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The Innovative Closing Credits of Twin Peaks Season Three

In honor of the Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Blu-ray set being released today, here’s something new I wrote about the show’s innovative use of closing credits to impart narrative information.

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Along with everything that’s more obviously groundbreaking about it, one of the most subtly innovative aspects of the new season of Twin Peaks is the unique way the show’s makers used the end title credits to convey or conceal important narrative information and thus build a unique form of suspense in the process. Let’s start with the unusual fact that only key crew members are listed in the opening credits while all of the cast members, including star Kyle MacLachlan, are listed only in the closing credits. For those watching “live” on Showtime over the summer, this had the effect of not tipping off viewers in advance as to which actors in the extensive 200+ cast-member list would appear in each episode while also inviting viewers to scrutinize the end credits more closely in order to figure out exactly who was who and what was going on. This is where the real narrative gamesmanship begins: the way actors are (and are not) credited, and the way their credited character names sometimes change from one episode to the next, serves at least five different purposes in the show.

1. A character’s name is represented by question marks until his name is revealed on the show.

Carel Struyken’s character in Season Two was credited as “The Giant.” Many fans were surprised when the credits first rolled on Part One of Season Three to see that he was now credited as “???????” Even though Struyken was still playing a benevolent extra-dimensional being with a fondness for bow ties, was he the same character from 25 years ago or a new one? In Part 14, he introduces himself to Deputy Andy Brennan as the “Fireman,” which is how his character is then named in the closing credits of that episode. It seems likely that Lynch and Frost didn’t want viewers to know too soon that this guy puts out fires, whether literally or metaphorically, which would’ve perhaps allowed them to connect certain dots concerning the Black and White Lodge mythologies.

2. Some actors are not credited at all.

In some cases, this appears to have been done to preserve a sense of mystery about the character being portrayed. A case in point is the charcoal-black vagrant-looking character who first appeared in a prison cell next to Matthew Lillard’s Bill Hastings way back in Part 2. Some enterprising internet sleuths soon discovered that this spectral entity was played by character actor Stewart Strauss. Later on, when more of these characters appeared, the most prominent among them was credited as “Woodsman” (a memorable turn by professional Abraham Lincoln impersonator Robert Broski). It seems likely that crediting Stewart Strauss as a “Woodsman” in Part 2 would have revealed too much too soon in the eyes of the show’s creators – especially since Jurgen Prochnow and David Brisbin were also credited as “Woodsmen” in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me where they were explicitly depicted as Black Lodge denizens.

3. A character’s last name was initially withheld.

Madchen Amick’s Shelly Johnson from Seasons One and Two is credited only as “Shelly” up until Part 11 where it is revealed both in the dialogue of the episode and in the closing credits that her name is now “Shelly Briggs.” In this same episode it can be inferred that Shelly is now divorced from her second husband Bobby Briggs. Had Shelly been credited as “Shelly Briggs” in Part One of Season Three, many viewers would have believed that Shelly and Bobby were still married. It is likely that her new last name was initially withheld in order to avoid misdirecting viewers in to getting their hopes up.

4. Credited character names clue viewers in to the fact that familiar actors are and are not playing familiar characters.

Longtime fans would have assumed that Lynch favorite Phoebe Augustine was reprising her role as Ronette Pulaski in the experimental opening of Part Three had the closing titles not informed us instead that her character was instead named “American Girl.” Conversely, many longtime fans would have assumed that Mark Frost’s delightful cameo as a trailer-park denizen walking his dog was meant to be a different character than the T.V. news reporter he originally played in Season One until the closing credits of Part 16 informed us that he was, in fact, reprising the role of “Cyril Pons.”

5. A character’s last name is revealed early in order to avoid surprising viewers.

New Twin Peaks characters are only given a last name in the credits of Season Three in the event that their last names are also spoken on the show. One exception to this is Eamon Farren’s Richard Horne, the offspring of Audrey Horne and the evil “Mr. C.” When this character first appeared, assaulting a young woman in a bar in Part Five, his full name appeared in the credits. This caused much speculation among fans about how exactly he was related to the other Horne characters with many correctly inferring that Mr. C must have raped Audrey while she was in a coma. Had Richard’s last name not appeared in Parts 5 and 6, it would have come as a major surprise to everyone when he turned up at Sylvia Horne’s home in Part 10 and referred to her as “Grandma.” This surprise seems to be something the show’s creators wanted to avoid.

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Fat Girl (Breillat)
2. Die Hard (McTiernan)
3. Before Sunset (Linklater)
4. Kedi (Torun)
5. The Square (Ostlund)
6. Insiang (Brocka)
7. Top of the Lake: China Girl (Campion/Kleiman)
8. Shattered Image (Ruiz)
9. The Disaster Artist (Franco)
10. Days of Heaven (Malick)


Bryan Cranston in Last Flag Flying / The Ending of The Florida Project

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I consider Richard Linklater one of America’s very best filmmakers, which is why, although its virtues seem undeniable (like all of his work, it’s smart, well-crafted, emotional filmmaking), Last Flag Flying strikes me as something of a dud. I have friends who made the same claim for Everybody Wants Some!! but that raucous college comedy didn’t really aspire to be anything other than a dumb, fun party movie — unless you count John Waters’ pithy observation that it’s also the best “accidentally gay” film ever made. Last Flag Flying, on the other hand, with its Vietnam and Iraq war vet characters and exploration of the themes of loss, grief and brotherhood, clearly aspires to a gravitas that I don’t think it quite achieves. A big part of this failure, I’m sorry to say, stems from the artificiality of Bryan Cranston’s lead performance. The problem isn’t that Cranston is “over the top.” His character, Sal Nealon, is written to be over the top. It’s the same character, after all, that Jack Nicholson played in Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (even if his name has been changed here for copyright reasons) and the part cries out to be embodied by a larger-than-life screen presence. No, the problem is that Cranston makes too many actorly “choices.” His performance is simply too busy, the intellectual decision-making behind Sal’s “salt-of-the-earth” qualities too transparent. There’s nothing wrong with many of these choices individually but, scene after scene, they add up to a portrait of a working-class life that ultimately feels synthetic and false. Look at the way Sal wakes up Steve Carell’s “Doc” by literally rubbing a piece of cold pizza against his face. Or the way Sal extinguishes his half-smoked cigar by flicking the cherry with his middle finger then waiting until he’s gone back inside before pocketing the cigar in a leather case. Or, worst of all, the way Sal retrieves a donut from a box by sticking his index finger into the tiny hole in the donut’s center, a moment captured in near-pornographic close-up by Linklater’s camera. Which makes me wonder: did it ever once occur to Linklater to ask, “Bryan, could we try a take where you just pick up the donut like a normal fucking person?”

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It has come to my attention that the sublime ending of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project has come in for criticism in some quarters, in some cases even by people who otherwise like the movie. The fact that this daringly ambiguous ending has been interpreted as being some kind of sentimental cop-out is shocking. There is obviously a strong “fantasy” quality to this sequence — even without considering the aesthetic shift that occurs from the gorgeous 35mm cinematography of the rest of the film to the iPhone look familiar from Baker’s previous work in Tangerine (an aesthetic apparently necessitated here by the fact that Baker was shooting inside Disney World without permits). But regardless of whether or not the ending is “real,” it has to be seen as the saddest ending possible: The Florida Project is a tragedy about American capitalism as embodied by the characters of a woman, Halley (Bria Vinaite), and her daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who live in a cheap motel near an amusement park so they can rip off tourists without ever actually visiting the park themselves. When Halley is arrested on prostitution charges, it inspires Moonee and her friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) to finally take the plunge and try to sneak into the park, allowing them a glimpse of a “normal childhood” and a life they’ve never known. That the scene imparts a feeling of transcendental uplift is undeniable but I would argue that, if we’re watching the movie correctly, this very transcendental quality compounds Baker’s overall sense of tragedy; this will clearly only be a very brief of glimpse of paradise for the girls — before the cops catch up to them and put Moonee in foster care for good.

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MERCURY IN RETROGRADE at Full Bloom / Talking TWIN PEAKS on the “Page 2 Screen” Podcast

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My second feature film, Mercury in Retrograde, had its World Premiere this past Saturday, September 16, at the Full Bloom Film Festival in Statesville, North Carolina, where we were awarded the prize for “Best Narrative Feature.” To commemorate the occasion, Loren Greenblatt created the beautiful hand-painted poster you see above. I should have more news soon about additional screenings this year and next. For the most up-to-date info on the film, please “like” the official MiR Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

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I also recently discussed Twin Peaks Season 3 with film critic and screenwriter Jeff York on the International Screenwriters Association’s “Page 2 Screen” podcast. I had a lot of fun doing it and you can listen to it in its entirety here.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Signature Move (Reeder)
2. Mercury in Retrograde (Smith)
3. Detroit Under S.T.R.E.S.S. (Van Wie)
4. M (Lang)
5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
6. Casablanca (Curtiz)
7. Sunrise (Murnau)
8. Nocturama (Bonello)
9. Tout va Bien (Godard/Gorin)
9. It (Muschietti)
10. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh)


INHERENT VICE in the Age of Trump

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, which was greeted with incomprehension by many critics and viewers upon its first release in 2014, is one of the best and most underrated American films of recent years. I’m convinced that, like a lot of the Great American Movies, it was at least several years ahead of its time. If it had been released during the Trump administration, for instance, its resonance within our culture would have undoubtedly been much greater. This is because we are now living in an era that is more politically divisive than at any time since 1970 when the film (and Thomas Pynchon’s source novel) take place. The summer of 1970 was a schizoid time in America: it was halfway through Nixon’s first term, the height of the Vietnam War, and the first summer after the Manson Family murders revealed the dark, flip side of hippie culture. It was also the year that an arty, X-rated movie like Midnight Cowboy could win the Best Picture Oscar on the same night that John Wayne took home the Best Actor trophy for True Grit. This cultural schism is reflected in Pynchon’s novel but I think Anderson takes the concept even further in his deft adaptation by making it explicit that Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix’s hip, stoner private eye), and Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin’s ultra-square Dragnet-style cop) are each other’s doppelgangers; they literally speak in unison at the end of the film in an unforgettable scene where Bigfoot first smokes then eats all of Doc’s weed. The fact that this mismatched duo are forced to become uneasy allies in order to fight a common enemy is something that makes them similar to other private eye/cop pairs in classic film noirs before them but Anderson also seems to be saying that, taken together, these two are America, with each of them falling on a different side of an unbridgeable cultural divide. Which is perhaps why, even though Inherent Vice is hilarious throughout, the ending has always struck me as genuinely tragic.


New Godard and Chabrol on Blu-Ray

The following piece should appear at Time Out sometime soon.

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Chicago-based Olive Films releases French New Wave rarities

Chicago-based Olive Films has earned a reputation as the “Criterion of the Midwest” for bringing superb-quality transfers of classic films to DVD and Blu-ray, many of which may be light on “special features” but compensate by being reasonably priced. Ophelia (1963) and The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers (1964) are two welcome new additions to the Olive catalogue, especially for movie lovers interested in the landmark movement known as the French New Wave. Both films have never before been released on any digital format until now.

The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers is an omnibus film comprised of four shorts revolving around con artists plying their trade in major cities around the world: Tokyo, Paris, Naples and Marrakesh (a fifth segment set in Amsterdam, Roman Polanski’s River of Diamonds, has regrettably been omitted from this release at the request of the director). The highlight is Jean-Luc Godard’s Marrakesh-set Le Grand Escroc, which revives the character of Patricia from Breathless (again embodied by the great Jean Seberg), now a successful television reporter on assignment in Morocco. Patricia investigates the story of a man who prints counterfeit money only to give it away to the homeless but Godard’s real interest appears to be the intersection of documentary and fiction, which he regards with characteristic playful inquisitiveness. Le Grand Escroc also marks the beginning of the director’s fascination with the Arab world, a subject he would return to in Ici et Ailleurs, Notre Musique, the Egyptian section of Film Socialism and, if rumors are to be believed, his forthcoming Image and Word.

Ophelia, directed by Godard’s New Wave compatriot Claude Chabrol (also director of the Paris segment of The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers), is a modern-day update of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in provincial France. After his father dies unexpectedly, Ivan (Andre Jocelyn) suspects his mother (The Third Man‘s Alida Valli) and uncle (Claude Cerval) of committing foul play and sets a trap to catch them both; the “Mousetrap” play here is ingeniously presented as a silent short film made by Ivan with local amateur talent almost 40 years before Ethan Hawke did the same thing in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet. Chabrol loved to skewer the bourgeoisie but his decision to portray his main character as an entitled and whiny brat may be off-putting to some viewers. I would argue, however, that this decision pays dividends in the film’s darkly ironic conclusion when the spoiled young man realizes too late that he was incorrect to assume his family’s tragedy had to follow a familiar narrative playbook; Chabrol intertwines notions of class, culture and “projecting” onto others in devilishly entertaining fashion.

The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers and Ophelia are released on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, April 25. For more info, visit Olive’s official site.


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