Lynch mob

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

I’ve now spent a week trying to digest the third season of Twin Peaks, which ended its eighteen-episode run on September 3rd.

 

It would be an understatement to call this third season long-awaited.  Fans of Twin Peaks, the always oddball, sometimes barmy, occasionally confounding TV crime series (when it wasn’t being a soap opera, or comedy, or horror story, or science-fiction drama) have spent a quarter-century desperately waiting for it.  Twin Peaks originally aired in 1990 and 1991, created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and sporadically directed by Lynch.  For this 2017 revival, Lynch directed all the episodes himself.

 

One phrase that’s appeared in many reviews of Twin Peaks 3 has been “like nothing else on television.”  And for once I find myself in agreement with the critics.  This new season has been different from anything else you’ve seen on your TV or are likely to see on it – except, perhaps, when that TV is showing a movie by David Lynch.

 

Here is a list of reasons why Twin Peaks 3 has been so remarkable.  If you haven’t seen the show, I should warn you that many spoilers lie ahead.  Mind you, if you haven’t seen it, you also won’t understand a word I’m talking about.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

The Evolution of the Arm

Part of the weird flora and fauna of the Black Lodge – the Twin Peaks netherworld – the Evolution of the Arm is a tree that crackles with electricity, has a talking brain-like bulb at the top and barks unilluminating things like “253, time and time again!” and “Non-existent!” at Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who’s trapped in the Lodge.  Later, after Coop returns to the human world, the Arm sprouts up from a pavement to help him fight off diminutive assassin Ike the Spike (Christophe Zajac-Denek) and gives more coherent advice: “Squeeze his hand off!  Squeeze his hand off!”

 

The thing in the glass box

In an early indication that Twin Peaks 3 was going to be less cosy than the original TV series – and closer to the visceral tone of the movie-cum-prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – the first two episodes feature a strange experiment involving a big glass box and a mass of surveillance equipment that eventually conjures up a phantom thing.  Unfortunately for the guy monitoring the experiment – who’s inopportunely chosen this moment to have it off with his girlfriend – the thing is apparently equipped with kitchen-blender fingers.  It proceeds to reduce their heads to bloody confetti.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

The giant tin can in space

Episode three sees Coop out of the Black Lodge and in pursuit of his evil doppelganger, Bad Coop, who’s back on earth.  But it begins with a phantasmagorical, dialogue-free twenty-minute sequence where he ends up in what appears to be a giant tin can floating through space.  Crewing the tin can is a strange Asian lady who doesn’t have any eyes; and later someone called the American Girl, played by Phoebe Augustine, who was Ronette Pulanski in the original series.  The Girl holds up her watch to show it’s 2:53, which sheds light – not a lot of light, admittedly – on that statement by the Evolution of the Arm.

 

Mr Jackpots

It transpires that there’s a third version of Coop on the go, Dougie Jones, who’s a replica created by Bad Coop (presumably as a decoy to throw people off his scent).  Good Coop replaces Dougie when he arrives back on earth and the replacement process is so traumatic that Coop / Dougie subsequently spends several episodes with his brain practically wiped clean.  The scene where he shambles into a casino and, thanks to some lingering Black Lodge voodoo, wins jackpot after jackpot on the fruit machines whilst shouting the one word of human language he’s retained – “Hellooo!” – is hilarious.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

Deputy Hawk and the Log Lady

In a season where most of the old Twin Peaks cast seem embittered, enfeebled or unhinged, the still wise and resolute Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) is a reassuring presence.  It’s fitting that Lynch and Frost use him in the scenes featuring actress Catherine Coulson, who passed away early in the season’s production.  As the ailing Margaret Lanterman, aka the Log Lady, she phones him several times to relay some last messages from her trusty log.  Hawk’s words at the end of their final conversation – a simple “Goodbye, Margaret” – are quietly heart-breaking.

 

Dr Jacoby’s shovels

Dr Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) is now a shock jock broadcasting nightly rants from his caravan to an audience of, well, two – crazy one-eyed Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robey) and permanently-stoned Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly).  When not ranting, Jacoby advertises gold-painted shovels which can be yours for $29.99 and are ideal for shovelling yourself “out of the shit and into the truth.”

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

Janey-E

Janey-E is the wife of Dougie Jones.  Amusingly, when Good Coop replaces Dougie and becomes catatonic, Janey-E – played by the marvellous Naomi Watts – seems not to notice anything wrong with her husband.  Or she simply turns a blind to eye to it, since the almost-magical aura of goodness surrounding Coop and the powers of the Black Lodge cause money to pour into her household for the first time ever.  And unlike virtually everyone else, she gets closure at the end of Twin Peaks 3 because Good Coop thoughtfully makes another copy of himself and sends him to be Janey-E’s beau for good.

 

The Mitchum Brothers and Candie, Mandie and Sandie

Good Coop’s superhuman decency also manages to rub off on brutal / comical mobsters Bradley and Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi).  The casino-owning pair start off wanting to murder his ass – see ‘Mr Jackpots’ above – but end up totally enamoured with him, treating him like their long-lost third brother.  Further hilarity is provided by their trio of pink-clad molls Candie, Mandie and Sandie, who are always on hand – even after a holocaustic face-off between good and evil – to serve up platters of expensive finger-food.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

The Nine Inch Nails

As a diversion from the narrative weirdness, Lynch and Frost have the Roadhouse, the bar / concert venue in the town of Twin Peaks, host a musical act late in every episode.  Given its remote location, the place attracts some unfeasibly big names: Julee Cruise, the Cactus Blossoms, Rebekah Del Rio (who has Moby on guitar) and one Edward Louis Severson – Eddie Vedder to you and me.  Best of all is the performance in Episode 8 by fearsome electro-metal juggernaut Nine Inch Nails, who are introduced by the MC as the Nine Inch Nails, no less.

 

The puking zombie car-passenger

Deputy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) tries to calm a hysterical woman at the wheel of a stalled car and a convulsing, vomiting zombie-like creature slowly rises out of the seat beside her.  This is never explained or never referred to again.  A perfect Lynchian moment in other words.

 

Harry Dean Stanton sings

Well, he does.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

David Bowie is now a teapot

Yes.  David Bowie is now a teapot.  Those are six words I never thought I’d find myself writing.

 

Wally Brando

Modelling himself on Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), the motorbiking, leather-clad and free-spirited Wally Brando (Michael Cera) is the offspring of lovable dolts Andy and Lucy Brennan (Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson).  Wally’s utterances about life on the road are not as profound as he thinks they are.  “My shadow is always with me.  Sometimes ahead.  Sometimes behind.  Sometimes to the left.  Sometimes to the right.  Except on cloudy days.  And at night.”

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

Audrey’s dance

Once young and sultry, now middle-aged and deeply unhappy, Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is glimpsed in several episodes pleading with her strange husband to be taken to the Roadhouse.  When they finally get there, in Episode 16, there’s a sublimely eerie scene where the crowd clears from the floor, an orchestra break into the spooky Audrey’s Dance from the original series and Audrey, appropriately, starts dancing to it…  What happens next is, shall we say, mysterious.

 

Freddie versus Bob

Only in Twin Peaks could you see a cataclysmic battle between good and evil where a Cockney ragamuffin called Freddie (Jake Wardle), wearing a strength-enhancing green gardening glove, has a slugfest with a giant bubble containing the demonic spirit of Killer Bob (Frank Silva).  It’s not exactly Thor versus Loki or Superman versus General Zod.  But that’s probably the point.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

The long bits where nothing much happens

Whole minutes pass while Good Coop / Dougie does nothing but draw ladders and zigzags on a sheet of paper…  Or while a Roadhouse staff-member does nothing but sweep the floor…  Or while Dr Jacoby does nothing but spray-paint his shovels.  In this modern era where everything on film and TV has to move fast, where narratives have to be urgent, where audiences’ attention spans are assumed to be tiny, this seems like heresy.  But in fact, it feels oddly soothing.

 

The final episode

I had a suspicion that Twin Peaks 3 was going to end on a downer and, yip, Lynch and Frost rose – or descended – to the occasion.  I didn’t massively enjoy the way it finished, with Coop going back in time to right the original terrible wrong at the heart of the Twin Peaks universe and prevent the killing of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), only to find himself trapped with an older, careworn and apparently murderous version of Laura in some chilly alternative universe where people aren’t who they’re supposed to be.  But with its air of existential sadness and clammy menace, I certainly won’t forget it for a long time.  Another result for David Lynch, then.

 

© Lynch / Frost Productions

 

The FBI guys

 

© CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Ask me at least two days of the week what my all-time favourite TV show is and I’ll say Twin Peaks, the weird, whacky and wonderful crime drama / mystery / soap opera / offbeat comedy / horror series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and sometimes directed by Lynch that ran for two seasons from 1990 to 1991.

 

Admittedly, I agree with the consensus opinion that the show dropped in quality during its second season after the big question that’d propelled its plot until then was answered – i.e. we found out who’d murdered Laura Palmer back at the start of episode one.  But I’m still awfully excited about the news that Lynch and Frost have recently been working on a third season of Twin Peaks, set a quarter-century after the events of the original, which is scheduled for broadcast in May this year.

 

I’m saddened, though, by the recent death of actor Miguel Ferrer, who appeared regularly in the 1990-1991 Twins Peaks and was one of many old cast members recruited again for this year’s revival.  It now looks like Ferrer’s return appearance in the new Twin Peaks, filmed last year, will prove his swansong.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

The son of the legendary Hispanic-American stage, film and TV actor José Ferrer and the American singer Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt), Miguel Ferrer played a character called Albert Rosenfield in the show and made his debut in its second episode.  Albert is an FBI forensic expert summoned to the town of Twin Peaks by his colleague Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to help him investigate the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).  The testy, cynical and frequently obnoxious Albert is the yin to the yang of Cooper, who’s a decent, honest and almost psychotically cheerful fellow.  Cooper also seems the only person on the planet who’s capable not only of tolerating Albert but of treating him as a friend.

 

Still, Cooper is mindful enough to advise town sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) about Albert being an acquired taste: “I gotta warn you.  Albert’s lacking in some of the social niceties.”

 

Initially, those social niceties aren’t so much lacking in Albert as non-existent.  He denounces the town as a “slipshod backwater burg” and a “forgotten sinkhole”, to which he’s “travelled thousands of miles and apparently several centuries”, and one that’s full of “morons and halfwits, dolts, dunces, dullards and dumbbells”.  He calls Truman to his face a “chowder-head yokel” and “blistering hayseed.”  Truman responds by punching him so hard that he ends up sprawled on top of the mortuary slab bearing Laura Palmer’s corpse.

 

But, as the show progresses, Albert is allowed some character development.  By the second season, when Truman’s ready to punch him again following another jibe – “You might practise walking without dragging your knuckles on the floor” – he responds to the threat of violence with an impassioned speech explaining that he’s happy to be a knob-end if it helps him in the greater scheme of things, i.e. in the struggle against evil.  And by the way, he’s a committed pacifist.  “While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I’m a naysayer and hatchet-man in the fight against violence.  I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King.  My concerns are global.  I reject absolutely revenge, aggression and retaliation.  The foundation of such a method is love.  I love you, Sheriff Truman.”  No wonder Cooper tells the dumfounded Truman afterwards, “Albert’s path is a strange and difficult one.”

 

Actually, the FBI as it’s portrayed in Twin Peaks is a strange and difficult thing too.  Apparently, it’s staffed by eccentrics and oddballs, admittedly ones with impeccable codes of conduct.  The abrasive-but-idealistic Albert seems almost normal compared to Cooper, with his compulsive habit of talking into a tape recorder, obsession with coffee and cherry pie, predilection for seeking clues in his dreams and generally bizarre investigation techniques, such as ‘the Tibetan Method’ (basically throwing rocks at bottles).

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

There’s also Gordon Cole, Albert and Cooper’s Regional Bureau Chief, who’s played by David Lynch himself.  He’s partially deaf, with the unfortunate side effect that he himself speaks much too loudly, which when you think about it isn’t a helpful characteristic for an employee of an intelligence agency.  In addition, Gordon is given to such odd behaviour as writing epic poems in honour of meals he’s just eaten and making obtuse statements like, “Cooper, you remind me today of a small Mexican Chihuahua.”

 

And then there’s Agent Denise Bryson (actually from the Drug Enforcement Agency rather than the FBI) who’s played by none other than David Duchovny and who turns up in Twin Peaks after having what we’d call today a ‘gender reassignment’.  Denise, who not-so-long-ago was called Dennis, explains to Cooper that she first donned woman’s clothing whilst working undercover on a sting operation and enjoyed the sensation so much that she decided to go the whole way and become female.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

As a transgender character entering the remote, rural town of Twin Peaks, Lynch and Mark Frost can’t resist wringing a few laughs out of Denise’s situation – for instance, stunned expressions when Duchovny first trots into the sheriff’s office in high heels, stockings, skirt and long hair.  But overall, she’s depicted with surprising empathy and respect by the standards of an early 1990s TV show.  She’s shown to be smart, likeable and professional and Cooper and the others immediately accept her as a member of the team.   And she saves Cooper’s neck when he’s being held hostage by the villainous Jean Renault (Michael Parks).  Disguised as a waitress, she smuggles to Cooper a gun that she’s hidden up her skirt.

 

Let’s not forget the additional agents we meet in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the Lynch-directed movie prequel to the TV show that appeared in cinemas in 1992.  We get Phillip Jeffries, an FBI man who’s been mysteriously missing for two years but who one morning suddenly pops out of a lift at FBI headquarters.  He proceeds to babble gibberish at Cooper, Gordon and Albert: “Who do you think this is, there…?  I found something.  And then there they were!”  Then he narrates a surreal dream montage involving dwarves, killers, masks, disembodied mouths and long-nosed spectres.  And then he vanishes into thin air again.  Making the experience even stranger for the audience is the fact that Phillip Jeffries is played by David Bowie, in the movie for all of three minutes.

 

© CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Another musical talent playing an FBI agent and disappearing mysteriously in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is Chris Isaak, who had a big hit with the song Wicked Game.  Early in the sequel, Isaak’s character Chester Desmond is sent to another small town to investigate the murder of another young woman.  We last see Isaak reaching under a trailer to retrieve what looks like the murdered woman’s ring – and then, spookily, he fades out of view.  I find it unsettling that Isaak’s musical career seemed to vanish off the radar about the same time he vanished off the screen in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.  Maybe Lynch knows something about Isaak he hasn’t told the rest of us?

 

The reputation of America’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies isn’t exactly spotless.  Indeed, the FBI’s image was severely tarnished by the many years when it had the unsavoury J. Edgar Hoover as its director.  I can’t help but wish that David Lynch had been allowed to run the FBI in real life and he’d hired the likes of Dale Cooper, Albert Rosenfield and Denise Bryson.  It would have meant some very peculiar characters investigating crime in America.  But they’d have been both entertaining and ethical while they did it.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

Death log 2016 – part 1

 

© American International Pictures

 

You may have noticed that one or two people died in 2016.  Here are some folk who passed away this year who’ll be particularly missed at Blood and Porridge.

 

January 10th saw the departure of musical legend and stylistic chameleon David Bowie, who was commemorated in no fewer than three postings on this blog:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6104

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6114

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6130

 

Die Hard (1988)
Directed by John McTiernan
Shown: Alan Rickman

© Silver Pictures / 20th Century Fox

 

The British actor Alan Rickman died four days later.  Rickman’s career, and especially his talent for playing delightfully fiendish villains in movies like Die Hard (1988) and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991), was also celebrated at Blood and Porridge:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6183

 

January 9th saw the passing of American actor Angus Scrimm, who’ll be fondly remembered by horror-film fans for playing the Tall Man in Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm movies.  And Scottish writer Robert Banks Stewart died on January 15th.  Banks Stewart was well-known for creating the TV detective shows Shoestring (1979-80) and Bergerac (1981-91) and he also scripted two of the scariest stories of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, 1975’s Terror of the Zygons and 1976’s The Seeds of Doom.  The alien monsters in the former adventure, the repulsively slimy and sucker-covered Zygons, proved so popular that forty years later they’re still menacing Peter Capaldi in the revived Doctor Who.

 

© BBC

 

Another British actor to depart in January 2016 was actor Frank Finlay, who passed away on the 30th.  Finlay played Porthos in the classic trilogy of Musketeers films directed by Richard Lester in 1973, 1974 and 1989; Van Helsing in the BBC’s stately adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1977; and Dr Fallada in a less reputable vampire epic, Tobe Hooper’s hilarious Lifeforce (1985).  He also had the curious distinction of playing Inspector Lestrade in two different films where Sherlock Holmes investigates the Jack the Ripper killings, 1965’s A Study in Terror and 1979’s Murder by Decree.  The final day of January saw the death of Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan, whose twinkly-eyed, possibly toupee-bearing visage seemed to symbolise the BBC during the 1980s as much as Ronald McDonald did McDonald’s or Colonel Sanders did the KFC.  Equipped with a soft brogue, gentle wit and inability to take himself or anyone else too seriously, the ubiquitous Wogan could host any ropey old chat-show or game-show and make it entertaining.

 

Italian author Umberto Eco died on February 19th.  I always thought his acclaimed novel The Name of the Rose (1980) was overrated, but at least the film version six years later gave Sean Connery one of his last good film roles.  On February 22nd, the British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe passed away at the venerable age of 103.  Slocombe’s half-century career included such highlights as Dead of Night (1945), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Servant (1963), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Great Gatsby (1974) and the first three Indiana Jones movies (1981, 84 and 89).  Another great behind-the-scenes man of British cinema, production designer Ken Adam, died on March 10th.  Not only was Adam responsible for the spectacular and now iconic sets of seven James Bond movies between Dr No (1961) and Moonraker (1979), but he designed the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (1964), reckoned by Steven Spielberg to be the greatest movie-set ever.

 

© Hawk Films / Columbia Pictures

 

Another Kubrick veteran, the actress Adrienne Corri who appeared in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, died on March 13th.  Among her other credits was a role in the bloody but fairy tale-like Hammer horror movie Vampire Circus (1972).  Two days later saw the death of Sylvia Anderson, the one-time Mrs Gerry Anderson, co-producer of such classic kid’s puppet TV shows as Stingray (1964-65), Thunderbirds (1965-66), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68) and Joe 90 (1968-69) and such adult sci-fi TV shows as UFO (1970)  and Space 1999 (1975-77).  In Thunderbirds, she also provided the voice for the gorgeous and glamorous, though frankly plastic, Lady Penelope.  Author Barry Hines died on March 18th.  His most famous work was A Kestrel for a Knave (1968), which a year after its publication was filmed as Kes by mighty British director Ken Loach.

 

© ITC Entertainment

 

The comedy world took a treble hit in spring 2016.  The English comedienne, actress, writer and director Victoria Wood died on March 24th; the Scottish comedian and comic performer Ronnie Corbett on March 31st; and the great American stand-up, actor, writer and producer Gary Shandling on April 20th.  The passing of the impish and fruity-toned Corbett prompted this tribute from Blood and Porridge:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6367

 

© BBC

 

Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, who played intergalactic freedom-fighter Roj Blake in the BBC’s downbeat 1970s space opera Blake’s Seven, died on April 13th.  Surely the most traumatic TV moment ever came at the end of Blake’s Seven’s final episode, which sees Blake bloodily gunned down by his second-in-command Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) who wrongly suspects him of treachery.  (“Have you betrayed us?  Have you betrayed… me?!”)  A week later, on April 20th, film director Guy Hamilton passed away.  Hamilton was another James Bond alumni with four 007 movies under his belt, most notably 1964’s Goldfinger.  And April 21st was a day when another great musical talent was snuffed out: Prince.  Blood and Porridge paid its respects to the saucy purple one here:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6441

 

On April 24th we bid adieu to two character actors who’d enlivened many an old British B-movie: Australian Lewis Fiander, who’d had supporting roles in the horror movies Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) and was the leading man in Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s splendidly creepy Spanish film Who Can Kill a Child? (1976); and British-Chinese actor Burt Kwouk, who was best known for playing Inspector Clouseau’s manservant Cato in the Pink Panther movies, though he’d appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows besides.  Kwouk was a big favourite at Blood and Porridge, which published this tribute to him a year ago:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=5707

 

By June, the month when the United Kingdom voted for Brexit, it was clear that 2016 was going to be remembered as a monumentally shite year.  This unhappy fact seemed to be reinforced by the passing of the great Muhammad Ali on June 3rd, which was recorded on this blog here:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6607

 

From www.wantedinrome.com

 

June 12th saw the death of one of Scotland’s more outré eccentrics, Tom Leppard, aka the Leopard Man, who was reckoned by the Guinness Book of Records to be the world’s most tattooed man.  A former soldier, Leppard had his body covered in a leopard-skin pattern of spots and spent much of his later life living in a remote bothy on the Isle of Skye.  On June 19th, the American-Russian actor Anton Yelchin died in a tragic freak accident.  Aged just 27 at the time of his death, Yelchin had made a name for himself in impressive movies like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), as well as in the rebooted Star Trek movies where he played Chekov.  And Bud Spencer, the burly Italian Olympian swimmer and comic actor, died on June 27th.  In partnership with Terence Hill, Spencer made 20 movies of rumbustious and destructive slapstick that regularly turned up as supporting features in British cinemas during the 1970s.  Watch Out, We’re Mad (1974) and Crime Busters (1977) are particularly fondly remembered at Blood and Porridge.

 

Finally, June ended and July began with what Blood and Porridge dubbed ‘the curse of the Radiohead video.’  No sooner had the avant-garde British rock band released a video for their new song Burn the Witch, which combined the look and the Claymation animation style of the classic British TV children’s shows Camberwick Green (1966), Trumpton (1967) and Chigley (1969) with the plot of the classic British folk-horror movie The Wicker Man (1974), than: (1) Gordon Murray, producer and animator of those children’s shows died on June 30th; and (2) The Wicker Man’s director Robin Hardy died on July 1st.  Here’s what Blood and Porridge had to say about Hardy:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6706

 

© XL

 

To be continued…  Unfortunately.

 

Bowie’s mural

 

 

I always had this idea that David Bowie spent his childhood in a nice big house in a beautiful expanse of English countryside.  I assumed this because I once saw a version of the classic animated Christmas movie The Snowman (1982) that he narrated.  He appears in the movie’s live-action introduction and tells us about an extraordinary event that happened to him one wintertime when he was a little boy: “That winter brought the heaviest snow I’d ever seen.  The snow fell steadily all through the night and when I woke up, the room was filled with light and silence, and I knew then it was to be a magical day…”  What happens is that little David leaves his country house, trudges out into the snowy fields and makes a snowman, and this snowman comes to life, befriends him and takes him to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus.  Wow, I thought.  No wonder Bowie went on to make all those weird albums like Space Oddity (1969) and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) after he’d grown up!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXEoqb0_mrg

 

However, when Bowie sadly passed away on January 10th, I discovered that he’d actually been born and raised in south London, first in the district of Brixton and then in the suburb of Bromley.  Which meant that he hadn’t spent his childhood in the English countryside, and he hadn’t built a snowman that came to life, and he hadn’t met Santa Claus at the North Pole.  Damn it, David – you lied to me!

 

But no matter.  Folk in Brixton are understandably proud that David Bowie hailed from their neck of the woods and a while back someone painted a picture of him from his Ziggy Stardust / Aladdin Sane period on a wall in Tunstall Road there.  As soon as Bowie’s death was announced, this mural became a place of pilgrimage for Bowie-philes and was quickly transformed into a shrine to his memory.

 

Coincidentally, the other day, I was visiting a mate in Brixton and I happened across the Bowie mural / shrine – well, I could hardly miss it, since it’s at the mouth of Tunstall Road just across from the entrance to the local tube station.  By this time, the wall with Bowie’s red-lightning-streaked features was propping up a waist-high scrum of offerings – mainly bouquets of flowers, but there were also candles, dolls, teddy bears, action-figures, wine bottles, beer-bottles, letters, cards, pictures and, for some odd reason, a tin of spam.

 

 

Meanwhile, people had stuck up more flowers, pictures and letters on the brickwork around the mural, as well as newspaper cuttings and even a vintage issue of Jackie, that ‘weekly magazine for girls’ once published by D.C. Thomson, which had Bowie on its cover.  (It also boasted of having pin-ups inside for ‘Bryan Ferry, Elvis, Alice Cooper and Noddy Holder’, so it was vintage indeed.)

 

 

The wall had acquired a few pieces of Bowie-related graffiti, but that was nothing compared to the white-backgrounded hoarding just along from the mural, which in the past few days had become smothered in scribbled tributes and epitaphs to the departed rock god.  Many of these messages were cosmic in tone, in accordance with his early 1970s stage persona: ‘Rest in space’, ‘See you on our red planet’, ‘Our star in the sky’ and so on.

 

I found it ironic that the ads on those hoardings, which Bowie’s fans had so defaced, were for various beauty products.  Surely, I thought, in view of what Bowie did to popularise the use of make-up – among boys as much as among girls – the cosmetics industry wouldn’t begrudge this small act of vandalism by the great man’s admirers?

 

 

Bowie’s movies

 

(c) British Lion Films

 

The late David Bowie’s acting career was as long as his musical one.  According to his Wikipedia filmography, he made his first celluloid appearance in 1967.  Incidentally, 1967 was also the year that he released his most famous – and most embarrassing – early single, the catchy but terrible novelty song The Laughing Gnome, the chorus of which goes, “Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee, I’m a laughing gnome and you can’t catch me!” 

 

Bowie’s first film was a cinematic short called The Image and it was written and directed by Michael Armstrong, who shortly afterwards would be responsible for the gory (by the standards of the time) horror movies The Haunted House of Horror (1969) and Mark of the Devil (1970).  Armstrong had planned to use Bowie again in The Haunted House of Horror, playing a character who’s revealed near the end as being a psychotic killer – which would have given us the entertaining spectacle of Bowie stabbing Frankie Avalon, who headed the cast, to death at the movie’s climax.  However, Bowie’s involvement didn’t happen and the role went instead to an actor called Julian Barnes, whom I assume isn’t the same Julian Barnes as the prestigious author of Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England, England (1998) and Arthur & George (2005).

 

Bowie’s acting ability was never likely to win him an Oscar and he appeared in some awful duds (like 1986’s overhyped Absolute Beginners).  However, in the right sort of movie, and in the right sort of role, and with the right sort of director, he could be memorable.  So here are a few of my favourite Bowie movies.  By the way, I haven’t seen the 1983 World War II prisoner-of-war movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, in which he starred alongside Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tom Conti and the mighty Kitano Takeshi, but people whose opinions I respect tell me it’s a good ’un.

 

In 1976, he gave one of his best performances in the Nicholas Roeg-directed The Man Who Fell to Earth.  Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, a billionaire who, Richard-Branson-style, is trying to build his own spaceship.  What the world doesn’t know (initially) is that Newton is an alien who’s been tasked with saving his home planet, which is threatened by a cataclysmic drought, and he plans to use the spaceship to transport water there from earth.  But before he can accomplish his mission, he succumbs to several human bad habits, including alcoholism and watching way too much television.   Also, the US government finds out what he really is, imprisons him and carries out tests on him as if he were a humanoid lab rat.  By the movie’s end, Newton is free again, but still stuck on earth and still addicted to the bottle.  Oh, and – irony alert! – he’s accidentally become a rock star.

 

The Man Who Fell to Earth is puzzlingly non-linear and surreal, even by Roeg’s standards, but it’s really helped by having Bowie in the main role – the aura of strange alien-ness that his appearance had in real life does him no harm here.  He also gives the addiction-prone Newton an appropriate sense of vulnerability and frailty, which might have been the result of Bowie having a severe addiction himself at the time, to cocaine.

 

(c) MGM / UA Entertainment

 

Seven years later, Tony Scott – little brother of Ridley – directed him in The Hunger, a movie that seems almost like a stylistic prototype for the Goth sub-culture that sprang up soon afterwards in the 1980s (a sub-culture that, like several others, was heavily influenced by Bowie himself).  It even begins with a sequence set in a night club where a pair of vampires pick up two young victims while Bauhaus perform Bela Lugosi’s Dead live on stage.

 

Bowie plays John, who’s the immortal companion of an immortal lady vampire called Miriam (Catherine Deneuve).  What Miriam sneakily hasn’t told John is that eternal life doesn’t mean eternal youth for her vampirised companions.  Rather, after living it up Dorian-Gray-style for 200 years, they’re suddenly stricken with rapid aging and become shambling, mummified living-dead people whom Miriam keeps locked away in her attic.  The sequence where Bowie’s 200 years’ grace comes to an end, he starts to age and he hurries to a clinic to consult a doctor (Susan Sarandon), only to grow older even while he’s sitting in her waiting room, is both macabre and amusing.  It seems particularly mordant these days, given the hoo-ha there’s been lately about patient waiting times in Britain’s National Health Service – if the right-wing newspapers are to be believed, you could die of old age whilst waiting to see an NHS doctor.

 

One Bowie movie that hardly ever gets mentioned is 1985’s Into the Night, directed by John Landis, which is a strange, meandering and improvised-feeling comedy-thriller about a insomniac (Jeff Goldblum) and his involvement with a sexy gemstone-smuggler (Michelle Pfeifer), various villains and a cache of priceless emeralds that once belonged to the Shah of Iran.  Bowie plays an English hitman called Colin Morris and is only in the film for a couple of minutes, but the sequence in which he figures is memorably spooky.  It takes place in a penthouse, still and silent except for a television set that’s showing 1948’s Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein – and the reason it’s so still and silent, Goldblum realises as he prowls around while Abbot and Costello prattle in the background, is because Bowie has just slaughtered everyone there.

 

(c) CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Bowie was also good in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the movie spin-off from Lynch’s popular TV series Twin Peaks, although his role in it was no bigger than his role in Into the Night – clearly, a little bit of cinematic Bowie goes a long way.  Bowie plays Phillip Jeffries, an FBI agent who’s been mysteriously missing for two years but who one morning suddenly steps out of an elevator at FBI headquarters.  He proceeds to babble gibberish at Twin Peaks regulars Dale Cooper, Albert Rosenfield and Gordon Cole (Kyle McLachlan, Miguel Ferrer and Lynch himself): “Who do you think this is, there…?  I found something.  And then there they were!”  Then he narrates a trippy dream montage involving dwarves, killers, masks, disembodied mouths and long-nosed phantoms.  And then he vanishes into thin air.  “He’s gone!” squawks McLachlan.  “He was never here!” retorts Ferrer.  This is a David Lynch movie, so don’t expect any explanations of what the hell just happened.

 

There’s been a lot of talk about a new series of Twin Peaks that Lynch will be unveiling in 2017.  Alas, I guess there’s now no way that Phillip Jeffries will be reappearing in it.

 

Lastly, Bowie might not have been too happy about this, but I suspect that for many people – especially those who were kids during the 1980s – his most famous role was as Jareth, the baby-stealing King of the Goblins, in Jim Henson’s daft but lovable fantasy movie Labyrinth (1986).  As the dandified Jareth, Bowie was game enough to don super-tight leggings, long gloves, a ruffle shirt, a Regency jacket, pointy eyebrows and a monstrous fright-wig that even Andy Warhol would have thought twice about wearing.

 

And there are some jolly scenes where Bowie gets to sing and dance with Henson’s muppet-esque goblins — although every time I watch Labyrinth I expect him to burst into: “Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee, I’m the Goblin King and you can’t catch me!”

 

(c) Lucasfilm / TriStar Pictures

 

Bowie’s music

 

(c) BBC

 

That was weird.  On Sunday afternoon I was in a cinema waiting for the start of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight when an advertisement was shown for the new David Bowie album Blackstar.  The ad included footage of the old boy himself, singing into a microphone – looking a bit thin and frail, it must be said, but then he always did look a bit thin and frail.

 

Almost exactly 24 hours later, I’m sitting in a pub in Edinburgh and a friend tells me that David Bowie has just died.  What?!

 

I nearly find myself suspecting that Bowie hasn’t kicked the bucket at all.  That this Bowie-is-dead stuff is really the latest piece of art / musical theatre that the famously enigmatic star has devised, only this time involving not just himself and his musical collaborators but the entire world media and the music-loving public.  That it’s a more elaborate reworking of the Paul McCartney-is-dead urban legend that was spawned by supposed clues in the Revolution 9 track on the White Album (1968) and the cover of Abbey Road (1969).  And in a few days’ time it’ll be announced that – surprise! – Bowie was only play-acting and he’s actually still alive.  Well, his latest single is called Lazarus.

 

I think I was unlucky with Bowie because the period during which I got seriously into music – i.e. my teens – was the period during which he appeared most like a normal rock star.  That’s to say for an initial few years he seemed both ubiquitous and brilliant; but then, like nearly every other rock star, his ideas seemed to dry up and he went into apparently terminal decline.

 

But how brilliant he was to begin with.  When I was 13 or 14, he’d turn up on Top of the Pops singing ace songs like Boys Keep Swinging (1979) or Fashion (1980), which would be discussed at length by me and my mates the next day at school in Peebles, our hometown in Scotland.  (I also remember how our local newspaper, the Peeblesshire News, would print a chart of the week’s best-selling singles at the town’s record shop under the headline On the Turntable.  One week somebody in the Peeblesshire mistakenly transcribed Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging as Boys Keep Swimming – a gaffe that was reprinted in prestigious British music-mag the New Musical Express for the nation’s amusement.)

 

1980 saw Bowie secure the number-one spot with his single Ashes to Ashes, which seemed a big event indeed.  The day after the announcement that Ashes to Ashes had topped the chart, I recall one classmate saying with finger-wagging solemnly: “See they folk whae dinnae like the song?  They’re just tae stupid tae understand it.”   By the way, the image of Bowie made up as a white-faced pierrot in the video for Ashes to Ashes has for some reason haunted me ever since.

 

From www.youtube.com

 

A year later, Bowie was back at number one, this time collaborating with Queen for the single Under Pressure.  I didn’t rate Under Pressure highly at the time, though in the years since it’s grown on me.  It’s just a pity that the song was demeaned when gormless hip-hopper Vanilla Ice incorporated its bassline into his wretched 1990 single Ice Ice Baby.  (I remember being at a disco in the clubhouse of Peebles Rugby Club one night when the DJ put on Ice Ice Baby.  The bassline started and everyone cheered and hurried onto the dance floor, thinking it was David Bowie and Queen.  Then the lyrics started – “Yo!  Let’s kick it!  Ice, ice baby…” – and everyone threw up their hands in horror, shouted, “Och, shite!  It’s Vanilla Ice!” and cleared off the dance floor again.)

 

In 1983 Bowie hooked up with musician and producer Nile Rodgers for his Let’s Dance album.  Around then I heard serious long-term Bowie-philes grumble about the great man finally losing it and / or selling out.  Nonetheless I liked that album’s singles, Let’s Dance, China Girl and Modern Love, because although they had typically flashy 1980s production values there still seemed enough of Bowie’s other-worldliness in them to make them special.  Unfortunately, thereafter, Bowie did lose it.  Subsequent albums like Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) were lacklustre, he arsed around doing duets with the likes of Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, and he seemed more interested in his acting career.  (His heavy involvement in the cinematic train-wreck that was Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners in 1986 did nothing for his street-cred either.)  By the time he unveiled his dire Tin Machine project in 1989 I decided that things were well and truly over for Mr B.

 

People whose opinions I respect tell me that Bowie began to get good again from the mid-1990s onwards, with albums like Black Tie White Noise (1993) and Heathen (2002), but by then I was too busy listening to other bands, musicians and singers to pay him much attention.

 

It wasn’t until the noughties, when I started reading a lot about the types of music I liked – in books such as Lucifer Rising (2000) and Goth Chic (2002), both by rock journalist and author Gavin Baddaley – that I realised how important and influential Bowie had been.  A score of musical genres during the 1980s and 1990s, including Goth, indie, synth, industrial and Britpop, were hugely in debt to him.  That encouraged me to start listening to his back catalogue, to albums such as the soaring Hunky Dory (1971) and the apocalyptic Diamond Dogs (1974).  (I remember having a schoolmate called Roger Small, who was one of those annoying folk who, no matter how hard you tried to be cool, always seemed to be ten times cooler than you were.  I also recall him having the words Diamond Dogs scrawled in blue biro across the surface of the canvas satchel he used as a schoolbag.  So now I understand why he was cooler than me.)  And of course I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Bowie’s celebrated ‘Berlin’ trilogy of albums: Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979).

 

(c) RCA Records

 

Bowie looms large among the influences and inspirations for many of my favourite bands: Joy Division, Bauhaus, Depeche Mode, the Cure, the Smiths, Nine Inch Nails, Suede, the Smashing Pumpkins, Pulp, Marilyn Manson, LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire.  Indeed, if he hadn’t existed, half the bands I’m into wouldn’t have been half as good.

 

For that reason, I’m now going to head off and sink a few drinks to the old fellow’s memory.  Cheers, David.