Red light floods the auditorium. An electric guitar wails as a dark, hypnotic mantra plays out on a double bass. We see the characters speak but we can’t hear what they say; we are permitted to observe but not understand. It’s dirty. The scene blisters with sin and the music reaches out and absorbs the audience. We are all sinners now. We are complicit.
I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me twice in the same week but most critics hated the film. It was booed at Cannes. Twenty years on, I still remember my time in the Pink Room.
There were two problems with the David Lynch’s Twin Peaks film that led to it being a critical disaster. First, Twin Peaks was already dead, having haemorrhaged fans through a second series that lost its way. Second, the movie was far more Lynchian than the series, being dark, unrelenting and completely inscrutable. Film critic Mark Kermode revisited the film last year, who considered it to be “the best horror film of the year”.
As a film-maker, Lynch often unpacks imagery from his subconscious and lets the audience try to make sense of it. He’s not being deliberately obtuse, he just wants to make something that’s fascinating to watch that seems to make terrifying sense on some higher level. Lost Highway, for example, revels in self-contradiction and switches to a different narrative halfway through the film. So if you were hoping for answers to some of the mysteries of Twin Peaks, you wouldn’t necessarily find them in its big screen incarnation.
What stays with me is the experience of being there in the cinema, subject to its menace. Angelo Badalamenti’s warm, noir-ish opening theme is severed as a television is smashed, plunging the audience into unease. For the rest of its duration, Lynch slowly ratchets up the tension until the film can no longer bear the strain and reaches its preordained conclusion. Only then, there is peace. Credits roll. The audience goes home. Critics write a ton of shit about the movie.
Barry Norman reviewed the film for the BBC and one of his many frustrations was a sequence where the music drowns out the dialogue. That was the Pink Room in which our doomed protagonist Laura Palmer hangs out in the Bang-Bang bar, gets drunk, does things with guys she doesn’t know and completely freaks out. It’s an astonishing highlight, possibly my favourite part of the film, and one of those scenes you either love or hate. Here’s Lynch’s short re-edit of the scene designed to show off Fox Bat Strategy who performed the music.
The DVD release has subtitles and, if you fancy, you can pop them on to find out what everyone is saying. But that’s all beside the point, right? In the cinema, we were only meant to capture whispers of dialogue that occasionally leaked through the wall of music.
Not everything needs to make sense because sometimes a wild ride is all you need.
Writing a ton of shit
I was wary of Superbrothers’ Sword & Sworcery because it was one of those indie sensations that everyone talked about. I back away when the chatter about a game reaches a fever pitch because I find it difficult to see anything through the fool’s gold of hype. But it was okay, it was on the iThing, far from the PC.
But the game did hit the PC later and since we were all so post-hype, we bought it because we were awesome. And so began our woeful errand because when we started playing this, we definitely got the feeling we weren’t super-jazzed about it. The game was so like, who cares, whatever, too cool for laid-back school, amirite? We were totally freaked out that the game might be more hype than we had actually reckoned on. The game sure did talk a lot of unhelpful nonsense for a PC game, TAP TAP.
Yet something happened between the beginning and the end.
Kieron Gillen wrote of the game: “Its insincerity is a mask. It’s the most sincere, unironic game I’ve played in ages. If its princess is in another castle, its princess is actually in another castle. It covers it with layers of irony, but it’s based on a sincere belief that this shit means something. It could come across as being embarrassed of what it is, except its more like shyness. As in, what it’s talking about is too important to be approached directly and crassly. You have to joke about it, because if you took it seriously, it’ll shatter.”
Somewhere along the line, it is possible to forgive its flaws. The ill-conceived Twitter integration. The challenges that don’t fit the PC as well as the iPhone. The frustration of having to spend another four minutes, largely waiting, fighting a Trigon again. The whole waiting for the moon thing which was frustrating then but today considered worthy of an IGF nomination in VESPER.5.
I embraced it for what it was, a game with heart, a musical instrument through which you play Jim Guthrie’s soundtrack provided you learn some moves and tease out its buttons.
After an “owls are not what they seem” reference, I knew I was working with some Twin Peaks fans here. I immediately clocked the in-game concert as an homage to the Pink Room. Mind was blown.
Sword & Sworcery is a strange hodgepodge of ideas and I can’t say it brings new ingredients to the kitchen table of game design. But that’s all beside the point, amirite? Sometimes a wild ride is all you need.