David Bowie’s Mystical Appearances in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Younger fans might find it hard to believe, but David Bowie was not exact­ly at the height of cool­ness when he first appeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in 1992. The overblown Glass Spi­der tour was five years ear­li­er, fol­lowed by a Great­est Hits tour in 1990. He had tried to rein­vent him­self with Tin Machine for two albums. In fact, with Ryko rere­leas­ing his cat­a­log on CD, it looked most­ly like Bowie would spend the rest of his career cash­ing in on nos­tal­gia.

The same crit­i­cisms were hurled at Lynch after the Cannes pre­miere of the Twin Peaks “pre­quel”. Quentin Taran­ti­no, who was at that Cannes pre­miere and heard the col­lec­tive boos from the audi­ence, said “David Lynch had dis­ap­peared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see anoth­er David Lynch movie until I hear some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

But whad­dya know? It turns out that the rest of the ‘90s were very good for both artists. Lynch went on to make some of his best work, and Fire Walk With Me is now con­sid­ered a clas­sic. Bowie wound up work­ing with Eno again on the uncom­pro­mis­ing and dense Out­side.

Now Bowie has only one scene in Fire Walk With Me, but god­damn if it isn’t one of the best in the movie. I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber the chill that shot up my spine just before Bowie’s Philip Jeffries–an FBI field agent who escapes the Black Lodge–makes his crazed appear­ance in Philadel­phia. Like a quan­tum par­ti­cle, he is both there and not there, walk­ing through a freeze frame of Agent Coop­er as the FBI’s secu­ri­ty cam­eras lock up.

“I’m not going to talk about Judy,” he says. “In fact we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all.”
The “Miss­ing Pieces” ver­sion on the FWWM DVD shows the entire scene as it plays out as shot, with Jef­fries break­ing down in pain before being tele­port­ed back to a hotel in Buenos Aires. It’s pret­ty straight­for­ward and a bit clunky.

In the offi­cial FWWM cut, Lynch and his edi­tor Mary Sweeney work some spe­cial Black Lodge alche­my.

“Who do you think that is there?” Jef­fries says, point­ing at Coop as blue sta­t­ic fades in over the scene. Two real­i­ties then vie for pow­er: Jef­fries’ gnom­ic warn­ings ver­sus his visions from a vis­it to the Black Lodge, the space above the con­ve­nience store, where all sorts of spir­its live, lurk, and wait. Ange­lo Badalamenti’s score groans and shrieks and runs back­wards. The scene is dense with clues and men­ace, and once things in the FBI office return to “nor­mal,” Jef­fries is gone.

“We live inside a dream,” Jef­fries had warned, and 25 years lat­er in Twin Peaks: The Return, Coop­er him­self would deliv­er a sim­i­lar line inside anoth­er police sta­tion, as two real­i­ties played over each oth­er, dou­ble-exposed.

David Bowie wouldn’t return to Lynch-world as an actor, but the direc­tor used his Out­side song, “I’m Deranged,” as the open­ing and clos­ing music to 1997’s Lost High­way, a track like that FWWM scene teeters on the brink of mad­ness, filled with cut-and-paste lyrics and Mike Garson’s insane piano runs.

When Lynch announced the return of Twin Peaks, and after the pass­ing of Bowie, fans won­dered if by some mir­a­cle Jef­fries would appear on the screen. Had Lynch man­aged to grab footage of the singer, like he had done for Cather­ine Coul­son, so close to their exit?

Instead, when Evil Coop­er final­ly met Jef­fries again, it was as a machine–fans jok­ing­ly called it a gigan­tic tea kettle–that both spoke in Eng­lish and puffed out numbers/clues in a cloud of steam.

Bowie report­ed­ly nev­er liked his 1992 per­for­mance because of his Louisiana accent, so when Lynch informed Bowie through his lawyer about his character’s return, Bowie asked for it to be redubbed by a real actor from Louisiana: Nathan Frizzell. (It may be authen­tic, but it ain’t no Bowie.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dave: The Best Trib­ute to David Bowie That You’re Going to See

Watch All of the Com­mer­cials That David Lynch Has Direct­ed: A Big 30-Minute Com­pi­la­tion

Watch an Epic, 4‑Hour Video Essay on the Mak­ing & Mythol­o­gy of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (4)
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  • GJ says:

    Taran­ti­no accus­ing Lynch of “dis­ap­pear­ing up his own ass” is both obnox­ious and hyp­o­crit­i­cal.

    No one loves the smell of their own shit, more than that pre­ten­tious ego­ma­ni­ac.

    Fire Walk With Me was not Lynch’s best work. But it’s bet­ter than pret­ty much every episode of Sea­son 2.

    A lot less pre­ten­tious and “up its own ass” than Death Proof.….which was dragged out, long-wind­ed, and — besides the last 15 min­utes and the few death scenes — extreme­ly bor­ing. A dia­logue dri­ven movie should have inter­est­ing dia­logue.

    And hon­est­ly, I can’t be the only one who is sick of his foot fetish. The first 3 min­utes of that movie, is a bare foot, bop­ping around to some gener­ic music.

    Also, to be clear, this rant is not direct­ed at the writer of this blog/article.

    It’s direct­ed at a guy who makes some pret­ty cool movies, but also some dragged out, irri­tat­ing dreck, only made (bare­ly) watch­able with some gra­tu­itous vio­lence.

    Him talk­ing shit about Lynch, is like a slop­py, drunk­en hack of a cov­er band drum­mer talk­ing trash about Alex Van Halen or Ter­ry Bozzio

  • Norman says:

    my thoughts pre­cise­ly.

  • Paul Tatara says:

    I’m no fan of Lynch’s movie, but I agree with you 100% that it’s ridicu­lous for Taran­ti­no, of all peo­ple, to make that accu­sa­tion! There’s no big­ger Quentin Taran­ti­no fan on earth than Quentin Taran­ti­no, and he’s become the world’s old­est 15 year-old to boot. Please.

  • Ted says:

    Good lord, Mr. Tatara, I did­n’t know you were read­ing Open Cul­ture! I still quote your review of “Life Is Beau­ti­ful”: “You could eat a bur­ri­to while watch­ing it.” How are you?

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