Thursday, February 22, 2007

What I might have said about Twin Peaks: not an argument

Doesn't have to do with my class, but necessary to jot down. Not an argument, but thoughts.

The end of episode 14 goes as follows: Establishing shot of outside of roadhouse. Julee Cruise is inside, singing in front of red curtains, a moderately up-tempo number called "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart." Donna and James talk about Harold Smith; James tries to convince Donna that it's not her fault that he's dead, but Donna feels bad about invading the sanctuary that was his home (he was agoraphobic). Donna learns that Maddy is going back to Missoula, and is kind of happy to have James to herself again - she mouths along to Julee Cruise's words, looking happily provocative at James.

In the middle of this, Cooper, Truman, and the Log Lady come in together, and sit down silently - they're waiting for something to happen.

Time passes, as indicated by JC's switch to a slower, sadder song, "The World Spins" ("Love / Don't go away / Come back this way / Come back and stay / Forever and ever").

Now Bobby Briggs is sitting depressed at the bar; happy sailors (?! we're in the middle of nowhere nautical, here) behind him. The old waiter from the Great Northern is sitting next to him. As Cooper looks at the stage, JC fades out and the giant fades in, in a spotlight: "It is happening again. It is happening again," he intones.

Cut to Leland Palmer getting ready to kill Maddy. No sound here: the record on the turntable has reached the end, and it's just turning with a dull click of the needle. He kills her (flashes of him/BOB back and forth). A long, protracted, horrible sequence.

Cut back to Cooper staring at the giant, who fades back to JC, still singing "The World Spins." The waiter approaches Cooper, and in one of the unequivocally saddest moments I've seen on TV, puts his hand on Cooper's shoulder, looks him in the eye, and says, "I'm so sorry." He seems to want to say more, but instead he returns to the bar, where Bobby is still drinking disconsolately; he looks around anxiously but is slumped over - he's not going anywhere. Extreme close-up of Donna weeping uncontrollably - James comes around to her side of the table to comfort her. We get some shots of JC in here too, I think. I think the song ends as we're looking at Cooper's face - uncertain and worried. Credit sequence over the red curtain, at first silently and then the song plays again.

So: the murder occurs in the time of a song. In fact, the song somehow suspends time, so that the whole murder fits into it with room to spare. And the lyrics are both nostalgic and menacing - after all, one reason Leland/BOB kills Maddy now is because she's about to go away; he wants to keep her "forever and ever." Likewise, JC's dress and her backup musicians are old-fashioned - perhaps "timeless" is the right word - but thereby linked to the suspension of time that takes place in the Red Room, behind the red curtains. The difference is that her music also produces emotion, even catharsis: while it opens the possibility of danger, of murderous love, it also enables sadness. Not regret - there's no suggestion that Donna, Cooper, or Bobby would have done things differently - but sadness that sometimes horrible things happen, and the realization that sadness enables a community of listeners who can touch each other because they are sorry with (not for) each other. The music knows that something horrible is happening now - it heralds the discovery of those horrible things and the potential lack of discovery of other horrible things - but it also allows people to react to the knowledge of horror, even when they don't know what particular horror they're reacting to.

I'm thinking about this with regard to Greil Marcus' book The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, which has two chapters on Lynch. Marcus describes a particularly American voice (although he also discusses Bill Pullman's face; not sure how that works), dating back to the time of Jonathan Edwards, and founded on the combination of judgment, portent and promise contained in prophecy - the threat of consequences if and when, inevitably, we betray our ideals, and the promise that we might be able to live up to those ideals in the future. He describes Julee Cruise in Fire Walk With Me: "the singer on the stage or her own soul telling [Laura Palmer] what she isn't, what she could have been, what she could never have been, performing that absent self, a Laura Palmer that she can only see in someone else." The difference in the scene from Twin Peaks I've been describing is that it's no longer the solitary Laura Palmer watching Cruise sing, but configurations of people, some of which can feel sorry about things outside themselves, interpersonal tragedies, but comforted by the promise the music holds out to them nonetheless.

To repeat an old, old observation: we have a very inadequate vocabulary to talk about music.

This won't directly help with the seminar presentation -- as I said earlier, TP is one step too far removed from the material we deal with in class, I think -- but I'm glad to have gotten it down.


Jane Dark said...

My first comment is in the Black Lodge, and now I've got to run and work on Blake. But: fascinating.

What is intriguing (if I'm reading you and your summary of Marcus correctly) -- and somehow troubling, as well, is that this reading of the scene suggests both possibility and inevitability. There is the portent and promise, and yet, at the same time, it's too late.

To put it differently, I am struck most by the idea of prophecy (which implies length of time) juxtaposed with time being compacted as well (which your reading suggests).

Out of curiosity, was TP your first experience with Lynch?

To add to your observation, almost nothing that I have read in musical philosophy has added to our vocabulary of words to discuss music.

kermitthefrog said...

Yeah, I think that response - about prophecy and time - is dead on (at least in my reading).

I had seen Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive in college. But while I thought those movies were good, I didn't really start to appreciate the Lynch aesthetic until the summer after college, when I watched TP. You?

Jane Dark said...

I saw Twin Peaks first, then Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, and finally Mulholland Drive. I have a hard time appreciating his later work, mainly (I think) because I saw his most structured works first. So when I find someone who's interested in Lynch, I always ask. So far (perhaps not surprisingly?), if you start with TP, it's much harder to take Lynch's other stuff afterwards.