The 25th entry in an on-going series of audiovisual essays by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin.
“What year is it?”—the final spoken line (before a whispered name and then an almighty scream) in Twin Peaks: The Return—could be asked of many works by David Lynch. Ambiguity of historical time certainly permeated the initial run of Twin Peaks (1990/1991) which, while nominally kicking off its plot in 1989, often seemed, iconographically and atmospherically, to be taking place in the 1950s or 1960s. The finale of Twin Peaks: The Return ensured that any stable notion of a timeline is scrambled between the rapidly oscillating poles of reality and dream, the world and its double, “future and past.”
Lynch’s obsessive time-scrambling is also a matter of merrily mixing up diverse cultural associations in his head. Lines from pop songs, images from films, and then vaguer or more abstract textures and ambiences soaked up from all over: the feel of fabrics, the walls of sound…
“I’m not really a film buff,” says Lynch; he recently claimed not to have seen a movie in years. Even factoring in his temperamental preference for deflecting most interviewers’ questions, there is probably some truth in these statements. Critics often err in thinking of filmmakers exactly as they think of themselves: as cinephiles, people who systematically seek out movies, remember their titles, take notes, and make studied, “intertextual” comparisons.
Lynch is likely of another breed: somebody who has seen plenty of films in his time, but keeps no conscious ledger of them; somebody who flips through the TV channels, catching random fragments of this or that curiosity unfolding before his eyes and ears, without ever knowing what it is or who made it. To adapt an immortal line from Johnny Guitar, Lynch has probably forgotten more cinema than we cinephiles remember.
But forgetting is propitious to his creative way of working. Film-memories come back to him as unmoored sensations, bits of ideas, shards of possible scenes and situations. The deeper that something is forgotten or even repressed, the more comprehensively it can be reprocessed and reimagined, transformed into something new when the urgent need for it arises. This is what Alain Bergala calls, in the productive lives of filmmakers, cinema as reminiscence.
With its evident themes of trauma and ageing, haunting and complicity, the buried and the re-animated, Twin Peaks: The Return is ripe material for this type of artistic process. It boasts movie references that are explicit (Sunset Blvd.), implicit (The Wizard of Oz, 2001: A Space Odyssey), and daffy (Run Silent Run Deep). But there are plenty of other film-fragments clanking around Lynch’s meditative unconscious, expressing themselves across its eighteen hours. Our audiovisual essay is a free-associative grab at one possible constellation of reminiscences.