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Short-Circuit: A “Twin Peaks” System

An audiovisual essay and text dedicated to the system of light and communication in “Twin Peaks”.
The sixth entry in an on-going series of audiovisual essays by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin.
25 May 1991 - Lynch. I saw, a bit by chance, with S.P., an episode of Twin Peaks on TV. I had already seen one and been intrigued (in a good way). Same feeling yesterday. Same pleasure to let myself into the “chain” of the film, once I am (vaguely) related to the plot and once I am in the passage, always stimulating, from one scene (one shot) to another. Ah! Here’s some cinema, one notices. It constantly articulates something. —Serge Daney, The Exercise Was Beneficial, fragment translated by Laurent Kretschmar
Many things can be said in general about the entire Twin Peaks phenomenon masterminded by David Lynch and Mark Frost; its pertinent ‘macro’ contexts are many. These contexts include: the convoluted narrative and the crazy characters; the inauguration of a ‘dead girl’ genre (and where that genre has gone since the start of the 1990s, in Top of the Lake or True Detective); long-form TV drama, its possibilities and pitfalls; and the elaborate ‘cultish’ approaches to its viewing and interpretation developed by fans old and new. Then there is the especially rich mythological underpinning of Twin Peaks in all its extensions (including spin-off books, the feature Fire Walk With Me, and last year’s unveiled “Missing Pieces” shot for the latter)—both the mythology conjured by the series, which still holds so many in its thrall, and the many mythological systems from Judaeo-Christian to occult that feed into it.
Many of these paths (and others) will no doubt be explored in-depth by the participants at an upcoming conference at Salford University, Manchester, on 21 and 22 May: I’ll See You Again in 25 Years: The Return of Twin Peaks and Generations of Cult TV. In our contribution to this conference, we dwell more on the “micro” level of Twin Peaks, using audiovisual resources alongside the standard academic tools—to get to the heart of that particular, televisual “cinema of poetry” that Daney found so captivating.
On this micro-level, certain motifs circulate, sensations spark, textures are created. We look (and listen) to isolate material clusters of elements, pockets of feeling, poetic configurations—constantly in motion across the total work, metamorphosing and transforming. For the cinema (or TV) of poetry—as Pier Paolo Pasolini well understood when he first investigated this term in 1965—is, at its best, never a matter of static, unchanging symbols that rise above the work and call for a “legend” or key (mythological or otherwise) to decipher them; rather, a good piece of audiovision (whatever the medium) invents its own systems, and sets them perpetually spinning.
So let’s dissolve the lure of Twin Peaks’s narrative intrigue, with its regime of mysteries and clues, questions and answers, at least for a while. Let’s follow, instead, something that happened by accident on set during the shooting of the pilot episode—a light fixture that didn’t work, flickering on and off—which then became a major motif in the entire scope of the series.
Flickering lights, sparks and short-circuits, on/off emissions, lightning, torches, complex strobing patterns, and less “motivated” effects that suggest the sudden overexposures created by photographic lighting or printing: light, for Lynch, is a privileged medium for or manifestation of that electrical energy which, as the critic Stéphane du Mesnildot has noted, he seems to “exalt” in an “almost mystical veneration” (Cahiers du cinéma, issue 703, September 2014).
This system of light gets attached, by poetic association, with the strange fate, and often the failure, of communication devices in the series. Most of these devices come in the form of resolutely old-fashioned technology, in line with the surreal, time-shifting nostalgia of the enterprise: telephones, radios, boxy old TV sets set to “snow”, big microphones, wires, speakers, earpieces, antennae.
Mechanical or artificial communication tends to go berserk in Lynch, creating every kind of auditory displacement and excess: screaming, sobbing, feedback, echo, static, distortion – as well as music that stops and starts, speeds up and slows down. Telephony is even married to an uncanny, mental telepathy in the Twin Peaks pilot, when people know what is to be told them before it is said, and even without it being said.
Light and communication, image and sound: is it any wonder that Daney noticed in Twin Peaks that spark of cinema which “constantly articulates something”?
An enjoyable and, ahem, illuminating exploration of Lynch’s love for faulty technology. Although the motif of electricity became explicit in the film, it is clearly present in te series too. I liked how near the end you compiled scenes from the back half of season 2 as if Lynch’s influence was spreading across oter directors’ work, beyond his own control to suffuse the ungainly whole of Twin Peaks. It would be interesting to see a “sequel” I’m which the theme of dysfunctional electricity and/or communication is traced across other Lynch films. I think I’m most fascinated by his use of the telephone. It’s of ourse most notable in Mulholland Drive in which the ringing, unanswered phone evokes so much unexplainable dread (dread which is more or less “explained” when we see the last location of the ringing phone again in the film’s final thread). There is also a deleted scene featured in the Missing Pieces-esque “More Things That Happened” collection on the Inland Empire disc, and Pete’s chilling conversation with the Mystery Man in Lost Highway (during which his parents seemingly evaporate, gone for the duration of the movie). And of course the more famous Mystery Man phone scene, one of the few times Lynch uses a cell phone (Twin Peaks 2016 will be interesting in that regard). In his Industrial Symphony No. 1, Sailor and Lula-like characters break up on the phone, initiating the entire musical dreamscape which follows. Sometimes the “missed connection” occurs when you are able rarer than unable to pick up the receiver. A few more interesting instances on phone use in Twin Peaks: there is a sequence near the end of a non-Lynch episode in season 2 in which an ominous, unanswered phone (ostensibly in the sheriff’s station) seems to anticipate Mulholland Drive ten years later; the Deer Meadow sheriff’s comical pun “We got a phone hear, got a little ring”; the delightful moment in which a drunken Laura tangles herself in her phone cord (the last even semi-“light” moment in Fire Walk With Me, though 20 grueling minutes remain); and perhaps most significantly the Missing Piece in which a ringing phone disrupts Laura’s comforting visit to the Hayward’s. Who’s calling? Let’s just say that she is sitting on the couch over which Bob will crawl toward Maddy on the series…sometimes uncanny psychological trauma manifests itself in the mundane before becoming a full-fledged nightmare. At any rate, you and your viewers might enjoy my own audiovisual work with Twin Peaks. The first, “Take This Baby and Deliver it to Death” compiles moments and sequences from Lynch’s first six films, as well as the show, to investigate the repression of abusive trauma and its violent release (beginning with a juxtaposition of Laura Palmer and the Eraserhead baby and concluding with the correspondence of Laura and the Elephant Man): The second is a narrative and contextual analysis split over 28 chapters, more or less chronological with asides for the characters of Laura and Cooper, the ensemble’s subplots, the media reaction to Twin Peaks, and the development of the show’s mythology (with particular emphasis on Mark Frost’s Theosophical influences). Fire Walk With Me is explored extensively, using links to the show, quotes from the Upanishads (one of Lynch’s oft-cited spiritual resources) and behind-the-scenes last-minute rewrites to shed (flickering?) light on the formation of Laura’s character and the transformation of her precipitating tragedy into the saga’s climactic triumph. Journey Through Twin Peaks, included by Kevin B. Lee in his 2014, 25-video round-up, is organized here: Were there more videos created for the conference, or is yours the only one? I would love to see others too if they are available.
I’ve never seen anything of Twin Peaks until today, that being the video essay by Cristina and Adrian. What a freak out ! This may be a short, brief opinion on an excellent video essay but I am rather curious to see more of Twin Peaks, if not a bit wary as well.
My apologies now for calling them video essays when they should be called audiovisual essays. Sorry guys ! Loving your work.
VickyMou, my advice is see it as soon as possible & don’t read/see anything else on the internet until you have! It’s best experienced blind because it’s quite a wild ride with ups, downs, surprises, and a hell of an ending(s). (That said, be warned that amidst the fun stuff is some really dark & disturbing material as well if that concerns you.)

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