Friday, January 20, 2017

Happy Birthday David Lynch - "She Would Die for Love" - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992); Twin Peaks Podcasting and RIP Miguel Ferrer

Wishing a Happy Birthday to David Lynch, who turns 71 today. And to mark the occasion, I want to take the opportunity to sing the praises of one of my all time favourite films and the one that probably takes the top spot on the list of movies I love from this man.

This won't be a traditional review exactly and may more likely read as something of a love letter to it... the main reason being that I've already talked about this in quite some depth recently elsewhere...

My good friend, Richard Glenn Schmidt, of Doomed Moviethon and Cinema Somnambulist, was kind enough to invite me onto his podcast, Hello! This is the Doomed Show, to talk about not only this film, but also the entire series (so far) of Twin Peaks.

Being both a big fan of said podcast and completely enamoured of Twin Peaks, this was something of a dream come true and was an absolute joy to record. While doing so and afterwards, I was worried that I wasn't able to do justice to show and film, or fully articulate my love and appreciation for it, but upon listening back, I'm very happy with how it turned out. And I hope any David Lynch/Twin Peaks fans out there might enjoy hearing it too...

Perhaps unexpectedly, it turned out to be even more epic than Richard or I initially anticipated and ended up being a two-parter (each episode being nearly three hours long I think)... which, in retrospect, shouldn't be too surprising... I mean there are whole podcasts dedicated to Twin Peaks of course, so there was no shortage of stuff to chew the fat about. Anyway, for anyone interested, the links to both are below.

Also on the subject of podcasting, prior to our Twin Peaks discussion, Richard had me on the show to help me get used to recording and also as an opportunity for he and I to get used to talking to each other over Skype. He asked me a bunch of questions about the films which helped get me into horror and ones that are firm favourites too. Again, that was a lot of fun and the link is below if you fancy a listen.

Finally, Christian Bates-Hardy of Good Movies for Bad People kindly invited me onto his show, where we talked about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Murder Obsession. An absolute blast it was and again, you can find it at the link underneath if you're interested.

So now, without further ado, I'll attempt to tell you fine folks just why I love Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me so much, why I think it's so important within David Lynch's filmography and why I believe it to be one of the most underrated films of the last 25 years. 

As I think I implied above, I won't be going over the plot or anything as I already did that in detail during the aforementioned podcast. Plus, I imagine anyone reading this will be at least passingly familiar with the show and/or film and what they're about. In fact, if you haven't seen them and aren't aware of who killed Laura Palmer, please read no further.

I first encountered Fire Walk With Me maybe sometime in the late '90s or early '00s when it aired late night on TV here in the UK. At the time I was unfamiliar with the show and would come to that later. I can't recall all of my initial impressions but what I do remember clearly was that parts of it scared the living daylights out of me (a case in point being the scene where Laura finds Bob in her bedroom). So glad I had the foresight to record it too. Would re-watch that tape frequently before finally buying the DVD some years later.

It was one of the first David Lynch films I saw, along with Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive and has always been a favourite. And since buying the Blu-Ray of The Entire Mystery it's now become my favourite of his movies.

This, I think, is for several reasons... Firstly, and this is true of all of Lynch's films for me, it's due to the aesthetics and atmosphere. From the opening credits (which take place over swimming TV static, under-laid with Angelo Badalamenti's mournful, jazz-jam-after-midnight music) onwards, I was instantly in love with the sense of mood that is conjured up. 

As a side note, the theme that plays here would be re-used a year later (slightly re-arranged) on the Julee Cruise album The Voice of Love (itself the title of the astoundingly beautiful piece used at the end of Fire Walk With Me) for the song "She Would Die For Love".

This potent feeling the film exudes continues throughout, albeit shifted through many different gears, from absurd comic scenes to ones of extreme sadness and terror, all of which Lynch arguably excels at.

And speaking of feeling, this is another major reason I'm completely in love with this movie. In fact it may be the most important one to me now. That is, no matter how many times I come back, it remains an intensely powerful experience... not just because of Lynch's expert manipulation of mood and emotion but also thanks to the incredible actors that populate his films. And in Fire Walk With Me, none more so than the phenomenal Sheryl Lee.

Co-star Ray Wise, who is also amazing beyond words in this, called her performance in the film "heroic", and I think that's a very apt description. She completely poured her heart and soul into bringing Laura and her tragic story to life, for which I'm eternally thankful. There are scenes in this which never fail to move me deeply, and often to tears.

Now with many movies like this, I can't re-watch them too often, as they leave me feeling depressed, drained and/or haunted, and not in a good way. I mean those films have their place but I have to watch them at the right time and in a specific mood. 

Why then, is Fire Walk With Me, completely different? The aforementioned atmosphere aside, I'd attribute a lot of this to how Laura's arc progresses throughout and how it, and the film, come to a close.

In the final scene we see Laura, now dead, after being bludgeoned to death by Bob/Leland (which itself is an incredible piece of film-making that never fails to shake me to my core; apparently it was filmed on Halloween in 1991, perhaps adding an extra terrifying edge to it), seated in the Red Room, being comforted by Agent Cooper, who is now trapped there after the events of season two's final episode, where his doppelganger escaped, possessed by Bob, leaving him stranded in this other world. 

Initially, she looks understandably lost and sad, until a bright light erupts and she sees something descending from above. It's an angel (apparently the same one that seems to have freed Ronette Pulaski in the train car), which, earlier in the film, had disappeared from a painting she has in her bedroom. 

And at this sight, she starts to cry and then laugh, understanding, it seems, that she's now free from the pain and torment which she was unable to escape while still alive. 

It's an amazing moment, in terms of acting, cinematography, design, direction and music (the aforementioned "The Voice of Love"), which invariably makes me weep, but not in a bad way. Cathartic is the word I think. And it's no doubt why I keep returning to the film.

I find it interesting too that Laura is seen between the angel and Agent Cooper, as the latter (who in the real, physical world, hasn't even come to Twin Peaks yet; it seems that here, time and space are transcended... and furthermore, events earlier in the film establish a psychic rapport or something similar between him and her) is, in some ways, arguably quite similar to the former, coming, of course, to Twin Peaks to solve her murder and, in a sense, free the secrets surrounding it... which brings us neatly, to another point, and one which again, makes this film extraordinarily powerful to me. I'll phrase it in the form of a question... was Laura really murdered?

In a sense, of course, yes. Bob/Leland did end her life. But only with her acquiescence. Bob's real, preferred end game is suggested earlier in the film when Laura tells Harold Smith, regarding Bob that "he wants to be me, or he'll kill me". But why? Perhaps because of Laura's connection to so many people in Twin Peaks, making her an ideal hub, as it were, for this demonic entity to get to as many of them as possible. And in that same scene with Harold, we see the first inkling of why, as Dr. Jacoby suggests during the series, "maybe she allowed herself to be killed"... that is, to protect those close to her. 

We also see this instinct at work later in the film, both with Donna and, towards the end, James. It can perhaps be best summed up by the quote used in this post's title which, of course, was also the name of the aforementioned Julee Cruise song... "She Would Die For Love".

And all this is essentially what elevates the film to being my favourite from Lynch. I love a lot of his work, from Eraserhead, through Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive and even the, in my opinion, much maligned and misunderstood, Inland Empire, but none of them, for my money, match Fire Walk With Me's incredible, emotional and soul stirring potency. 

I won't go on too much longer, as I'm aware I've rambled at considerable length already. Before we get to two final things, just another quick shout out to Angelo Badalamenti, who turns in what is, for me, his greatest score here. An absolute tour de force in itself, which I could praise for pages too. In fact, it deserves its own blog post really, so I won't go into the particulars as to why I think it's so brilliant right now.

So before I sign off, and as alluded to earlier, why do I think it's such an important film in Lynch's filmography. Well, the answer, I think, can be found in looking what it's sandwiched between. Sure, his feature film career started with Eraserhead, which is as experimental as almost anything he's ever done. But then, from The Elephant Man, through Dune, Blue Velvet and to Wild at Heart, his stories were, relatively speaking, more conventionally told. This, I feel, shifted, when it came to Fire Walk With Me, which acts as a loop of sorts, connecting the beginning of the series and its end. How the new season will tie into all this remains to be seen of course. One hint Lynch has given so far tells us that the last 7 days of Laura Palmer's life will be hugely important to it (which is, as won't surprise you, hugely thrilling for me to hear) but beyond that, it's anyone's guess. But as far as the already released season one and two go, I think the point stands for now... Fire Walk With Me ends as the series begins, with Laura's body being discovered and then, as previously said, we see her and Cooper together, connecting of course, to his fate at the end of season two.

But still, how does all this figure in with Lynch's other films? I'd say that Fire Walk With Me marks the start of his heading more into the non-linear and unconventional narratives that would characterise the films he made after (with the exception of The Straight Story of course)... that is, the amazing trilogy or sorts, or perhaps, more aptly, triptych, of Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire... therefore making it an important and perhaps even crucial crossroads within his overall body of work. 

I'll leave it there for now, as I'd like to come back to all of those films, in detail, at a later date. There's just one final subject now that I'd like to talk about before I end this post, which relates to Fire Walk With Me... the untimely passing of Miguel Ferrer.

Yesterday evening, I was deeply saddened to hear that this excellent actor had lost his battle with throat cancer and died, aged just 61. He had a long and celebrated career, extending all the way back to the early '80s, appearing in many fine films and TV shows. But I'll always remember him mainly for two roles: cocky exec Bob Morton from RoboCop and, even more memorably, the delightfully cynical, big-mouthed, pacifist FBI agent and pathologist Albert Rosenfield from Twin Peaks and this film prequel/arguable sequel.

Being the son of the great José Ferrer (and singer Rosemary Clooney), he came to acting later, originally being known as a musician... and, more specifically, a drummer. I've never heard any of his playing, but the fact he played on Keith Moon's solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, suggests to me that he must have been pretty damn good.

Widely respected by everyone who worked with him and remembered by many a film and TV viewer for his considerable screen presence and acting chops, he'll be greatly missed.

Alas it seems that the new series of Twin Peaks will mark his final screen credit and swan song as an actor, but I'm very glad that it's within a role which may be one of his greatest and is perhaps his most fondly remembered. And, needless to say, I'll be very excited to see his work within it, to say nothing of the series itself of course. I mean it probably goes without saying that I'm excited beyond my ability to express myself about that. I say no more for now.

Rest in Peace sir, you were taken from us far too soon.

Miguel José Ferrer 

Born February 7, 1955 - Santa Monica, California, U.S. 
Died January 19, 2017 (aged 61) - Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Birthday Asia Argento! Trauma (Dario Argento, 1993)

By six degrees of Brad Dourif, I'm finally updating this dusty old blog. Meant to post this on Dario's birthday (7th September) but life intruded and it went on the back burner. But as it's his daughter Asia's birthday today (she's turning 41), seemed an ideal time to finally finish it, with her being one of the stars of course. Spoke about this before briefly as part of My First Moviethon but been meaning to come back to it in depth ever since. So here we go...

The movie opens by showing us some kind of mechanical diorama that I'm guessing is about the French Revolution. What's important for our purposes though is that some poor bugger has got their head chopped off via le guillotine. In a way, it's a curious way to begin (though it does have significance to the plot) and one of many quirky moments to be found throughout that have Argento's prints all over them. Also, it's the first of quite a few instances in which Trauma seems to be riffing on Deep Red

Following this, it's off to the chiropractor's... and also off with their head, as an unseen assailant uses a rather nifty device that mechanically closes a noose of piano wire or something around this poor lady's neck and allows the killer to collect their first trophy. As a side note, this scene also introduces an element that instantly predisposes me to love the movie... that is, it's frickin' pissing it down! And without getting into why (cause spoilers), rain will prove to be very important throughout the film.

Next, we meet our protagonists. David (Christopher Rydell) is driving along a bridge one day and sees a young girl (Asia) climbing over the side. Being concerned at what may be about to happen, he stops and goes over to try and draw her away from the waters beckoning below. With some reluctance, she goes with him and they drive off. And that, dear reader, is the first of many times throughout that Asia's character, Aura, will essentially get kidnapped by someone. Sure it's consensual here but still more than a bit creepy. Seriously though, keep count of how many times this sort of thing happens as the film unfolds...

While getting acquainted at a restaurant, we discover that Aura is anorexic... and also apparently AWOL from psychiatric care. After trying to eat something and quickly having to throw it back up, she leaves David and heads outside... where she's spotted by two guys apparently working for the hospital, who force her into a car and drive away. So yes, within the space of five minutes, Asia has been carried off twice.

They take her home, where we meet her mother (the great Piper Laurie... and there's your second David Lynch connection folks) and father (Dominique Serrand), who are preparing to hold a seance (this apparently being what mum does for a living) and to give us, arguably, one of the film's standout scenes. 

Everything about this, from the returning rain, ominous music (from the great Pino Donaggio) and the way it's staged (dig the slow track in seen above, past a candle flame that's in front of Piper Laurie) and performed is pitch perfect in my book. Part way through the scene, after we hear that the killer is PRESENT, the shit hits the fan and a tree bursts through the window. Confusion erupts and not long after, Aura runs outside, after her mother and father, only to find them decapitated, their heads held up by a shadowy figure who then flees the scene. The frankly dodgy looking Dr. Judd (Frederic Forrest), who we first saw before the seance, sneaking about, then shows up, further startling Asia. She's bundled into the back of a police car but soon absconds again. 

Soon after, she reunites with David... partly to return the wallet she pinched off him but also, of course, as she's now homeless. Cue more dubious goings on (see below) and horrible pop psych discussions of anorexia that sometimes feel like Argento is directing a PSA: "a lot of anorexics die..." and you might want to as well during this scene. Joking aside, even this nonsense is kind of endearing to me after many viewings.

We're also introduced to a sort-of Macaulay Culkin lookalike kid (Cory Garvin), who lives next door to the head hunter and can see one of their trophies staring at him when looking out of his bedroom window.

David and Aura team up to try and stop the killer but they soon hit a road bump when Aura is whisked away, yet again, back to the hospital. And I'll leave it there r.e. the plot...

It's generally agreed that Argento was sliding into a career decline by the time the '90s rolled around... and to a point, I can't argue. Nothing he did in this decade or beyond kicks my arse the way his '70s and '80s films do... but having said this, I'm not knocking the guy. He had an incredible run from '70 through to Phenomena in '85 (love '87's Opera more and more as well) and I think sometimes folks forget this. And while I don't love Trauma on the level I do those older movies, I still have a shit ton of affection for it, warts and all. 

I mean there's no getting round it, there's some daft stuff in this film (like the aforementioned patronising the audience r.e. anorexia) but if you're already attuned to the excesses and indulgences of Argento's work, then this is all part of the fun to be had in watching them. 

One other example springs to mind here in terms of what I'm talking about, which can be summed up in two words... talking heads... oh, and one screaming head. Seven words then. Anyway... basically, there are not one, or two, but three instances throughout where decapitated heads defy the laws of known biology and make some motherfucking noise. Again though, I'm not knocking this... I love it. Especially one instance involving a horror icon. I'll say no more, in case you haven't seen it.

Overall though, what we have is a solid '90s giallo from the master of the form, which, like other Argento film, re-uses and references motifs from his back catalogue.... and as I said before, especially Deep Red (but to get into specifically why might risk spoilers). And while it can't hold a candle to that classic (to be fair, very few can), I think it holds its own against any decent entry from the genre. Stylishly shot (by Raffaele Mertes), suspenseful and containing one of the most brilliantly contrived and ridiculous motivations for a killer I've ever seen, it pretty much ticks all the boxes in terms of what I want from one of these films. Plus, given its vintage and the fact that Italian horror was sadly dying a death at this point, it's even more impressive.

A bit of trivia for you. This was Argento's first full length American film... following on from collaborating with George A. Romero on Two Evil Eyes (and more on "The Black Cat" here) in 1990. Also connecting Trauma and that film is one Tom Savini, who of course provides the effects, and created the ingenious murder weapon, dubbed the "noose-o-matic". Apparently the effects were originally going to be more elaborate but Dario wanted to dial back the gore a bit this time. Also, Savini was meant to have a part in the film but for what ever reason, that didn't happen either.

Supposedly the story was inspired by Asia half sister, Anna Ceroli, who was anorexic. She's the girl seen above and below dancing on a balcony in front of a reggae band (and then to Donaggio's gorgeous song, "Ruby Rain") during the end credits. Tragically, she would die the year later in a scooter accident. And by the way, Asia's other half sister, Fiore, shows up uncredited as the Farraday Clinic's receptionist.

Finally, kudos to the cast, who are all pretty decent I think... especially Asia, who already was showing promise as an actress and Piper Laurie, who is super creepy, as always. Oh, and Brad Dourif, who brings his characteristic intensity to the party but sadly, doesn't get nearly enough screen time.

So if you're sold on gialli and/or Argento and haven't seen this/watched it once and didn't care for it, I'd highly recommend giving it a chance (or another). If nothing else, you'll never look at an elevator shaft (if you have chance to) the same way ever again.