David Lynch might be revealing little about the imminent return of TV series Twin Peaks -“some things change, some things remain the same”- but he’s more forthcoming about the state of modern filmmaking. The Montana-born writer, director, producer, painter and composer has not made a film in more than a decade. Inland Empire, his 2006 release about an actress auditioning for a comeback role, contained many of the established motifs of his work, such as surreal visuals and dopplegangers. But it is, he says, likely to be his last.
“Things changed a lot,” Lynch says. “So many films were not doing well at the box office even though they might have been great films and the things that were doing well at the box office weren’t the things that I would want to do.”
He is uncertain at first, but then appears to make up his mind: he has indeed made his last feature film. That’s a yes? “Yes it is,” he says.
Lynch’s stories have been described as a negative of the American landscape, where time flows more slowly and people meet (or sometimes become) their double; his darker portrayal of small-town America is not “truer” than the more upbeat version, he says, but it is true.
That landscape is dotted with small towns such as Lumberton, North Carolina, and Twin Peaks, Washington. The latter was the fictional setting for what many consider to be Lynch’s greatest work.
Airing from 1990 to 1991, Twin Peaks followed the investigation by FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) into the brutal murder of high school student Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).
It was a stunning mixture of eccentric characters and long, sensual visuals, set to music that was alternately haunting and heartbreaking. Laura, the too-perfect-to-be-true homecoming queen, is found dead in the opening scene, “wraapped in plaastic,” as reported by fisherman and sawmill manager Pete Martell (Jack Nance).
As confounding as it was compelling, Twin Peaks drew almost universal acclaim – and some 34.6 million viewers – and permanently altered the nature of television storytelling.
Having been asked to consider creating a show in the style of small-town soap opera Peyton Place, what Lynch and his co-creator, Mark Frost, delivered was its antithesis, with Laura and bad girl Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) standing in for Peyton Place’s diametrically opposed teenagers Alison and Betty.
The series almost defied definition. It was a quirkily humorous mystery series that also contained elements of horror, such as the menacing Bob (Frank Silva) and the Black Lodge, an otherworldly place where one’s shadow self dwells.
“It is said if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage it will utterly annihilate your soul,” warns Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) in one scene; such Shakespearean observations were a hallmark of the show’s exquisite scripts.
Even now, Lynch is unwilling to box the series into a category. “The word genre is around and some films fall into those but I always say, in life there’s different genres going all the time, and cinema can do that too,” he says.
Though the bubble burst midway through its second season, the series was followed in 1992 by the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. When the show returns next month, it picks up the story in the present day.
The modern-day exhumation of Twin Peaks began when Lynch and Frost met for lunch at the iconic Hollywood restaurant Musso and Frank Grill in 2011.
“We sat and we talked and it did happen to be not quite 25 years later,” Lynch says. “We started talking and more things started coming out and then, at a certain point, enough came out that we started talking about doing it.”
Speculation about a new series began to emerge in 2013 and the series was formally announced in October 2014. Asked about whether he and Frost weighed up the pros and cons, Lynch smiles.
“There must not have been a lot of cons, because we did it,” he says. “The good things, the pros, were many. It’s the love of that world and the characters and the possibilities, it sucked us in.”
Perhaps the biggest albatross around the show’s neck was the revelation midway through the original series of the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer.
“Let’s say you have a goose and the goose lays golden eggs, it’s a beautiful thing,” says Lynch wryly. “The goose is laying these little golden eggs and pretty soon you’ve got a lot of golden eggs and someone comes along and says it’s time now to kill that goose. Not a good thing.”
The revelation was essentially a decision made by the network, ABC, which felt the question posed by the show’s extraordinarily successful marketing campaign demanded an answer. But Lynch concedes that he and Frost had a choice.
“You always have choice,” he says, an echo of regret in his words. “But I don’t know, there might have been a bunch of things going on. It just happened that we did that, but it’s OK.”
That mystery – who killed Laura Palmer? – seems now to be impossibly formulaic, though Lynch insists it was not.
“There are classes of screenwriting where they reduce things down to formulas but there are no rules, there shouldn’t be any rules,” he says.
“Ideas dictate everything and the ideas are like gifts,” he adds. “You follow the ideas and you don’t worry about a form, you don’t worry about rules and you try to stay true to those ideas. They tell you everything and that’s how it goes.”
In the absence of any plot revelations, much of the focus around the rebirth of Twin Peaks has been on the reassembly of the show’s extraordinary cast, including MacLachlan, Lee, Fenn, Madchen Amick (Shelly Johnson), Peggy Lipton (Norma Jennings) and James Marshall (James Hurley). They are joined by an impressive band of newcomers, including Naomi Watts, Jim Belushi, Laura Dern and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The new series also sees the return of the show’s less tangible elements: the acoustic signatures of composer Angelo Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise and the spectacular setting of Twin Peaks itself, real world location: Snoqualmie and North Bend, in Washington, in America’s lush Pacific northwest.
“The mood and atmosphere … is important for every film and to make a world,” Lynch says.
“Angelo brings heart and you know, before Twin Peaks I worked with Angelo on an album with Julee Cruise,” he says. One of the tracks from the album, Falling, became the Twin Peaks theme.
“The combination of the three of us working together comes up with this kind of feel in the music. [It] is definitely a huge part of Twin Peaks,” Lynch says.
Brilliantly, for an era in which film and television marketing is driven by predigestion of character details and plot points, nothing has been revealed about the upcoming series.
At a programming showcase in Los Angeles in January, Lynch was almost comically brief when pressed for details. Speaking to Fairfax Media, he is equally to the point: “It’s 25 years later, some things change, some things remain the same.”
It raises an interesting question about the consumption of art, and whether the predigestion required by modern marketing is actually damaging.
“Completely ruins it,” Lynch says candidly. “People want to know up until the time they know, then they don’t care. So, speaking for myself, I don’t want to know anything before I see something. I want to experience it without any purification, pure; [I want to] go into a world and let it happen.”
So the last word, perhaps, should go to someone who has seen the new Twin Peaks, David Nevins, the chief executive of the cable channel Showtime, which commissioned the revival.
It is, Nevins says, a “pure, heroin version of David Lynch.”
The description makes Lynch smile. “I don’t know why he says that, but I will answer that by saying, well, that’s OK because heroin is a very popular drug these days.”
Twin Peaks premieres on Stan, May 22.