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

 

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