Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10.


“ELECTRICITY IS HUMMING,” says the Log Lady to Hawk in the tenth hour of Twin Peaks: The Return. She says “electricity” like she’s a kid with a crush on Ben Franklin. She says it flows like a river and is heard in the river, too, and in the mountains, and is seen to glow around the moon. It’s a long conjure, electricity: a literal expression of magic that also connotes the satisfying pop of eureka, the blue purl of genius finding its vessel, a longed-for apotheosis, like when wires burst and flood walls with lightning as Henry unites with the Lady in the Radiator in Eraserhead (1977). Drama like that can’t happen with technology unplugged, devices wireless, noiseless, eliciting idioms like “losing connection” as if “connected” is our natural state and nothing is immanent. “In these days, the glow is dying,” the Log Lady says. “What will be in the darkness that remains?”

Any comment on “these days” from a woman who’s been using a log as a pager since the 1980s is bound to be iffy, but then she may mean “decades” by “days.” Lynch uses new, dated, and totally out-of-date technology to juggle the times. He takes a bemused view of the latest devices, less like an old man yelling at clouds and more like an old man saying how do you know the clouds aren’t talking to us? Why do you need a phone to access the cloud? Here in Twin Peaks, devices like Dale Cooper’s tape recorder, Gordon Cole’s hearing aid, and Dr. Jacoby’s coconut have been used to dramatize the minor struggle of saying what you mean and to turn up the funny polyphony, more than to help along the plot.

A pratfall performed solo and in tempo rubato by Candie (Amy Shiels), one of three bunny-type chicks in pink silk at the Silver Mustang Casino, ends with her using a remote control to whack a house fly, and with it (accidentally or Freudianly) her boss. In a dance of paired electrons, or a scene from a domestic comedy by an absurdist theater troupe, Andy and Lucy Brennan (Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson) look at the same chair on the same furniture-selling website at their separate desks, three steps apart. She gets up to tell him she really likes the beige one. He gets up to tell her he really likes the red. Then he says she can get the beige, and pleased, practically humming, she gets the red. Lynch will be damned if he lets technology make anything faster. Ages before Lucy fainted for the first time, not for the last time, at the sight of Sheriff Frank Truman walking into the office while also talking with her on the phone, the director believed that a body could be in two places at once. He seems to appreciate the high-speed networked world, with its lapsed temporality, objects set loose in space, as a pastiche of his obviously superior dream one.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10. Candie (Amy Shiels).


Anything can become anything else in a dream, and Lynch likes to get back at our devices, which try to expropriate our conscious and unconscious functions alike, by using them as props. Or abusing them, like when a resurrected Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) uses a hot-pink flip phone to tap out a single text, T9-style, before gratuitously shooting it to bits with a single-barrel rifle. “Around the dinner table,” says the text, “the conversation is lively.” In South Dakota, Diane (Laura Dern) smokes in the waiting room of a morgue (“it’s a fucking morgue,” she says when told she can’t do that), while Gordon and Albert view the corpse of Major Briggs. She gets the text. Her hands don’t shake. Either Diane is as good an actress as Dern herself or she doesn’t know who she’s talking to. “They have Hastings,” she replies, off-screen, referring to the high-school principal (Matthew Lillard) charged with killing Ruth, the school librarian, and pairing her head with the Major’s body. “He’s going to take them to the site.” The FBI finds and reads the text, presenting a serious twist. And a smirk: Diane’s textually legible and “heavily encrypted” message, delivered via technologically superior means, is worse at conveying a secret than Mr. C’s unencrypted, cryptic one.

Messages, either way, seem not to lose compression but to pick up resonance as they move through the air, giving humans on the other side of the screen a gravitas that normally belongs to spirits. Jacoby, formerly the town shrink, is now a charlatan with an hour-long weekly web series wherein he advances addled theories on why the world is so filled with shit, then asks you to buy a gold (…gold-painted) shovel, only $29.99, for the purpose of shit-digging. Whether this represents a real career change is unclear: Lynch is loud about distrusting analysis, psychiatric or otherwise; but he also shies from intelligence generally, and does not seem to consider “conspiracy theorist” a slur. He once, twelve years ago, appeared on The Alex Jones Show with some questions about the events of 9/11, and there described intuition as “a flowing of knowingness,” also as “an ocean of solutions.” Plus, Jacoby’s monologue is gold. Pure anti-capitalist gold: “We’re sheep to these monsters, and they don’t give a shit! We grow our wool, and just when we’re getting warm, they come along with their electric clippers, and shear our wool off, and we’re just naked, screaming little fucks!”

At the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks, something is definitely a-hum. The noise comes out from the walls, giving owner Ben Horne (Richard Heymer) and his hot, boring assistant, Beverley (Ashley Judd), an opportunity to stand very close in the corner of an empty room, whispering. They could sleep together except that Ben has a conscience, or enough trouble. His disabled adult son Johnny (Eric Rondell) lives in constant danger of injuring himself in a big beige house owned by his ex-wife Sylvia (Jan D’Arcy) and paid by alimony. His brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) has been in the woods for days, hunting a cell signal, playing the role of the too-stoned viewer at home: “I’ve been here before!” he screams. “I am not your foot!” screams his foot. We have to agree, ceci n’est pas un foot. Then there’s Audrey, the one beautiful member of his family, who so far remains unseen. Maybe she’s screaming “I am not your daughter.” Maybe she’s stuck in the walls? And all the while the boy we assume is Audrey’s son, Richard (Eamon Farren), is sucking the light from the world, a vampire for glow.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10. Richard Horne (Eamon Farren).


Richard, on the run after hitting and killing a child in his giant truck, goes to “talk” to the witness who recognized him: Miriam (Sarah Jean Long), who lives in the Fat Trout Trailer Park, in a mobile bachelorette pad the color of chewed mint gum. From behind a screen door, Miriam says she’s just mailed a letter to Sheriff Truman about how Richard’s a murderer, and so if anything is done to her, they’ll know who did it. Does she not have power in her apartment? Where is the phone? Why didn’t she email? Her pride in doing the right thing is as tragic as any hamartia. He bashes in her head, opens the gas stove, and lights a candle, and leaving the scene he phones a dirty cop at the Sheriff’s Department about stopping the letter. Next stop: Grandma’s, to get cash. Using his words as well as his hands, he brutalizes a crying Sylvia and a pathologically speechless Johnny while Johnny’s only friend, a roboticized teddy bear with a white-lit plastic globe for a head, on it a Sharpie’d cartoon face, says “Hello Johnny. How are you?” on repeat. Like something dredged up from an abandoned student film in Lynch’s basement, this stupid and annoying bear, who is also not cute, affronts in two ways—one as a bad response to monstrosity, the other as a gesture or grace note of surreality where surrealism has long since evolved.

The Surrealists prefigured with a curious, justified horror the future extreme cleavings of man and machine. Salvador and Gala Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst took turns guessing at the nature, the effect of these transmogrifications, going so far as to summon the “thinking machines” that Alan Turing would later make plausible. Otto Neurath, a philosopher born the same year as Germaine Dulac, wrote that a “thinking machine” like the “logic piano,” conceived by the nineteenth-century logician William Stanley Jevons to instrumentalize syllogistic methods, would allow for “syntax to be formulated and logical errors automatically avoided” so that “the machine would not even be able to write the sentence: Two times red is hard.” Hours after reading this, I had to look up the passages again, as the only thing I could remember was that two times red is hard. My iPhone has helped make remembering irrelevant over time. Nothing replaces the unpredictable. But predictive text and text-bots still can get it “wrong,” produce striking accidents of wording, and make us second-guess, as if we’ve misspoken at the shrink’s office, what we meant to say.

Two times red. What would it mean? A pair of red shoes, as worn at one time or another by almost every leading lady in a Lynch piece. Laura Dern as Lula Fortune in Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) wears low-heeled red pumps in a rape scene, clicking her heels to disassociate. As Diane she wears red flats, and reconnects with her men. In another waiting room, at a police station in Vegas, Janey-E (Naomi Watts) wears red flats and wishes that the man she calls Dougie (MacLachlan) would come back to himself, or at least to her bed, while the audience wishes the man we know as Cooper would return to being… the man we know as Cooper. A sip of fresh coffee inches him nearer awareness, so we follow his widened eyes to an American flag, whereupon an instrumental “America the Beautiful” plays faintly from the back of his mind; to a woman’s white calves in red high-heeled pumps, recalling the shoes Audrey wore to seduce him twenty-seven years ago; and to an empty power socket in the wall. Symbolism, not that it matters. He can’t connect these saturated images to the source, the power fails. Maybe the socket, which looks like an expressionless face up close, isn’t working, is unwired the way eventually all sockets will be, the new empty telephone booths. Lynch’s nostalgia is essentially for the heyday of advertising, when everyone seemed to know that red was for sex, also known as danger, whereas now red can mean seven different things, almost nothing.

At the same time, he’s grasped exactly how real the internet is, real not as reality but as dreams, realest at the moment you disconnect, awake, and wonder where you’ve been and for how long. Although now we’re all tossing and turning, unsure whether we are on or offline at any given time, and unwilling to get out of the (metaphorical, sorry) bed. Online the reality level hovers somewhere between that of one’s own dreams (high or low, depending on what and how you dream, and where) and that of other people’s dreams (very low), and like a dream wherein everyone we know looks entirely different from life and yet is somehow recognizable, the experience of being with others online deranges the contents of our heads, making new content, but we are not required to find it meaningful, or act upon whatever meanings we find there. “Internet Art” or “Post-Internet Art” has seemed since its dubious inception to be essentially surrealistic, picking up on the millennial habit of “being random” and taking it to new levels of senseless and ugly juxtaposition, objects flying everywhere, text doing little to identify. Artforum’s Surrealism issue of 1966 invented the Post-Internet aesthetic before there was internet, with its cover designed by Ed Ruscha: “Surrealism” in block letters of filtered sunset orange with a massive drop shadow on a background of yellowy-green and cyan soap bubbles, fulgid like iridescent crocodile skin on a handbag.

  • Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).

  • Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9.

  • Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).

Annette Michelson in her essay on Breton et al, published in that issue, defines what Surrealists were doing, and (to me) what Lynch is doing on Twin Peaks: The Return, a show meant to be watched with your phone turned off, if ever there was one:

[T]he linking of dream and waking state, of the “communicating vessels” [an apparatus for keeping a homogenous liquid at the same level across different and differently shaped containers, for instance the head and the body, the unconscious and the conscious, in Breton’s metaphorization of the term] pre-supposed their prior discreteness, and an opposition (among many) which can be bridged, modified, but never really abolished, whether in art or in action. A notion of the “noumenal” persists. Surrealist thinking is haunted by demons and old ghosts such as a “transcendence,” subjected periodically to rituals of exorcism, but never quite dispelled.

We cannot say that Cooper will ever be fully present. We can guess, if we’re looking to be satisfied, that Miriam’s letter will eventually arrive in the right hands, the way those missing pages of Laura Palmer’s diary appeared at last. And we know that her account, partly because it is delivered after her death, and the dead don’t lie, will be believed as Laura’s dreams are believed. Ditto a message from Major Briggs, sealed for years in a gadget only his son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) knows how to open, and written in a private language only Bobby knows how to read. I never thought I’d type the words “Bobby knows how to read,” but it’s a beautiful thing. Hastings breaks down and reveals his most deeply held secret: He has a blog, The Search for The Zone, whereon he and Ruth took “multidimensional time travel” and “dark matter” with utmost seriousness; and apparently, before she died, she met the Major. More than the wireless-enabled romances between old characters, or the inside jokes, the credence Lynch gives to this preposterous blog is a gift to all the out-there fans who turned the original Twin Peaks into a message-board sensation. Fans today on Reddit and Twitter are the people who think out loud and puzzle so Cooper doesn’t have to, the people who constitute one big and lively thinking machine.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s previous recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 1 & 2
Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7
Episode 8

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Mister Universo, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 90 minutes. Tairo (Tairo Caroli).


TIZZA COVI AND RAINER FRIMMEL’S MISTER UNIVERSO, a simple, modestly-scaled road movie made with delicacy and feeling, centers on the quite self-centered Tairo Caroli, a lion tamer in a small Italian circus who is in the habit of having his commands followed. We are introduced to Tairo preening in the mirror before a performance—he’s handsome if a little husky in his sequined shirt, still carrying some baby fat. Though Tairo makes his living stepping into a cage with big jungle cats to whom he plays “Daddy,” there is still much of the little boy about him, the tantrum-prone brat who bedevils his enemies with a slingshot.

Though Tairo enjoys mocking “circus people beliefs”—the salt over the shoulder, the greasy pack of Tarot cards—he’s superstitious in his own way, too. He has a prized lucky charm, an iron bar that was bent for him by the Guadeloupean-French bodybuilder Arthur Robin, a 1957 Mister Universe–turned–circus strongman. When Tairo’s charm disappears one day, he discovers he can’t work without it—so he sets out to find Robin and have it replaced, a mission that will have him crisscrossing Italy on the man’s trail.

Tairo can’t afford much more bad luck, nor can his troupe—Mister Universo arrives in the United States shortly after the Ringling Bros. circus train rolled out the station for the last time after 146 years, and throughout the film gives a sense of the entire enterprise being on the precipice. We see the director of Tairo’s circus complaining of impending bankruptcy. Tairo has recently lost Rambo, one of his tigers, to stomach cancer, and bemoans the impossibility of doing his act with only four animals. Wendy, the redheaded contortionist to who Tairo pays court, complains that she’ll have to switch jobs because of back problems. Covi and Frimmel are describing the prospects of modern circus folk, but their film could be about any struggling show-biz concern. The milieu of the small circus is one which filmmakers—especially Europeans—have historically turned to reflect on their own practice, Jacques Rivette’s final film, 2009’s Around a Small Mountain, being a superlative example. That a direct relationship exists between the fate of the circus and that of the long-beleaguered Italian cinema is clear when Tairo pays a visit to his mother and finds his stepfather going over a script with a forty-year-old trained chimpanzee who boasts screen credits for Federico Fellini and Dario Argento—names which haven’t recently been equaled for international fame.

Covi and Frimmel, an Italian and an Austrian, have been quietly running their own workshop for nearly twenty years, collaborating on documentary and fiction projects—though the delineation between the two is quite deliberately muddied. Mister Universo revisits the circus folk of their 2005 Babooska and 2009 La Pivellina—in fact some of the same personnel are on hand from both films, including Tairo, who appeared in the latter. As in La Pivellina, the performers work under their own names, doing their real jobs—on YouTube you can find Wendy Weber, who plays Wendy, performing her crazy crabwalks to Britney Spears’s “Toxic” with the Rony Roller Circus of Rome. And while the scenarios have been provided by Covi—she also does sound duties, while Frimmel handles the camera—the dialogues are entirely improvised. Tairo’s travels through Italy, on Robin’s tail, were shot chronologically, and the extended family members who he visits and mooches off are in fact Tairo’s extended family—this may go some way to explaining the general air of relaxation to the banter, free of the anxiety that often afflicts improv. Similarly, the film’s few ventures into visual metaphor, playing variations on the image of running upstream

Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Mister Universo, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 90 minutes. Wendy (Wendy Weber).


The connection that Covi and Frimmel have to the circus people is long and profound—their first work together was doing photographic surveys of small circuses, and they have kept acquaintances made during these tours alive in the interceding years, including one with Robin, who is here appearing in his first film at age eighty-eight, a figure of effortless gravity, at once imposing and clearly, affectingly slowed by inevitable age. In their evident respect for their subjects, the intimacy with which they capture them, and in their docufiction approach, Covi and Frimmel might be considered alongside the Italian-American Roberto Minervini. But while Minervini, in his excellent The Other Side (2015), is working in a mode of willful social significance, capturing the prevalent pastimes and attitudes of Duck Dynasty America, Covi and Frimmel are decidedly minor-key artists, betting heavily on the intrinsic charm of their stars to carry their work. I suspect that they aren’t better known because, based on a limited sample, their movies fall somewhat awkwardly between the established poles that dominate film culture—their style is rough-edged, observational, and generally in the neo-neorealist tradition of the “art film,” but their appeal is mostly human and emotional, something that the sophistos tend to recoil from when not couched in terms of condescending pity.

Mister Universo is largely dedicated to the observation of Tairo’s off-the-cuff behavior, revolving around him to reveal different facets of his prickly, fussy, rather strange personality. He is winningly playful and effortlessly wonderful with children, who he treats as equals. He also is frequently a pain in the ass and, as we see in a moment of conflict with Indian and Romanian coworkers and neighbors, a bit of an Italian chauvinist. His puffed-up ego is transparently a form of self-defense, and makes for an easy target. Though he’s working at a failing show with ailing and aging animals, he persists in carrying himself as though he’s glamorous Gunther Gebel-Williams reincarnate, a moody, haughty little hothead who soaks up the hospitality that he’s greeted with on his travels as though it was a birthright. This changes perceptibly when he finally locates Robin, whose mere presence seems to compel him to be helpful for the first time in what we’ve seen of his life, returning him to the circus with his balance and confidence restored.

This gives you an idea of the big picture, but the movie is in the fine brushwork. It’s a string of finely rendered domestic vignettes filmed around the circus camp and in a series of Tairo’s house calls, most of which find him raiding a fridge or cupboard. That Covi and Frimmel are working with accustomed performers works very much to the duo’s favor, and their star is a natural, relaxed screen presence with an instinct for embroidering scenes with little bits of business like mocking another performer’s workout barbell reps by doing concentration curls with a puppy.

I suspect it’s to catch little moments like this, or tossed-off folksy phrases, or the uncommented-on sight of someone sauntering through the circus campgrounds wearing a Mickey Mouse costume head, that inspired Covi and Frimmel to make their movie. This, and something else, too. In a pop culture environment where a few venerated, bankable superstars dominate the conversation, Mister Universo may be a tribute to the endangered middle-class workaday entertainer: the peripatetic circus performer, the aging bodybuilder, the performing chimp, the one-hit wonder crooner, or even the film lab worker—Mister Universo carries a dedication to those who have lost their job because of digitalization. These are the people that Covi and Frimmel gently recommend to a viewer’s attention in their warm and worthy film, which I recommend to yours.

Nick Pinkerton

Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel’s Mister Universo has its US theatrical premiere Friday, July 21 at Anthology Film Archives in New York. Covi and Frimmel’s 2014 film The Photographer in Front of the Camera has a special screening at Anthology on Thursday, July 20 at 7 PM and Sunday, July 23 at 9 PM.

Super Mario

07.14.17

Mario Bava, Kill, Baby... Kill!, 1966, 35 mm, color, sound, 83 minutes.


THE CINEMATOGRAPHER-TURNED-DIRECTOR is a dicey proposition: For every success story like Jack Cardiff or Nicolas Roeg there’s a Gordon Willis’s Windows (1980) or a Christopher Doyle’s Warsaw Dark (2009) or other examples that aren’t even distinguished by true awfulness. And then there is the curious case of the Italian Mario Bava, whose cinema is so radically, disorientingly, sumptuously eye-filling that I all but gave up trying to categorize it years ago. These films are beyond understood categories of taste—they merely are.

The newly refurbished Quad Cinema on West Thirteenth Street is currently ending a weeklong run of a 2K DCP restoration of Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966) by Kino Lorber—as ever in such cases, I endorse waiting for the Blu-ray—but this is only an amuse-bouche before the main course, a twenty-film retrospective including thirteen 35-mm prints, which is sure to swell the ranks of the already robust Bava cult. To watch one of these movies is to enter a frothy Rococo construction, the monument of a mad king, an environment swarming with cornea-searing colors, ornate statuary, and bizarre outcroppings serving uncertain purpose. Before such appearance of excrescence, it is tempting to throw up one’s hands.

This is not to say that Bava is immune to serious study—the critic Tim Lucas, for example, has made the hermeneutics of Bava something like his life’s work—but most subjects will submit to delirium before analysis can begin. Because his camerawork is so strong and self-assured and his visual syntax so deeply strange, I suspect that Bava has more fans among filmmakers than among cultural journalists. Martin Scorsese has namechecked Bava often, never more than when promoting his Shutter Island (2010), observing how the director managed the appearance of excess with a minimum of means, through his “use of less being more, of a little bit of mist, a twisted branch, that sort of thing.” His impact on Italian pop cinema is enormous, and he is widely regarded as having inaugurated the genre of giallo suspense-thrillers with his 1963 Hitchcock pastiche The Girl Who Knew Too Much—playing the Quad’s program in recut and rescored American version Evil Eye, alongside his Blood and Black Lace from the following year, an equally influential body-count thriller that makes prominent use of what would become a trope in the hands of acolytes like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci: the stalker POV, with a black-gloved hand wielding the killing tool in the foreground. Tracking the trail of bodies amassed at a fashion house, Bava here helped to create the template for the 1970s “slasher” film, further refined in his Bay of Blood (1971), a ludicrously plotted whodunit that takes place in a contemporary Italy of total iniquity, features a quartet of promiscuous youths being led to the slaughter, and is brought to an unceremonious end by some tykes playing with a shotgun.

Mario Bava, La maschera del demonio (Black Sunday), 1960, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 87 minutes.


The effusive quality of Bava’s films may be linked to the fact that he was, as a director, something of a late bloomer, and was therefore making up for lost time. He came to the job with about as comprehensive a cinematic education as any filmmaker in history—his father, Eugenio, assayed his abilities as a sculptor into special-effects photography, and he took young Mario to work with him at the Instituto LUCE studios, founded by Benito Mussolini. The junior Bava eagerly learned every bit of business there was to learn around a set, and in 1939 landed his first credit as a cinematographer on a propaganda short called The Bullying Turkey, directed by a young Roberto Rossellini.

Working through much the same period, Rossellini and Bava operated on very different sides of the tracks—Rossellini for many years produced what would be designated “art-house” cinema, while Bava, first as DP, then as director, rode every wave of pop cinema that came down the Tiber. At the Quad, you can see two of his ventures into peplum (sword-and-sandal action), Hercules in the Haunted World and Erik the Conqueror (both 1961); the mid-’60s sci-fi sex comedy Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), starring Vincent Price and singer Fabian; the spy-thriller whatsit Danger: Diabolik (1968); a credible spaghetti western, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970); and a crazed, claustrophobic take on the polizioteschi (police thriller), Rabid Dogs (1974).

It was a multifaceted career, but Bava’s name will be forever most closely connected to the efforts he made in the horror genre, beginning with 1960’s Black Sunday, made for the Gallatea studio and released when Bava was forty-six years old. A gothic horror set in seventeenth-century Moldavia which features the most beautifully sculpted black-and-white photography you’ll find without a John Alton credit, it earned a bundle of money worldwide, gave Tim Burton his fog-and-gnarled-trees aesthetic in one stop, and made star Barbara Steele—playing a witch who returns from a grisly death in a spiked “Mask of Satan”—the scream queen du jour. Bava went on to work with Boris Karloff on his anthology Black Sabbath, a film that boasts cinema’s looniest parting-shot gag, and directed Hammer Films mainstay Christopher Lee as an undead aristocrat in the lavender-and-lime tinted supernatural s/m thriller The Whip and the Body (both 1963).In the years to come, however, Bava was mostly left to work with no-names, has-beens, and the occasional midlevel talent like Telly Savalas or Edwige Fenech.

Mario Bava, Gli invasori (Erik the Conqueror), 1961, 16 mm, color, sound, 91 minutes.


In the absence of big stars, Bava fell back on his own technical genius: Mario Bava the showman, Mario Bava the atmospherist, Mario Bava the trick-shot artist and his amazing caroming camera. Bava’s Black Sunday appeared the same year as Michelangelo Antonioni’s revolutionary L’Avventura, and though it was assigned a very different level of cultural cachet, Bava’s film was in its own way also an essay on the possibilities of an unchained camera, one whose movements didn’t always need to be obeisant to what characters in the frame were doing. The décor in many of Bava’s contemporary-set movies suggests that he had a more than glancing acquaintance with gallery trends from Op to Pop—Danger: Diabolik, based on a comic series by Angela and Luciana Giussani, particularly has a Zip a Tone feel—though his “modernism” seems more intuitive than intellectual. At times he recalls no one so much as Josef von Sternberg in his gluttony for beauty and his devotion to creating a sense of depth in the film image through layering of textures or delineation of multiple distinct planes of space within a single frame. (Here he can be contrasted to contemporary hyperstylist Seijun Suzuki, half a world away in Japan, who was forever emphasizing the flatness of the screen plane.)

Bava was foremost an image-maker, and one tends to remember his cinema by moments rather than by films: a disembodied camera gliding through a great hall or crypt, usually whooshing by a floor-standing candelabra along the way; a human face distorted as it passes through various patches of theatrical gel light; a death rattle and a splash of blood red on a carpet of too-green grass. I have seen few of Bava’s films projected—a potentially transformative experience—but I will say that I often find them ravishing-but-lugubrious affairs, any tension courtesy of anticipating the maestro’s next coup de cinema rather than emotional engagement. Shoddy dubbing may at least be partly to blame. The aspect of 1960s Italian production that historically liberated the camera—shooting “MOS,” without synch sound—also tended to rob performers of their voices. Where many Italian filmmakers compensated by drawing on the rich national reserves of film composers, Bava films with distinctive scores—Stelvio Cipriani’s for Bay of Blood and Baron Blood (1972), for example—are the exceptions to a dreary rule. If Bava remains beloved of filmmakers today, though, it’s because every one of his films is a treasure trove of ideas about how to utilize light, color, and camera choreography in concert. To an extraordinary degree, he seems to have devoted his career to exploring the expressionistic possibilities suggested by the Sister Ruth meltdown scenes in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947).

Mario Bava, Shock (aka Beyond the Door II), 1977, 35 mm, color, sound, 95 minutes.


Learning his chops in black-and-white, Bava became a remarkable colorist by using shadow to limit his palette, and he was always eager to improve on nature when shooting outdoors. These abilities are seen to great advantage in Lisa and the Devil (1972), featuring Elke Sommer in a shocking lime-green ensemble—shades of a getup that Monica Vitti wears in Antonioni’s The Red Desert (1965)—as a tourist waylaid in perdition, with Savalas playing a Mephistophelean butler and practicing the lollipop-sucking bit of business that became his Kojak trademark. By all accounts Bava’s long understudy period forged him into an able improviser who could work miracles with nonexistent budgets, and he made one of his most sustained—if also atypical—films, Rabid Dogs, when completely backed into a corner, shooting the rancid little hostage thriller almost entirely inside the confines of a speeding vehicle.

Bava’s last years were marked by professional struggle, though he managed one final film, 1977’s Shock, codirected with son and longtime assistant Lamberto. It was a conscious passing on of the family business, as occurred between Eugenio and Mario decades earlier, and exemplary of the Renaissance atelier-like system on which the genius of Italian cinema rested— the system that produced this prodigious artisan, whose curious contraptions are still being stripped for parts.

Nick Pinkerton

“Mondo Bava” runs through July 25 at the Quad Cinema in New York.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 8.


FLAMMABLE AND INFLAMMABLE both mean “easy to burn,” though many people have tested their luck by reading inflammable as “fire-proof.” Flammable is, in one sense, how Lynch pronounces human. On the eighth and finest hour of Twin Peaks: The Return, his elegant pyrotechnics commemorate the birth of today’s America, and a near-wordless script shows that whether you describe a monstrous act as human or inhuman, you are right. But you are not trying to be right, you’re trying to be sincere, an effort so helpless as to defer meaning. Igor Stravinsky, a man so depraved he once asked the Nazis—nicely—to unban his works, felt sincerity in art to be “a sine qua non that at the same time guarantees nothing.”

That there are no more guarantees in Lynch’s late direction is obvious. Ditto that this eighteen-part limited series, a presumptive sinecure for Lynch that he took as a gamble instead, has proved auteurs are so necessary. I knew as soon as the “retired” filmmaker signed on with Showtime, having shrugged off the network’s first offer, and demanded, in addition to full control, a bigger budget, that The Return would be great. Why else would I recap a television show, a task for which the term “armchair critic” was designed, and which is, accordingly, thankless and useless!? Prepared to be wowed, I still wasn’t ready for the unplugged rage and beauty of this episode, titled—I forgot the episodes have titles, but this one is very good—“The Last Evening.” Stravinsky would find it pleasurable. I did not. I recommend watching it twice.

The first thing that happens has happened before. On the eighth episode of the original Twin Peaks (1990–91), Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) opens the door to his room at the Great Northern only to be greeted by Josie Packard (Joan Chen), the shenanigans-loving owner of the Packard Sawmill, with a gun and three bullets to his chest. Now, five minutes into part eight of The Return, a friend named Ray (some friend) turns around on Mr. C, Cooper’s apparent doppelganger, and shoots him thrice. He dies, which is a shame because he just got out of prison. Ray (George Griffith) feels fine about it. But lo, from the woods emerge phantasms in sackcloth and ashes, or regular clothes they haven’t washed in decades. The Woodsmen, as they’re called in the credits, swarm around the body, making a performance out of exorcism or resuscitation, until the face of BOB appears in an amniotic bubble drawn from Mr. C’s chest. Ray drives off.

Interlude: Nine Inch Nails, live at the old roadhouse, play their 2016 song “She’s Gone Away.” Trent Reznor excellently impersonates a screaming BOB. The track sounds like it features a large elephant, but no elephant is to be seen. Mysterious.

Cooper sits up in a jolt.

Nine Inch Nails performs “She’s Gone Away” on episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return.

Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring for the Ballets Russes’s Paris season at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29, 1913, a year and two months before Germany declared war on France. There were riots, and (mocking?) calls for a doctor. There were objections to the story, about a young woman who voluntarily dances herself to death in a needed sacrifice to the renewing world; to the frustrating score, which one critic exclaimed “always goes to the note next to the one you expect,” and the concussive or even seizure-like rhythms; and to the dancing, by Nijinsky, so inconcinnus, visceral. Twenty-five years later, the Manhattan Project began with the discovery of nuclear fission, and a year after that World War II began. Then The Rite of Spring made perfect sense.

Imagine having been a child in the jaundiced dawn of the Atomic Age, anticipating the death of all you’d known, the reality at Hiroshima and Nagasaki transposed on your Manhattan, or your Missoula, Montana. Imagine seeing one photograph in particular, depicting the instant shared death of a hundred thousand people and thinking, “I have an idea.” Seeing a perfect image in . . . a mushroom cloud, and making it your own. Who is so outrageous? Sylvia Plath? Bruce Conner? I would kill someone to have that kind of brain, which is why God didn’t give it to me. He gave it to Lynch, who reappears on The Return as FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, now with a fancier office, and behind his wide desk, as we saw in the third hour, a wider black-and-white photograph of a nuclear blast. Five hours later, this completely inappropriate decorating choice is explained.

We go to the first detonation of an atomic bomb, in White Sands, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, at 5:45 AM (MWT). The date and time, with its stressed specificity, is like an evangelical’s save-the-date for this year’s doomsday. The Trinity Test we are about to see did in fact take place, but a shimmer of unlikelihood, like this is unbelievable, remains. The cloud mushrooms and swallows the camera, so it feels like we’re shrinking, like Alice in . . . Hell. The colors are too much for words: imperial purple, incarnadine orange, gold. (Lynch, in his wonderfully inadequate explanation for dissecting a stranger’s recently deceased cat in his basement, said that “when I opened up the inside, it was unbelievable—the organs inside the cat were brilliant colors, and as soon as the air got to them, all the color started draining out, right before your eyes.”) The rest of the episode is in lambent black-and-white, as in Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). There are quivering shots, almost stills, displaying staticky, patterned abstractions that look like Ross Bleckner’s paintings after AIDS. Bleckner has said that the disease, with its radioactive threat, was “a total paradigm shift in consciousness, a rupture.”

The vertiginous cinematography, the sensation of falling through a long telescope, and the upheaving sound track—Penderecki’s 1960 “Threnody to the Victims at Hiroshima”—could make anyone remember Stanley Kubrick, particularly his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Remember, too, the strange love is mutual: Kubrick screened Eraserhead for the cast and crew of The Shining (1980), to set the mood.) The way certain images vibrate and rattle like in a skull, lighting up the brain like a pinball machine, makes me think about the similar cracked landscapes (deserts, casinos, labyrinthian motels) of Nina Menkes, the under-known auteur who shares with Lynch a devotion to Buñuel and Maya Deren, and to Jungian views on the underworld. Menkes once told an interviewer that she takes cues from a Gertrude Stein lecture, “What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them?,” which she paraphrased, saying, “If you re-create something, it doesn’t have the organic precision of the spontaneous moment of creation.” (This is one reason that remakes of most films, reboots of most television shows, are unwise no matter how welcome.)

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 8. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).


Why, seventy years after Stein, are there even fewer masterpieces per capita? Because generations of artists found it impossible to compete with a masterpiece, a “total paradigm shift in consciousness” like AIDS, or the A-Bomb. Lynch excels at creative recursion, starting with a simple, paradigmatic binary, the zero and one of dark and light, or Adam and Eve, that turns out to launch a Fibonacci spiral, and when he repeats himself it’s more like he never forgets. After the detonation, we see the Woodsmen at a convenience store and gas station, shuffling in stop-motion before drifting out like unstrung marionettes, a choreography recalling the sexless—automated but not easy—dancing we saw at the start of Mulholland Drive (2001), the chaste couples swinging off-time with their shadows. Nine years later, in the same area, a tumescent, hideous insect emerges from a small, mottled carapace that looks like the shit-talking wad of gum in the Black Lodge. A girl and a boy walk past the empty gas station; he asks whether she likes some song, she lets slip that she knows where he goes to school. What echoes is the meet-cute between Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) and Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), when Sandy “just knows” who he is. Reincarnation, hinted at where two people feel like they’ve known each other forever, is a funny principle, and more spontaneous in its way than creation, certainly a more unlikely and difficult principle for a creator to assume.

Meanwhile, on a two-lane road, a husband and wife stop the car so some Woodsmen can cross. One comes to the car, sticks his head in the window, and points with a cigarette. “Got a light?” he says, his voice a cello bow scraped across a rock face. “Got a light?” At a radio station the DJ is playing a song and his secretary is busy. A mechanic listens while burning the midnight oil; a waitress while cleaning up at the diner; and the girl in her flowered bedroom, dreaming about the boy she just kissed. When the twilight has gone, the song goes, and no songbirds are singing. The Woodsman enters the station, and the secretary moves toward him in an awful trance. “Got a light?” he says, but by now it is evident that nobody has a goddamn lighter.

The Woodsman begins to crush skulls, killing first the secretary, then the DJ. Lynch opened Wild at Heart (1990) with Sailor (Nicolas Cage) crushing a man’s skull in much the same way, like saying, “It’s not all in your head now, is it.” This is not the best way to communicate, but it does grant the Woodsman access to more listeners, and taking the DJ’s microphone, he prophesies:

This is the water,
and this is the well . . .

The horse is the white of the eyes,
and dark within.

Someone whose primary reaction to the surreal is to say, “Whoaaaa,” and then nothing, eliminating hassles of the mind by believing “the work speaks for itself,” will take the sequence to be mere proof that Lynch explodes brains. Someone more inclined to believe that the work speaks about itself will recognize the white horse from Sarah Palmer’s premonitions and the Red Room, a harbinger of death—like in the Book of Revelation, and more ambiguously in Godard’s King Lear (1987, another ultimate late film). I’m nervous about being spoken to, but I have some old-fashioned faith in pure symbolism: what a white horse means to a girl who cannot dream of riding one. Death is too near life to be symbolized, but a dying wish, or even a death wish, can be a symbol—if it can be nothing else.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 8.


Maybe the best thing about Lynch is his absolute refusal to leave America. When he is not on earth, he is still in America; when he is dreaming, he is still in America. Mid-episode, between 1945 and 1956 on the clock, he takes us across a livid sea to a Streamline Moderne kind of castle, where the Giant (Carel Struycken) lives with a silent woman (Leslie Berger), made up for a silent film, in sequins. A gramophone, the jacquard clamshell settee, the Tiffany lamps, all telegraph the Jazz Age, while the crepitant electricity takes me back to the night Frankenstein’s bride was born, in the mid-1930s. A spotlight follows the woman who follows the Giant across the empty floor of a theater, going right up to the screen, where the explosion, the stars, the gas station, the face of BOB on an asteroid, all we saw, replays to the Giant’s astonishment. He levitates and issues from his eyeballs a primordial gold light and dust (like we saw when the little boy dies on the street in the sixth hour), followed by a golden orb (like the one formed from the body of Dougie Jones when he trades places with Cooper in the Red Room). The orb bears Laura Palmer’s face, mirroring the asteroid as if she and BOB were obverse, but they’re also separate, equal and whole. Lynch does not have to follow Marguerite Duras to Hiroshima to get to the other side. He locates (in)humanity at the test site, where for two hundred miles around there was no human presence: a void, in other words, where a nation usurped its own God so there was no one else left to blame for evil.

“The real question this episode asks,” says the critic Sean T. Collins for Rolling Stone, “is no more or less than the one pilot Robert A. Lewis asked [somewhat apocryphally] when he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: My god, what have we done?” Lewis said that as long as he lived, he would never forget those few minutes. He never attended a reunion of the flight crew. He spent the rest of his life working in a candy factory, a common way to make a good living, but one that, reduced to a biographical footnote, reads like an overstatement on manufacturing innocence. Lynch and Frost could have written a man like Lewis, a sweet man, no doubt, who died of a plain old heart attack, a touch on the young side. How dare we go on, is the follow-up question, and how do we?

The Woodsman’s words make the waitress faint at the diner and the mechanic collapse while the engine runs. The girl only sleeps. The insect comes to her open window, and her mouth opens, so it crawls in. I guess she could have let him in devil-like by having succumbed to temptation with a boy, but really the sin is of the father, the scene incestuous, as ever with Lynch.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s previous recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 1 & 2
Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

David Lowery, A Ghost Story, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 93 minutes. Rooney Mara. Photo: Bret Curry.


TO ATTEND ONE’S OWN FUNERAL, hiding in the church gallery, like Tom Sawyer and Joe, is a cherished American boyhood dream, and something close to the jumping-off point for David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, a leap into the blue which lands very far from its point of origin.

The film stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a young couple, never named, whose life together in a suburban ranch-style house is cut short when he is killed in an automobile accident just a few feet from their driveway. She says her goodbyes to his cold body on the mortuary slab, but his soul, or something, isn’t quite ready to leave her. In a new, spectral form, a white shroud fixed with two pitch-black eyeholes, he follows her home, where, invisible, he watches over her in her period of mourning. Whatever satisfactions come from such voyeurism—the ghost’s cowl offers no change in expression—are fleeting. The ghost is tethered to his last address; the living move on. She sells the house, and he stays behind to wait for her return, through a succession of new owners, through the house’s demolition, through the total alteration of the landscape. As the movie proceeds, the ego gratification of Tom Sawyer’s fantasy is replaced by a feeling of speck-of-dust irrelevance. Life goes on without me, boy howdy does it ever!

A Ghost Story, shot on the outskirts of Dallas, is the fourth feature by Texas-raised Lowery, who has enjoyed a rapid rise in profile since 2009’s St. Nick, a gauzy, no-budget affair about preadolescent brother-and-sister drifters playing house in an abandoned shell of a home, a film strongly indicating Terence Malick’s influence and not much else. Lowery was soon on to larger projects, teaming with Mara and Affleck for the laborious, corncobby southern gothic pastiche Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), another tale of a man’s tireless fidelity to a woman’s image, and then making the unusual leap to Disney as a director-for-hire on last year’s remake of Pete’s Dragon. This small body of work is united by an interest in generating an atmosphere that has something of the fairy tale about it, while the Pete’s Dragon treatment of boy and his beast suggests that Lowery had been paying more attention to vintage Spielberg than to contemporary Malick’s turn for the kaleidoscopic. (At any rate, it’s more fun watching Lowery play Spielberg than watching Bong Joon-ho do so.)

The scuttlebutt surrounding A Ghost Story, which was rapturously received at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, is that this “secret project,” shot on the cheap and on the sly, was Lowery’s back-to-basics movie, a palette cleanser after venturing into blockbuster territory—his Nebraska or Red Headed Stranger or whatever you like. This is true enough in some respects: The movie has long passages without much in the way of discernible dialogue, is sparing and deliberate in its camera motions, and makes use of duration in a way rarely encountered in commercial cinema, as with the real-time sequence of Mara grief binging and purging an entire pie. It literally works with a small frame, shot in the boxy 1.33:1 Academy ratio and projected with rounded corners that may recall home movies or silent films, to which Lowery’s movie can claim some affinity—Affleck’s ghost has a series of wordless, desultory exchanges with a ghost at a neighboring house conducted in subtitles.

David Lowery, A Ghost Story, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 93 minutes. Photo: Bret Curry.


To call A Ghost Story a “small” movie, however, would be a deception. As it proceeds, its scope expands from the hushed intimacy of the few early scenes with Mara and Affleck to take a macro view, as Affleck’s silent sentinel witnesses centuries of future and past on the little piece of turf where he lived his last days on earth. Again, Spielberg provides a helpful point of reference, though here it’s not E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) but A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), with its epochal time frame and keening sense of abandonment.

While Lowery occasionally oversteps, underlining the sense of our protagonist’s abandonment with an emphatic, pathetic zoom out, his basic premise—the experience of impotently watching the world move on without you, with nothing but time in which to do so—is a conceptual gut-punch, and the treatment mostly allows him to work around the shortcomings of previous films on which he was lone screenwriter: a lack of humor, overwrought dialogue. He is far more at ease in the world of middle-class creatives here than he was with the outlaws of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and A Ghost Story fairly pulses with a tender regard for the precious fragility of any domestic shelter, from the frontier to the high-rise. After the movie I thought of the Grover’s Corners cemetery in Our Town, and I freely confess that it sent me homeward with a quickened step. (Despite its adventurous form, the appeal to sentiment will mark the movie as too middlebrow for some tastes, though Thornton Wilder was painted with the same brush.)

Mara and Affleck’s childless existence seems easy and unambitious, if not unhappy, sketched in a few scenes as defined by familiar tenderness ruffled by the occasional squabble. When the ghost later goes into a poltergeist fury, smashing dishes around the table of a young mother and her two children who have taken up residence in the house, one can only guess whether his rage has its basis in frustration at not having left some kids behind. Indeed, the ultimate vanity of imagining one’s legacy becomes the subject of an extended monologue, which stands out as an anomaly in a movie short on chitchat. It takes place at a party thrown by yet another new owner, and the speaker is Will Oldham, the recording artist and erstwhile star of Kelly Reichardt movies and Kanye West music videos who holds court on the ultimate extinction of man and the disappearance of all his works and sounds very much like a loquacious refugee from Richard Linklater’s Austin. Lowery’s father is a professor of theology at the University of Dallas, and this moment, which precedes a series of jarring time-line jumps, marks the movie’s shift to a more cosmic, philosophical perspective, suggesting that the writer-director spent plenty of time with his old man’s bookshelf. Among the young couple’s own books, a paperback appears with “The Grand Inquisitor” section of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which gives a clue to the role of Oldham’s speech—it’s a thorough and damning argument for total negation, buried deep in the heart of a larger but still ambiguous affirmation.

The vehicle of this affirmation—if indeed it is that—is a message that the Mara character writes on a scrap of paper and then jams into an interstice in an archway before painting over it, evoking a prayer wedged in the Western Wall. This is mirrored when the ghost suddenly finds himself in the pioneer era, watching the foundations of a house staked out on his home turf for the first time while a little girl places a drawing under a rock as a makeshift time capsule. Once Mara has left the ghost behind, we see him tirelessly scraping at the wall, trying to get hold of the note, a feat only managed once his purgatorial stay has gone full loop-the-loop on the time line. The bit of business with the note is transparently a device, a way to resolve an open-ended movie whose shooting was reportedly heavy on improvisation, but it works despite this, because it’s the right device. In Lowery’s film, the haunting spirit is rendered as a kind of castaway, his isolation here exacerbated by the fact of his abiding, incorporeal presence. Like many castaway stories going all the way back to Daniel Defoe, A Ghost Story is a confrontation with faith itself—and what would a castaway story be without a message in a bottle?

Nick Pinkerton

A Ghost Story opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, July 7.

Conrad Tao's mashup of Britney Spear's 2003 song “Everytime” with Angelo Badalamenti's theme for Twin Peaks.

THE SECOND-BEST USE of “Falling” outside the original Twin Peaks is on the fourth hour of Twin Peaks: The Return. Those vespertine keyboard notes, which used to go off with the regularity of an egg timer at an all-day diner, are saved until the moment you stop listening for them, and then: Officer Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) sees the portrait of Laura Palmer at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department and cries like he’s never cried in his life. He cries like he’s never seen the very first episode of Twin Peaks, the one where everybody—hilariously—cries, or like he’s on a Twin Peaks–themed Saturday Night Live skit. Only Bobby, the former football star and de facto ex-boyfriend to the homecoming queen, also the first and most innocent suspect in her murder, would get in on the joke twenty-seven years late.

The first-best use of “Falling” is in a demented mashup with the sad Britney Spears song “Everytime” (2003), made for fun by the composer Conrad Tao. Mashups are not often taste-affirming, but this one stays on your tongue: a razor blade in an apple baked into a tart, served with vanilla ice cream as cold as love (colder than death). I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of Britney being Laura, had only thought of her being Lolita, but duh. A Pitchfork writer did think of it: Tom Ewing, in a post about how her 2007 album Blackout sounds straight from the Black Lodge, wrote that “Palmer’s story is cliché—sour secrets of the suburban everygirl, virginal beauty off the rails—but it’s a cliché we have an endless appetite for: Witness the fascination with Britney Spears, and her messy life.” The exploding star’s “surrender of identity from track to track… to make individual songs more disorientating and thrilling” expresses what made Twin Peaks great, and “it wasn’t the central good-girl-gone-bad story, it was the strangeness liberated by the story.”

Britney co-wrote “Everytime” to get her boyfriend back. “Cry Me a River,” a massive hit for the single Justin Timberlake, turned rumors of her infidelity into widespread knowledge, and where another starlet (Mariah Carey then, Selena Gomez now) would have one-upped the allegations in a good-riddance banger, Britney, a heartbreakingly literal reader, responded in tears. Her concept for the music video, directed by David LaChapelle, involved an overdose, a drowning, and a reincarnation as a baby, but the record label wouldn’t let her die. (They should have hired our David.) The baby appeared as a more ambiguous symbol of rebirth, but seemed rather a harbinger: Within a year she was Mrs. Federline, and within three she was a barefoot, soon-to-be-single mom of two boys. She sold her Hollywood Hills mansion to Brittany Murphy, who lived there until she died in 2010. She bought and sold places in Malibu and New York City, then bought but could never resell a place on the edge of Mulholland Drive, a locale like “the lip of a pit, a vertiginous fall into destruction,” a Rolling Stone writer said. Though she did everything to stop being desirable, gaining weight, shaving her head, she was no less wanted (dead or alive). The Associated Press had twenty-two staffers on the Britney beat, and had her obituary prewritten. Dark nights she drove like Princess Di’s driver on Mulholland, daring paparazzi to finish the job. “I don’t know who you think I am, bitch,” Britney snapped at some fan at the mall, “but I’m not that person.” Paris Hilton nicknamed her “The Animal.”

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3.


Lynch likes to dance around the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, a famous thought experiment wherein a cat occupies a box, concealed from the viewer, containing death-triggers arranged to give it a fifty-fifty chance of survival, so that Kitty is both dead or alive, or either, until we look inside. Martha P. Nochimson, in her 2013 survey of quantum physics in his later films, David Lynch Swerves, suggests that while Schrödinger didn’t think the cat could be both, Lynch does. While making Eraserhead (1977), Lynch obtained a cat’s corpse from a veterinarian on the condition that the cat not appear, or be recognizable, in the film; we have never been told how he honored this condition, but it’s easy to think that the cat, preserved in formaldehyde, then dissected, helped form the inhuman baby birthed at the end. In The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990), the bestselling tie-in written by a twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Lynch, we read that the day Laura’s cat got run over (“I can’t believe someone could hit a cat like that, right in the middle of the day, and not tell someone”) turned into the night she first had sex, and felt black and hot and nowhere near good inside, sure as a teen can be that no one knew who she really was. Lynch, after Twin Peaks, has brought heroines from Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) to Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) ever closer to “superposition”—that is, being at once dark and light, particle and antiparticle, unknowing which form is her particular, original one.

The sixth and seventh hours of The Return bring us a long-missing piece of Laura’s diary, found by Hawk as the Lady’s Log predicted: in a funny, flimsy string of coincidences (a coin rolls under a bathroom stall door, a crack appears in the door) that signal his heritage. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) holds a page to the camera and reads aloud a dream in which Annie Blackburn, played by Heather Graham on Twin Peaks, and Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) are in the Black Lodge. Annie says that the real (good) Cooper can’t get out. This dream belongs to a future long gone and is the closest we’ve gotten to finding out how Annie’s doing. Laura wrote out her death before it happened. Maybe she also wrote her reincarnation. Reading along, we see that Truman skips one word, after the name Annie, in brackets: me??!!! Laura had never been seen in the same room as Annie, who spent five years in a convent after trying suicide, and Cooper only came to Twin Peaks after Laura was killed.

Graham was introduced to the show’s second season because Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Laura’s best friend Donna, was dating MacLachlan, and was annoyed by his on-screen romance with Sherilyn Fenn, who was already the fan favorite, as Audrey Horne. The show gave in, and Cooper got a girlfriend his own age. But Lynch as usual is getting his way in the end. Neither Boyle nor Graham is present or accounted for in The Return, while Sheryl Lee’s Laura appears in one form or another every hour, and Fenn’s reappearance has been promised at least a dozen times. As I’m given to wonder whether Laura is alive, whether she was Annie all along, or Annie her, I can hear Donna screaming in the cemetery: “You’re gone, Laura, but your problems keep hanging around! It’s almost like they didn’t bury you deep enough!”

Maybe the absence of Graham and Boyle isn’t so deep. Both actresses are a little too available, and would be dated and outclassed next to two arrivals: Watts, who has never looked stronger, and Dern. Both stars ascended via Lynch, and both do credible impressions of the boy scout from Missoula, with Dern emphasizing his backwards charm and vivifying, in-your-face ebullience, Watts his obstinate, encouraging screech.

Watts retains a trace sour-sweetness of that impression in her turn as Janey-E Jones, the long-suffering wife of Dougie, or Cooper, fending off anyone who’d make him suffer, too. There are the men to whom he owes a major gambling debt. Then there are the men, presumably hired by the vile Mr. C, also Cooper, who think his debt is eternal. When three indistinguishable policemen arrive at the offices of Lucky 777 Insurance with some questions about Dougie’s missing car, Janey-E is there to answer for him. Policeman number two asks if there’s a reason Dougie didn’t report it stolen. “Reason? Yeah, I’ll tell you a reason,” she snaps. “There’s more to life than cars.” Watts has a face so fine-formed as to convey a barely suppressed laughter at how mad she is, while getting still madder. “What were you going to do, break his legs?” she says when the bookies tell her how much Dougie owes. “Fifty thousand dollars is more than anyone can make, let alone with a broken leg.” They will take the twenty-eight grand Janey-E gives them, and they will be grateful. “Tough dame,” says one to the other.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).


“She’s a tough cookie, always has been,” says FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to his right-hand man Albert (Miguel Ferrara), thinking in admiration of Cooper’s ex-secretary, played by Dern. The actress is hardly recognizable when for the first time ever we see the mythic Diane, mid-forties, in a silver-white, obvious wig, with a freshly lit cigarette; it’s the way she holds it, tall and accusatory, that gives her away. In Dern’s second film with Lynch, the horrifying romantic comedy Wild at Heart (1990), she and her costar, Nicholas Cage, smoked constantly in so pronounced a fashion that the cigarettes were like tiny signal flares spelling out messages. Then as now, Dern looked hot from spitting distance, and up close, molten. “I like a woman who talks tough and… fucks like a bunny,” says Bobby Peru, a Latino gangster type whose middle name is Problematiqué, played in Wild at Heart by a moustachio’d Willem Dafoe, before he zanily rapes her.

What we know of Diane’s relationship to Cooper is very little, but what we remember best of Cooper was given straight to Diane. “Diane, I’m looking at a small box of chocolate bunnies,” or “I’m eating a wonderful cherry pie,” or “I’ve got to find out what these trees are,” the agent would say into his tape recorder, and the secretary, who would have been college-aged, got the tapes in the mail. One night after Cooper returned as other than himself, he went to see Diane and something happened. We better pray it wasn’t rape, which unlike murder can happen to you more than once, a statistical truth that eludes male filmmakers who treat it as life-changing, a breaking point.

Whatever it was, it’s enough. Cooper is imprisoned in the Dakotas? “Good.” The FBI needs her to see whether it’s really Cooper? “Fuck you, Gordon,” she says to Gordon. “Fuck you, Albert,” she says to Albert. A youngish female agent who, with her black patent pumps and pencil skirts, is given little actual work, tries to talk to Diane, and Diane politely asks her name: Tammy (Chrysta Bell). “Fuck you,” she says. “Tammy.” (Bell reacts as usual, blinking and widening her eyes and rolling her head, like a sexbot being reprogrammed. Everyone seems to agree that Tammy should get fucked.)

Diane’s scorn for older men and the babes who go along with them is insufficient to stop her curiosity, and she goes along too to South Dakota, dressed like a wonder. Her tight-fitted top looks sewn from the faux-silk leaves of a Christmas poinsettia. Her nails are painted each a different color, to match her outfit. Earrings rhyme on her ears. False lashes look like upended garden rakes. She carries a tapestried bag, a leopard-skin jacket, and a mini-bottle of vodka, bangles clattering with each unconcealed swig. After seeing the real bad Cooper, she can only drink more.

“It isn’t time passing,” Diane says in a sob to Gordon Cole. Actually, what she says, in her breaking lines, is like the bridge and the chorus in a plangent pop song.

It isn’t time passing
Or how he’s changed
Or the way he looks

It’s something here…
It’s something that definitely isn’t here

Jennifer Lynch did her own impression of David in her debut feature film, Boxing Helena (1993), starring Fenn as what else, a beautiful woman, held captive and amputated by a plastic surgeon (Bill Paxton). Lynch’s mom had a replica of the Venus de Milo in her living room, and both son and granddaughter were fascinated. Lynch Sr., in early hours of The Return, gave us a Venus in the Red Room with one arm disappearing and reappearing, perhaps corresponding to the new inhuman strength in Cooper’s arm, one trait shared by Mr. C and Dougie. Lynch Jr., interviewed in 2012, said she grew up noticing “people didn’t see [the Venus] as broken, they saw her as beautiful.” Inspirational quotes aside, it’s not very original to put a chick in a box, and Boxing Helena unpacked its metaphors clumsily, lacked brilliance, facetiousness. Still, had this been a Lynch or Cronenberg movie in that same year, there would have been protests and feminist remonstrations and bad, angry reviews, but with the apposite consequence, the devil-advocated redemption in cult status. A daughter who wants to please men and herself at the same time tends to seem less desirous than needy, and anyone’s open needs are hard to see (e.g. in Lynch’s Blue Velvet [1986], I find it harder to watch Isabella Rossellini beg to be held than to watch her be raped).

Elders who fail their children are a constant, discordant theme on Twin Peaks, cranked to eleven on The Return. Coop as Dougie bonds with Dougie’s son in a moment like the one in Paris, Texas (1984), when the man played by Harry Dean Stanton, having wandered for seven years in the desert and forgotten his name, reunites with his eight-year-old son. In The Return, Carl Rodd (also Harry Dean Stanton, now like a hundred years old) sits on a bench and sees a little kid, playing tag with his mother, get hit by a truck on the run. As the boy dies a gold mist rises upward, where a certain telephone pole, significant in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), bears the number six. Another boy is nearly blasted to bits by the car bomb planted for Dougie, while at home his drug-addicted mother (Hailey Benton Gates), chants 119 like 911 backwards.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).


Lynch uses numerological phenomena more for effect, and for a generalized sense of consequentiality, than for narrative’s sake. “In real life, there is no algebra,” said Audrey Horne twenty-seven years ago. “In evil, as in dreams, there are not multiple interpretations,” said Simone Weil before that. Lynch solves for evil, plain and simple. His relentless sensationalization of human-on-human crime serves an upbeat message, which is that violence is bad, and when violence is worse than bad, gratuitous, that too is the point. He refuses to lessen evil by making sense of it. Innocence heightens his propaganda, but whether a harmed child or woman, or less often a man, was ever that innocent doesn’t matter to his conception of harm-doing, the underlying fault. (That the man Leland Palmer killed was a lowlife suspected in his daughter’s death made no difference to Cooper: “Do you approve of murder, Doctor Hayward?” Lynch is not a doctor. He can’t stomach explanations. Nor is he a math man.)

At the end of the seventh hour of The Return, a guy sweeps the floor at a familiar roadhouse, owned by the Renaults. For two minutes and ten seconds, there’s only the sweeping. A phone rings. A Renault (Walter Olkewicz) answers, and hears that some exaggeration of fate has befallen two young prostitutes who report to him, girls who are definitely of age, definitely not a problem, he says, “two fifteen-year-old, straight-A whores.” I guess I shouldn’t be laughing. One reason Lynch gets away with his treatment of women is that the women aren’t crazy nor understood as such. Almost no one is crazy in his “strange worlds,” to quote MacLachlan and Dern in Blue Velvet, yet when specifically female characters are sane against the odds, women notice and grin. Being insane in this world is only natural, not an excuse. Britney knew, and didn’t pretend her beloved self was the real one, so that now when she’s a good mom, happy in pictures, she is also—at best—half here, half disappeared on Mulholland.

Who are we when we’re not ourselves? Who else could we possibly be? Lynch takes this possibility seriously. Who are you, screamed Laura at BOB, the killer possessing her dad, or maybe her real dad. Who are you, screams Diane at Mr. Cooper, perhaps the new BOB. Everyone wants to hear that evil is inhuman. Who wants to hear the answer: Me??!! So the answer’s withheld.

PS: It has to be said, and should have been said earlier, that I hate this show. I resent it; it takes over my mind. Walking through quondam neighborhoods of mine in New York, I notice that a mediocre French restaurant I loved, while looking exactly the same, has been renamed The Black Lodge. An ex-lover who doesn’t like the internet, doesn’t read my writing, and didn’t know there was a new Twin Peaks sent a text to say he just watched Blue Velvet and “for some reason” thought of me. (Maybe he goes on my Instagram.) A publishing house sends me a novel, The Incest Diary, anonymously penned by a woman who was raped—who seduced, she says sometimes, or let herself be screwed—by her father. Ray Wise, who plays Leland Palmer, once said of Lynch that “his take on life is weird because life is weird.” I always have looked for echoes.

A man using the name “David Lynch” starts emailing me from Washington, DC, where he runs a small bookstore and reads everything he can about Twin Peaks. At first he seems interested in discourse, accuses my reviews of having “more red herrings than the show.” When I stop responding, he sends plaintive follow-ups: “kitten?”

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.