The laws of Fatal Attraction: the sanctity of family vs. the female villain

Fatal Attraction Glenn Close Sometimes, a phrase can so perfectly encapsulate a character or situation it enters into popular conscious. Such is the case with the term ‘bunny-boiler’. Used to describe Glenn Close’s femme fatale Alex in Fatal Attraction (directed by Adrian Lyne and released in 1987), it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and remains a short hand for a particular kind of jealousy, or obsessive or vengeful behaviour. A dubious honour, but an esteemed mark of cultural relevance – and of course it helps that the original film is far superior to the formulaic imitators it initiated. Fatal Attraction Glenn Close As is the case with many femme fatales, Alex Forrester’s reputation precedes her. Her increasingly desperate attempts to exact revenge on her married lover Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) remain a ‘lesson’ to men who fail to face up to their responsibilities, and feeds the cliché that women are either sexual predators or contented home-bodies. Yet the film could’ve had a very different legacy. The ending – in which Alex is shot dead by Dan’s wife Beth (Anne Archer) – was only implemented after test audiences made it clear they expected a ‘happy’ conclusion. According to the film’s scriptwriter James Deardon: “The single biggest cheer the film got in previews was when Dan’s wife said the line, ‘This is Beth Gallagher. If you ever come near my family again, I’ll kill you.’” The conclusion was amended accordingly, although not without protestations from Close, who thought it undermined her character.

In the original ending (available on the DVD release) Dan is arrested after Alex is found apparently murdered. The suspected murder weapon – a kitchen knife – has his fingerprints on it. Dan protests his innocence, claiming he’s been framed but the police cart him off to jail anyway. But then, Beth finds a tape Alex made in which she admits she’ll kill herself if she can’t be with Dan… cut to a final flashback in which Alex slits her own throat whilst as aria from Madame Butterfly plays in the background. Much more complex and considerably darker, and one in which Alex is the victim and Dan defies the ‘hero’ role – after all, he’s not exactly blameless. For the studio and audiences, it was easier to paint Alex as the villain, rather than the ‘wronged woman’, a construct that sat uneasily with the idealised vision of family. Fatal Attraction Glenn Close And whilst it’s true that the ending is too neat, neither director, writer or actress can complain too much – the film was a commercial success, and the highest grossing movie in its year of release. The success can partly be attributed to the furore the film attracted, which included a Time and People cover, and hours of debate: was it a parable about Aids? A commentary on a permissive society? An attack on feminism and career women? When the film was released it incited a feminist backlash, which criticised Lyne’s negative portrayal of career women, the idea that women still had to choose between men and a career, that single women really were better off dead.

Yet Fatal Attraction isn’t completely anti-feminist. Alex’s demands that Dan face up to consequences of his actions aren’t unreasonable – they are rational and understandable expectations. It’s his inability to manage them that escalate the problem and set in motion a desperate chain of events in which Alex becomes increasingly psychotic. But it’s difficult to really feel any sympathy for her character because the film is told through the eyes of Dan. Everything that’s threatened belongs in his world, nothing is considered through the eyes of a single female. The message? That women who seek liberty or equality pay with empty beds and incomplete lives: the sanctity of family triumphs over everything. Passion is – and will be – punished. Fatal Attraction Glenn Close Watching the film almost 28 years later, questions about attitudes to sex and women still arise, forcing considerations about what has – and hasn’t – changed. Generally, there’s a greater sympathy for Alex. It’s much more difficult to buy Douglas’ ‘everyman’ performance and give credibility to his innocence. Dan knew what he was doing – and endangering – when he slept with Alex. He might not have known the extent of her mental illness but there was a line that he crossed and everyone, especially movie characters, knows that all actions come with consequences. Especially those that involve sex.

Fatal Attraction Glenn Close

Of course, one of the film’s major flaws is that the audience never really gets close to understanding what drives Alex’s actions. Her early suicide attempts are an undeniable act of manipulation, but one that’s never fully explored other than through the problems that they cause Dan. Perhaps audiences in the 1980s were satisfied with the ‘woman scorned’ angle, but now that seems like an oversimplification. This is a woman with deep-seated physiological problems that don’t excuse her behaviour but go a long way to explaining it. In a more liberal era, it’s harder to buy the left-on-the-shelf fear as motivation. There has to be something else – from past relationships, childhood or any other Freudian cliché you care to float – that can explain her evil, because ‘career girl goes mad in the face of domestic bliss’ just doesn’t seem ample justification. The fact that the audience never gets an insight deep into Alex’s psyche increased the stigma around mental illness – in more recent interviews Close has come close to apologising for the portrayal, claiming that actors have a ‘moral responsibility’ to explain the complexities, rather than simplifying the issue: “Most people with mental illness are not violent… it is immoral to keep that perpetuated”. Fatal Attraction Glenn Close In contrast to Dan, Alex doesn’t seem to have any friends (another lesson to independent women?) who can counsel her actions or offer advice. The scene where she sits on her bedroom floor listening to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly whilst repeatedly switching a table lamp on and off is heartbreaking. Her apparent confidence – both in her career and in her sexual encounters – exists only on the surface, a mask that she wears to complete a performance that doesn’t really capture who she is. Madness doesn’t capture the nuances – Alex is a study of desperation and loneliness. At the most superficial level, the moral of Fatal Attraction (for women) is that casual sex should never be construed as anything more and that (for men) it’s wise pick your one-night-stand partners carefully. Fatal Attraction Glenn Close Despite the dramatic final scenes, there’s one line of dialogue that sums up both the film and its legacy. ‘This is what you reduced me to’, screams Alex. She might be referring to her increasingly irrational actions, but the sentiment has broader meaning within the context of Fatal Attraction where women are either/or, but never and. Consider: Beth is a wife, a homemaker – but never sexy. In fact, she’s wholesome even when she’s applying lipstick (most of the family home scenes are infused with a warm yellow light). Alex is sexy and independent, a career girl who exists in an industrial city setting that’s reached via a cage lift. There’s nothing warm about her stark white walls and bed linen. Trapped in a femme fatale construct she can’t escape from, her outburst is a challenge to Dan but also to audience and cultural prejudices that have placed her in a box. Yes, the film takes characterisation to the extreme, but it also creates an archetypal template for a certain kind of femininity and puts the stamp on what it means to exist within those confines. Fatal Attraction Glenn Close Fatal Attraction Glenn Close Ultimately, Fatal Attraction is a psychological thriller that short-changed its most interesting character in pursuit of box office success. Close was right to protest against the reshot ending – it might have pleased the masses but it redirected attention to secondary issues. This shouldn’t be a hysterical film about a man’s experience with a ‘bad’ woman and the merits of subservient wives, rather rumination on relationships and responsibility, the line between rationality and madness and the emotional facets of marriage. This is a film that has relevance for both men and women, it’s disappointing that it chose cookie-cut out characters and easy explanations.

This post is part of The Great Villian blogathon hosted by the dastardly Silver Screenings, Speakeasy and Shadows & Satin. Check out all the villainous entries here… you won’t be disappointed!

Christopher Strong: Dorothy Arzner takes on Hollywood convention

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932

This post is part of the just-about monthly Female Filmmaker series. Read about the original motivation here.

“Isn’t it wonderful that you’ve had such a great career, when you had no right to have a career at all?” – Katharine Hepburn’s telegram, cabled during a DGA tribute to Dorothy Arzner in 1975

Dorothy Arzner’s Christopher Strong occupies a particular place in feminist film criticism. Upon its release in 1933 the movie was a commercial flop but today it attracts an almost cult following – in part due to its significance in Katharine Hepburn’s career but also because of a wider evaluation and understanding of Arzner’s role in Hollywood. Arzner was the only female director to make the transition from silent to talkies, and between 1927 and 1943 she directed 17 feature films – a prolific output that provided the basis for many feminist film critics (including Pam Cook, Claire Johnston and Molly Haskell) who sought female role models in the ‘classic Hollywood era’.

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932

It’s an oversimplification to suggest that all of Arzner’s films can be considered ‘feminist’ simply because she was a woman working in a man’s world. Female directors don’t necessarily make films that are significantly different from their male counterparts just because they happen to be a woman. The more pertinent discussion is how do female-directed films fit into and disrupt the homogenised ‘male’ view that Hollywood packaged and sold in the 1930s and 1940s? Overall, many of Arzner’s films put women centre stage and – in doing so – many of her characters challenged established codes to ‘undo the stereotype of women characters as scheming witches and light-hearted husband chasers’. Many also exist outside the realm of the male, these women have personal ambition and achievements that exist outside the society conventions: marriage, family and more.

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932

Take Christopher Strong. In spite of what the title suggests, this is a film about Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn), a famous aviatrix who prizes her independence and the fact that she has no need for romantic attachments. That all changes when she meets Christopher Strong (Colin Clive) at a ‘treasure hunt’ party; he’s the notoriously faithful treasure, she’s the independent opposite. That meeting sets in motion a new friendship that blossoms into a love affair and completely alters Strong’s view on his wayward daughter (Monica – played by Helen Chandler) and her relationship with a married man. But although Strong professes that it’s Cynthia’s independent qualities he fell in love with, it’s not long before he’s asking her to give up flying and – quite literally – clipping her wings.

katharine hepburn 1933 - by ernest bachrach

And that’s where the problems begin. Arzner and screenwriter Zoe Akins raise the question about women and having it all (that’s a career and a relationship) but then don’t fully answer the question – or answer it unsatisfactorily. The film’s namesake – although undoubtedly torn between wife and mistress – takes a backseat in terms of soul-searching. Strong asks (or perhaps expects) Cynthia to give up her passion – indeed her career – for the sake of their relationship and she (surprisingly) acquiesces. Darrington’s tragic end is a cautionary tale; freedom and family don’t mix and woe betide anyone that tries to combine them. But perhaps the ending was a classic ‘Hollywood’ response – as a woman in a man’s world, Arzner had already broken many boundaries, was allowing the woman to emerge victorious over a man – in any way – a step too far?

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932

Despite the film’s flaws, the role is a perfect fit for Hepburn. Only her second film – the first was the 1932 release A Bill of Divorcement – it’s certainly not her finest acting, but the role was important because it contained so much ‘Hepburn’ and cemented the public’s perception of what the actress represented. Darrington’s confident stride into the party in one of the early scenes? It’s impossible to separate the bold, independent character from the bold, independent actress who once declared: “I’m a personality as well as an actress…. “Show me an actress who isn’t a personality, and you’ll show me a woman who isn’t a star.” Both Christopher Strong and A Bill of Divorcement set the tone for Hepburn’s early career – some viewers praising her originality, others ‘irritated by her mannerisms and ‘artificial’ speech patterns’.

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932_10

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932

But a strong female lead doesn’t make a film feminist. The effect, in this instance, is almost the complete opposite, with any progressive notions that Hepburn’s ‘single working woman’ character represents offset by the emphasis on the sanctity of marriage, the importance of monogamy and the duty of family. ‘Nice’ people do the right thing – those who live outside society codes (Darrington) are punished for their actions. As Strong’s wife (Billie Burke) observes in one of the film’s earliest scenes, ‘Sometimes I think you and I are the only nice people still left in the world’. Convention is desirable – even Strong’s at first wayward daughter ‘settles down’ and begins preaching about the comforts of married life. Unable to see beyond society prejudices and recognise how much her viewpoint has shifted, her newfound disapproval of her father’s affair is the catalyst for Darrington’s demise.

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932The ability to give more than one voice to female characters, the refusal to assign a singular face to womanhood is one of Arzner’s strongest points, and it’s utilised to great effect during a wonderful scene when Elaine gives a coded ‘gratitude’ speech that reveals she knows about her husband’s affair with Darrington. Each female lead – Darrington, Elaine Strong and Monica Strong – can be emphasised with and understood. As a viewer, you appreciate why Monica’s opinion changes once she’s pregnant, why she moves to support her mother’s position and strengthen the bond that is family, that Elaine’s gratitude comes from her role as a wife and a mother and isn’t a tolerance for adultery. It’s just disappointing that the conclusion reverts to type – Darrington ‘chooses’ Elaine’s (or the idea of family) happiness over her own, it’s those that pander to convention and expectation that are ‘winners’. But there are several moments of redemption: Darrington might not be able to hold onto her relationship, but she’s a hero to many young women, including one who asks for her autograph – ‘You were our hero at school… you gave us courage for everything’.

Katharine Hepburn Christopher Strong 1932

Film critic Pauline Kael describes Christopher Strong as ‘one of the rare movies told from a woman’s sexual point of view’. Yet Darrington’s sexual power undermines her independence. In what was surely a scandalous scene for the time (but remember, this is Pre-code) the camera lingers on Darrington’s wrist, which dangles out of a post-coital bed. She’s admiring the bracelet that adorns it – a gift from Strong. Whilst the gift signifies Darrington’s ability to be swayed by material possessions, it’s also a shackle that represents the restrictions the relationship will impose: indeed, Strong implores her not to fly in the next day’s contest. Darrington appreciates what the bracelet means (‘I love my beautiful bracelet. And I’ve never cared a button for jewels before. Now I’m shackled’), yet she’s unable to overcome its symbolism. Indeed, the bracelet represents the exact moment when the power balance shifts in Strong’s favour.

Ultimately, Christopher Strong is let down by surprisingly safe ending that short changes all the issues it raises. It’s disappointing to think that – even in the Pre-Code era – women weren’t allowed to conduct a successful relationship and career. But Arzner’s comments on the breadth and complexity of female emotion are something to be celebrated – and are indeed a lesson for many contemporary filmmakers. And lets not overlook how important the role was in cementing Hepburn’s star persona and laying the foundations for everything the actress stood for – which would have much further reaching implications for Hollywood.

Further reading: Sexual Stratagems: The World of Women in Film, ed. Patricia Erens / From Reverence to Rape by Molly Haskell / Women Filmmakers and their Films by Foster, Unterburger and Jacobs / Dorothy Arzner at the Women Film Pioneers Project

Kept Husbands: a moralistic mediation on marriage

Joel_McCrea-Dorothy_Mackaill_in_Kept_Husbands

Opposers of the Hays Code would surely have pointed to films such as Kept Husbands as evidence that not all films were encouraging out-of-marital sexual liaisons or other ‘loose’ behaviours. Lloyd Bacon’s romantic melodrama (released in 1931) is a conventional morality tale that touches on class, gender and marriage but colours neatly inside the lines and wraps the story up swiftly – the film only lasts a little over an hour.

The plot is formulaic, although it’s always refreshing to see movies examine what happens after the marriage – many simply conclude with the act itself. Spoilt socialite Dorothea ‘Dot’ Parker (played by Dorothy Mackaill) is scandalised when her father invites blue-collar steelworker Richard Brunton (Joel McCrea) to dinner to thank him for saving the lives of several co-workers. Brunton refuses a monetary award, preferring a meet-and-greet, despite the obvious hostility of the upper class family members. Dot’s despair soon turns to delight when she discovers that their handsome guest is a former All American football player who knows exactly how to eat his peas. She wagers a bet with her father; confident that she can get Richard to propose marriage in four weeks. When her plot doesn’t go to plan, she asks him and he eventually acquiesces, in spite of his initial reservations.

Joel_McCrea-Dorothy_Mackaill_in_Kept_Husbands

The marriage initially overwhelms Richard; he’s dragged into Dot’s social engagements and spends less time at work – even though he’s now Vice President, courtesy of his father-in-law. The money he earns isn’t enough to keep Dot in the furs and gowns she craves, and he becomes increasingly uncomfortable at his ‘kept man’ status. His attempts to reign in Dot’s spending and lavish lifestyle are met with distress, until he takes up his true role as ‘man of the house’ and insists they live within his means.

Dorothy_Mackaill_in_Kept_Husbands

Dorothy_Mackaill_in_Kept_Husbands

There are so many conventions built into Kept Husbands it’s impossible to know where to begin. Consider it from the class angle: the rich are lazy and frivolous; they spend all night partying and all day lounging. A $10,000 fur coat is just a drop in the ocean. At the opposite end of the scale, the working class are sensible and hardworking, they know what real life is because they live it everyday. Dot’s father, who understands the true value of work, sits outside the class stereotype, but that’s not too say his character is progressive. Of course, the context of this film is important: during the Depression, rich heiresses weren’t popular, so it was necessary to put Dot in her place by the end of the film.

Dorothy_Mackaill_in_Kept_Husbands

Taking a gender viewpoint isn’t any better. Dot might do all the chasing, but she’s rewarded with an unhappy marriage and an unhappy husband. The underlying message? Class marriages are preferable, fathers shouldn’t (over)indulge their daughters, women should know their place and not choose their own lovers. And of course, the role of the man is to provide, and men who choose not to are laughed at openly or suffer from life dissatisfaction. To a modern viewer, the double standards are disappointing: if the roles were reversed, Dot would probably be encouraged to become a ‘kept wife’. The film’s conclusion – which wraps up swiftly – sees Richard embrace his career and Dot scale down her social ambitions. According to Kept Husbands, marriage is about compromise and convention.

Joel_McCrea-Dorothy_Mackaill_in_Kept_Husbands

Just one scene hints at bad behaviour. Dot and Charles (played by Bryant Washburn) return to his apartment alone after Richard announces his intention to dedicate more time to his work. The duo – who clearly have ‘history’ – flirt, but the effect is diminished through the adoption of role play, which shifts the focus from the character, making it difficult to discern whose voice we’re really hearing.

Kept Husbands isn’t a bad film; it’s just not a typical pre-code film. It hasn’t aged well – the morals are overplayed and double standards abound. But it’s worth a watch, if only for some wonderful philosophical one-liners from Hughie Hanready (played by Ned Sparks) and the chance to appreciate the often-overlooked talent of Dorothy Mackaill, whose pitch-perfect as Dot (look out for some convincing crocodile tears!). And at the very least, it will make you appreciate the more racy films of the era.

This post is part of the pre-code blogathon, hosted by Pre-Code.com and Shadows and Satin. Catch up on all the entries as there’s some great films covered: day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4.

Twin Peaks (Episode 2): Zen, or the skill to catch a killer

Twin-Peaks-title copy

This post is part of The Favourite TV Episode blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Read about some great small-screen classics here.

*Note: there’s a bit of confusion about if this is episode 2 or 3, depending on if you want to count the pilot as an ‘episode’. To avoid confusion, I’m going to refer to it by name: ‘Zen, or the skill to catch a killer’.

Generally, Twin Peaks is the Marmite of TV shows – it’s impossible to be on the fence about this part soap-opera, part-screwball, part-horror series that defied – and continues to defy – definition. When the series was first aired in April 1990, it generated a whole community of committed fans who remained loyal to the end – despite the peculiarities (even by TP standards) that characterised the second series.

But there’s one episode that stands out above all the others. One episode that truly captures so much about what Twin Peaks was ‘about’. This episode concludes with an extraordinary, surreal dream sequence quite unlike anything that had previously been shown on mainstream TV. Snippets of weirdness had been glimpsed – Special Agent Dale Cooper hanging upside down in his hotel room musing on the links between JFK and Marilyn Monroe; the fish-in-the-percolator mystery… but these quirks were just the frameworks for something much bigger. Let’s break down (and appreciate) all the weird-ness that was Zen.

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Weird # 1: Jerry’s Brie and butter baguettes

The episode opens on the Horne’s dining room. Benjamin Horne, hotel and local business owner sits at the head of the table. The peace is shattered by the arrival of his brother Jerry, recently returned from Paris and full of enthusiasm for Brie and butter baguettes, which he unpacks from his suitcases and entreats Ben to try. Cue an enthusiastic inhale and gorge of the aforementioned speciality, while the rest of the family looks on in dismay.

From damn fine cups of coffee to glazed doughnuts, slices of cherry pie and maple syrup and ham drizzled pancakes (“nothing beats the taste sensation!”), there’s a peculiar food fetish that runs through Twin Peaks. As the series continues, the need for a cup of joe becomes an in-joke, helping to keep the characters real – in spite of all the oddness that’s going on around them. The fetish might have come from Lynch – an affirmed coffee aficionado – but the idea that this is consumption for consumption’s sake works against the ‘small town’ lifestyle of Twin Peaks. Or perhaps all that fresh air just makes everyone hungry.

Weird rating: ☕☕

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Weird # 2: Cooper’s Tibetan technique

Special Agent Dale Cooper assembles Sheriff Harry Truman and his team in the woods to participate in a ‘subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique involving mind-body coordination’. The technique, which is a foreshadow of the ‘weirdness’ to come and came to Coop during a dream about Tibet, sees the agent narrow down a list of suspects by throwing rocks at a glass bottle balanced on a tree trunk. Exactly how you imagine all police work to be conducted. But Coop’s controversial deductive technique is just one example of how the woods surrounding the town is integrated, and central, to the story. It’s also testament to how persuasive Coop is – both characters and audience go along with his unconventional, borderline absurd ideas, because he’s able to deliver them so earnestly.

Cooper might be the ‘hero’ of Twin Peaks, but he’s responsible for so much of its oddity. His belief in his mission and his vocation steers the audience (and indeed, many of the characters) through strange and unexplainable events. Somehow, he’s always one step ahead (see weird # 5 for more). Central to his character is his relationship with Harry, a dependable cop who’s surprisingly open minded and displays little of the provincialism attitudes so commonly associated with local law enforcement. This old school meets new wave mentality allows Cooper to explore some of the metaphysical aspects of a murder investigation without completely confusing the narrative (such as it is, apparently Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost made up quite a lot of it as they went along). As supporting characters go, Harry is up there with the best.

Weird rating: ☕☕☕

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Weird # 3: Audrey’s interpretive dance

Audrey Horne (daughter of Benjamin) and Donna Hayward (best friend to Laura Palmer, now kind of dating the deceased’s secret boyfriend) enjoy a – what do you know! – cup of coffee at Norma’s diner. As Audrey enters she selects a song on the jukebox that’s very similar to Angelo Badalamenti’s distinctive score – so much so that it’s surprising that she gets up to dance to it – although none of the other diners seem remotely perturbed. The score exists in our understanding of the show but we don’t expect it to feature in the character’s experience of it, Audrey’s acknowledgement of its existence reveals how the show blends back into itself and blurs of the line between what’s real and what’s fiction.

Weird rating: ☕

Weird # 4: Cooper pinches Truman’s nose

A wonderful scene that encapsulates Cooper and Truman’s fond relationship and was surely ad-libbed – it’s too natural not to be. Occurring just before FBI forensics specialist Albert is introduced, Coop’s playfulness exaggerates the newcomer’s snootiness and his disdain for the ‘backwards’ sheriff’s office. In the context of Twin Peaks this isn’t exactly weird, but it’s certainly not the sort of behaviour you expect from two established officers leading a murder investigation. It forces the audience to consider the type of show they’re watching. Is this a comedy? A melodrama? A soap opera? A murder mystery? At this point, it could really be any of those – and more.

Albert is one of the show’s best peripheral characters. Insulting and uncompromising, he so angers the laid-back Harry that the latter eventually punches him on the nose. Albert’s left in a compromising position on top of a body in the mortuary, in a moment that perfectly encapsulates the show’s ability to move between black comedy and genuine emotion.

Weird rating: ☕

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Weird # 5: Cooper’s Red Room dream

The episode concludes with an extraordinary dream scene that sees an aged Cooper enter a surreal world, bordered with red curtains and a chevron patterned floor, populated by a backwards speaking dwarf, a beguiling Laura Palmer and two supernatural characters named Bob and Mike. But what does it all mean? If the scene is confusing to modern-day audiences, imagine how contemporary viewers struggled. Nothing of this kind had been seen on TV before. This bizarre pastiche of ideas that weren’t really grounded in any of Twin Peaks’ previous narrative asked so many more questions than it answered. Generally, TV audiences like their shows to be tied up with a bow, where they could be left on the shelf, forgotten. The episode might end with Cooper claiming he knows the identity of Laura’s killer, but the overriding impression is that it’s not going to be that simple. Lynch is toying with his viewers.

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Cooper’s six-minute dream is scary because it hints at familiar ideas about good and evil but, at the same time, sits just outside the realm of the viewer’s understanding. It’s both frustrating and intriguing – in fact, one of the show’s major flaws is that the more it tries to make sense of it all, the less interesting it becomes. There’s a direct line from Lynch’s feature filmmaking to Twin Peaks, particularly Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. The TV show was just an opportunity to bring his brand of originality to a much wider audience.

According to the director, the idea for the scene came while he was leaning against a warm car and ‘free associating’ – the resultant disquieting and original piece of filmmaking came to encapsulate what Twin Peaks stands for. The pilot episode originally incorporated elements of the dream sequence, but these were dropped to make the initial episode feel more like a standalone movie: crucial if the TV network didn’t commission the full series. Waiting to introduce the supernatural elements actually makes all the other TP oddness look comparatively ‘normal’ and heightens the nostalgic and dreamy qualities that are embedded into the small town.

Weird rating:☕☕☕☕☕☕☕☕☕☕ (basically, off the scale)

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Today, the are-they-aren’t-they discussion surrounding series three of Twin Peaks might has put the show firmly back in the spotlight, but the truth is that, for many viewers (myself included), the appeal of David Lynch’s surrealist soap opera was never far away. Yes, some of the absurdities in the second season challenge even the most ardent fan, but at the back of their mind is Zen, a reminder of how game-changing the series was and how influential it remains – just look at anything from Lost to Desperate Housewives.

Twin Peaks - Zen or the skill to catch a killer

Further reading: Lynch on Lynch by David Lynch / A.V. Club episode analysis