Top Ten By Year: 1992


I’m going to get right to it since my What I’ll Remember post covers most of what I’ve gotten out of this year in film. You can find previous 1992 installments including Ten Honorable Mentions Edition, What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1992: A Personal Sampling, Voters Poll Results, and Movie Music Mix on my blog. This one’s been a long time coming. I started research for 1992 back in April!

For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year column:
I pick years that are weak for me re: quantity of films seen and/or quality of films seen in comparison to other films from that decade. I am using list-making as a motivation to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-driven way. And I always make sure to point out that my lists are based on personal ‘favorites’ not any notion of an objective ‘best’. I’ve done 1935, 1983, 1965, 1943, and now 1992. Next I’ll be doing 1958.

Biggest Disappointments:
Swoon
Innocent Blood
In the Soup
Careful
The Story of Qiu Ju
Naked Killer
Once Upon a Crime (re-watch)

Notable Blind Spots: 
Pushing Hands, Unlawful Entry, Vacas, The Oak, La Sentinelle, L;627, Simple Men, This is My Life, The Public Eye, Boomerang, Dragon Inn, Royal Tramp, Love Field, The Wicked City, The Best Intentions, Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives, Swordsman II, For a Lost Soldier, Rebels of the Neon God

TOTAL LIST OF FILMS SEEN IN 1992: (bold indicates first-time viewings during research, italics indicates re-watches during research):
Aileen Wuornos: Selling of a Serial Killer, Aladdin, Bad Lieutenant, Baraka, Basic Instinct, Batman Returns, Beethoven, Benny’s Video, Bitter Moon, Bob Roberts, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Brother’s Keeper, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Candyman, Captain Ron, Careful, Centre Stage, Chaplin, The Crying Game, Damage, Dead Alive, Death Becomes Her, Deep Cover, Doctor Mordrid, Enchanted April, Far and Away, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, A Few Good Men, Forever Young, Full Contact, Gas Food Lodging, Glengarry Glen Ross, Hard Boiled, A Heart in Winter, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Honey I Blew Up the Kid, Honeymoon in Vegas, Housesitter, Howards End, Husbands and Wives, Hyenas, Innocent Blood, In the Soup, The Last of the Mohicans, A League of Their Own, Lessons of Darkness, Life and Nothing More, Light Sleeper, Little Heroes, The Living End, The Long Day Closes, Malcolm X, Man Bites Dog, Medicine Man, The Mighty Ducks, Mom and Dad Save the World, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Naked Killer, Noises Off!, Of Mice and Men, Once Upon a Crime, One False Move, Orlando, Out on a Limb, Passion Fish, Peter’s Friends, The Player, Poison Ivy, Police Story 3: Supercop, Porco Rosso, Radio Flyer, Raising Cain, Reservoir Dogs, A River Runs Through It, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Savage Nights, Scent of a Woman, Singles, Single White Female, Sister Act, Society, Stay Tuned, Strictly Ballroom, The Story of Qiu Ju, Swoon, A Tale of Winter, Tom and Jerry: The Movie, Toys, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Unforgiven, Universal Soldier, Wayne’s World, Where the Day Takes You, Wuthering Heights

FTV: First Time Viewing
RW: Re-watch
LTF: Long-time Favorite

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Top Honorable Mention (think of this as a tie with #10):
Howards End (Ivory) (UK) (RW)
What are other equivalents to the unique narrative bounty of Howards End? Other Merchant/Ivory productions like A Room with a View and Maurice (both impeccable in their own right) have recognizable conflicts and alliances. We know when and how to respond to what’s going on. But Howards End is different. We stand by conflicted while characters make compromises and go back on who we thought they were. Those who fall, fall hard, and those left are happy in a bittersweet sort of way. But it’s inaccurate to use the word happy. Happy and sad, light and dark aren’t exactly visible through lines here. It’s all way more complicated. All the characters besides Vanessa Redgrave, who moonlights over the proceedings as if drawing people together from beyond, are defined by their foibles. Everyone is too much ‘this’ or not enough ‘that’. It has the impeccable period design one expects from Merchant/Ivory, it made Emma Thompson a star in her own right (until then, she was Kenneth Branagh’s wife), and is a painfully human vivisection on class warfare.

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10. Centre Stage (Kwan) (Hong Kong) (RW)
For the few keeping up with these installments, my previous Honorable Mentions post refers to a film I’d been particularly struggling to find a place for–a film I’m moderately conflicted about. Well, this is the one. Centre Stage will not get out of my head. This was my second time seeing it, and it remains an elusive relic. Does this film, a biopic about doomed icon Ruan Lingyu that feels frozen in time and comes bundled up in a meta package, even work? Watching it is like going on a quest through the afterglow of the past. It’s a quest the filmmakers explicitly take part in, and they also come up short. Through the research and production process, can everyone involved reach the essence of who Ruan Lingyu was? Well, no. But that may be the point.

Doused in silky blue lights, this isn’t the past recreated, but reflected back at us, nestled between the actual footage of Ruan and present day interviews. Everything feels like it’s being acted out in an empty deserted hallway, as if life doesn’t exist outside the room that characters inhabit at any given moment. We hear the same music in a dance hall at different intervals, like an echo chamber. The characters are stuck in their parts. Maggie Cheung is stoic, passive, demure. The greatest actress of her time can’t make the greatest actress of her time a compelling figure, and yet she’s outstanding. Ahh, and the heaven sent production and costume designs. It’ll be revisited every so often, and each time I’ll go into it thinking ‘this time I’ll understand who Ruan Lingyu was’. Yet I know that won’t happen. ‘But maybe this time’ is the spell Centre Stage casts.

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9. Bitter Moon (Polanski) (France/UK/US) (FTV)
Perverse, deeply ugly, and comically absurd. At first glance Bitter Moon is just another to emerge out of the trashy kink, boundary pushing erotic thriller trend of the early-to-mid 90’s. But this is Roman Polanski, and the man has got a lot of poisonous and revealing fish to fry. Hiding behind camp and pig masks, this could be his most uncomfortably personal work. At the very least it feels like a purging. The sex relates to the endless potential of corruptible dynamics. Two couples out to sea on an ocean liner (Knife in the Water anyone?), one staid, the other extreme, have more in common than they think. Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner are the purist form of masochistic and manipulative chess game toxicity that can exist in a couple, a toxicity that Polanski posits exists in all of us on some level.

A big question, especially considering it’s what turned so many off at the time of its release; how much control does Polanski have over Bitter Moon’s tonal makeup? It’s a risky piece of work, less from risque content, and more from an unequivocally bizarre sense of self. Is this a joke? Are we in on it? Is Polanski in on it? Does it obstruct viewers from seeing the unpleasantly complicated statement at the center, or does it enable? Is this the only way to present something so dire and hopeless? I see Polanski as having far more control than he was at first credited. Seigner pouring milk all over her breasts, looking like a zombie by the way, as Peter Coyote licks her with George Michael’s “Faith” playing in the background is unequivocal evidence Bitter Moon is meant as a kind of brazenly sadistic circus. While other 90’s erotic thrillers took themselves so seriously, it must have been quite jarring to see a film that at once does not take itself as seriously, yet contains twisted barbs of resonance.

Expanded review here

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8. Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley) (US) (LTF)

“Harriet and Blah-Blah Nyborg”. “Have you made your decision for Christ?!?”. “Because I don’t like you”. “Fuck the Machine!!!”. “Will you go to lunch? Go to lunch! Will you go to lunch?”. “Fuck you–that’s my name”. “Put. That coffee. Down”. “You stupid fucking cunt”. “Your pal closes, and all that comes out of your mouth is bile. Oooh, how fucked up you are”.

The more familiar you are with Glengarry Glen Ross, which at this point is like my film equivalent of a first cousin, the more there is to get out of it. There’s a giddy anticipation that builds leading up to, well, pretty much every line delivery in this thing. It’s no secret that for all the playing at man, swearing as desperate currency, and the repetitive Mamet-isms of the actual text, this is a film erected out of top-level high-wire performances. Whether it’s Al Pacino fully enunciating and emphasizing ev-er-y sing-le syl-la-ble, bringing off-key rhythms to his Ricky Roma Rendition, or early Kevin Spacey reeling in the unmovable dryness he’d later bring to Lester Burnham, everyone is firing on all cylinders even if their characters are sure as hell going nowhere fast.

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7. Deep Cover (Duke) (US) (FTV)
Neo-noir that deals with race relations and the hypocrisy and political corruption within the War on Drugs with surprising directness. Poetically edged hard-boiled narration delivered with the low steady hum of Laurence Fishburne’s cop who grapples with right and wrong, cop or criminal, and questions where can he do the most good within a cracked system that uses his race as an asset for the higher-ups. Then bring in Jeff Goldblum’s indispensable magnetic eccentricity to his role as a slightly unhinged lawyer yuppie, self-described as having a “condescending infatuation with everything black”. Yes, he’s fighting for power and money, but most importantly for respect among the criminal minded. A very moralistically preoccupied film about choices and compromise and defining the invisible line. I thought I had past my expiration date for undercover cop stories, but Deep Cover nixed that with its ability to balance heady and charged politics with two consistently engaging leads that transcend the walking clichés we’re used to seeing.

Brother's Keeper
6. Brother’s Keeper (Berlinger/Sinofsky) (US) (FTV)
Brother’s Keeper isn’t about whether or not Delbert Ward actually killed his ailing brother Bill. It’s about the dynamics of small communities like Munnsville, NY, where the Wards are fervently supported, without question, by their fellow townspeople. They put up bail money, hold benefit dinners, and attend the trial with all the muster they have. Part of this support has to do with how iconic the Wards (three brothers total, not including the deceased) are within the community. Some kind of know them, some kind of don’t, and a few know them quite well. The populace protects the reclusive, mostly illiterate, and mentally debilitated Delbert (same goes for all three) because he is one of their own. They are, as defender, prosecutor, and populace say, ‘simple folk’. The big city versus little town friction comes into play in a major way, mostly in how the Wards were treated by the higher-ups during crucial events like interrogations and the signing of documents.

Owing great debt to the Maysles Brothers, who the film is dedicated to, we shift between life with the Wards, interviews with the townspeople, and the anticipation and resolution of the trial. Though the filmmakers are clearly fascinated with these subjects and this story in a slightly condescending way (though I really don’t know how one would avoid it), it takes a non-judgmental stance as far as the case itself. This is incredibly gripping and mysterious stuff, with more questions than answers by the end. The camera expertly observes the Wards in their environment, attempting to understand and not able to truly break through the supposed simplicity, which only lends to its power.

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5. The Player (Altman) (US) (RW)

Ever notice that The Player has more handshakes per minute than anything else you’ve ever seen? This is Robert Altman in the belly of the beast, a beast he’s well familiar with, setting up conventions and then playing into them with bite. The reason this and Bob Roberts represent Tim Robbins’s best work is because each magnifies his smug impenetrability in different ways. In The Player, we see every step the pompous ass takes into the mud bath, unable to touch the reality of his situation because he and the film define it within the confines of narrative familiarity. You can track the film’s progress by the degree Griffin’s eyes have glazed over. In Bob Roberts we can’t touch him at all. Not even the camera can get close to him. In one he’s a familiar monster, the other a faceless one. Both are primo schmoozers.

The cameos fold in on themselves, and soon we’re seeing famous people populating the background as extras (oh hey there Jack Lemmon)! This is more plot-driven than some of Altman’s work, and it has to be, because Michael Tolkin’s script grafts the narrative of old onto satire. There’s an intriguing line the director tows between the subjectivity of a man who acts in the form of plot points (that scene when he hams it up for Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett who just laugh at him is gold. You can see ‘why isn’t this working? It works in the movies!’ all over Griffin’s face) and the outside-looking-in gaze that demonstrates how precarious success is in the movie biz. With Griffin’s job in jeopardy from the start, a constant threat is maintained that drives the picture; one minute you’re in, the next you’re out.

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4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Lynch) (US) (RW)
The first time I saw Fire Walk with Me was a week after I’d watched the show, not something I’d necessarily recommend. I walked away from that experience sufficiently disturbed and shaken up, particularly by Sheryl Lee’s work. As a whole though it felt…overreaching. There was a new Donna to get used to, a first act that mistakes deadpan for deadness, Kyle Machlachan’s all too brief and reluctant appearance, some material that’s one step past nonsense, and a significant frequency adjustment from the show. I even remember saying after it was over, “I liked it, but it’s not my Twin Peaks”. Then I waited six years and watched it again for this list, where it sideswiped me like a “BOB” out of hell.

That gap purged me of preconceptions I had taken from the show. It dumped the residue bullshit of seeking out answers to a world that, being Lynch, is an intuitive and abstract kind of hell devoid of rules or explanation. The film simply became Laura’s story. And that’s what it is. Laura’s schizophrenic, mournful, harrowing end. It takes the iconic dead girl trope and makes her whole, beyond the realm of voiceless victim. It’s the Lynch film that is both most and least tethered to reality. By magnifying the trauma and horrors of sexual abuse (and adolescence) as an actual and inescapable hell, by purifying and heightening the emotions in play, it becomes perhaps the most consummate and visceral film on the subject. In “Twin Peaks”, “BOB” is Leland. In Fire Walk with Me, Leland is “BOB”, and it makes all the difference. The supernatural all registers as metaphor here.

Laura Palmer is real to me, and Sheryl Lee is what makes her crushingly real. If there’s a better female performance from the 90’s, I haven’t seen it. She turns herself inside out as Laura, mythic and fragile, self-destructive and strong, youthful and timeless. Laura Palmer is a victim, but there’s nothing submissive or resigned about her. She constantly breaks through the ‘victim’ archetype, and Lynch films her with admirable and melancholy reverence without ever simplifying her down to an object through which we funnel our pity. As Fire Walk with Me ended, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. I sat and cried hard full tears for who knows how long. Laura stayed with me for days after. A week later I was driving, and I started thinking about her, and the tears came again. I can’t think of another instance of such residual impact. But I do know that Laura will always be with me, and with countless others.

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I have to pause here for a special mention to the last fifteen minutes of Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, a sequence containing three movements as good as the medium has to offer. The climax is an elegy during the fact, tracking a procession of deaths. It approaches the mainstream climax from an atypical point of execution. Familiar content is presented with the flow of an unstoppable avalanche in slow-motion. The score has two themes competing with each other, one measured, the other bursting to get out from underneath. And then everything slows down with Alice (Jodhi May) on the cliff. Shots and moments are held a few seconds longer than they normally would be. Every glance, every gesture carries weight. Alice’s decision hits so much harder due to how peripheral her and Uncas’s (Eric Schweig) romance has been up to this point. The sidelines function of Alice and Uncas provokes a ‘wait-what-is-she-doing’ response we aren’t prepared for. All we can do is sit frozen, breathing in tandem with the score, the bass signifying the act of letting go, and wait for her to carry out her fateful decision.

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3. Husbands and Wives (Allen) (US) (RW)
It’s safe to say the Mia Farrow era of Woody Allen’s career is my era of choice. The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, and this account for my top three. It’s the messy end, an ugly piece that spoons bitter truths out of caustic penetrating humor. The faux-documentary construct illuminates the characters (and their motivations) and their inability to reconcile self-analysis with action, specifically within relationships and marriage. How well do people know themselves, and how does that correlate, or not correlate, with an ability to adapt and/or function with another person? There are different levels of self-awareness and all-too human unseemliness in Gabe (Allen), Judy (Farrow), Sally (Judy Davis), and Jack (Sydney Pollack).

Significance comes through flawed characters and ruptured editing techniques. At times we jump from moment to moment, other times we stay on someone’s face far past our comfort level. At the start it’s the neurotic Sally that seems most intolerable. By the end it’s clear she’s got the best head on her shoulders. She sort of learns from her experiences, or at least knows what she needs in a relationship, realizing that for better and worse her and the deplorable Jack (played with odiousness by Sydney Pollack) should be together. It’s not good or bad. It just…is. Nobody gets off the hook including us; every character succumbs to their worst selves at one point or another or several or many. Our varying esteem (it’s a low bar folks) for them is equated with how upfront they are about themselves to themselves. The dichotomy between this brutal form of measurement (Mia Farrow’s Judy oh-so-interestingly comes out on bottom) and the Bergman influenced dissection of the two couples is where Husbands and Wives finds its tense and mordant complexion.

Michelle Pfeiffier Batman Returns

2. Batman Returns (Burton) (US) (LTF)
I was five when 1992 came along, so my top two are, unsurprisingly, formative works inextricably linked with my childhood; not in mere nostalgia, but deep personal meaning. I like to call Batman Returns a “DNA” film. It’s a phrase I use for formative features (we’ve all got a handful of ’em). They become mythologized, bigger than themselves, immeasurable in impact for the individual.

A knotty, expressionistic, and uncommonly grim superhero film fueled by the Tragic with a Capital T emotional arcs of its villains, this still stands as a risky endeavor. It doesn’t follow a cookie cutter way-to-be. There’s no house style, not a trace of anonymity or comfort. Tim Burton just does whatever the fuck he wants, favoring approach and impression over now-hip grit and the samey-spectacle that came with the advent of CGI. It gleefully eschews fan expectations and even its hero (and hell, even its story) for an imposing and deeply disturbing operatic vision that plays around with the sexual, the psychotic, and the putrefied.

It’s the best Batman film, by far, and my favorite superhero film no contest. Why? Because it isn’t even really a superhero film, and I never view it as such. It’s about the grotesquerie of the Penguin and his search for identity through ‘Oswald’. It’s about Selina Kyle’s reclamation of identity and self through mental collapse and shock. After all this time, Danny DeVito’s Penguin still makes me sick to my stomach with his gallows humor and sullied sweaty sack of a costume, oozing green and going out with a gurgle. But here’s the power of the film; a scene as inherently absurd (one of many) as a group of penguins acting as collective pallbrearers for DeVito’s corpse as they slide him into the sewer water is not only affecting, but genuinely haunting and heavy with tragedy.

And for all its many wonders (Danny Elfman’s ghostly score being at the very top of that list), it all comes down to Michelle Pfeiffier as Catwoman. Some know how much her work here means to me, and they tend to be others (because there are a lot of us)  who’ve been similarly impacted by what she does with this role, which is, well, what doesn’t she do with it? Her Selina grows to own herself at the expense of her sanity. She helps others at the expense of her ‘goodness’. She desperately tries to fill that hole inside her to no avail. The slinky dominatrix garb she makes for herself is a one-off, and by the end the rips and tears are showing the unhinged chaos and suffering underneath. There’s a gravitas to her work that reveals an escalating depth of sorrow. And she gets the last shot of the film; risen, triumphant, and ever-so-slightly nodding at her own perseverance.

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1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (Henson) (US) (LTF)
I’ve been foolishly psyching myself out in regards to writing about The Muppet Christmas Carol because from the start I’ve been treating it as an attempt to convert or convince others of its greatness. Like I have to make up for eye-rolling that may or may not occur from those who will wrongfully dismiss this as a ‘clouded by nostalgia pick’ (though I have more faith in my readers than that). Or maybe I’m just overthinking it.

But I’ve ditched the idea of treating this like a pitch. I’m not going to say much about the film because it’s all there in my heart and in my gut and it’s difficult to extrapolate on the why’s of its effect on me. It’s unbridled joy, and a truly beautiful blend of two iconic properties (The Muppets and Dickens) that services both and compromises neither. Three spirits visit Ebenezer Scrooge, but it’s the spirit of the (then) recently departed Jim Henson that looms largest over the proceedings. A moving air of gratitude blankets all. Not a mournful air, but an appreciative one, a big thank you for your creations and for your preposterous wit and heart. Paul Williams, one of my favorite people ever, graces us with songs that are by turns jolly, chilling, and full of thanks. And all of them memorable; there’s not a dud in the bunch (the cut but narratively essential “When Love is Found” notwithstanding).

Every time I watch it, which used to be many times every Christmas season but has now taken on a one-time-saved-for-last occasion, I look forward to every little bit without fail. Whether it’s fawning over cousin Fred or watching Miss Piggy’s saucy side come out as Mrs. Cratchit when downing a toast like a shot. Or the moment when an annoyed Gonzo and a mischievous Rizzo the Rat (our narrative guides) face each other in silence only for Rizzo to lean forward and lightly kiss Gonzo’s curly nose. Or the power Michael Caine (my ideal Scrooge, this is a performance that, like the rest of the film, is near and dear to me) manages to ingrain in the many reaction/shots of observance he has throughout. His arc is all there in the face. Caine considers this one of his most cherished roles. That the experience meant something to him only makes it resonate even more.

This would rank on a list of my 20 favorite films. I hate to quantify my love for something with amount of tears shed, but emotional response is an easy marker to reference. Every year close to Christmas, Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline shows a print of the film for a sold out crowd of kids and adults alike. Last year was the first time I went, marking the beginning of a new yearly tradition. I steadily cried, no exaggeration, about 75% of the runtime. They weren’t tears of joy or sadness, but tears of meaning; I’m, quite simply, moved by its open heart. And as a gal who doesn’t naturally drift towards heartwarming or uplifting lessons learned, I can say without a doubt, that somehow, someway, this film has grown to mean the world to me.

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5 thoughts on “Top Ten By Year: 1992

  1. Wonderful write-ups. Your top pick made me smile – and very much want to revisit a film I probably haven’t seen since I was a kid (what better time for a Christmas classic than the dog days of August?). The spirit of projects like that really wins me over because I always feel cinema, maybe all art, but cinema especially with its documentary & illustionistic tendencies side-by-side, has the ability to fuse completely disparate moods, styles, presentations, aesthetics and make them coherent wholes. The Muppets and Dickens, the silly and the sublime – and I love that Michael Caine considers this one of his favorite roles. He really treats it seriously rather than condescending to superficially “ridiculous” material; as I recall, Scrooge is played completely straight. Caine reacts to his co-actors were flesh-and-blood rather than cloth and plastic. But then, maybe the flesh-and-blood part doesn’t matter (even when we watch live action, the characters are at least half in our imagination) – it’s the spirit that matters, and God knows they’re imbued with that.

    ’92 is a favorite year (at least among “recent” ones) – several titles high amongst my all-time favorites – but it’s also a pretty weak year for me in terms of breadth, to be completely honest. I’ve only watched 18 of the films you mention in your intro, mostly stuff I saw as a kid (although as your top 2 picks prove, that’s no disqualifier). Of your top 12 (including your runner-up & the climax of Mohicans), I’ve seen less than half.

    Batman Returns was on my mind recently because I re-watched the ’89 Batman. To be honest, it (the first Batman) didn’t hold up as well as I might have liked. The style is a bit generic, if also more artfully engaging than Nolan’s work in the Dark Knight trilogy (I like the last couple films, particularly the Joker/Ledger one but more for the ideas they present than for the visual presentation). The narrative also feels pretty rote. All in all it REALLY made me want to re-watch Batman Returns, which I recall as being much more an “auteur-unleashed” project after Burton proved he could bring in the bucks with Batman. I think I have a VHS sitting around but I should really wait and watch it widescreen on DVD – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it that way and I’d imagine it’s simply dazzling in its proper presentation. At the moment, though a re-view may change this, my favorite Batman film is actually the animated Mask of the Phantasm film from the following year. I like the noir-esque atmosphere, the story has genuine pathos and I think it’s the only Batman film to actually make me care about him as a character.

    Your write-up of Last of the Mohicans is just SPOT-ON. Brief, but probably the best description of that scene’s effectiveness that I’ve ever read. There are few sequences in the history of movies that better utilize dramatic character/narrative content, suggestive performance and camerawork, the visceral power of montage, and a achingly perfect score. The whole film works for me, but it’s undoubtedly the ending which makes me rank it so highly.

    The only other film on your list that I’ve seen (well, besides the obvious one we’ll get to in a second) is Glengarry Glen Ross, another favorite. I have a pretty similar reaction to yours: just sheer delight in the script, the characters, and also the underrated, subtle but evocative atmosphere (to tie into the remaining film, James Foley also directed the Twin Peaks episode that I think starts to slowly set the show back on course, and it’s much more a success of direction than writing). I’ve been tossing around an idea for a sales-film video essay for years, and when I finally make it (hopefully this fall) Glengarry will play a prominent role. As someone who has worked intermittently in sales & similar fields, this may be the film that best captures both the exhilaration and the anxiety of the profession. And goddamn, is that dialogue quotable.

    Of course, the film I most looked forward to hearing your thoughts on is Fire Walk With Me. And you did not disappoint – this a wonderfully-written and insightfully personal celebration of a movie which I too find it impossible to shake. Similarly to you, I saw it once, was deeply troubled in my reaction, and didn’t revisit for 5 years (although I quickly realized that a film which affected me so deeply had to be a masterpiece, whatever my reservations). My issue with it seems to be unique – I’ve yet to find someone else who had a similar reaction – in that I came to it straight from a viewing of Twin Peaks the show, which I loved, and yet my problem with the film was that I wished it had disposed of even MORE series baggage and just made itself 100% the Laura Palmer story (I like the Deer Meadow stuff more now, but especially that brilliant Harry Dean Stanton scene which works not only as a vivid, inexplicable foray into the uncanny but also the perfect, final gateway into our final descent: “You see, I’ve already gone places. I just wanna stay where I am.”).

    Since that first viewing, as I’ve reflected on its vivid memory and then finally returned both to it & the series with a vengeance this spring my tendency has been to see the phenomena of series and film as separated by a deep gulf. Reading (many, but certainly not all) Twin Peaks fans rip apart the movie always frustrated me immensely and at times resent the show for casting an obscuring shadow – an unfortunate perspective for me, since Twin Peaks is genuinely my favorite TV series of all time. Yet the two – Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me – seemed irreconcilable. This impression was underscored by the reaction of many non-Peaks fans who appreciated the film completely on its own terms, as psychological horror, as a crucial entry in Lynch’s filmography, or as an avant-garde art film dealing with abuse (the cries that it’s impossible to understand without the series almost invariably comes from Peaks fans who saw the show first). Maybe, I thought, Fire Walk With Me just needs complete separation from the series to flourish?

    The recent release of The Missing Pieces changed my mind – though I still think Fire Walk With Me works just fine as a standalone film. Because they mix elements of the film & the series into kind of a hybrid approach and a more distanced view of Laura’s struggles (while still closer to the show), they were rightfully cut from the movie. But this also means they also re-assemble as side-film, or rather a collection of vignettes, which works remarkably well on its own (at least if treated as a segue between series & film rather than a new coda). This reminded me of a crucial fact which completely reverses the conventional wisdom: Fire Walk With Me may not need Twin Peaks, but Twin Peaks most definitely needs Fire Walk With Me. To watch the show and avoid the movie now strikes me as a rather shameful cop-out, even though most critics and commentators treat this as the normal course (and I love that Lynch forces them to consider otherwise by making Fire Walk With Me an integral, indeed climactic, part of the new Entire Mystery blu-ray, whose cover pointedly features an unsettling image of Laura Palmer).

    Last night, as the culmination of six months of writing about, discussing, watching & otherwise engaging with the Twin Peaks phenomenon, I re-watched the pilot and Fire Walk With Me back-to-back. The mournful, yet intense, air of the pilot – which is all about holding a fascinated distance, peering into an unfathomable darkness, and savoring a sense of the melancholy “after” – leads eventually and inexorably to the shocking and violent revelation/re-enactment, of the killer (the most powerful moment on the series), the collapse of the detective’s authority (in the final episode, one of my favorite things Lynch has ever directed for big or small screen), and finally our complete entry into the mysterious “object”‘s consciousness until she becomes unbearably real to us, something hinted at in the pilot, though we could never dream of it being fulfilled so vividly. None of this was planned as the original course – but when is anything in Lynch’s work planned like that? This is the director who pulled major characters and plot points from spontaneous incidents, who reinvented an abandoned TV pilot into the most acclaimed film of the 21st century, and whose last film was constructed piece-by-piece, often on the morning of shooting with no conception of what the end result would look like. Twin Peaks begins with Laura Palmer as pure body and ends with her as pure spirit, while the affectionate-but-ineffective community around her remains in limbo and the hero out to re-establish order & control ends up losing control of his own mind & body. This arc need not be pre-ordained, which it wasn’t, to be perfect, which it is. That the film is so shockingly, radically different than the pilot episode (while echoing some of its plot points and images), that it almost seems to annihilate the memory of the pilot and subsequent show…is in a paradoxical way the very fulfillment of that early promise, and an entirely Lynchian journey to take.

    I am planning to flesh out this idea by composing a close reading of the show, film, and spin-off items (have you read Jennifer Lynch’s Secret Diary of Laura Palmer? Highly recommended – it really paves the way for the film and was a huge influence on Sheryl Lee’s interpretation of Laura). I also still have a couple more focused Peaks pieces up my sleeve – interviews with Lynch authors John Thorne & Martha Nochimson, possibly a video essay examining the strange, otherworldly relationship of Cooper & Laura over the course of the show (and the final image of the movie), and finally with an analysis of Lee’s work in Fire Walk With Me which is probably my favorite performance of all time, male, female, any era (it’s also my favorite thing about the movie, period, but ironically it’s the aspect I’ve discussed least in any essay; while it can be very difficult to put a performance in words, especially one so based on inner life rather than outer technique, I’ll see what I can do). With all this side, I’m allotting myself a very minimal amount of time each day to work on these (the overview will not appear till the 25th anniversary next spring, so I can pace myself). A half-year of Lynch/Peaks obsession is enough: indeed, I plan to make this here my last comment (in any medium) on Twin Peaks for some time so I hope I’ve made it count! My desire to read/watch/discuss everything on the subject has led to some really fruitful discoveries and projects, but also served as a distraction from perhaps more crucial work I need to re-focus on (a guy on a podcast I listened to recently put it best: “Obsessions are best when they’re over”).

    Nonetheless, like you, I am perpetually haunted by the film, Sheryl Lee’s performance, and the character of Laura Palmer. I can’t think of any other movie that’s had as profound an effect on me and in the end those who dismiss or don’t get it don’t really matter. It’s the people who feel Fire Walk With Me in their gut who will sustain its legacy and ensure that the spirit of Laura Palmer lives on.

    1. I’m amazed and humbled that you took the time to respond to this post so thoughtfully. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. I’ll just respond to random things:
      – Yeah, Scrooge is played straight by Caine, and it’s beautiful work.
      – I feel similarly about the 89 Batman. I do like it quite a bit, but it’s a little too tethered to the typical superhero narrative. It has a visual point of view, and I can’t give Burton enough credit for bringing Batman to the screen like this, but it feels like a bit of a slog if I’m being honest. It’s like a test run for Returns, which is just bursting with all kinds of dark flourish. He lets his freak flag fly so effectively. I adore Mask of the Phantasm; I really need to revisit it though, it’s been so long.
      – I did not realize that James Foley directed an episode of Twin Peaks! I would love to see that sales-film video if you do it. Keep me posted on it!
      – You definitely know a lot more than I do about TP fan reactions/non-fan reactions to FWWM, so this is all really interesting to hear. I do think the show brings this mythic quality to Laura and ushers it into the film, because at that point she’s larger than life and the film makes her a human being. And I think that’s somewhat important. But for people to say it makes no sense without the show seems a bit silly considering we’re dealing with a David Lynch film. A lot of it is unanswerable whether you’ve seen the show or not. But I agree with what you have to say about Twin Peaks needing FWWM. No matter what one thinks of the film itself, I find it surprising and pretty depressing that anyone would dismiss it outright. And I do think The Missing Pieces works strangely well as a series of vignettes. Feels larger than ‘deleted scenes’, they are indeed ‘missing pieces’.
      – I’m actually just finishing up The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and am loving it. It captures beautifully Laura’s struggle with herself.
      – You’ve definitely made your comment count! I’m in awe of how deeply you’ve dived into this universe

      1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed reading it. A few final thoughts:

        1. As my original plan for my Monday post falls through, I am now leaning toward writing up Muppet Christmas Carol for next week’s post. I have a VHS standing by so it’s do-able…stay tuned.

        2. Let me know if you write up Mask of the Phantasm.

        3. Will do with the sales-video.

        4. Foley did ep. 24, or the post-Josie-in-the-drawer-pull one (maybe I like it so much since her character’s really dull storyline has finally ended; she had SO much potential – great 1st shot in the pilot but it’s all downhill from there). It opens with the moody Truman-on-a-binge montage (and includes some kind of silly drunk-shouting by the sheriff) and ends with the infamous pine weasel riot (followed by the assassin lady climbing into bed with Truman)…but despite some goofy plot shenanigans, the thing MOVES and it seems like for the first time since the Laura storyline ended, the actors have energy and enthusiasm. I also like the way he handles the camera in a lot of scenes, especially after the really over-the-top Diane Keaton episode: it’s very subtle but accomplished. Although it’s still another episode to go before Lynch returns as Gordon Cole and Cooper (finally) loses the flannel and gets re-instated in the FBI, I tend to view this as the one where season 2 picks up again. Apparently, people on set felt similarly…the recent Reflections oral history of Twin Peaks has Kimmy Robertson say that when Foley came in, it seemed like things really got back on track.

        5. Re: it’s a Lynch film, exactly! It boggles my mind how people can bellow about Fire Walk With me being “impossible” to understand without seeing the show. Are they familiar with Inland Empire?! You could throw single frames from Fire Walk With me in the air and reassemble them willy-nilly and it would still probably be less confusing than that film (which I love, by the way). I’ve learned that Twin Peaks fans and David Lynch fans don’t necessarily overlap quite as much as one would think.

        6. Glad to hear you’re liking the diary. Amazing that it made the NY Times Bestseller list in 1990. In fact, it was kind of the last piece of Twin Peaks to achieve popularity.

  2. I would say that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me belongs at number 1, that is, assuming Stan Brakhage’s work is playing out of competition (his Boulder Blues and Pearls and… from that year is just beautiful). FWWM is a work of pure cinema that outdoes the show by miles. I loved it the first time I saw it (from the first ironic image of TV snow to that glorious ending) and was also frustrated that it was judged in the context of the TV show’s network standards.

    1. Then yes, FWWM would belong as your #1. I don’t judge in terms of ‘best’, I am merely representing my taste. But yes, FWWM is a singular masterpiece, and I’m so glad researching this year forced me to reassess it. Brakhage would count, I just didn’t end up watching it. Thanks for reading.

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