Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Fire Will Walk With It
At the end of August of 1992 I had one of the most memorable film experiences of my life, and it took place in a completely vacant and I must admit very lonely movie theater in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was actually audience wise the most desolate opening night I have ever attended, and the film was none other than David Lynch’s masterful Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. I still remember the isolated awe I felt in that deserted theater that night and the absolute confusion as to why no one else was there to feel it with me.
Lynch’s controversial big screen prequel to his celebrated television series is now rightly viewed by many as one of his major works…a disturbing and powerful masterpiece that is among the most memorable and distinctive films of the nineties. Of course this wasn’t the case in 1992 as Fire Walk with Me was subjected to the most pulverizing critical and popular reception David Lynch had ever received, it even made the reception Dune got look positively glowing. It was viewed by many as the last unnecessary chapter of a series that had run its course, and was considered beyond passé before it briefly appeared and vanished in that late summer of 92.
Of course time has shown Twin Peaks to be one of the great television series and it’s arguably more beloved now than it was when it was originally on the air. Anyone who was around when it originally aired can attest to the baffled and angry reaction many people had to the series second season, a season which is now rightfully viewed as one of the most important in television history.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that first viewing of Fire Walk with Me lately…specifically that empty feeling I had for a month or so after, as I watched people who gleefully celebrated the end of something I had held so dear. It was a frustrating thing because I couldn’t even argue for the film because so few had bothered to see it…and I must admit that it was as depressing as hell.
I’ve had that same exact feeling again recently due to the reception that The X-Files: I Want To Belive has received. Now I’m not arguing that Carter’s new film is in the same league as Lynch’s…it isn’t and it doesn’t try to be, but the two do share some remarkable characteristics though that are more than worth noting.
They are both challenging and extremely personal works from filmmakers attempting to continue two of their most iconic works, both of which coincidentally started out life as small screen productions. They are also two works not afraid to deliver exactly what WASN’T wanted by many of show’s core fans. Imagine Fire Walk With Me as the quirky dark comedy or I Want to Believe as the big budget monster movie many fans wanted but neither Lynch nor Carter were interested in delivering what was expected, even if a possible career set-back was a real possibility.
The films were also both treated with disdain by the studio’s obvious non-belief in them. If you think I Want to Believe has been handled badly, go back and check on the non-campaign for Fire Walk with Me. The fact that I even managed to catch it in a theater is nothing short of miraculous. There is also the feeling with both that many people who weren’t fans of the series’ were gunning for them, and nothing Lynch or Carter could have delivered would have been good enough.
Finally, the main thing that perhaps connects Fire Walk with Me and I Want to Believe is that they were delivered to a time period that simply didn’t want them. The X-Files is as irrelevant to as many people in 2008 as Twin Peaks was back in 1992 and it took guts for Lynch and Carter to make their respective films in the first place. Time has thankfully caught up with Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me now, so much so that it might be hard for a lot of younger fans to imagine there was ever a time when people thought Lynch’s show was anything less than a classic, but trust me that time did occur.
I’ve been extremely depressed by the reaction granted to I Want to Believe and especially by a lot of people’s callous dismissal of The X-Files in general, a series that meant a lot of things to a lot of different people and had a huge impact on our popular culture in general. I can only harbor the hope that the film and series will one day find its audience again much like Lynch’s show and film did…in fact I am counting on it. 2008 might not be a good year for The X-Files popularity wise, but I am willing to wager money that ten or fifteen years from now many of its most vocal opponents will be lining up to and singing its praises.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and The X-Files: I Want To Believe are two vastly different works, but they are both extremely personal and uncompromising films made by two very genuine filmmakers who clearly had something meaningful they wanted to say. To paraphrase something I once read on Lou Reed’s Berlin, these simply aren’t works made for their time but are more importantly works for all time…so perhaps I shouldn’t be depressed after all.