The Mystery of Twin Peaks

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One of the most wonderful universes that you can get lost in is Twin Peaks.  It takes you into the mystery of the world.  It’s strange, but not any stranger than real life.  It’s just that the strangeness of real life is heightened so that it is brought to the forefront.  One of the things that David Lynch does so well is to create strong emotions.  He knows that emotions are abstract, you can’t explain sadness or pain or happiness so much as you can feel it.  Through abstract visuals and sound design he creates cinema of intense feeling.  

The trick to what he does is that he often allows you to feel two different emotions at the same time. The end of Fire Walk With Me, the movie that takes place in the Twin Peaks universe, is one of the most horrifying sequences I have ever seen in film.  It is also beautiful.  The fact that it is beautiful doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch.  In fact in might make it more so, because it opens you up emotionally to it in a way that no straight horror movie or documentary ever could.  David Lynch isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, but you never ever get the sense he is trying to shock you just for the sake of it.  

The TV show Twin Peaks is a combination of different genres.  There are characters that could have come out of a film noir and there are characters that could have come out of a soap opera.  These more traditional genre elements are laced with episodes of the surreal and uncanny.  At the core of Twin Peaks is a murder mystery.  However, the TV show especially also features many moments of light comedy.  It is again the fact that it is combining different elements that make it so unique.  

But I think one thing that truly makes Twin Peaks special is that in watching it, we not only recognize feelings and emotions from reality, but the show somehow heightens the viewers reality as well.  When we enter the woods after seeing the show we may notice how dark and mysterious they are in ways we might not have payed attention to.  Entering a diner we may notice details and the behavior of people in ways in which we didn’t before.  Twin Peaks is great entertainment, but it is also something more.  It is a fictional world that makes us aware of the mysteries in our own.  

Under the Skin: A Second Look

Although I can say with all certainty that the new movie Under the Skin is not for everyone, I can’t stop thinking about it.  If you want to know what it is about read my review from a few days ago.  It is cinema at its best, where imagery is painterly and infused with multiple layers of meeting.  One can’t help but look at the world in a new light, at least if you are open to this kind of film.  It is a slow movie, but this pace is rewarding as it causes you to contemplate the images being shown. 

Scarlett Johansson is an alien, but as this character she forces us to see the world in a way that we might not otherwise.  The world, stripped of its context and meaning that we impart on it, is a strange and mysterious place. 

One of the interesting things in the movie is the men that she seduces.  They have thick Scottish accents.  The accents are so thick that at times I had trouble discerning what they were saying.  Here they were speaking the same language as me, but they appeared foreign, as if inhabiting some familiar but parallel universe. 
Also, the natural world is presented as I believe it really is, as a world we rarely seen in nature documentaries that want to explain and categorize it.  Nature is beautiful and enchanting, but it is also dangerous beyond human comprehension on many levels.

Again, this movie is not for everyone.  It requires work out of the viewer.  In some ways it is more like going to an art museum than the traditional Hollywood fair.  However, if you are up to the challenge, you will see something unique.  It is if the director, Jonathan Glazer, opened up a small glimpse to the mysterious heart of the universe. 

Church for One, For Anyone

I went to church today.  No, I did not go to the place with the stain glass windows and the boring guy at the front.  (And before you get all bent out of shape for calling your religious leader boring, let’s just admit that even many of you that go to real church on a regular basis are bored stiff.  I once had a friend’s father that used to always fall asleep in church and say he was just, “deep in thought.”)  My church is out in nature while listening to music.  No one is excluded, no one tells me what to think, and no one is going to hell, except possibly me.

Today I walked through a park in my home town.  I came home for three days to celebrate my Dad’s birthday.  Spring was in full bloom and the air was cool and crisp.  For my sermon I listened to Damon Albarn’s new album Everyday Robots.  The beautiful melancholic music perfectly matches early spring here in the North East.  Nature and art dance with each other and each enhances the other.  I contemplate the mystery and wonder of the universe.  Although the land is full of memories for me, I am simultaneously present in the moment.  I take my headphones off temporarily and listen to birdsong and the rippling of a stream, the first music in the world.

I understand everyone is different, but I simply don’t need anything else to feel part of something bigger.  When I go into a regular church it simply cannot match creation as it stands.  As I have traveled the country I often wonder why places that have so much organized religion are often, though not always, places where the land is also being abused by industry.  Maybe organized religion is a way to cope with the destruction that we so often bring to the world?  Who knows such things…

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking

 I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with white clouds flying
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying

 I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life
To the gulls way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

Sea Fever by James Masefield.  One of the most amazing nights of my life was spent no Cocoa Beach in Florida.  My girlfriend and I were drinking beer on the beach and watching an electrical storm out at sea.  It was one of those times where you are liable to believe that God is an artist.  It was simply one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.  Nature is not just a resource to be exploited.  It is a place where the mystery of the universe becomes slightly more tangible.  It is powerful and glorious.  Who are we to tamper with such a thing?

Science Does Not Challenge Mystery

This summer I gave a speech in Costa Rica with my girlfriend Abby about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its relationship to ocean acidification.  ALEC, a right wing group funded by corporations, and ocean acidification, literally oceans are becoming more acidic, are two blog topics in and of themselves.  A quick google search can teach you the basics about each.  However, while we were doing research we found that one of the things that ALEC was trying to do was to destroy science in the classroom, especially climate change science. 

Because ALEC is partially funded by many in the fossil fuel industry it makes sense that they would want to destroy anything that points towards man made climate change being real.  I’m sure they figure if they can influence young people, they will do away with some future opposition.  These corporations are aligning themselves with the religious right.  We are not only seeing them try to push for climate skepticism, but also for creationism.  These corporations can hide their true agenda in religious language.  It’s nothing but a crass political move. 

I will never understand why so many religious people are scared of science.  Although science can disprove boneheaded ideas such as the earth only being a couple thousand years old, it can never answer the big philosophical question of why are we here.  Science can tell us how the natural world works, but it cannot explain how it came into being.  Sure, it can point to the big bang and evolution, but it can not say what set those forces into motion.  The question of why are we here is safe for a long time to come, maybe forever. 

The world is full of mystery and wonder.  These religious hucksters cheapen that mystery and wonder when they try to assign some kind of simplistic belief to it.  The world is a complex and amazing place.  We will be able to ponder its mysteries for a long time to come, that is if corporations and their religious water carriers don’t pollute us off of the face of the planet first.  

Neither Day Nor Night

I work best at strange hours.  I like to be up late at night and early in the morning.  If I could I would sleep a couple hours at night and a couple hours in the afternoon.  I like the hours of the day when there is often a quiet stillness.  Yet at the same time these hours abound with possibility.  They are pregnant with moments waiting to be born.

One of my favorite shows ever is the show Twin Peaks.  This show has endless virtues to talk about.  However, one thing that it got really right was the sense of time and day.  Often in the show, the moments right before dawn were filled with a sense of mystery.  Something was happening.

David Lynch, one of the creators of Twin Peaks, is a master at creating those feelings that we all feel but can’t explain.  He can capture that eerie sense in dreams when it is neither day nor night, the way our brains relate unrelated things in a way that somehow makes sense, the mystery always hidden just behind reality.  He understands that emotions are abstract and can paint pictures of pure emotion.  He uses surrealism, but there is always some kind of unexplainable logic at work.

If you are not afraid of mystery, surrealism, and interpretation, then go down the rabbit hole with him.  He will show you something you have always known, but could never quite place.  He will show you a world full of imagination, and possibly a little sliver of your soul reflected back at you.  His movies are full of both strange horror and extreme beauty.  They are not an easy ride.  But they are worth it if you care to make the journey.

Roads Still Yet to be Traveled

I’ve really become interested in electronic music lately.  Some bands that I’ve been listening to lately have been Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, OMD, and Book of Love.  I also love the Knife, though their music fits less moods than the others, as they are more abrasive and confrontational.  I also love the music on Johnny Jewel’s label, especially the band The Chromatics.  I’ve always loved synth pop.  I grew up on bands like New Order.

I’m interested in the idea of people getting emotion out of technology.  Also some of the best pop songs are in this genre.  Bernard Sumner from New Order can write endless melodies that never leave your head.

Although I grew up with bands like New Order, Electronic, and Depeche Mode, some of my current interest has been driven by the films of Nicolas Winding Refn.  He uses this music to great effect in films like Drive, Bronson, and Only God Forgives.  He understands that although this music is very synthetic on one hand, it is also capable of great emotion.

If country and folk music, which I also love, evoke pastoral settings, electronic music reminds me of the city at nighttime.  That’s not to say that electronic music can’t also be pastoral.  Brian Eno’s 70’s album Another Green World is an album that brings nature to mind more often than not.  Kraftwerk’s Autobahn album also has moments like this.  Although I love songs that have a message and am a fan of great lyrics, sometimes music is wonderful when it just creates space for dreams.

Haruki Murakami’s book After Dark creates a surreal dream like version of the city at night.  When I read things like this I often picture certain pieces by Kraftwerk and the Chromatics as being the perfect soundtrack to these worlds.

I grew up as a fan of the pop song.  More recently I’ve begun to be as interested in music that is non verbal.  Music that is non verbal has to create emotion and thought through pure sound.  This can be music that is instrumental or music that has the vocals obscured through production techniques.  Non verbal to me can even be bands that sing in foreign languages, where I can’t understand what they are saying, and the voice becomes just another emotional texture.  Often in electronic music, especially as you see with bands like Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, only a few simple phrases will be repeated throughout a song.  Even though you understand what they are saying it is open to interpretation when combined with the music.  The words become almost just another sound that feeds into the music and vice versa.

Although I write in the pop song format, and it’s still my favorite format, there is something to be said about music that is non verbal.  The human imagination is a powerful thing.  In the place of words we will often find that our dreams take over and place meaning into things that may or may not be intended by the artist.

I’ve mentioned before how David Lynch liked using grainy digital video for the movie Inland Empire, because he wanted the human imagination to fill in the space that the imperfect images left.  I think a lot of electronic music, the kind that is non verbal or almost non verbal, does this same thing.  It allows for interpretation and dreaming on the part of the listener.

Well there are many forms of instrumental music, many of which I love, the sounds created by electronic instruments create a different headspace.  Again it is often, but not always, more urban and futuristic.  Some bands like OMD, who write pop songs and instrumental pieces, create a retro futurism.  It’s like the sonic version of a film noir that takes place in the past and the future at the same time.  One of my favorite albums right now is their album Dazzle Ships.  It is an album full of mystery, ideas, and dreams.

Too often I think people let cultural or tribal things get in the way of exploring new worlds.  People are more open now to new musical experiences than ever before.  Sometimes though, there still exists a certain tribal instinct that gets in the way of people enjoying different forms, based solely on what they might find “cool” or acceptable in their group.   The human imagination can go anywhere and should be given as much room to roam as possible.  Don’t listen to anything but your own gut.  There are many roads still yet to be traveled.

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Flannery O’Connor On Mystery

“I don’t think literature would be possible in a determined world. We might go through the motions but the heart would be out of it. Nobody could then ‘smile darkly and ignore the howls.’ Even if there were no Church to teach me this, writing two novels would do it. I think the more you write, the less inclined you will be to rely on theories like determinism. Mystery isn’t something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge.”

Flannery O’Connor is one of the great American writers.  Her use of language is completely unique.  If you have never heard of her, read her short story A Good Man is Hard To Find.  All of her work is excellent.  I’ve actually never read anything bad by her.

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David Lynch on Human Behavior

“Well, its all in the world of human behavior, which is a wide range as we all know. There’s so many possibilities in this beautiful thing of humans behaving in this world. And that has a long way to go being explored.”
“Human beings are like detectives. They love a mystery. They love going where the mystery pulls them. What we don’t like is a mystery that’s solved completely. It’s a letdown. It always seems less than what we imagined when the mystery was present. The last scene in `Blow Up’ is so perfect because you leave the theater still dreaming. Or the end of `Chinatown,’ where the guy says `Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.’ It explains so much but it only gives you a dream of a bigger mystery. Like life. For me, I want to solve certain things but leave some room to dream.” – David Lynch

Director David Lynch speaking on human behavior.

A Dish Best Not Served Cold

I’ve always liked movies with ambiguous endings.  David Lynch movies come to mind, and also less surrealistic things like Lost in Translation, where you aren’t quite sure what is said between the two main characters at the end.  I know a lot of people that like everything tied up in a neat ribbon at the end, with the moral and the outcome delivered on a silver platter.  That just isn’t me.  I’m not saying that I can’t be entertained by those films, but most of the time those are not the films that stay with me.

Mystery is an important ingredient to any art form.  Recently I talked about old Phil Spector records and the fact that the instruments kind of bleed together creates a sense of aural mystery.  The world is a mysterious place and I feel like when art mirrors this it is somehow more truthful.

David Lynch made his last film, Inland Empire, in a digital format that is grainy when compared to the way most films look now.  He said that the fact that the image isn’t as clear allows for the imagination to fill in the missing information.  When you watch a horror movie it’s often what you don’t see that scares you the most.  When you read your mind and imagination does half the work and what the author writes does the other half.

With ever more increasing clarity in our images and audio recordings we risk losing a sense of mystery.  Often when I watch movies that I have always enjoyed on Blue Ray they look like movie sets.   Somehow the technology gets in the way of the imagination.

I am not a purist.  I like hearing records that are pushed to the limit in terms of what is possible.  I like seeing films that create new worlds that we’ve never seen before through the latest in special effects.  I will just as often put on a brand new record as I would an old field recording.

But I think that it helps to remember that mystery and magic are important ingredients in creating something that is art and not just escapist entertainment.  Don’t be afraid to leave a few happy accidents in your work.  Don’t worry about getting everything perfect.  Don’t be afraid to have the images be blurry occasionally, for instruments to bleed together, to not tie up all loose plot ends.  The human imagination is a powerful thing and will do the heavy lifting when needed.  In the production of a piece of art allow for human imperfection to play a role, even if it’s a small one.  Art, unlike revenge, is not a dish best served cold.