Twenty-five years ago, a significant portion of the television-watching populace was transfixed by the murder of a misleadingly sunshiny teenager named Laura Palmer, and consequently were pulled into a subterranean world that appeared to exist on a volatile border between Mayberry, Peyton Place and hell.
The show, “Twin Peaks,” was the unlikely brainchild of filmmaker David Lynch and television veteran Mark Frost. The creators’ varied sensibilities meshed surprisingly well. Their show was infused with Lynch’s emotionally searing expressionism and driven by Frost’s facility for propulsive, character-centric storytelling.
The result was an unlikely smash that resembled an anthologized collection of short, romantic, art horror films that were somehow piped into TV sets courtesy of ABC, nearly a decade before “The Sopranos” set the stage for the current era of television as an ambitious expansion of cinematic narrative.
This weekend Richmond pays homage, holding its first celebration of “Twin Peaks” across the city from Thursday, April 16, to Sunday, April 19. The festival is called the Great Southern — a play on the Great Northern, the corrupt hotel from the show.
It came about nearly as serendipitously as the series itself.
Organizer Andrew Blossom had attended the “Twin Peaks” festival in North Bend, Washington, with his girlfriend last year in tandem with the anniversary of the pilot’s filming in that community. He returned to Richmond hoping to present the opening episode at Movie Club this month to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its first broadcast.
It should be noted that 25 years has special meaning to “Twin Peaks” fans. In the series, Palmer tells the show’s hero, from the vantage point of another dimension, that she’ll see him again after that time has passed. This quarter-century period attained more resonance when it was announced that Lynch and Frost would produce a third season of the series for Showtime that picks up, that’s right, 25 years later. But last week, it was reported that Lynch has dropped out of the project because of budget concerns — so things are in limbo.
Instead of a screening, Blossom’s initial Movie Club idea proved to be a germ for the festival, a series of events that will include a reading at Chop Suey Books by Brad Dukes, the author of the informative and poignant “Reflections: an Oral History of Twin Peaks,” and a question session with cast members Charlotte Stewart and Kimmy Robertson, who played lovable police secretary Lucy Moran. There’s also a midnight screening of the Criterion restoration of Lynch’s “Eraserhead” at the Byrd Theatre.
A great variety of other events are planned too, including concerts, happy hours and a Mr. and Mrs. Twin Peaks costume contest at participating businesses, including Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Dinamo, Portrait House, Sticky Rice, Strange Matter and Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream.
“Twin Peaks” lends itself to the immersive festival treatment, perhaps even more readily than other heavily mythologized cult shows like “Star Trek” and “The X-Files.” There’s something bracingly tactile about its world, which is known for its cherry pie and its “damn fine” coffee and its silent drape runners and its red room and its lovingly stacked morning doughnuts.
Palmer’s murder mystery, which was controversially resolved halfway through the show’s divisive second season, is essentially beside the point. The real takeaway from “Twin Peaks” is its stylization of small-town life. It’s a rhapsodic celebration of the small pleasures.
“The Great Southern” promises to celebrate these fetishes by emphasizing the show’s minute obsessions. Bev’s Ice Cream, for example, will have a cherry-pie sundae special. The festival also gives fans the opportunity to connect over the sort of vital cultural ephemera that’s too often left only to the intangible, impersonal world of the Internet for discussion. A few venues, such as Portrait House, even bear a remarkable similarity to certain “Peaks” sets, like the Bookhouse.
“We’ve attempted build an event that’s as much about Richmond as it is about ‘Twin Peaks,’” Blossom says.
The festival also intends to revel in the erotic danger of “Twin Peaks.” Particularly compelling is an event at Hardywood on Sunday afternoon, from 3 to 6, which features “Keys Open Doors: the Life of Laura Palmer,” an audiovisual soundtrack piece originally designed by Brooklyn’s a Place Both Wonderful and Strange for Lynch’s “Unified Field” afterparty in Philadelphia.
The piece has since been tweaked, and band member Niabi Aquena says that “it’s visually very disruptive, conducive of nightmares. I feel a little sorry for our audiences, they’ll be experiencing [us] in our true element and I hope they will be prepared.” S
“The Great Southern” runs April 16-19. All events are free, except in cases where admission would normally be charged. For information visit thegreatsouthern-richmond.com.