Angelo And Ambience: The Soundscape Of ‘Fire Walk With Me’

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At 30 years old, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has gone from critically panned to a cult darling. Notoriously reviled at Cannes, it was not the conclusion to the original series audiences had been waiting for. When Twin Peaks first entered the public conscience, it became a cultural zeitgeist, with iconography that has gone on to transcend the series itself. Damn fine coffee, owls not being what they seem, fish in percolators. All distinctly and unabashedly Twin Peaks. Despite its popularity, the show was cancelled after two seasons, not returning to screens until 1992 with Fire Walk With Me. As a prequel, it did very little to satisfy the series’ closing burning questions, with extra salt added to the wound when the series ended on a cliff-hanger that wouldn’t be answered for another 25 years. However, 30 years later, Fire Walk With Me has gone on to become a cult favourite, essential viewing for Twin Peaks: The Return, and a central work in David Lynch’s filmography.

In creating the soundtrack for Twin Peaks, David Lynch worked with Angelo Badalamenti, a recurring collaborator since his work on the music for Blue Velvet. Badalamenti won a Grammy for his composition of the ‘Twin Peaks Theme’, as well as a Saturn Award for his soundtrack to Fire Walk With Me. The seedy underbelly of a small town filled to the brim with secrets is a theme that has permeated large swathes of Lynch’s work. Fire Walk With Me is the beginning of Lynch making Twin Peaks a frightening place to live, by showing us the seven brutal days prior to the event that set off the series: the death of Laura Palmer.

Lynch is not afraid to experiment with sound design that adds texture to the meticulously crafted visuals of his work. Badalamenti’s score helps to encapsulate the love, heartbreak, joy and distress of the film by blending jazz with synth, rock and ambient pieces. Features including Jimmy Scott on ‘Sycamore Trees’ and Twin Peaks mainstay, Julee Cruise on ‘Questions in a World of Blue’, transform the world of Fire Walk With Me until it eventually descends into a dreamy soundscape in a nightmare world.

While Badalamenti’s score is layered with the idiosyncratic jazz of the original series and the darker undertones of the film, Lynch’s own sound design adds to the underlying horror that permeates the film. One scene, in particular, illustrates Badalamenti and Lynch working closely in a dreadful danse macabre. By this time, we have learned that Laura Palmer—homecoming queen, babysitter, and meals on wheels courier—is leading a secret second life. At her worst, Laura finds her way to Twin Peaks’ notorious Roadhouse—the place where vulnerable girls are bought and sold for sex. Up until this point, the soundtrack has largely complemented the scenes more grounded in reality: Laura indulging in her addictions at school, the growing tension between herself and her father and, ultimately, the reveal of Killer Bob’s influence in her life. But in the Roadhouse, we see Twin Peaks at its worst, and the sound design at some of its most brutal.

Badalamenti’s ‘The Pink Room’ is a sensual instrumental rock piece that makes up the music used in the club. It overwhelms as the characters have to shout in order to be heard. The scene utilises subtitles to further convey the volume. In a film filled with some of Twin Peaks’ most disturbing moments, Badalamenti’s score highlights this pivotal moment. As Laura watches her friend Donna, the epitome of the girl-next-door, be treated like her by lecherous characters, she attempts to fight her way through the crowds to reach her. She is screaming. She is crying. She is desperate. But her screams can scarcely be heard over the bombast of ‘The Pink Room’. It makes what is already a difficult scene to watch all the more grotesque as the audience desperately hopes Laura will reach Donna in time. Despite the fantastical elements, it conveys the reality of just how deep Laura is entrenched in this world.

Despite the omission of the original ‘Twin Peaks Theme’, the tender moments of the original series’ soundtrack still linger in remnants. As the film reaches its devastating climax and leads into the pilot of the show, it is a bittersweet moment. Badalamenti’s score is intentionally heavenly. Choirs and synths envelop the audience as Laura’s face, laughing and crying, is enveloped in light. After being subject to a monstrous life, it almost feels as if Laura is finally free. Nonetheless, she has had to endure some of Lynch’s most brutal concepts. The film ends, the music gradually fades, and the next chapter begins.

Words by Jack Roberts


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