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David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” – 30 Years in the Scary Dream Universe

After two decades of experimentation and acclaim in the late 70s and 80s – from Eraserhead to Blue VelvetDavid Lynch decided to explore television.

It was mostly thanks to a new friend, well-known screenwriter Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues), who became his coffee partner, almost daily, at the traditional diner Du-Pars, down on the Valley side of Laurel Canyon. Lynch and Frost had the same agent, and both were interested in a change – not a simple change – a big one.

“I heard a lot about Mark, and my agent kept saying that it would be a great idea if we worked together,” Lynch told us back in 1990. “I had heard horror stories (about TV) and Mark didn’t want to get back into TV. But my agent was insisting on it so much that I thought it could be a magical thing if Mark and I did something.”

From that match and many coffees (with pancakes, a favorite of Lynch’s), the peculiar duo managed to sell a bold project to ABC in 1988: Twin Peaks, a somber and surreal whodunit about a mysterious crime in a small town somewhere in the US Northwest. The combo seemed perfect – Lynch’s bold imagination and Frost’s talent in story structure.

“We had so much fun just thinking this thing up, bringing it to life and it all presented us with a unique creative control over our own product,” Frost told us on September 8, 1990.

With some concern, ABC bought it.

The pilot of Twin Peaks premiered on April 8, 1990. It was a hit, a completely new style for television, mixing police procedural (FBI Agent Cooper – Kyle MacLachlan), teenage drama (Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Sheryl Lee, as Laura Palmer, the murder victim), small-town comedy of customs (Sheriff Michael Ontkean; Doctor Will; Warren Frost; fisherman Pete; Jack Nance; the Palmer family, led by Ray Wise); supernatural elements and pure Lynch rhythm.

Thirty-five million viewers watched the first episode in the US alone. By the end of the first season, Twin Peaks was already a hit and ABC had already ordered a second season for the Fall. With one caveat – the second season had to resolve the mystery of the death of Laura Palmer.

The tension between the two series creators grew. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, ten years after the premiere of Twin Peaks, Lynch and Frost spoke about the issues of creating that involve a duo:

Lynch: “When we wrote Twin Peaks, we never intended the murder of Laura Palmer to be solved…Maybe in the last episode.”

Frost: “I know David was always enamored of that notion, but I felt we had an obligation to the audience to give them some resolution. There was a bit of tension between him and me.”

The second season was a disaster. The whodunit wasn’t resolved, and Lynch went deep into the violent and the absurd for the continuation of the story. When the last episode went on the air, in February 1991, ABC had canceled the series.

Aaron Spelling, whose production company backed the series, wanted a new season, in vain. Lynch agreed with him – he wanted the narrative to go on. How about a movie that would explain (as much as a Lynch work explains anything) the sub-context of Twin Peaks?

Spelling approved.

The series was popular in France, and Lynch quickly secured the additional backing of French production company CiBY 2000 (New Line, then part of Warner Bros, joined later)

Frost wanted to dive immediately on the very last moment of the first season. Lynch wanted the story to be the prequel to the crime.

The tension this time was irreducible. In an interview for the fanzine Wrapped in Plastic, Frost explained his frustration with working with Lynch: “When [Lynch] got on the set, very often he threw out the script – which didn’t please me all that much. But he would go off and do his own thing.

“He wasn’t showing up all that often. He’d come in and direct an episode every once in a while. He wasn’t really involved with the scripts. Then he’d go off on his own thing and leave us hanging.”

Lynch got Robert Engels to write the script – Frost retained his credit as co-creator of the content – and went after the cast that created the characters of the series. All joined, but Kyle MacLachlan was uncertain, afraid of becoming typecast, and asked for brief appearances as Agent Cooper, the Twin Peaks fan of black coffee and good pie.

Extra stars and special Twin Peaks actors rounded the film project : David Bowie as Special Agent Philip Jeffries, Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, and Miguel Ferrer as other special agents; and David Lynch himself as FBI Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, a character he would repeat in other projects.

Lynch and Engels planned the narrative in three acts: the “Deer Meadow Prelude,” when another woman floats down a river, wrapped in plastic, before the death of Laura Palmer; “The Last Seven Days of Laura Palmer,” which shows all the aspects of Laura, her family, friends, drugs, the evil spirits around her and, finally, her death; and the “Epilogue,” which at the same time was the beginning of Twin Peaks and the introduction of a new level of the narrative.

Principal photography of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me began on September 5, 1991, in Snoqualmie, Washington, the same location of the TV series. After four weeks in Snoqualmie and additional work in Seattle, the shooting moved to Los Angeles for another month.

David Bowie, who was also rehearsing in LA for a tour with his band Tin Machine, was not happy with the pressure to finish the principal photography as fast as possible. Bowie told the Seattle Times in December of 1991, “They crammed me. I did all my scenes in four or five days because I was in rehearsals for the 1991 Tin Machine tour. I was there for only a few days.”


Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me had its preview at Cannes in May 1992. It was furiously booed. “I have shown The Straight Story there and Mulholland Drive. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was booed,” Lynch told us in 2017, laughing out loud. “It was a horrible thing.”

The welcome in the US wasn’t much better. Fire Walk With Me opened on August 28, 1992, and some of the reviews cited, among others, that “Mr. Lynch’s taste for brain-dead grotesque has lost its novelty” (New York Times’s Janet Maslin), and “Laura Palmer, after all the talk, is not a very interesting or compelling character and long before the climax has become a tiresome teenager” (Todd McCarthy, Variety).

In the 30 years of this journey, Lynch’s dark, sharp, audacious Fire Walk With Me has been re-addressed, rethought and re-loved. In 2013, Village Voice wrote of the film, “In its own singular way, Fire Walk with Me is David Lynch’s masterpiece.”

Among the filmmakers, James Gray called it “an incredible film” while Gregg Araki declared that “Sheryl Lee’s performance in this movie is, I think seriously, one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.”

In 2017, Lynch went back to Twin Peaks and created a new episode on the complex tale of the weird, poetic, and a scary little town in the Northwest for Showtime: Twin Peaks: The Return. It offered a world of dreams and events that happened 25 years later than Twin Peaks’ second season.

Both Lynch and Frost worked on the project. “I have said I love the world of Twin Peaks,” Lynch told us at a press conference in May 2017.

“And I would think about it fondly during those years.  And sometimes, I would wonder what people were doing and about how things were left.  But I didn’t really think of going back into the world until Mark Frost invited me to lunch at Musso & Frank and we started talking.”