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David Lynch Weaves Film History Into ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

But Mr. Lynch’s perspective penetrates further into the smoke and fire of the blast, locating, it seems, the origins of the evil that the central characters of “Twin Peaks” are in constant battle with. This extraordinary sequence, using both a stationary camera and one that tracks forward with grim relentlessness, is scored with the Polish modernist composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.” Mr. Lynch is hardly ever this literal, and we can take the use of the music as a token of sincerity with respect to the horrors of nuclear war. It’s also worth noting that Kubrick used Penderecki’s music — a different piece — in his 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.” And of course Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) uses the work of another Eastern European modernist, Gyorgy Ligeti. The inside-the-blast sequence in Part 8 has a good deal in common with the near-finale of “2001” — the astronaut Dave Bowman’s journey to “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.” (“2001” is best seen on as big a screen as possible, but it is available to stream for a fee via the same platforms as “Dr. Strangelove.”)


Lillian Gish in “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), which is among the cinematic resonances in the new “Twin Peaks.”

Criterion Collection

The very variable imagery inside the mushroom cloud, from hellish flames to what could be out-of-focus black-and-white shots of swarms of insects in front of a car windshield, has affinities with the work of Stan Brakhage and other avant-garde filmmakers. But it’s also distinctly Lynchian; the director’s use of strobe effects probably has less to do with the influence of other filmmakers than it does with his fascination with electricity and alternating current, evident in “Eraserhead,” which can be streamed on the Criterion Channel of the service Filmstruck, and in many of Mr. Lynch’s short films, which are only available to watch online through unofficial (that is, bootleg) sources. In Part 8, the strobing and stuttering fast-motion action is particularly frantic when the Woodsmen make their first appearance. These are menacing characters, seemingly from a different dimension (one was seen in the 1992 film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”). Their faces look blackened by soot; they appear and disappear in fast motion and jump cuts, milling around a convenience store. All this seems to be happening inside the mushroom cloud.

Once the Woodsmen alight to Earth in 1957, and one of them, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, approaches terrified citizens with the query “Gotta light?,” the show starts to resemble an old-school horror movie. One Twitter user, Bobby Castro, posted two remarkably similar images, one from Part 8 with a Woodsman approaching a car window, another from “Carnival of Souls,” with an undead gentleman approaching its heroine.

“Carnival,” a low-budget American film made in Kansas in 1962, is a cult picture available for viewing on the Criterion Channel. It tells the story of a young woman who very improbably survives an auto accident and then takes off to a job as a church organist in Utah. She’s constantly interrupted by the undead. It’s a remarkably eerie picture whose unnerving atmosphere is actually enhanced by the stilted B-movie quality of the acting.

The sequence of the Woodsmen terrorizing a New Mexico town where the atomic test occurred a decade earlier indulges plenty of Mr. Lynch’s nostalgia for American diners and doo-wop, but once the fellow who keeps asking for a light can get his hands on an actual human, the violence and gore ramp up, with a coincidental echo of “City of the Living Dead,” a 1980 extreme grindhouse film directed by Lucio Fulci, available on the horror-movie streaming service Screambox or for rent on Hulu.

“The Atomic Cafe,” a 1982 found-footage documentary about atomic testing, nuclear war and the peculiar attitudes American culture had toward them, is also a worthwhile companion piece to Part 8, and can be rented from YouTube, Amazon Video and Google Play. Of course Part 8 — whose affinities stretch from the thriller “The Night of the Hunter” (1955) to Gaspar Noé’s surreal “Enter the Void” (2009) (both of which are available to rent on Amazon, Google, iTunes and YouTube; “Void” is a featured film on Hulu) — is not the only part of the new “Twin Peaks” with cinematic resonances. In Part 4, Wally (played by Michael Cera), the son of Deputy Andy Brennan and his wife, Lucy, becomes a goofily comic riff on Marlon Brando’s persona in the 1953 motorcycle-gang drama “The Wild One,” which can be rented to stream from Amazon, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube.

It’s probably not Mr. Lynch’s overt intention to steer his latest “Twin Peaks” vision through so much eclectic film history, but the presence of this material and the viewer’s ability to access what may or may not be its sources certainly make the experience of watching the program that much richer and stranger.

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