I want my garmonbozia

Metafilter has an omnibus of links about Twin Peaks, which is now, unbelievably, more than 20 years old. I have long since thrown away most of my VHS tapes, but one I have held on to is a taping of the Twin Peaks pilot off network TV — WPVI, channel 6 in the Philadelphia area. It’s much easier to understand how revolutionary Twin Peaks was — particularly that first episode — when you see it in the context of the commercials that aired with it, the local news-anchor interpolations and the plugs for other ABC shows. The shift in tone when it cuts away from the stark despair of Laura Palmer’s mother — the horror on her face and her otherworldly moan of grief — to the first commercial break is just insane. Having had my mind blown by Blue Velvet (and Dune, I admit it) I was already a fan of Lynch’s, and I was predisposed to be enamored with the show, but Twin Peaks went far beyond anything I could have expected. Each of the early episodes inspired a weird mood that I couldn’t shake for hours or even days afterword, an acute awareness of a whole different layer of causality beyond the surface of things, a deliciously ambiguous blend of anxiety and excitement. When “Twin Peaks mania” swept through what was then a much more monolithic mainstream media, I was fully sympathetic — probably the last cultural fad of that scope that I can say that about. It was very strange to be in such harmony with what was being promoted everywhere — kind of like those first few months Nirvana was popular, driving the Steve Miller Band off boomboxes at the keg parties.

Anyway, one of the MeFi links led me to this perceptive review by Tom Huddleston of the way-underrated Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which is without question the film that creeps me out the most of anything I’ve ever seen. It’s an uncompromising portrayal of disassociative emotional pain — the anguish that produces the surreal. Slicing up eyeballs has nothing on the scene in which Leland is revving the engine in his convertible while the one-armed-man is yelling at Laura about her awful destiny. Huddleston captures another such moment in the film:

The infamous David Bowie dream sequence is equal parts entertaining and ludicrous, the Thin White Duke mumbling obscurely about Judy in a mangled pseudo-Southern accent. It’s as willful and pointless as Richard Pryor’s cameo in Lost Highway, a distorted display of counterculture namedropping. But as Bowie mumbles and Lynch’s Gordon Cole yells, the tone shifts and somehow the sequence becomes genuinely unsettling, the face of the monkey behind the mask an unexpected, nightmarish image. This blending of the absurd and the horrifying to dreamlike and disturbing effect has become Lynch’s hallmark, from the chickens in Eraserhead to the hobo behind the diner in Mulholland Drive. Nowhere else in his work does he use the technique as effectively as in Fire Walk With Me. Sudden tonal shifts from joy or security to overwhelming sadness, unease, terror and back again are perhaps the film’s most effective emotional weapons, and Lynch deploys them mercilessly.

In short, this movie will freak you out, even (or perhaps especially) if you have no idea what is going on or what anything is supposed to mean in its garbled cosmology.

A note on the phrase “I want my Garmonbozia.” Apparently that is Lynch’s cryptic way saying that there is a debt of pain and suffering — owed by whom? to whom? Not clear. But the experience of watching the film sinks you right into that ambiguity — right on the border where voyeurism blurs into victimization.