The way we were weird

Celebrating two plastic-wrapped decades of Twin Peaks

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"I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back": Sheryl Lee as doomed beauty queen Laura Palmer.

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FILM In 1990, cable was still a luxury many chose not to afford. The Big Three — it was now grudgingly being admitted that Fox might make it Four — weren't doing anything all that different from what they had a decade or two or three before. Certainly the popular likes of Major Dad, Beverly Hills 90210, and America's Funniest Home Videos weren't exactly rocking the boat as thus far known to viewers and sponsors.

Then came Twin Peaks, which most ABC executives had thought a grievous mistake. Principal writer Mark Frost had the successful Hill Street Blues under his belt, but co-creator David Lynch's four movies hadn't remotely seemed to qualify him for America's living rooms. The Elephant Man (1980) was a prestige project for which he was a hired hand, still his most "normal" film even if eccentric by most other standards; Dune (1984) was an expensive disaster fan-editors are still trying to salvage. Blue Velvet was the most perverse Americana joke imaginable in 1986, a screen year otherwise defined by Top Gun. As for Eraserhead (1977) — well, never mind.

Debuting in April of 1990, Twin Peaks took Velvet's surreal juxtaposition of Eisenhower-era small town idyllicism with hair-raising behavioral excesses, then stretched it semi-mockingly over the broad, flat ensemble canvas of Peyton Place — a trashily soap-operatic bestseller and TV series whose movie incarnation Frost-Lynch screened for inspiration. The notion of innocence defiled almost beyond comprehension was crystallized in their startling image of a homecoming queen beatifically dead, plastic-wrapped, washed onto the riverbank of her picturesque Washington state burg.

"Who killed Laura Palmer?" briefly gripped the nation, just as "Who shot J.R.?" had 10 years earlier. Two decades ago everything tasted better when drizzled with the special chocolate sauce of "postmodernism," and Twin Peaks was the most ironic cherry pie vehicle for that addictive popular culture had yet baked up. It was so cool you could hardly believe it was actually being watched.

Then it wasn't, making for one of the medium's brightest, fastest flameouts. But naturally its cult has endured, despite so many home-viewing releases since compromised by laziness and rights issues, not to mention the colossal buzz kill of 1992's first/last big-screen spin-off. Its actors have aged, and in numerous cases not prospered. But Twin Peaks itself is like Dorian Gray, forever ageless, seductively not-quite-right.

You can indulge your undying love at the Roxie, when a more-or-less "20th Anniversary Tribute" offers close to six consecutive hours of Peaks-iana. Co presented by short-range nostalgists Midnites for Maniacs, the evening commences with Otto Preminger's noir-ish 1944 Laura, another story about an obsessed-over dead babe that was an apparent influence on the much later series.

Things begin in earnest with the 90-minute Peaks pilot, directed by Lynch himself. Swaying to the drugged prom dance themes of Angelo Badalamenti's signature score, it introduced an incredible range not just of characters but of actors, both running the gamut from dewy to screwy.

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