Dramatic Underscoring: Fire Walk With Me

On April 21, 2016

Dramatic Underscoring is our regular column by Marcella Hemmeter reviewing soundtrack albums from movies current and forgotten. This edition covers 1992's Fire Walk With Me. 

Fans of this movie are chomping at the bit for the much-anticipated vinyl release of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack coming from Mondo, which at the time of writing still hasn’t been given a release date. The test pressing for the Twin Peaks soundtrack heard at MondoCon in October is hopefully a good sign both will be coming soon. In the realm of David Lynch films, the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack might get short-shrift next to its out-there Lynch brethren but as with most things, time tends to uncover the gem that was initially encrusted with the varied opinions of the movie itself.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fire Walk With Me (1992), it’s a prequel film that came out after Twin Peaks ended. Twin Peaks was an early ‘90s TV-series that asked the question, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” A whodunit mystery series about the murder of a high school girl in a small northwestern town, it captured the imaginations of TV viewers across the country including those who had never seen a Lynch movie. We’re talking T-shirts, viewing parties, kids going to bookstores to thumb through Laura’s “diary.” Cancelled after two seasons in 1991, production on Fire Walk With Me began later that year. The movie takes us back into the world of Twin Peaks, showing the initial investigation into the murder of another teenage girl, Teresa Banks, but with the majority of the film focusing on the last sad days of Laura. And if the collective gasp of disappointed viewers could’ve been measured, it would have filled a dozen blimps. This was not the TV show those viewers were expecting. You know David Lynch movies, right? Well, this was a David Lynch movie; a watching-a-poor girl-spiral-down-to-her-horrible-end bonanza of pain and despair. In the show, we only had glimpses of the town’s dirty underbelly. In the film, that rotting underbelly is laid bare. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that it faithfully expresses the horror and helplessness of abuse victims and does so in a graphic, no-holds-barred style. It’s heartbreaking and Sheryl Lee’s performance as Laura is riveting.

Angelo Badalamenti, a composer for many Lynch films, continues the dreamy jazz that won us over in Twin Peaks, but adding more delicacy, beauty, and darkness, if that’s even possible. You’ll forget you’re listening to a soundtrack; it is a complete album where each song fits together like a puzzle piece and complements the film perfectly. Again and again, memorable moments in Fire Walk With Me are paired with poignant numbers including cue pieces from the TV series (“Laura Palmer’s Theme,” hello!). Starting with the muted trumpet in the “Theme from Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me” one immediately imagines a lonely barfly with a tale to tell. A depressing jazz number, it prepares the viewer for the nightmare to come. This is followed by “The Pine Float,” heard when Laura is getting ready for a night of debauchery while her best friend Donna asks to come along and if this were a ‘50s noir it would score the scene where the femme fatale walks into the detective’s office. Then there’s the amazing “Sycamore Trees” sung by Jimmy Scott first heard in the Twin Peaks series finale and heard here in a brief instrumental snippet in the Black Lodge just after Laura is killed. Its inclusion on the soundtrack is wonderful, as Scott’s vocal is full of the kind of morose longing that’ll have fans looking up his records just as they did after watching the show’s finale.

The soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from Julee Cruise, who sang on some key songs in the TV series. Here she is seen at the Roadhouse, singing “Questions in a World of Blue” as Laura walks in transfixed upon the song and breaks down into tears, lost and drowning, then agreeing to party with two men to which Donna asks to join. Perhaps the song most people will think of is dirty jazz-blues-rocker “The Pink Room” which plays while Laura, Donna and the two men are in The Pink Room and Donna sees for the first time just how far into the dark Laura has gone. The soundtrack is capped off with “The Voice of Love,” heard in the film’s ending where we see Laura’s spirit in the Black Lodge, being comforted by Agent Cooper (who investigates her murder in the TV series), and then she sees an angel which inspires her to cry and laugh. The music is uplifting and her joy is palpable giving the audience a much-needed emotional release. It’s left up to interpretation over what the scene means but the joyful music and Laura’s reaction to the angel gives us hope that she has finally found peace. The upcoming continuation of Twin Peaks on Showtime may provide more clues. Or questions.

So count me in for a vinyl pressing of the stunning Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. It’s an album that stands on its own, taking listeners on a journey through light and dark, gripping you with jazz and fire. But don’t take our word for it. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, give the album a listen. Be sure to have a slice of cherry pie while you do.

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