Oh, The Silence of the Lambs, I have such mixed feelings about you.
On the one hand, I’m a horror fan and Silence of the Lambs is a very important film in the history of horror. Back in 1992, it was the first horror film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture! It even made history by winning all of the big “five” awards — Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay! It was the first film since One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and It Happened One Night to pull that off!
Beyond that, it’s one of the most influential films ever made. Every erudite serial killer owes a debt to Anthony Hopkins’s performance as Hannibal Lecter. Every competent but untested and unappreciated female FBI agent owes a debt to Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling. Even though the whole criminal profiler craze probably owes more to Manhunter (a film to which Silence of the Lambs is a sequel, though that often seems to go unacknowledged) than to anything else, this Oscar winner still definitely played a part. I mean, how many people watched Manhunter for the first time, specifically because Lecter mentioned the events in that earlier film in Silence of the Lambs?
Plus, this won an Oscar for Jonathan Demme, one of my favorite directors! And while I’m sure Jodie Foster would have gone on to have a strong career regardless of whether she had played Clarice Starling or not, it’s generally acknowledged that Silence of the Lambs revitalized the career of Anthony Hopkins. So for that, we should all be thankful.
And yet, it can be strange to watch Silence of the Lambs today. All of the imitations (not to mention some ill-thought sequels and prequels) have lessened its bite. I can only imagine how it must have freaked out audiences when it was first released but I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed the first time that I watched the film. Looking back, I can see that disappointment was due to having been told that it were one of the scariest movies of all time but, because, I had seen a countless number of imitations, parodies, and homages, I felt as if I had already watched the film. So, I wasn’t shocked when Lecter turned out to be ruthlessly manipulative and dangerously charismatic. Nor was I shocked when he managed to escape and poor Charles Napier ended up strung up in that cage. I’m sure that audiences in 1991 were freaked out, though.
Actually, as good as Foster and Hopkins and Scott Glenn are, I think the best performance in the film comes from Ted Levine, playing Buffalo Bill. Seriously, Levine’s performance still freaks me out. It’s the voice and the way he says, “Precious.” Levine’s performance, I found to be a hundred times more frightening than Anthony Hopkins’s and I think it’s due to the fact that Hannibal Lecter was clearly an author’s invention while Levin’s Buffalo Bill came across like he might very will be hiding in an alley somewhere, waiting for one of your friends to walk by. (Interestingly enough, I had the same reaction when I first saw Manhunter. Brian Cox did a good job as Lecter but he still came across as a bit cartoonish. Meanwhile, Tom Noonan was absolutely terrifying.) Levine has subsequently gone on to play a lot of nice guy roles. He was a detective on Monk, for instance. Good for him. I’m glad to see he was able to escape being typecast. Admittedly, I do kinda wonder how many serial killer roles he had to turn down immediately after the release of The Silence Of The Lambs.
Still, it’s a good film. Time may have lessened it’s power but The Silence of the Lambs is still an effective and well-directed thriller. It’s impossible not to cheer for Clarice. It’s impossible not to smile at the fun that Anthony Hopkins seems to be having in the role of Lecter. Jonathan Demme creates a world of shadows and darkness and still adds enough little quirks to keep things interesting. (I especially liked Lecter watching a stand-up special in his cell.) It’s the little details that makes the world of The Silence of the Lambs feel lived in, like Clarice’s nervous laugh as she gives a civilian instructions on what to do in case she accidentally gets trapped in a storage locker. Even the film’s final one liner will make you smile, even though it’s the type of thing that every film seemed to feel the need to do nowadays. It’s still a good movie, even if it no longer feels as fresh as it once may have.
— Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Even among fans of the show, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is controversial.
If you read Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, you’ll discover that many members of the television show’s cast either didn’t want to be involved in the film or didn’t care much for it when it came out. Fearful of being typecast, Kyle MacLachlan only agreed to play Dale Cooper on the condition that his role be greatly reduced. (Was it that fear of being typecast as clean-cut Dale Cooper that led to MacLachlan later appearing in films like Showgirls?) Neither Lara Flynn Boyle nor Sherilyn Fenn could work the film into their schedules.
When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me premiered at Cannes, it was reportedly booed by the same critics who previously applauded Lynch’s Wild at Heart and who, years later, would again applaud Mulholland Drive. When it was released in the United States, the film was savaged by critics and a notorious box office flop. Quentin Tarantino, previously a fan of Lynch’s, has been very outspoken about his hatred of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. When I first told people that we would be looking back at Twin Peaks for this site, quite a few replied with, “Even the movie?”
And yet, there are many people, like me, who consider Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to be one of David Lynch’s most haunting films.
It’s also one of his most straight forward. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a prequel, dealing with the events leading up to the death of Laura Palmer. Going into the film, the viewer already knows that Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is full of secrets. They know that she is using drugs. They know that she is dating Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), while secretly seeing James (James Marshall). They know about her diary and her relationship with the reclusive Harold (Lenny Von Dohlen). They know that she is a friend to innocent Donna Hayward (Moria Kelly, somewhat awkwardly taking the place of Lara Flynn Boyle). Even more importantly, they know that she has spent the last six years of her life being abused by BOB (Frank Silva) and that BOB is her father, Leland Palmer (Ray Wise). The viewer starts the story knowing how it is going to end.
Things do get off to a somewhat shaky start with a nearly 20-minute prologue that basically plays like a prequel to the prequel. Theresa Banks, who was mentioned in the show’s pilot, has been murdered and FBI director Gordon Cole (David Lynch) assigns agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) to investigate. Chester and Sam’s investigation basically amounts to a quick reenactment of the first season of Twin Peaks, with the agents discovering that Theresa was involved in drugs and prostitution. When Chester vanishes, Dale Cooper is sent to investigate. Harry Dean Stanton shows up as the manager of a trailer park and David Bowie has an odd cameo as a Southern-accented FBI agent who has just returned from the Black Lodge but otherwise, the start of the film almost feels like a satire of Lynch’s style.
But then, finally, we hear the familiar theme music and the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign appears.
“And the angel’s wouldn’t help you. Because they’ve all gone away.”
— Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
A year has passed since Theresa Banks was murdered. The rest of the film deals with the final few days of the life of doomed homecoming queen Laura Palmer. Laura smiles in public but cries in private. She is full of secrets that she feels that she has to hide from a town that has literally idolized her. She has visions of terrifying men creeping through her life and each day, she doesn’t know whether it will be BOB or her father waiting for her at home. She knows that the world considers her to be beautiful but she also know that, within human nature, there is a desire to both conquer and destroy beauty. When she sleeps, she has disturbing dreams that she cannot understand but that she knows are important. At a time when everyone says she should be happy to alive, all she can think about is death. Everywhere she goes, the male gaze follows and everything that should be liberating just feels her leaving more trapped. For all the complaints that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is somehow too strange to be understood, it’s not a strange film at all. This is David Lynch at his most straight forward. Anyone who thinks that Laura’s story is incomprehensible has never been a 17 year-old girl.
This is the bleakest of all of David Lynch’s films. There is none of broad humor or intentional camp that distinguished the TV show. After the show’s occasionally cartoonish second season, the film served as a trip into the heart of the darkness that was always beating right underneath the surface of Twin Peaks. It’s interesting how few of the show’s regulars actually show up in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. None of the characters who represented goodness are present. There’s no Doc Hayward. No Sheriff Truman. No Deputies Andy or Hawk. No Pete Martell. No Bookhouse Boys. Scenes were filmed for some of them but they didn’t make it into the final cut because their tone did not fit with the story that Lynch was seeking to tell. The Hornes, Dr. Jacoby, Josie, none of them are present either.
Instead, there’s just Larua and her father. As much as they try to deny it, Laura knows that she is going to die and Leland knows that he is going to kill her. Killer BOB and the denziens of the Black Lodge may be scary but what’s truly terrifying is the sight of a girl living in fear of her own father. Is Leland possessed by BOB or is BOB simply his way of excusing his own actions? If not for Leland’s sickness, would BOB even exist? When Laura shouts, “Who are you!?” at the spirit of BOB, she speaks for every victim of abuse who is still struggling to understand why it happened. For all the talk of the Black Lodge and all the surreal moments, the horror of this film is very much the horror of reality. Leland’s abuse of Laura is not terrifying because Leland is possessed by BOB. It’s terrifying because Leland is her father
David Lynch directs the film as if it where a living nightmare. This is especially evident in scenes like the one where, at the dinner table, Leland switches from being kindly to abusive while Laura recoils in fear and her mother (Grace Zabriskie) begs Leland to stop. It’s a hard scene to watch and yet, it’s a scene that is so brilliantly acted and directed that you can’t look away. As brilliant as Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie are, it’s Sheryl Lee who (rightly) dominates the scene and the rest of the film, giving a bravely vulnerable and emotionally raw performance. In Reflections, Sheryl Lee speaks candidly about the difficulty of letting go of Laura after filming had been completed. She became Laura and gave a performance that anchors this absolutely terrifying film.
“Mr. Lynch’s taste for brain-dead grotesque has lost its novelty.”
— Janet Maslin
“It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be”
— Vincent Canby
If you need proof that critics routinely don’t know what they’re talking about, just go read some of the original reviews of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
And yet, having just rewatched the show and now the movie, I can understand why critics and audiences were baffled by this film. This is not Twin Peaks the TV show. There is no light to be found here. There is no comic relief. (Even Bobby Briggs, who had become something of a goofy anti-hero by the time the series ended, is seen here shooting a man in the head.) There is no exit and there is no hope. In the end, the film’s only comfort comes from knowing that Laura was able to save one person before dying. It’s not easy to watch but, at the same time, it’s almost impossible to look away. The film ends on Laura’s spirit smiling and, for the first time, the smile feels real. Even if she’s now trapped in the Black Lodge, she’s still free from her father.
Since this was a prequel, it didn’t offer up any answers to the questions that were left up in the air by the show’s 2nd season finale. Fortunately, those questions will be answered (or, then again, they may not be) when the third season premieres on Showtime on May 21st.
Seeing as the site is going through each episode of Twin Peaks, I thought I might as well go through the music videos where David Lynch has been directly involved. I say “directly” because there is a music video from 1982 for a song called I Predict, by the group Sparks, which is often credited to David Lynch, even though everything I’ve seen says it was directed by Douglas Martin in the style of David Lynch.
There’s another video for Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack that is credited to Lynch over on mvdbase, but probably only got that way because the stedicam operator on the video, Dan Kneece, worked on Blue Velvet (1986). He also worked on other David Lynch stuff, including 29 of the 30 episodes of Twin Peaks’ original run. Wikipedia says it was directed by Baillie Walsh.
We all know the other version of Wicked Game. I’ll do that someday. This is the version that intercuts footage from Wild At Heart (1990) with Isaak’s performance. What is there to say? It’s in Lynch black-and-white. It has a flame. It has Chris Isaak looking like Henry Spencer from Eraserhead (1977) if he were a young Roy Orbison, which I’m sure is on purpose since Orbison’s In Dreams is prominently featured in Blue Velvet. It’s probably what most people would expect.
One last thing, Lynch is again credited for a music video that I don’t think he did. He is credited for directing Dangerous by Michael Jackson. I have no reason to believe that’s true. However, both the video below and IMDb do credit him with directing a short teaser for the album called Dangerous.
With the return of True Blood with a new season on HBO over the weekend meant the return of Jace Barrett’s theme song for the show. “Bad Things” is the theme song that almost everyone knows now whether they like the show or not. It’s a sexually suggestive and charged country song that also doesn’t rely on vulgar lyrics. The fact that it’s a country song is quite a surprise. But that’s not the song I picked for latest “Song of the Day”. Nope, the song I’ve chosen is what I’d call the precursor to the True Blood theme song: Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.
This song was originally released in 1989 as part of Isaak’s Heart Shaped World album, but didn’t reach pop hit status until it was chosen to become part of David Lynch’s Wild at Heartfilm in 1990. Constant request and radio airplay put the song into top ten hit status in early 1991 and it’s become one of those so-called “sexiest songs list” people tend to create. It’s a label that’s well-earned especially with the accompanying Herb Ritt’s directed black-and-white video starring Chris Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen rolling around topless on the sand and surf of the beach setting.
I’ve always thought of this song as one of those everyone man should have in their playlist at their place. It’s a song that’s definitely earned the title of “song to close the deal”.
The world was on fire and no one could save me but you. It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do. I never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you. And I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you.
No, I don’t want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart) No, I don’t want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart) With you (This world is only gonna break your heart)
What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way. What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you. What a wicked thing to say, you never felt this way. What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you and,
I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart) No, I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart) With you.
The world was on fire and no one could save me but you. It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do. I never dreamed that I’d love somebody like you. And I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you,
No, I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart) No, I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart) With you (This world is only gonna break your heart) No, I… (This world is only gonna break your heart) (This world is only gonna break your heart)