The movie that almost killed David Lynch’s career

The movie that almost killed David Lynch’s career

The movie that almost killed David Lynch’s career

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

Given how critically beloved David Lynch is today, it’s a stretch to remember a time when this most fearless and idiosyncratic of directors was generally thought to have washed up.

But by the end of 1992, Lynch’s cultural cachet – which had flown high after Blue velvet, Twin Peaks and Wild at heart – had crashed. His sixth feature, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Mehad debuted in May 1992 at the Cannes Film Festival, to boos from audiences and reviews that would be considered brutal even for Uwe Boll.

After the film’s US release on August 28 (30 years ago this week), it would end up earning $4 million domestically against a $10 million budget. It was far from just two years before then Twin Peaks the craze had gripped the country, and Lynch was deified as the man who had raised television to new skyscraper heights.

Read more: How Twin Peaks rose and fell

By the time of Fire Walk With Me’s release, but it’s not like there was a public thirst for more Twin Peaks. The series had been canned in 1991, after ratings fell from a peak of 34.6 million in season one to a paltry 7.4 in season two.

CANNES, FRANCE: American film maker David Lynch (R) and film editor Mary Sweeney walk on the seashore May 15, 1992 a day before Lynch presents his film

David Lynch (R) and film editor Mary Sweeney a day before Lynch presents his film “Twin Peaks” at the 45th Cannes International Film Festival. (AFP via Getty Images)

When Lynch unleashed the avant-garde final episode on June 10, 1991, only the faithful were still tuning in, and even they were left in limbo after a cliffhanger ending—where the show’s hero, Agent Dale Cooper, is caught. over by the spirit known as Killer Bob – which seemed like it would never be solved.

Until, that is, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost struck a deal with French company Ciby 2000 for a trilogy of films that continue Twin Peaks history. However, the pair would clash over what the first film should be. Frost wanted a direct sequel, while Lynch preferred a prequel, focusing on the final days of Laura Palmer. Frost left, and Lynch hired Twin Peaks series producer Robert Engels as his co-writer.

TWIN PEAKS - Gallery - Shooting Date: November 29, 1989. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images) MICHAEL HORSE;KYLE MACLACHLAN;JAMES MARSHALL;MICHAEL ONTKEAN;EVERETT MCGILL

Michael Horse, Kyle MacLachlan, James Marshall, Michael Ontkean, Everett McGill in a publicity photo for Twin Peaks. (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Frost’s exit was not the last Fire Walk With Me’s alas. Fearing typecasting, Kyle MacLachlan was reluctant to sign on as Agent Cooper and only agreed to appear if his part was drastically reduced. Additionally, Lara Flynn Boyle, who, as Laura’s BFF Donna Hayward, was an integral part of the story Lynch wanted to tell, refused to return, forcing the director to recast with actress Moira Kelly.

Read more: David Lynch receives honorary Oscar

It’s easy to forget now how amazing the first series was Twin Peaks our. Aside from a lone dream sequence, the early episodes played out like a fairly conventional, if slightly weirder than normal, murder mystery. It is likely that many of the millions who asked the question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” in the summer of 1990 was left scratching its head when it was revealed that the answer was an evil spirit inhabiting the body of Laura’s father.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

If Lynch ramped up the weirdness in season two, it was nothing compared to the Stygian horror of Fire Walk With Me. Critics and audiences were confused and, in some cases, enraged by the film’s waywardness and narrative ambiguities (although ostensibly a prequel, there are moments that allude to events after the last episode, while the first 32 minutes play out as an almost separate story). There was little of the cozy eccentricity that defined much of the series, while many fans’ favorite characters – Audrey Horne, Harry Truman, Dr Jacoby, Ed Hurley et al – were nowhere to be seen.

While the film upset something Twin Peaks loyalists desperate for a resolution to season two’s cliffhanger, you needed a detailed knowledge of the series to have any hope of understanding Fire Walk With Me. No wonder audiences stayed away in ’92. Many of those who had been caught up in Tops mania of 1990 recognized little of their once-favorite shows in this unflinching arthouse horror, while those unfamiliar with the world of Twin Peaks would have needed a degree-level course in the show’s mythology to decode it.

While critics in 1990 had hailed David Lynch as the savior of network television, this time they lined up to vilify him.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

“It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be,” wrote the New York Times’ Vincent Canby. “It sparkles the eyes and the mind.” Variety’s Todd McCarthy, meanwhile, was no fan: “Laura Palmer, by all accounts, is not a very interesting or compelling character and long before the climax has become a tiresome teenager,” he muttered.

Read more: Directors who disowned their own films

“David Lynch probably should have let Laura Palmer stay dead,” suggested The Hollywood Reporter. Even other filmmakers piled in. “David Lynch has disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear otherwise,” said Quentin Tarantino. “And you know, I loved him. I loved him.”

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (New Line Cinema)

But then, over the years, something happened. Watch and there is an entire section dedicated to its ‘reassessment’. Critics had fallen back in love with Lynch after the 2001s Mulholland Drivea film so opaque and outré that it was made Fire Walk With Me looks like Midsomer Murders, and suddenly this Twin Peaks the movie somehow made more sense. So it was Twin Peaks: The ReturnThe 2017 Showtime series that continued the story was shelved in 1991. This 18-episode season was finally fleshed out Fire Walk With Me as an important part of the wider Twin Peaks history.

Thirty years after its release, Fire Walk With Me is now regarded as Lynch’s unsung masterpiece, a film that ultimately put the character at the center of Twin Peaks the mystery, Laura Palmer, her humanity. And it’s a film that grows stronger from multiple viewings. There’s simply too much going on, narratively and emotionally, to digest in a single sitting, one of the likely reasons for those splenetic reviews back in ’92.

David Lynch on the set of Twin Peaks in 1990. (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

David Lynch on the set of Twin Peaks in 1990. (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

“I love the movie,” . “With Dune, I sold out early on it, because I didn’t have the final cut, and it was a commercial failure, so I died twice with it. With Fire Walk With Meit didn’t do well at the time, but I loved it so I only died once, for the commercial failure and reviews and stuff.”

Fortunately, Lynch is aware of the film’s critical rehabilitation.

Read more: The many failed attempts to do Dune

“Now people have revisited that film,” he continued, “and they feel differently about it. When a thing comes out, the feeling in the world—you might call it the collective consciousness—is a certain way, and so it dictates how things should go. Then the collective consciousness changes and people come around.”

Five years ago, Fire Walk With Me was released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the hallowed Criterion Collection, a clear sign of its now revered status.

It may only boast a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that doesn’t reflect the ever-growing respect for this most challenging and rewarding of films.

When Lynch received for Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017 he cried. It seemed like a belated confirmation of what the director had to endure at the same festival a quarter of a century before.

Watch a clip from Twin Peaks: The Return

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