May 22, 2017

The tone of Twin Peaks, original and return

From the reviews I've read so far of the Twin Peaks return, and not having seen the episodes myself, it sounds like its emotional tone is more in the vein of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive than Blue Velvet or the original Twin Peaks. Closer to uniformly dark, whereas the original was a distinctive blend of light and dark, innocent and scarred, wholesome and seedy, cheerful and somber, comedic and tragic, normal and paranormal.

Whether or not the return ends up striking the same tone, is what will determine how closely the new series feels to the original. The fanboy types boil the success of the original down to its characters, stylized cinematography, and motifs like black coffee, cherry pie, and fir trees. But all of those persisted into the film adaptation of that world, Fire Walk With Me, and it felt almost nothing like the TV series, for better or worse.

Meanwhile Blue Velvet did not share any of the characters, plot points, or pop culture references with Twin Peaks (except as different examples of the same archetype), yet they felt like two stories from the same world, owing to the shared tone.

Tone is more like a texture that things in the world are made of. We can imagine a world where everything feels softer, and another where everything feels harder. Two settings with different landscapes and objects would feel of the same world if the elements in them were both soft (or both hard), whereas identical landscapes and arrays of objects would feel of different worlds if one was soft and the other hard. Or more to the point here, if one setting was uniformly hard (or soft), while another was a blend of soft and hard.

Of all aspects of a cultural work, emotional tone is most strongly affected by the social mood or atmosphere in which it is performed. That's why cover songs or tribute songs from two different social climates, e.g. one more optimistic and one more pessimistic, do not sound the same.

The outgoing social climate during the filming of Blue Velvet and the original Twin Peaks shaped and was shaped by the rising crime rate, which began around 1960. Over the course of the '90s, people shifted to a cocooning behavior and the crime rate plummeted, both trends continuing through today.

So I'd expect the return of Twin Peaks to have a more uniformly noir-ish tone, like there was during the cocooning Midcentury (Kiss Me Deadly, Nighthawks at the Diner, and so on). Classic film noir does not have the same hopefulness and tenderness that the "neo-noir" genre would acquire during the '80s.

That's been the case so far with all these re-makes, reboots, sequels, prequels, and spin-offs from originals made during the outgoing and rising-crime social climate of the 1960s through the early '90s. We can't get the feel of the original back because the social climate of that period is so alien to today's climate of cocooning and falling crime. By the same token, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks were able to channel the early-mid 1960s since both fell within the same social climate period.

These phases go in cycles, so give it a few decades, and it will be possible to perform a more faithful revival of those cultural works.

Related posts on tone that discussed Twin Peaks as an example, and going on at greater length about the links to the social climate and crime rate:

First, Torture porn and lack of empathy (TP as the opposite)

Second, Forgiving vs. belittling satires (TP as forgiving satire)

Third, Can camp be played straight (TP as a rare success)


  1. Ya, joyless cocooners often bitch about 80's movies not being "dark" enough for the aggro emo standards of the past 20 or so years.

    Even in an 80's war move like Platoon, we got at least one-liner: Charlie Sheen, during a shootout, screaming something like "Ho Chi Minh sucks cock!". And who get forget John C. McGinley 's darkly funny reaction to being told that his service isn't over yet, after he cowardly hid to survive the movie's climax. Did Saving P. Ryan or Black Hawk Down have any cheerful bravado or sly/wry humor? At least SPR allowed you to get to know some of the characters (even if, particularly among the actors born after 1970, the camaraderie and ribbing seems forced). Whereas Black Hawk Down as I recall doesn't even seem to be interested in establishing distinct characters. How could it when the cocooning audience just wants to see the nuts and bolts of The Mission rather than concern themselves with the personalities involved. By contrast, Full Metal Jacket has at least 1/2 the movie devoted to how the characters react to being "broken in".

    Both SPR and BHD were (are?) highly praised on the basis of aggro intensity in the battle scenes. SPR was made closer to the 80's/early 90's, so at least some of the characters make a decent impression (but not as strong an impression as Tom Berenger or Willem Dafoe in Platoon, or Vincent D'onofrio or R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket).

    Slightly related: the new Alien movie. In the moments I've seen of it in trailers/reviews, the camera work, acting, and F/X are way more overblown than they were in the original. The original had for the most part, understated acting and the Alien was depicted as graceful and inscrutable.

    One review claimed that some of the original is boring and dated, using shots from the scene where Dallas is suddenly caught while trying to track down the Alien. I couldn't disagree more; the scene still works very well and the brief shot of the Alien works very well within the context of the scene. Plus, it's acted very well, especially by Tom Skerrit who does his best to remain calm under circumstances that are scary as hell.

  2. It's very good. The large-scale scope of this new show sets up a cultural critique. Cooper has literally been cocooning (lost in the lodge for 25 years). Excited to see where this goes next. People looking for a pure nostalgia thing like the force awakens will be disappointed.

  3. The point here is not so much whether the new series is good or bad, nostalgic or fresh, but what the tone is like, and if it's different from the original, why that is.

  4. The original Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet were designed to be more realistic. David Lynch says that Blue Velvet was inspired by a real life encounter - when he saw a naked woman inexplicably running down a suburban street(of course, that scene is put in Blue Velvet).

    I saw a little of Mulholland Drive, and there were too many strange, even supernatural elements - it made it much less powerful. For instance, the character going to meet some mysterious cowboy who speaks in riddles etc. Twin Peaks seems to have had some of that, but lynch wen overboard with it in his later movies, which made them staler.

  5. It's not that there are lots of strange things in the later movies, but that there are not enough familiar things to balance it out. It's tending toward more and more weirdness, whereas Twin Peaks was a blend of weird and familiar.

    The weird things in his movies are about destabilizing forces, not just things that are unusual or quirky. His earlier work has powerful stabilizing forces as well -- the tightly knit social network of people in small towns, intact families, and so on.

    In his later work, people are more isolated and have no social support network to stabilize them while they're assaulted by the destabilizing forces, or while they themselves transgress more and more and destabilize themselves.

  6. BTW, when David Lynch speaks in brief concrete sentences that a 2nd-grader can understand, the elites say he has a charmingly quirky simplicity. When Trump speaks the same way, they say he's a two-digit IQ mouth-breather.

    1. 'Politically, meanwhile, Lynch is all over the map. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and thinks – he’s not sure – he voted Libertarian in the presidential election. “I am not really a political person, but I really like the freedom to do what you want to do,” says the persecuted Californian smoker.

      He is undecided about Donald Trump. “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”'

  7. "
    In his later work, people are more isolated and have no social support network to stabilize them while they're assaulted by the destabilizing forces, or while they themselves transgress more and more and destabilize themselves."

    Yes, as in Mulholland Falls, when Naomi Watts' character goes to Hollywood to try to make it as a character. All of the weirdness is a metaphor for her losing her mind due to isolation and being exploited by others.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."