22 January 2009

1989: The Twin Peaks Pilot

24 February, 1989: the body of local Home Coming Queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), wrapped in plastic, is found by Pete Martell (Jack Nance) washed up on the shore of the lake outside his home in the idyllic Pacific North West town of Twin Peaks...

Twin Peaks, of course, took the world briefly by storm in 1990 and 1991.

One of the most original and multi-faceted TV shows ever, Twin Peaks got no further than series two and ended amidst accusations from some that it had "out-weirded itself".

So, what was it all about and where does 1989 come into the picture?

I will tell all...

In 1989, David Lynch (Blue Velvet) and Mark Frost (a writer of that wonderful 1980s police drama series Hill Street Blues) produced the pilot episode of Twin Peaks - and production was well advanced on the first seven episodes before the year ended - in fact episode five was being produced in November!

Everything was in place - right from the start. The music, the atmosphere, the characterisations - the show was spot on.

An historic video cassette - the Warner Home Video European release of the 1989 "Twin Peaks" feature, running time approximately 113 minutes, copyright MCMLXXXIX [1989], Lynch/Frost Productions Inc. The material contained on the video was used as the Twin Peaks pilot episode, but contained an alternative ending. This video is sometimes referred to as "Twin Peaks - The Movie".

David Lynch looked back to the late 1980s origins of Twin Peaks in an interview in the early 1990s:

"We were at Du Par's, the coffee shop at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura and all of a sudden, Mark Frost and I had this image of a body wrapped in plastic washing up on the shore of a lake."

A map of the fictional town was soon drawn up…

"We knew where everything was, and it helped us decide what mood each place had, and what could happen there. Then the characters just introduced themselves to us and walked into the story.

“The pilot was written in only nine days and shot in 23.

"I didn't feel we compromised, and I felt good.

"These shows should cast a spell. It's sort of a nutty thing, but I feel a lot of enjoyment watching the show. It pulls me into this other world that I don't know about."

As well as 1989 being the year of the Twin Peaks pilot, it is also the year that most fans agree all the plot action was set in. Amazingly, it seems that all the bizarre and tangled events of the series occurred in just a few weeks of 1989! Although continuity faltered once or twice and Jennifer Lynch's 1990 novel, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, pointed towards 1990 as the year of Laura's murder, apparently if you study days and dates in the series and film "prequel" Fire Walk With Me, 1989 emerges as the one and only.

Not that Twin Peaks seemed to have caught up to 1989. The town seemed, in many ways, still stuck in the 1950s - which gave the series a real "back woods" feel. Good old cherry pie, and home comin' queen values jostled with modern day evils.

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) meets the Little Man from Another Place (Michael J Anderson) and Laura Palmer in the Red Room. But just remember: "When you see me again, it won't be me!"

Life wasn't always so heavy and downright weird in the "Twin Peaks" universe - and at the Sheriff's Station, receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) was one of several characters that added a comedy thread to the show's rich brew.

In 1993, Pat Cokewell, owner of the Mar-T Cafe, the RR Diner in Twin Peaks, told about her establishment’s first transition from reality to Peaks legend. This is an extract from the 1990s Twin Peaks magazine Wrapped In Plastic:

“One of the first questions people ask is, how did they find you? How did they find the Mar-T? Well, with all movies they send out a location scout. So that was my first contact in February of 1989. I said, 'Oh yeah.' (We weren’t very busy.) ‘You can use it, but we’re fixing to do some remodelling.’ But they said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, don’t do anything like that. We want it just as it is.’

“About two weeks later, they said that David Lynch will be up on the weekend and he’ll decide. (They’d looked at another cafe, too.) So they came up, and they told us they wanted to use it."

Pat Cokewell recalled the arrival of the film crew and cast around the end of February 1989: "I’d never seen so much equipment. There were about seventy-five people that were working and another hundred that were watching from the outside. So when they said, “Rolling,’ you better keep quiet.

“For those of us that met David Lynch, he’s a wonderful director. You hear stories about directors yelling and screaming on the set, and that did not happen for the four days that we had the privilege of having him around the Mar-T. When he was not working, he was talking to you.”
Sheriff Harry S Truman (Michael Ontkean) shakes hands with FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) whilst a parade of doughnuts awaited their fate. With some "damn fine coffee" nearby, all seemed well. But not for long.

The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson). Did the log have information about Laura's murder?

Josie Packard (Joan Chen), the beautiful young widow of local mill owner Andrew Packard, held many secrets - not least her love affair with Sheriff Truman.

Andrew Packard's sister, Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), held some devastating secrets herself and plotted to ruin Josie. She and her lover, local hotel owner Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymour), added a strand of 1980s era power soap to the "Twin Peaks" brew, as they plotted together - but could they trust each other?

Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) has a mystical vision, and screams in terror. But who's that in the mirror?!

A supernatural horror strand was ably provided by Bob. Was he a demon? Or simply the show's representation of the evil that men do?

Bob, the terrifying being that appeared to certain people and possessed Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), was not part of the original plan for Twin Peaks.

I’m indebted again to my Wrapped In Plastic collection which contains this insight from Frank Silva, the man behind Bob:

“First thing I have to say is that Bob was an accident. He was never, ever there from day one. It was a whole, unbelievable accident. It basically happened during the original pilot. I was a crew member, the on-set dresser in the art department. We were doing the shot in Laura Palmer’s bedroom. I was tweaking the bedroom, and the camera was in the doorway. David was out in the hall and he jokingly said, ‘Frank, you’d better get out of there. You’re going to get caught in the camera..’ And I looked at David and went, ‘Okay.’ And then a blood vessel kind of like burst in his head, and he said, ‘Frank! Get down at the end of the bed, just crouch down there, and act scared!’ And I went, ‘What?!?’ ‘Just act scared!’ And that was how Bob began.

“At the end of the day, in order to make sense of me being shot at the end of the bed, he added the scene at the end of the pilot - this was never scripted - where Grace Zabriskie, Laura’s mom, is lying on the sofa, and she’s chain smoking, and she suddenly jets up and says, ‘Leland, I saw him.’ There are three mirrors on the back wall where the sofa is. I’m clear across the room, being a crew member, holding cigarettes in my hand for her to do each take. So I’m standing there, she jets up, and she says, ‘Leland, I saw him.’ David goes, ‘Great! How was that for the camera?’ So the camera guy says, ‘Well, it was really great, but Frank was in one of the mirrors.’ And David went ‘WOW!!’ We couldn’t have planned it better! This is where it all started with the Bob character.”

Twin Peaks blasted on to our screens in 1990 and we were asked “Who killed Laura Palmer?”

“Not another soap!” I moaned. “It sounds just like ‘Who Shot JR’!”

But of course it wasn’t.

It was like nothing else ever seen on TV.
I was initially curious, and soon enthralled. Then baffled. Disturbed. Disorientated. Obsessed. Chilled. Amused. Terrified.
This show played games with my mind like no other - before or since.
And I loved it.


Mrs Key said...

Fantastic summary. I can't think of a tv this original before or since.

iheart80s said...

Great post. I loved Twin Peaks and it doesn't matter to me that it was a nineties thing. There was very much an 80s vibe going on. Good work!

Drew said...

It's included here because the pilot was written and filmed, and the music written and produced in 1989 - also work began on the first series episodes in 1989.

jumeaux said...

simply the one and only tv show i've ever watched. fantastic!