Twin Peaks: International Pilot (1990)

The international pilot of “Twin Peaks” is the same as the actual, American pilot for the first seventy minutes or so, before continuing twenty minuted beyond what the proper televised pilot covered, and extending into sequences that “answer”, to some degree, Laura’s killer, albeit in a much different fashion to how the television series eventually would. While some of this footage was cleverly reused in the series (in a different, and vastly more effective context), for the most part the intentions behind it were nixed and the show moved on to a better, more meaningful narrative.

While the last twenty minutes work well enough as the sort of descent into surrealism a more typical Lynch film might enter into at the end, they don’t really play well with the great pilot that came before because they’re so adrift from everything that made the pilot work so well – the attitude towards grief, the tone riding the line between earnest and satirical, the focus on the uniqueness of the town – and instead rely upon bizarre, surreal sequences lacking the groundwork the series would set in later episodes for its moves towards more overt horror and the supernatural.

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Forgetting those last twenty minutes and taking the international pilot for the parts identical to the televised American pilot, it’s a remarkably confident and self-assured work that sets up so much of what made the series work so well. Using a dead young woman to kickstart a story isn’t particularly inspired, and the show would eventually devolve into using it as a lazy conceit (years before the prequel film would invert the trope and focus relentlessly on Laura’s life as she lived it), but what’s notable in the pilot is how seriously and earnestly showrunners David Lynch and Mark Frost (with Lynch also directing the pilot) take the grief it inflicts upon the town. Shots of characters reacting to news of Laura’s death linger uncomfortably long, making the reality of their grief feel unsettling and real. Some character’s reactions initially play as goofy or overacted, but as the camera doesn’t budge and they go on grieving, the natural reaction edges away from laughter to devastation. Lynch rides that awkward balance between tones masterfully – if one’s unsure of whether to be amused or saddened, they can always rest assured of Lynch making them uncomfortable above all else.

While the last twenty minutes of the international pilot are a decidedly uninteresting way of ending a story, the preceding hour or so is a very well-crafted tablesetter for the tone, narrative, and style of the series, as well as a fairly strong reflection on grief and trauma crossed with a send-up of soap operas in its own right. I give it three and a half doughnuts and a letter hidden under a fingernail.

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