restricted access Twin Peaks, Noir, and Open Interpretation
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TWIN PEAKS, NOIR7 AND OPEN INTERPRETATION Jason Holt Any fan of Twin Peaks who encounters Goya's lithograph The Sleep ofReason Produces Monsters (1803) cannot help but see an obvious connection to the landmark TV series; whether series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost had this connection in mind is of little importance. The lithograph depicts a sleeping figure slumped over a desk. From behind, almost out of view, the somnolent head, emerging from an indeterminate place that seems not quite real, are the so-called monsters identified, together with their cause, in the title: creatures far more sinister than their appearance would normally suggest, many of them winged things, owls. The owls in Twin Peaks play a similar symbolic role, have a comparable significance. These are not, in either case, the wise Minervan creatures of Western European culture or native North American folklore. Instead they augur ill, harbingers of bad times hooting evil tidings. "The owls," to follow the series motif, "are not what they seem." Indeed. Evoking a dark, existential atmosphere is one of the hallmarks of film noir, and while it would be wrong, for many reasons, to call Goya's etching "lithograph noir," the application of "noir" to Twin Peaks seems far less inapt, not least because it comes much closer to respecting the historical dimension of the term. Purists might demur from using the term beyond the borders of cinema, and even, within these bounds, with reference to films falling outside what is generally regarded as the cycle of classic film noir, 1941-1958. But one of the guiding assumptions of this volume is that it might be fruitful to view certain small-screen works through the dark lens of those classic films that so clearly influenced them. Twin Peaks is no exception; it would not have been possible without film noir. The influ247 248 Jason Holt ence is incontrovertibly strong, the show's noirish tendencies as many as they are diverse. Juxtaposing Twin Peaks with the conceptual apparatus of film noir will help foster a greater appreciation of the former and, as side benefits, a richer understanding of the latter and of interpreting artworks generally. The question is less whether Twin Peaks is noir—it almost certainly is not—and more a matter of why and how its undeniable noirishness falls short of pure noir. Twin Peaks is rarely if ever discussed by film critics or theorists as a series noir, and this is understandable, despite the substantial influence of the film type on the series. True, Twin Peaks has been called noir, for example, in the New York Times, and this reflects the recent trend of using the term "noir" more and more liberally.1 This practice is especially annoying when the label is applied carelessly, overlooking noir's hard-boiled metaphysics, its commonsense, darkly realistic, naturalistic worldview. Arguably the key reason why Twin Peaks is merely noirish, and not actually noir, is that it deliberately leaves, even forces, the metaphysics and, correspondingly , the interpretation of it, wide open. Openness of interpretation, by which I mean the multiple interpretability of art, is apparently inconsistent with noir, which is somewhat puzzling. The open interpretability of Twin Peaks gives it its aesthetic piquancy, without which the series would surely be inferior. Yet noir, which seems by contrast to dose interpretation, is hardly aesthetically impoverished as a result. I will first examine various noir elements in Twin Peaks. Next, I will address Twin Peaks and noir metaphysics respectively, to explain in greater detail why, despite its noir elements, the series is not noir. By implication, then, I will chasten overly liberal uses of the term "noir." Then I will argue that open interpretation a la Twin Peaks is aesthetically desirable and that, appearances notwithstanding, the bestfilmsnoirs also exhibit, though in a more limited form than this show does, multiple interpretability. In championing open interpretability as aesthetically desirable generally, I will identify its source in what I call the "omissive" aesthetic, the art of leaving some things, some important things, out of art, or including them only implicitly. Shades of Noir Twin Peaks comprises thirty episodes. The pilot was released, with additional footage inconsistent with the series proper, as a movie, Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 1990). The series was later followed by the film prequel Twin Peaks: Twin Peaks, Noir, and Open Interpretation 249 Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992). The series consists, ancillary and relatively minor plotlines aside, of two consecutive narratives that focus, in...


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Subject Headings

  • Detective and mystery television programs -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Fantasy television programs -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Film noir -- United States -- History and criticism.
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