Friday, 15 April 2016

Welcome to Twin Peaks (aka Snoqualmie, USA)

The following post is based on the first draft of my Postcard from Twin Peaks article for The Age newspaper, which ended up being significantly restructured. I stayed in Snoqualmie as a guest of Visit Seattle, and paid for my own airfare to the USA. 

"I'll see you again in 25 years," said Laura Palmer in 1991, in the final episode of the cult TV series Twin Peaks.

Of course, Laura had been murdered before the beginning of the very first episode. The prediction was actually delivered by a spirit vision of her to FBI Agent Dale Cooper, in the strange place known as the Black Lodge.

Still with me? If you haven’t seen this series yet, you need to, if only for your television education. Premiering on mainstream American network ABC in 1990, it upended the then safe world of free-to-air TV.

With its complex, layered plot and beautiful cinematography, it was the harbinger of the quality television dramas we expect today from cable networks such as HBO.

Now, in the words of the prophetic Giant who appears to Cooper in times of stress, "It is happening again." Co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost have signed on for a third series, and location filming has been taking place in the leafy hills east of Seattle.

"Ronette's Bridge", Snoqualmie, USA.

This is why I'm standing on "Ronette's Bridge" over the Snoqualmie River, the on-screen location where the injured Ronette Pulaski was discovered, leading investigators to the murder site of Laura Palmer.

Since its star turn in 1990, the bridge has become part of a cycling and hiking route.

To my eyes, however, it still exudes the grim menace it possessed at the moment viewers sensed the full evil behind the death of a popular schoolgirl in an apparently idyllic town deep in the forests of the Pacific northwest.

The bridge itself seems to brood.

This is all my own imagination at work, of course – if you’d never watched Twin Peaks, you’d no doubt be admiring a sturdy piece of rail infrastructure in pretty countryside.

Which makes me ponder why Twin Peaks struck such a chord with me, and with so many others. With an enthusiastic international following (fans still regularly trickle to Snoqualmie from around the globe), it seemed to transcend its American setting by being hyper-American.

The location of the 'Welcome to Twin Peaks' sign in the TV series.

Twin Peaks' collision of small town folksiness and creeping horror was, after all, a favoured approach of pioneering suspense series The Twilight Zone.

But when you think about it, every culture tells stories of the collision between modernity and the ancient spirits that linger just beyond our peripheral vision (think of the stock English villages depicted as secretly hewing to pagan traditions a la The Wicker Man, for example).

Our own unease with Australia's uninhabited spaces of desert and gum trees sits well alongside the threat lurking within the mighty stands of Douglas firs that surround Twin Peaks.

In the shadow of the infinite, however, life must go on, as it does in the TV series’ strangely juxtaposed soap opera plotline of business rivalries and dodgy dealings.

Twede's Cafe, the Double R Diner in Twin Peaks.

Lunch at Twede’s in nearby North Bend (the Double R Diner in the series) is a disorientating experience, as location filming has only recently finished and the diner retains its recent refurbishment back to the look of the '90s.

Feeling like an extra in an extended scene, I order - inevitably - "damn fine" coffee and a slice of cherry pie. Neither is as amazing as Agent Cooper found them, but I don’t care; I’m immersed in a fondly remembered component of Lynch and Frost’s fantasy world.

My final Twin Peaks location visit is a night spent at the Salish Lodge (aka the Great Northern), falling to sleep to the sound of the Snoqualmie Falls after drinking a Dale Cooper cocktail (gin, clove and cardamom-infused honey, dry honey cider, lemon) at the hotel bar.

I’ve never before visited a filming location which so resembles its onscreen counterpart. Laura, I’m ready for your return.

As Cooper once said, “I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.”