Saturday, February 24, 2018

Wisdom Fail

I used to be reckless in the workshop. I cut on instinct, not bothering to measure anything. One day, I accidentally decapitated myself. Luckily, I had cheats enabled so my head grew back real quicklike. But I had learned my lesson. I made sure to measure twice, cut once. I did that for fourteen years until I remembered, "Oh yeah! I still got cheats enabled." So I just started cutting my head off, regrowing it, cutting it off-had myself a real good time. Still am.

Copyright 2018 by William D. Tucker. All rights reserved. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Lynch Meditations 9: Twin Peaks Broadcast Pilot (1990)

"She's filled with secrets."

Logging machinery sharpens its own teeth as the music of mystery plays.

An endless parade of actor names blink on to the screen-how many people are in this show? What kind of a name is 'Ontkean?' Is that the name of a murderer?

A sad and beautiful woman puts on makeup in front of a mirror only to turn towards the camera just so-as though she were suddenly aware of the camera, and now cheating out to the audience to reveal an eerily powdered face.

A fisherman kisses his hand and touches his wife's ear before going out to the shore to discover a woman's corpse wrapped in plastic.

The police show up to take pictures of the corpse, make a preliminary identification, and a tall, goofy looking cop weeps openly despite the admonitions of his superior to handle his business. Apparently, this policeman weeps at the sight of the fallen.

The cops try to keep a lid on the news of the identity of the murdered young woman, carefully regulating the dissemination of the information to the immediate family . . .

. . . but soon enough the word gets out: Laura Palmer has died. And the specter of grief prowls the community of Twin Peaks bringing shock and tears to many who learn of Laura's death. Apparently, this young woman was well regarded in her home town. She was popular, beautiful, smart, the golden child.

Of course, this is all revealed to be partially a facade of perfectionism covering soul-deep misery, uncertainty, and a fear of secret, all-consuming evil, but this first episode concentrates on the ripples of grief and heartbreak emanating in all directions from the carefully wrapped corpse of Laura, what her death means symbolically to those who knew her or knew of her. Her death is a small town version of the murder of JFK: a catalyst for bringing to the surface deep-seated conflicts that go beyond the mere mechanics of murder-of an aggressor taking the life of their victim-and into the realm of metaphysical conspiracy.

When an admired person is senselessly killed, we struggle to make sense of why such a person had to die and in such a pointless, brutal fashion. Surely there must be some larger significance than the anger and entitlement of the perpetrator triumphing over the life of the victim. A lone asshole with a gun-Lee Harvey Oswald-murdered an American president, and we, as a nation, have never been able to live that down. How can one miserable piece of shit strike so deep into the heart of the nation all on his own? Surely there must be some far-flung conspiracy, some allegorical significance?

But in America, lone pieces of shit with guns strike deep into the national heart all the time, usually by slaughtering scores of unarmed children attending public schools. Sane gun control would pretty much end these crimes, but American society is infected with an irrational belief in a kind of interpersonal militarism that mandates that each person is all alone and must provide for their own security at all times by becoming a soldier in the army of one ready to shoot anyone who poses a threat at all times . . . but I digress.

Twin Peaks is a fictional construct, and so it is, by design, full of secrets, constructed to be rich with internally logical allegory and symbolism, and, yes, Laura Palmer's death is not just another sad and sickening outcome of America's longstanding culture of violence toward women-indeed, she will be revealed to be at the nexus of a vast metaphysical struggle worthy of George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien.

But in this first episode, we have yet to rocket off into the realms of high Lynchian weirdness. We are essentially presented with a realistic, if quirky, police procedural involving a joint FBI-Twin Peaks PD investigation into Laura Palmer's murder. The large cast of characters-all those names popping up in the opening credits-exist to give various layers of depth to the story, to allow a nuanced, meandering exploration of the ripple effects of grief, and to provide a wide array of possible suspects within the mainline murder mystery plot.

This pilot episode runs about ninety-three minutes, and almost plays as a self-contained feature-length film, save for its cliffhanger ending, and abundance of characters and clues which have yet to be satisfactorily paid off by episode's end. The pilot assembles a large cast, and establishes a distinctive look and tone with simple, direct filmmaking. It isn't nearly as weird as the episodes to come-this is the David Lynch that would go on to make The Straight Story, not so much the Lynch of Wild At Heart, Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., or Inland Empire.

But the weirdness is coming.

In fact, there's another version of this pilot-a misbegotten twin that leaned hard into the desire for tidy endings in order to secure a release as a stand alone movie for European television . . .

NEXT: 2/26/18: Twin Peaks Pilot: Alternate International Version (1990)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Lynch Meditations -9

I first watched some out of order episodes of Twin Peaks on cable TV when I was a teenager. I didn't quite know what the hell was going on, but I got the drift. I tracked down Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on VHS, watched it, loved it, and realized I had to see the rest of the series.

You might already be aware of this . . . but Fire Walk With Me basically gives away the entire mystery of Twin Peaks. It's also a grotesque and confusing piece of cinema. I loved every minute of it.

I finally ordered the VHS collection of Twin Peaks right as I was graduating high school. It featured every episode-except the pilot-recorded in glorious Extended Play (EP) format. The quality was shit, but not unwatchable. I had to tape the pilot, which was unavailable on VHS for some reason at that time, off of cable. Later, I dubbed a rental copy VHS release of the international version of the pilot episode, and so I had, on a variety of shitty VHS tapes, a piecemeal Twin Peaks Perfect Collection. 

As much as I rag on the VHS format-because it fucking sucks-I could not stop watching Twin Peaks once I got started-even watching crummy EP picture and sound quality. At that time, it was my first experience watching a long-form TV show from beginning to end. I hadn't even watched an anime series from beginning to end at that point. I couldn't get enough. I even liked all the Second Season shit with the boring dude on the motorcycle. That's how good this show was: it transcended the scuzziness of the VHS format to fire a beam of art directly into the center of my brain mass.

Some years later, I tried re-watching Twin Peaks on DVD, and I couldn't even get all the way through the pilot. Not because I disliked it, but more because my memories of the show were already so vivid. I didn't need to re-burn 'em into my brain. Now, I've watched Fire Walk With Me a number of times, because it remains a mystery to me, and also, probably, because I'm a twisted fuck . . . but I'll get to Fire Walk With Me down the road . . . but Twin Peaks has always stayed with me since the VHS viewings. That's how good this show is-it gets you the first time, doesn't need a second shot at your heart.

So . . . I don't think I'm going to re-watch the whole series. I don't have the time. My disdain for TV has only grown over the years, although I keep hearing that it's some kind of a New Golden Age. Are we still in that New Golden Age? There's been some good shit, for sure: The Wire, The Big O, most of Breaking Bad, a good chunk of The Sopranos, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Transformers Prime, the PBS Frontline Documentaries . . . so I buy the New Golden Age rhetoric. Why not? You gotta stay positive in dark times. But TV . . . is just so tedious to me in general. I guess I got old and cranky. I can't even really complain about the commercials, now, that shit's purely optional. But I'm still aware of the passing of time, the growing shortness of my potential lifespan as I sit watching something passively, body going to seed, eyesight fading, ass cheeks gathering bulk, gut creeping over my belt-line, once beautiful mane of hair giving way to bald spots . . . hey, may as well sit down, watch some old TV all over again. Fuck it.

So . . . a compromise.
I'm only going to watch the episodes of Twin Peaks directed by David Lynch. I'll skip the others.
We'll see how that works . . .

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No More Prayers

standing up for gun control,
standing against the NRA,
America's premier domestic terrorist organization
using fear
to push an extremist ideology of interpersonal militarism

the adults in the room . . . what fucking adults in the room?
just a bunch of scumbag politicians
with their hand out for that gun lobby cash
I want to just puke 'til my guts come out of my mouth
and then puke some more

Part of me is inspired,
and part of me is deeply saddened.

Makes me think of that movie Grave of the Fireflies,
wherein the children of a nation are abandoned in a time of war,
and so they go their own way,
despite the hope vacuum,
right into the unknown,
right into oblivion

the voting population who haven't been bought off
won't leave these kids hanging out to dry
we'll back them up with our conscience
our votes
Copyright 2018 by William D. Tucker. All rights reserved. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Lynch Meditations 8: Blue Velvet (1986)

It holds up.

I don't want to spoil too much with this one. If you haven't seen Blue Velvet go watch it. It is a tightly assembled mystery that is surreal without totally departing reality for parts unknown.

If you have seen Blue Velvet, I'll try not to bore you with what has already been said many times over about this film. So let me see if I can say something that hasn't been said about it before . . . I might not be up to the task . . .

I'm a big fan of point-and-click mystery adventure games: Shadowgate, Deja Vu, Uninvited, King's QuestNightshade Part 1: The Claws of Sutekh, SnatcherGrim Fandango, the Gabriel Knight series, the Tex Murphy series, the Phoenix Wright series, and pretty much everything put out by Wadjet Eye Games. These are games where you drag a cursor around the screen, looking for some kind of response from the program, looking for any kind of a clue. You might need to interrogate people by choosing dialogue prompts, being careful not to say the wrong thing which could potentially shut down a conversation prematurely. Usually these games take place in a series of rooms and passages, where each section must be thoroughly investigated and solved before you unlock more rooms, and more passages, that are, ultimately, all connected in some unexpected, labyrinthine fashion by game's end.

Point-and-click games are sometimes notorious for the difficulty of their "moon logic" puzzles-conundrums whose solutions are so arbitrary and obscure that they could only possibly make sense in the hermetically sealed, hyper-postmodern reality of a video game. Sometimes, though, these moon logic puzzles transcend to a level of surreal brilliance which delights, but just as often they make you want to throw your monitor through a window. The best point-and-click adventures create an internal logic that subtly challenges you to engage with the mystery on its own terms, giving you enough clues and worldbuilding contextualization so that you have a fighting chance to reach the end state of the game with a sense of earned achievement.

Blue Velvet creates a near-perfect point-and-click adventure scenario with its own internally consistent reality that seems rooted in our world, but departs from it in key moments to give us a bit of a jolt at just the right moments. We even have a video game cypher of a protagonist (perfectly played by Kyle MacLachlan as a twin-souled square and voyeuristic freak all in one) who allows us to enter into the world with just enough perception to suss out a mystery worth diving into, but lacking that extra bit of common sense which would send a normal person running the fuck home. Visually, we are presented with a series of images and objects that lead us further into the heart of mystery: a severed human ear; a propeller hat; a blue velvet robe; angry and agonized and ecstatic faces distorted in dreams; human forms moving from the background of shadows into the foreground of light; an apartment and a living room presented as though each were a proscenium stage; a work light used as a microphone . . . we are encouraged to think in terms of a show presented before our eyes and how exactly that show has been put together.

The video game cypher takes time out of the adventure to assemble his thoughts and experiences in montage, drawing conclusions that advance the program closer to the end state.

Meanwhile, Angelo Badalamenti's lush score seems to emanate from a dimension of refined film noir that blurs the lines between cinema and reality. After my latest viewing, I am now convinced that the world of Blue Velvet was born from Badalamenti's mysterious score, as opposed to being a film created by a cast and crew of hundreds of people as you would expect from most movies.

Much like in a point-and-click mystery adventure, our protagonist doesn't notice all there is to notice until he is deep into things. When he first goes to a nightspot called the Slow Club, he is mesmerized by a sad and beautiful torch singer. Later, after he's been through some shit, he goes back to the Slow Club, is once again mesmerized by the sad and beautiful torch singer . . . but now he sees someone else in the audience. Someone who was probably there the first time, but our protagonist had no reason to notice this person as distinct from the other anonymous customers in the crowd. I imagine a New Game+ version of these sequences where you can play through it, again, and have a different outcome.

But Blue Velvet isn't a video game. It's a movie. It flows in one direction, coming to one conclusion every single time, and it will never change.

Unless, of course, David Lynch decides to go back into it with computer graphics technology and add in copious amounts of bantha poodoo, digitally enhanced explosions, and maybe an extra rock for Kyle MacLachlan to hide behind inside that closet . . . this would be so fucked-up and absurd I kind of want to see it happen.

But I get drawn into this one every time I watch it. Maybe it's a great movie. Maybe I'm just a great sucker.

NEXT: 2/23/18: Twin Peaks Pilot Episode (1990)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Lynch Meditations -8

David Lynch once told Roger Ebert in an interview that when he and his brother were children they saw a naked, crying woman walking down the street, and that he wept at the sight. In retrospect, it seems that this woman was most likely trying to escape horrific abuse at the hands of her husband or boyfriend. But Lynch, as a child, was confused by this sight, and so this incident worked its way into his filmmaking.

David Lynch's experience seemed to form the basis of one of the most disturbing scenes in his film Blue Velvet-a movie which was created in part to explore the mysteries of human cruelty and the secrecy which society imposes to cover up such abuses.

Blue Velvet is another example of Classic Lynch, one of his best films . . . I think. I haven't watched it all the way through in quite some time. I'm guessing it will hold up better than Dune did for me . . . but we'll see.

I remember quite fondly the first time I got to watch it in its proper aspect ratio on a decent sized TV at a friend's apartment. So much better than watching the shitty pan and scan VHS. I have absolutely no nostalgia for that format.

So here we go . . .

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Let me guess . . .

Another horrifying mass shooting in America,
and it still isn't time to to talk about gun control.

But it's always time to blame the mentally ill and gun control advocates.

Just wanted to make sure we're all stuck on the same page here.

Copyright 2018 by William D. Tucker. All rights reserved.