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Fire Walk With Me – Angelo Badalamenti
“This is like a jazz version of the story… It’s Laura Palmer’s last week of life and it’s got some abstract areas in it.” David Lynch
Published on May 17, 2012 | Filed under Audiodrome: Music in Film

“At the end of the series, I felt kind of sad. I couldn’t get myself to leave the world of Twin Peaks. I was in love with the character of Laura Palmer and her contradictions, radiant on the surface, dying inside. I wanted to see her live, move and talk.” David Lynch.

Fire Walk With Me was David Lynch’s return to his beloved Twin Peaks; the groundbreaking TV show about a small town and its quirky inhabitants reeling from the death of popular high school homecoming queen, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). The film forms a prequel to the series, charting the bleak and disturbing last seven days of Laura’s life as she descends into an ever hopeless spiral of drugs, prostitution and ritualistic abuse at the hands of those she’s closest to. Gone are the cherry pies and damn fine coffees of the series, and in their place is a dark tale of domestic abuse, incest, filicide and what lurks in the sick, twisted underbelly of small town America. Fire Walk With Me marked a drastic shift in tone that left many fans out in the cold; while Twin Peaks is known for its exploration of the decay lurking behind a veneer of pristine picket fences, lovers of the series didn’t quite expect the perverted and violent encounters rife throughout its cinematic prequel.

The darker tone is signaled right from the opening credits, as the camera gradually pulls back from blue-hued, silently crackling white noise to reveal a TV set which is seconds later shattered, along with any notions that the film will be akin to its primetime-friendly origins. Another indication of the more adult nature of the film is the opening music; a downbeat reworking of Laura Palmer’s Theme with a muted trumpet solo that signals the beginning of one of Angelo Badalamenti’s most evocative and haunting scores yet.

Brooklyn-born former music teacher Badalamenti has worked closely with Lynch since Blue Velvet, when he was initially drafted in to act as vocal coach for Isabella Rossellini. Rossellini was supposed to sing Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren, but Lynch was unable to secure the rights at the time (he would later use This Mortal Coil’s cover of the song in Lost Highway) and so he co-wrote the sound-alike Mysteries of Love with Badalamenti. The rest as they say is history. Fire Walk With Me is the composer’s closest collaboration with David Lynch to date, with the director co-writing some of the music and providing percussion. It is a dark and alluring score, saturated in a desperate longing and sadness that underpins the tragic story of Laura Palmer’s fall from grace. It boasts an experimental, almost freeform jazz style that wafts dreamily along, punctuated by moments of menace and foreboding, some of it seeming almost improvised. Many of the tracks are bolstered by a loungy jazz-bar vibe, such as the billowy vibraphone-led Don’t Do Anything (I Wouldn’t Do), Moving Through Time and Best Friends, which seem to drift along in an abstract cloud of freeform moodiness.

“This is like a jazz version of the story… It’s Laura Palmer’s last week of life and it’s got some abstract areas in it.” David Lynch

Badalamenti’s score effortlessly evokes the myriad night-time places such as seedy red-lit bars, lonely highways and dark forest spaces the story of Fire Walk With Me plays out in; particularly on tracks such as the slinky and seductive The Pine Float and the hopelessly bluesy Sycamore Trees. Another luridly expressive track is The Pink Room. It accompanies the scene where Donna follows Laura into all sorts of sexually charged trouble at the sleazy and strobe-lit Pink Room bar. Composed by David Lynch, it is a darkly cacophonous rock wig-out, complete with throbbing 50s guitars, odd time-signatures and distorted, relentless bass groove. It is swaggering, intense and bombards the senses beautifully. Just as lively and eccentric is A Real Indication, boasting stomping percussion, groovy bass, jazzy piano interludes and a bizarre scat performed by Badalamenti himself. Badalamenti also provides unsettling vocal work on The Black Dog Runs At Night; an unnerving and eerie piece complete with cat howls, moaning wind and a stealthily creeping bass line. The “Black Dog” was a term Winston Churchill applied to his depression. In the context of Fire Walk With Me this takes on much more sinister connotations indeed, with Laura’s unhinged state of mind worsening after dark…

The series boasted several themes which are only used fleetingly in the film, as though to further distinguish it from its TV origins. The only time Fire Walk With Me ventures into familiar territory is when the melancholy strains of Badalamenti’s theme from the series eases us into the post-prologue scenes featuring leafy suburban streets as Laura meets Donna to walk to school. These moments appear on the soundtrack album as part of Montage From Twin Peaks which includes bittersweet 50s sounding Girl Talk, Birds in Hell, Laura Palmer’s Theme and Falling.

Elsewhere there are more ethereal moments courtesy of Questions In A World Of Blue – with breathy vocals from Julee Cruise and tear-stained tenor sax – and closing track The Voice Of Love; a soaring and deeply moving synth meditation accompanying Laura’s slow-motion flight into the arms of an angel in The Red Room after her traumatic death. The closing credits of the film are accompanied by excerpts of Agnus Dei from Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor, which is unfortunately absent from the soundtrack album.

It’s usually quite difficult for me to select which track to share on here, and it was really difficult to pick just one piece from Fire Walk With Me. It is quite simply one of the most immersive and evocative soundtracks written for a film. After much deliberating I decided to go with Sycamore Trees, a track that was also briefly featured on the series itself. With vocals by Jimmy Scott, rumbling bass, nervous strings, haunting lyrics by David Lynch and a forlorn sax solo, this is really music to get lost in those woods to. Grounded in the echo of Laura Palmer’s Theme from the series, it unravels as a dark, ominous and quietly anguished lamentation. “Chug-a-lug, Donna.”

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Author:
James is the author of ‘Dario Argento’ (Kamera Books) and a contributor to Exquisite Terror and Diabolique Magazine. He likes Gothic horror, Italian gialli, Eighties slasher flicks and creepy old B-movies. And films starring Vincent Price.
James Gracey

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  • Christine

    This post gave me a lump in my throat.
    I watched Fire Walk With Me YEARS ago. I know I enjoyed it, but because I had never seen the show, I was aware that some things just had no context.
    After completing the series, I’m almost afraid to watch the film again. The TV exploits left me reeling. I carried around a heaviness for quite a while afterwards. I hadn’t realized how invested I became in Laura. Her grisly fate was no secret; it was the crux of the entire show! I just don’t want to re-visit this “prequel” and see the fall of this tortured girl.
    I think that’s why Lynch is a genius. He builds his story around the fact that a girl that shouldn’t have died is dead. He fills us with sadness and empathy about something set in stone. Then he shows us her last days… when we already know the outcome.
    Talk about working backwards…

    James! You’ve brought up a flood of emotions with your evocative, moody prose!

    • James

      Erm, thanks?! ;)
      I’ve been re-watching Twin Peaks since last week. Listening to the FWWM soundtrack and reading up on Lynch and the show made me yearn to dive back into it. I’m about half-way through the second series now (we’ve just found out who Laura’s killer is) – just getting to the point where things begin to get a little ridiculous – Nadine back in high school etc. It’s strange because certain scenes still have the exact same effect on me (I’m thinking of Maddie’s death in particular) – for a primetime TV show, it sure didn’t pull any punches. I too was heavily invested in the series when I first watched it back in the late Nineties/early Nounghties. I am enjoying falling in love with it all over again.

      • James

        PS I completely agree with you on how Lynch fills us with sadness and empathy about something set in stone. Watching FWWM, and knowing the outcome, it’s surprising how much we still long for a different ending.