The impulse in the arts to build idols and smash them has found another victim in David Lynch. His early films (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet) won a cult following that swelled in 1990 when Twin Peaks debuted and stretched the confines of TV. For a few months, Lynch was a trendy darling. Then viewers, impatient with the erratic quality of the series, turned on Peaks and on Lynch. Boos greeted this movie prequel at Cannes in May. In two years, Lynch has gone from genius to leper.
In fact he has simply remained David Lynch — a supreme stylist obsessed with working through the dark themes that matter to him — and like all artists, he is subject to varying degrees of success. The screen Peaks is no match for the two-hour TV pilot, but at its best the film draws us back into a uniquely haunting world. Events transpire during the week before the death of Laura Palmer, with actress Sheryl Lee tracing the character’s downward trajectory of drugs and sex. Ray Wise is more disturbing than ever as Laura’s depraved father; Michael Anderson repeats his mesmerizing portrayal as the dwarf in Laura’s dreams; and Lynch does a sly encore as a hearing-impaired FBI honcho. It’s damaging that some key characters, including Kyle MacLachlan’s indispensable Agent Cooper, appear only briefly and that others, especially Sherilyn Fenn’s saddle-shoed sexpot, Audrey, don’t show at all. And though the movie ups the TV ante on nudity, language and violence, Lynch’s control falters. But if inspiration is lacking, talent is not. Count Lynch down but never out.