THE owls are not what they seem.
If you heard a strange to-wittering and to-wooing from the swaying pine forests of social media this week, it was the round-eyed and feather-ruffled head rotations of a scattered tribe of over-caffeinated Agent Cooper fans reacting to the news that Twin Peaks will be returning as a mini-series from HBO in 18 eighteen months’ time.
I first watched Twin Peaks under the very best circumstances in which to discover a new love. It was 1991 and someone in the UCT Film Society had managed to acquire a steady weekly supply of VHS copies taped off American television. Every Monday night through that splendid cold winter a bunch of us met in David Sorfa and Anna McKenna’s flat and we drank Tassies and tequila until it was time to lurch up the hill through the rain to the arts block, with its rows of straight-backed wooden benches, as warm and welcoming as a Presbyterian church. There we’d sit swaying slightly, shoulder to shoulder in a dark lecture theatre half-filled with fellow film nerds, thrumming in drunken sympathy with the heart-squeezing opening notes of Angelo Badalamenti’s score. I’m not sure if anyone thought to call us a Lynch mob, but if not, it seems like a wasted opportunity.
(I once enjoyed a brief passion, incidentally, with a woman who insisted on playing the Twin Peaks soundtrack as mood music. I can report that, whatever its other merits, it’s a little too moody to be an effective aid to lovemaking. You want something more peppy, like the True Blood theme song, or if you had a good night’s sleep last night, Magnum PI.)
Each week after the show we left baffled and delighted. Dancing dwarves, deceptive owls, giants talking backwards, the Black Lodge and ladies talking to logs … it’s all right if you don’t know what any of that means because we didn’t either, but we had our theories. Above all, we trusted that there was sense beneath it, and that by the end the master plan would be revealed like a road map or a meaning of life. It made it sweeter that there were so few of us, and that each week’s watching made such demands on our time and our legs and our livers. It had the quality of a quest or a secret society: membership demanded patience and sacrifice.
I look forward to Twin Peaks coming next year, but it’s worth reminding myself that it’s only a TV show, with actors and a script, and that watching it won’t take me back to a golden time when the Berlin Wall has just fallen and apartheid has just ended and the world is free and full of wonders waiting to unfold.
When the new series is released next year, we’ll be able to download it immediately after it broadcasts in the US and watch it whenever we like, without leaving home. It will always be available, forever, whenever we want it, and of course that’s great but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we lose something too.
My friend Chunko’s small son owns the DVDs of the original three Star Wars movies and watches them over and over, in whatever sequence he likes, sometimes just individual scenes. I would have loved that when I was seven. Instead there was the agonising wait weight for the next movie, and while you waited you couldn’t go back and watch the previous one — you had to make do with the novelisations and the comics and compose your own stories in your head about how Luke Skywalker crash-lands next door and you become best friends and ride his landspeeder along Brighton Beach and have lightsabre battles with those kids from Ansteys who stole your towel, although later you and Luke will regrettably quarrel because Leia will fall in love with you and want to be your girlfriend.
No one in their right mind would choose to go back to that state of affairs, but still, there’s something missing in today’s hyper-accessibility — some quality of dedication, some intensity of emotional engagement. But maybe that’s proper.
I look forward to Twin Peaks coming next year, but it’s worth reminding myself that it’s only a TV show, with actors and a script, and that watching it won’t take me back to a golden time when the Berlin Wall has just fallen and apartheid has just ended and the world is free and full of wonders waiting to unfold. I won’t be 19 again, enjoying the giddy miracle of drinking with friends while contemplating a show that feels like life itself: a grand, ingenious artwork that dances before us and promises that one day all paths will be walked and mysteries revealed.
It’s worth remembering that in fact the mysteries weren’t revealed, that Twin Peaks was actually a prototype for Lost, 15 years in advance: there were signs and wonders but few of them meant anything. There was no road map, no narrative master plan, and it turned out there wasn’t one in life either. David Lynch was just like the rest of us: trying to have some fun, and making it up as we go along.