Sweeney (Script Supervisor on “Twin Peaks” and Editor on “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” as well as a Professor at USC) said she became involved in “Twin Peaks” as a result of her work as an assistant to Editor Duwayne Dunham (who was a member of the first retrospective panel) while working on “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart.” Sweeney said the Roadhouse scene in 2.7 (“Lonely Souls”) “really triggered a connection between David Lynch and myself.” She said the cutting back and forth between Maddy’s murder and the Roadhouse was “a process like composing music.” The editing “needs to harmonize. It needs to be dissonant. It needs to flow.” Sweeney eventually developed a personal relationship with Lynch and became his wife. They are now divorced. They have a son together – Riley Lynch – who has a Kickstarter project to raise money for a film he’s planning to make. Check it out here. On Feb. 25, David Lynch said via Twitter, “I'm gonna donate some money myself because I really wanna see what he does next.” If he’s anything like his parents, it will be a work of art.
Sweeney, who served as an editor on “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” was asked about the process of editing the (initially) 5 ½ hour-long movie. Sweeney said, “As painful as it was to cut beloved characters, it was fairly obvious” those scenes did not directly relate to Laura Palmer’s murder. She lamented some of the scenes they had to cut, including a tender moment shared between Big Ed and Norma in a cab and a scene with Pete in the lumberyard. She addressed the demand from fans to release these and other deleted scenes from the movie. Sweeney said the problem with releasing these scenes is they were edited as rough cuts and shot on film. If they were to be released, they would have to be transferred and mixed. She said they priced it with the French company that owns the film, but the company thought it was too expensive. Can we initiate a Kickstarter project to pay for the release of those deleted scenes? Who’s with me?
When asked about the network’s response to the scene in which Bob/Leland kills Maddy Ferguson, Sweeney said, “I wasn’t privy to the conversations between the network and David Lynch, but I didn’t see a lot of notes.” She said the disturbing scene of the murder was made extra intense by slowing it down and the way that sound was used – the needle on the record player scratching rhythmically and the moments of silence punctuated by Bob's voice. Sweeney acknowledged the graphic nature of the scene is not that bad compared to other violence on TV – Bob/Leland hits Maddy three times and rams her against the wall, but the way the scene was edited and the length of the scene increased the sense of brutality. Sweeney said, “I can’t believe we got that on network TV.” When the USC audience witnessed Maddy’s murder scene, it was eerily quiet in Norris Theatre.
Al Strobel (Actor, “Philip Michael Gerard/One-Armed Man”) said he had “no idea what was going on” when he began his “Twin Peaks” venture. His agent called him and told him David Lynch selected him for a part for his new TV show. Strobel described his scenes for the Pilot. He said he had no script, and the only thing he had to do was to walk out of an elevator. After his scene was shot, Lynch asked him to stick around. Strobel was brought to a decrepit VA hospital. He waited around a long time before asking Lynch what he was supposed to be doing. Lynch asked his secretary to bring back a notepad with the “Fire Walk With Me” poem:
Through the darkness of future past The magician longs to see One chance out between two worlds: Fire walk with me
Strobel performed the scene in a very Shakespearean manner. Lynch then shot the movie ending, which only aired in Europe.
Strobel also appeared in the prequel to “Twin Peaks” -- the film “Fire Walk With Me.” Apparently, Lynch hired a stunt double for Strobel’s driving scenes, but Strobel told Lynch he could do the driving stunts himself. He said, “I told David I have my own mini-camper. It looks weird.” Lynch agreed. Strobel said Lynch was absolutely petrified by his driving.
One of the most interesting recollections of the show came from Strobel. In the scene in which he emerges from the shower in the hotel room, he is shirtless. Apparently, ABC did not want to include this scene because an amputee had never been shown on TV before, and they did not want to be the first. David Lynch refused to cut the scene. There is something very real about using an actual one-armed man to play the one-armed man. It gives the character, and the show, a sense of authenticity that is rare these days. Besides, Strobel’s performance involved such vulnerability, strength and despair.
Strobel provided some amazing insight into his character, including the entities of Mike and Bob. The USC Moderator Alessandro Ago posed an interesting question regarding the coexistence of Bob and Leland. Who is in control? How much is he in control? How much is one entity aware of the other? Strobel, since he played Philip Gerard and his missing arm was Mike, was in a good position to answer this question. He said he came to the “conclusion that there is an alternate universe. We coexist with so many other things and entities. Sometimes they come into our world and sometimes they fly by.” Strobel (a meditator himself) said David Lynch meditates a lot. In fact, Lynch is not only a student of Transcendental Meditation, he also created the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which helps heal victims of crime, veterans with PTSD, among others. Strobel said that when one meditates, “you do that, you put your mind in another place … and, there is more out there than we can see.” Jeffrey Moore (Property Master) said, “David Lynch used those exact words – 'it’s an alternate universe.'” Moore laughed and said he didn’t want to say anything because he thought the crowd might think he was crazy. Moore underestimates us Lynch fans. We thrive on crazy. The stranger, the better.
Jeffrey Moore (Property Master) and Rich Robinson (Property Assistant) shared some great anecdotes regarding the many props of “Twin Peaks.” (See the photos below for a closer gander.) Moore recalled a meeting in which he met with the Production Designer Richard Hoover (on the Feb. 17 panel) and David Lynch regarding the body bag. Lynch said, “Jeff, I need a body bag that smiles.” Moore said most body bags were “L” shaped and wouldn’t fit the description. Hoover asked Lynch to draw a picture of the bag, which he did – on a ceiling tile that had fallen. (Moore still has the ceiling tile and presented it to the audience.)
Moore and Robinson told a story about the black box they helped create (the black box is revealed in a later episode). The box is a puzzle box. Jack Nance (Actor, “Pete Martell”) was supposed to break the box when he dropped it. Unfortunately, Nance broke the box on the first take. Moore said Nance felt so bad about breaking the box. Moore also said he was instructed to find a large golf bag – big enough to fit a human. He found a golf bag and brought it to Lynch’s office, and “someone literally climbed into the bag. This made David Lynch happy because he would not be lying to his audience.” Robinson also told the audience Lynch wanted him to make a logo with the name “Circle Brand” for the bottom of some work boots. The logo had to leave a clear impression when the boot was placed on the ground. When Lynch saw Robinson’s work, he said, “That’s damn good work, Rich!” Moore said when David Lynch was on set it was different – “he knew everyone. He knew their names … he always brought us joy.”
Piper Laurie told a story of a prop she discovered. She was driving on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles and spied a group of branches on the side of the road. She grabbed one she thought would make a great walking stick for Catherine Martell. Laurie told the audience that she wanted to keep it, but the show wouldn’t let her. Jeffrey Moore said as soon as Laurie saw him at the USC event, she asked, “Where is my walking stick?!” Moore said he would try to locate it.
Regarding another kind of prop – animals – Tim Hunter recalled the amazing scene in which Dale Cooper encounters the llama at the vet’s office. Hunter recalled passing a llama farm outside of Los Angeles and asking the owners if they could use a llama for the show. They agreed. The llama and Cooper actually make eye contact in the scene. It is one of those brilliant accidents in filmmaking. Paul Trejo laughed and said, “Yeah, we actually punctuated the moment with an “uhhh” sound. Check it out here.
This USC Twin Peaks Retrospective involved some excellent visuals – props from the show and on-set photos provided by Paula Shimatsu-u.
PHOTOS AND PROPS:
This wraps up another retrospective. Thanks to Alessandro Ago, Visions and Voices and USC School of Cinematic Arts for putting on one heck of a retrospective. It is truly entertaining and a valuable experience for current and future filmmakers. In the meantime, remember, there are owls in the Roadhouse. It is happening, my friends. We interview Alex Ago, the moderator from USC on this podcast. Click here to listen. Stay tuned for my blog about the March 10 USC Twin Peaks Retrospective. The panel includes Catherine E. Coulson (Actor, “The Log Lady”), Lori Eschler Frystak (Music Editor), Lesli Linka Glatter (Director, Episodes 1.6, 2.3, 2.6, 2.16), Michael Horse (Actor, “Deputy Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill”), Peggy Lipton (Actor, “Norma Jennings”), Sara Markowitz (Series Costume Designer), Harley Peyton (Producer; Writer, Episodes 2.2, 2.4, 2.6, 2.9, 2.12, 2.13, 2.15, 2.18, 2.19, 2.20, 2.22), and Jonathan P. Shaw (Editor: Episodes 1.2, 1.3, 1.6, 2.2, 2.25, 2.8, 2.11, 2.14, 2.17, 2.20).