Before Lost, Pretty Little Liars, Veronica Mars, True Detective, or any of the other weird and wonderful show that has come to dominate the new Golden Age of obsessive TV fandom, Twin Peaks was everything. While it only lasted two seasons, David Lynch's early-90s masterpiece was a game changer, an instant classic that even had then-President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, begging for spoilers.
So it comes as no surprise that Twin Peaks is making a comeback now that it's cool to geek out over television again. Although the long-awaited third season is currently in limbo, a new documentary about the impact of the film called Northwest Passage is in the works. The new doc will tell the story of Travis Blue, a teenager from the town where Twin Peaks was filmed who used the show and it's characters as an escape from his tormented childhood.
The producers of the documentary have gone to Kickstarter to raise funds. In only a few days, the film has raised nearly $5,000, handing out rewards that range from Log Lady tote bags, to signed copies of the oral history of Twin Peaks, to guided Twin Peaks tours led by Travis Blue himself.
The director of Northwest Passage, Adam Baran, is known for his edgy queer productions, like last year's music video of "Dirty Boots" by Holopaw, which premiered exclusively on VICE. Baran remembers coming into New York City on weekly pilgrimages to watch old episodes of Twin Peaks at the Museum of TV and Radio. His interest in the show was revived when he worked as a contributing editor for the legendary homo handbook, Butt magazine, where he hired Blue to write about his sexcapades at the Twin Peaks fan convention. Now Baran hopes to take a deeper look at the story of someone who—for better and worse—used Twin Peaks as a guidebook to surviving while growing up queer in the 90s.
To Blue, the show represented many, sometimes diametrically-opposed, things: A way out of his boring, at times brutal, Pacific Northwest childhood and a reminder of the area he loved so much. It served as a path to finding himself and one to get lost on.
VICE spoke with Baran and Blue to find out more about Northwest Passage, Blue's obsession with Twin Peaks, and why we all still give a shit about a short-lived show from 25 years ago.
VICE: How did you first encounter Twin Peaks?
Travis Blue: The first time I came across [the show] was at Snoqualmie Falls. They were shooting the waterfall sequence in the credits. I was nine or ten. They were very kind to me. They let me walk around and touch things. Some of my earliest memories are very violent, horrific experiences, and at that point it didn't seem like there was any way out. No one had ever really given me that kind of attention. It made me feel really special.
Then [Twin Peaks] came on TV. TV, at that point in my life, was something to zone out to, or just pure entertainment. This was something else. Something I had to think about. I was just coming into puberty, at that point. Laura Palmer was obviously a very sexual creature, and she was essentially a role model. She provided lots of clues into that part of my life, with her secret diary and her sexuality and how she would seduce boys. I liked how all of that sounded. So I gave it a try.
Letting Twin Peaks be your guide to adulthood sounds like a terrible, or at least really dangerous, idea.
Adam Baran: It was a positive and a negative. For somebody who felt powerless to suddenly feel like they could claim some power by being a fictional character, or by doing the things a fictional character did, makes a lot of sense. I don't want people to get the impression that this is just a film of terror and bad things. There are a lot of good things that happened to Travis from being a Twin Peaks fanatic. He found this welcoming community of friends and fellow obsessives at fan festivals, and those things really gave him a sense of who he was and made him "in" in a certain way. Because he wasn't "in" in any other place.
But the dark side is definitely very present. When you take on a fictional character, or a series of fictional characters, or you decide that you're going to live your life as represented in a fictional construct, that's not actually you. You deny yourself the chance to figure out who you are. I think that's what he did for a number of years.
Laura Palmer provided lots of clues into my life, with her secret diary and her sexuality and how she would seduce boys.
How did you imitate Laura Palmer?
Blue: I loved how she made the tape recordings, so I'd make my own tape recordings to fake boyfriends. I remember even trying to sound like a girl so if anyone found them they wouldn't know it was me. She had secret hiding places and I had secret hiding places, and I'd hide my tapes in there. I got my little half heart necklace from a shitty place in the mall that does engravings and stuff. I probably stole it. I just started to rebel. Being rebellious is normal for that age, [I] just took a very specific tact.
I had the worst taste in role models. Subsequently, my role models were Madonna in the Sex Book era, and Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. I just didn't know how to pick them.
Are you going to tell this story like a normal documentary?
Baran: Every day I find somebody who has a new bit of footage of Travis, but I don't want to tell this in a traditional manner, with talking heads and Ken Burns photos and things like that. I want to really bring this film to life, using archival footage and reenactments as well.
I'm looking at films like Stories We Tell, The Impostor, and others that bring what is happening in their story to life by letting us see it and be a part of it. I'd like for us to be able to get lost in the fiction of this. Making it seem like a narrative film, not just a documentary, will play with the same line between fiction and reality that our subject is going through.
It's interesting that you're revisiting this as a queer story, since Twin Peaks wasn't really "gay" in any recognizable way, though there was David Duchovny's transgender FBI agent, Denise Bryson. Looking back, what do you make of Bryson?
Baran: I think overall it's a bad story line. You can tell that some people were trying to do something noble, but there's also another way to read it as completely exploitative, like "Twin Peaks is the weirdest town ever! Everyone in it is a freak! Let's add someone we know our audience will think is sooooo weird and freaky."
There are little asides where Cooper and Harry give each other looks like "Oh my god, what is this?" Those moments are problematic because they're basically saying we can laugh at this, when she's out of the room. That's not good at all.
Then again, Harvey Fierstein in The Celluloid Closet said any representation was OK, because people saw a gay character on screen, even if it wasn't a positive character, and he saw himself in the "sissies" they made fun of. So I'm sure there were people who got their life from seeing David Duchovny in just those three episodes as a trans FBI agent, but there was problematic stuff with that character. The fact that she quickly goes back to male drag in the final episode is probably the most problematic element of it for me—although she comes back into female garb, her true garb, to save the day.
Blue: It seemed like my dad and his friend dressing up like women for Halloween. According to everybody, Lynch is a misogynist in his work, and probably isn't very gay-friendly either.
Bikini Kill had a song called "Fuck Twin Peaks," talking about his misogyny. That was a way for me to look at Twin Peaks critically. That's what led me to feminism, because I felt like, "There are other things happening here. Bikini Kill is a very gay-friendly band, so they must be saying something that's right."
Misogyny, violence against women: these are all pretty obvious things in Twin Peaks. And they're issues I think most gays feel like they are allies on. So those are also things that led me to feminism. I guess I'm not a typical superfan in that I think Twin Peaks has flaws. It changed my life, but I've been living with this thing for 25 years, so I hopefully have perspective on my fandom.
So why are we still interested in Twin Peaks today?
Baran:Twin Peaks was the most groundbreaking show in the history of television. It used all sorts of incredible cinematic techniques and combined that with an alluring narrative of mystery that inspired everything from The X-Files to The Sopranos to Mad Men to Breaking Bad to any of the big shows of the past 20 years, really. That influence, the thing that was Twin Peaks is everywhere now.
Twin Peaks was the first show where right after it aired, a community of people who were obsessed with it found each other online, before there was even real internet. It was like a BBS. People went on and debated all sorts of things. Hello! Look at what we do now. That is how we watch television [now]. That's tweeting at the stars of the show while the show is on, and hashtagging, and talking on Twitter, and endless blog post recaps of series—that whole culture came from something that grabbed people and made them want to talk about it amongst themselves, in a way that no other show had done up until that point. It's status as something that burned briefly and brightly only adds to that legend.
Blue: Nostalgia. And there are stories people are still interested in. It's unfinished. And because Twin Peaks is David Lynch, there's that anachronistic quality to it. It doesn't date itself as much, and the themes are universal. It's a woman in trouble who was abused and there's still probably a lot to say about it.
But why right now? Because they programmed it to be 25 years later. In the show, Laura Palmer says, "I will see you again in 25 years." So here she is.