The Church of Kermit

The Muppet Movie - 1979
Written by Jack Burns & Jerry Juhl
Music by Paul Williams
Directed by James Frawley
Produced by Jim Henson

I am deeply in love with The Muppet Movie; possibly even more now that I'm an adult than I did as a child.

The whole thing is a great big love letter to Imagination -- to the Muse, the Creative Spirit, to the flame in one's soul, Divine Inspiration, Dreams -- or as it's most commonly referenced in the film's metaphor of choice, the Rainbow.

The story is nothing new.  In fact it's something of an homage to musical comedies of the early silver screen.  The writers targeted the physical action to the kids, but the verbal dialogue is filled with gags for adults -- you know, like good family entertainment used to do.  Kermit starts out in his swamp, a mere dreamer, and over the course of his journey to Hollywood, accumulates a collection of similarly misfit dreamers, thus becoming a believer.

 A puppet in a swamp... think about it.

Just listen to those lyrics.  How passionately they love their muse.  I expect that Jason Segel, who wrote 2011's The Muppets sat crying tears of joy to this song (and its finale reprise) as a child, as did I and many other creative children who learned to value that voice from within.  While the film makes kind of a referential joke about the Muppets being accepted into Hollywood simply for making it there, it emphasizes the journey.  Kermit, Fozzie, Rowlf, Gonzo, etc. all feel within them that they have something to offer, and that there must be someone out there who wants and needs to hear that.  Not only do they overcome adversity (in Kermit's case, life-threatening opposition from an all-too-aptly metaphoric businessman who demands that he sell-out frogkind for an easy buck), but they find each other.  Their group provides not only support, but fellow travelers who pursue the call of the muse and recognize it in each other.  They don't merely seek support for their own specific dreams, but find the vision together of a better world created by dreamers.  Imagination is not just a thing; it's a way.

I believe it's no coincidence that it's in a church.

Again, listen to these lyrics.  To create, we must first imagine.  To imagine, we must allow ourselves, we must practice the craft of imagination.  "Use it if you need it, Don't forget to feed it, Can you picture that?"  Our imaginations are great tools, but also living things that need to be nurtured.  The lesson is hidden beneath the guise of a cartoonish version of psychedelia, but it conveys a fundamental and sadly, somewhat societally subversive message.  Isn't the biggest hurdle to making a new world in our collective ability to see it?

I actually own an original copy of this poster.
There's definitely a generational perspective at work in The Muppet Movie.  Post-hippie era performers raised on a mid-century film & television culture influenced by early film and vaudeville created this entertainment.  There's a respect for the past and a hope for the future.  In other words, it could be seen as anathematic to the jaded internet generation that seemingly does neither.  In respect to its forebears, The Muppet Movie is loaded with cameo appearances from both its mentors and its peer class.  Rather than listing them, here's one of the movie posters by poster god Drew Struzan...

The Muppet Movie was dedicated to the memory of Edgar Bergen, whose appearance was filmed shortly before his passing.

So, okay, yeah, family entertainment about "being true to yourself" and "counting on your friends" are not exactly rare, but ones that do it without being cloyingly saccharine and ringing of hollow compromise are not.  The Muppet Movie MEANS that.  That is its story, not just its catalyst for selling a new toy franchise.  The creative spirit is in the message as much as it is in the DNA.  The creators did things that hadn't been done before, showed us sights we'd never seen before.  When you realize that the movie was essential a contemporary of Star Wars, it's small surprise that these two creative forces would find areas of overlap and cooperation, most especially in Yoda, a key spiritual guru to generations since.

Now, as much as I've raved, there is one major negative to the movie, and indeed to the Muppets in general...

Miss Piggy is a straight-up bitch.

Yeah I said it.  She's a violent rage-beast with a screaming case of narcissistic personality disorder.  No, not mere narcissism of the "oh, you're so vain, isn't that cute?" variety, but a full-blown pathological case.  Throughout the movie, she ditches her "friends" to take a solo shot at fame and glory, only to come back when she needs their help again to achieve her self-centered goals.  She demonstrates no particular talent other than (alleged) beauty, seeking fame simply for fame's sake but offering nothing.  She threatens and assaults anyone who crosses her -- regardless of whether the crossing is real or perceived.  She is a terrible porcine being.  But she's blonde, so I can see her being a successful host on the Fox News channel.

Drew Struzan rules your lesser poster art!
I've always hated Miss Piggy, and it's been a lifelong bafflement to me that some women identify with her so strongly.  Not lately, perhaps, but she was once a popular identifier amongst the Long Island Iced Tea receptionist set.  I guess her modern equivalent would be Snooki.  In the 2011 comeback film, Piggy is handled as slightly less pathological, and slightly more competent -- a much needed change.  Nevertheless, I would strongly counsel Kermit against marrying this lifelong abuser. 

The Muppets, much as I love them, badly need better female characters.

Moving right along, I personally believe that The Muppet Movie (Miss Piggy notwithstanding) is an essential element to responsible parenting.  It encourages creativity, promotes diversity (hm, perhaps outside of gender), illustrates the power of true friendship and demonstrates the benefits of a commitment to perfecting one's craft.  So many family entertainments affect a happiness that comes from ignorant denial of life's hardships.  The Muppet Movie acknowledges that there will be adversity and people who don't understand your muse, and believes in the power of following it anyway until it leads us home, and home is other people sharing the same dream.

Der flim iss okey dokey!

What About BOB?

Twin Peaks - 1990-1991
Created by David Lynch

I hadn't seen Twin Peaks since it aired, over 20 years ago, before my recent foray back into the series.  The foremost question on my mind in returning to it was also voiced by others when I told them I was watching it again; "Does it hold up?"

The answer, I found, was "Yes, but..."

YES, it holds up.  Lynch's retro-iconic predilections give the show a look that doesn't age in the same way something more au currant from 1990 would look now.  Moments of big hair effectively keep it grounded in small town America, but Audrey Horne in saddle shoes, a pencil skirt and pearls will be a thing of beauty forever.  Characters are costumed, not simply dressed according to marketing arrangement.  As evolving tastes in drama go, Peaks sets itself apart again, employing a stylized form of melodrama.  Over-the-top performances remain internally consistent to the tenor of the show.

I'd venture to say that Twin Peaks was massively influential on the kind of televised dramas that would come after it.  It viewed its story in the long term, and was aware that it had a place to go.  This wasn't a case of thinking one episode at a time with cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers.  It built to each reveal.  I believe that Twin Peaks made shows like X-Files, Lost and even Desperate Housewives possible.  If it were made today, it would run 7 seasons on cable.

BUT it still suffers from the same ailments that troubled it the first time around.  I had hoped that the rough spots I remembered would be buffed out by my contracted viewing schedule.  While it did strengthen the narrative continuity, it still breaks down exactly where one expects it to.  The pleasant surprise is that it recovers, albeit too late to save it from cancellation.

Season One ran a mere seven episodes and created a sensation.  Director David Lynch brought his obsession with the unsavory underbelly of small town America to television, combining a supernatural mystery with a darkly satire of a soap opera filled with mood, coated in idiosyncrasy and dunked in a hot cup of the surreal.

It opens on the riverside discovery of a dead body; the local prom queen, Laura Palmer.  This is the event that brings the secret lives of the small northwestern logging town of Twin Peaks into the cold light of day.  It also brings FBI agent Dale Cooper to town.  His eccentricities fit into the town's peculiarities like a six-fingered hand in a six-fingered glove -- not just snugly, but with great unlikelihood.

The threads of the murder extend throughout the tapestry of the town, and each thread tugged upon creates new distortions in the image they have woven for themselves.  The threads pass through the high school (which no one seems to attend after the first 3 episodes), the Double-R Cafe, the Great Northern Hotel, the Packard Saw Mill, Horne's Department Store, One-Eyed Jack's (the brothel across the border), and assorted lives in between, including the local drug trade and the town's own police department.  Everyone has secrets, most of them are having affairs, and not one relationship will come through unaffected.

Now, it's not my intention to tell you the story nor to catalogue its characters.  If you've seen it, that would be redundant, and if you haven't, I'd be robbing you of the opportunity to discover them for yourself.

The first season builds up to some major cliffhanging.  Some of those mysteries aren't resolved until late in the next season.  The murder of Laura Palmer is solved -- sort of -- about a third of the way into the second season, and that's where things break down for a while.  If Laura Palmer's death was the cluster of threads tied to so many other lives, the closing of the case is like a cigarette hole burned into the tapestry. 

To build a grand mystery, the show had wrapped itself in a large and dense cast of characters.  Absent a central story, the characters were adrift.  The show gets caught up in subplots for several episodes; few of them compelling, and some downright annoying.  Out of some of these subplots, however, develop converging elements of a new mystery, itself tied into the lingering unresolved elements of Laura's murder.  Just as this is really kicking into gear, Season Two ends with another round of cliffhangers ...and the show wasn't renewed.

Which leads us to...

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me - 1992
Written by David Lynch & Robert Engels
Directed by David Lynch

This prequel to the television series answers absolutely nothing.  It illuminates, but as it deals with events leading up to the discovery of Laura Palmer's plastic-wrapped body, it makes only the slightest nod to the mysteries of the series' end.

It backtracks to a murder only mentioned in the series; that of Theresa Banks, a girl looking much like Laura, from another Washington small town much like Twin Peaks, murdered just as Laura will be soon after.  It then shifts to Palmer herself and the situations that send her spiraling toward her own doom, finally culminating in her grisly murder and dumping in the river.  This is no spoiler.  It bleeds right into the beginning of the series, and the details are largely covered therein.

Fire Walk With Me takes advantage of its cinematic format to indulge in peculiarity even more.  It's a couple notches darker than the series and wanders even deeper into the grim and bizarre supernatural mythos of Lynch's world.  I'm not sure this is to its advantage.

I highly recommend the series.  It's rich with stories and characters one won't have seen anywhere else before.  Despite its meandering period and uncertain ending, it's still faithful to its own storytelling and adds up to more than, say (my go-to less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts series), Lost.  It's not just a show; it's an experience.

It's natural that one will want to watch the movie after the series, but one needn't feel obligated.  It repaints familiar scenery with some powerful emotional colors, but it doesn't answer the mysteries that remain, and it over-answers a mystery already solved.