Twin Peaks: titles of the strangest type

Twenty six years after it first aired on television, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is to return to screens in 2016. A video announcement enthralled Twitter earlier today, with many welcoming the return of the show’s puzzling plotlines, surreal characters and haunting soundtrack. For me, what added to the strangeness of the original show was the jarring type that opened each episode – and it, too, looks set to reappear

Twenty six years after it first aired on television, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is to return to screens in 2016. A video announcement enthralled Twitter earlier today, with many welcoming the return of the show’s puzzling plotlines, surreal characters and haunting soundtrack. For me, what added to the strangeness of the original show was the jarring type that opened each episode – and it, too, looks set to reappear…

In 1990, I was 13 and Twin Peaks was the strangest thing I had ever seen on TV. According to a New York Times article from that year, the show first aired on BBC2 at 9pm on a Tuesday evening in October, the pilot episode attracting 8.15 million viewers in the UK.

Last Friday, identical ‘twin’ tweets were sent out by Frost and Lynch at 11.30am both stating “Dear Twitter Friends: That gum you like is going to come back in style. #damngoodcoffee”. As well as including two references to the original series, fansite Welcome to Twin Peaks also noted that in its pilot episode, Kyle MacLachlan’s character special agent Cooper first enters the town at exactly the same time. (Now that’s a fansite.)

 

Today, with rumours buzzing, Lynch then tweeted a link to “a special Twin Peaks announcement” on YouTube (above); a clip which showed Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer character, a shot of the ‘Welcome to Twin Peaks’ road sign from the opening titles and the words “25 years later” and “2016” followed by the Showtime logo.

So Lynch and co. were going to go return to the town as if it were the present day? Amazing. Yet seeing that unnerving lettering took me back rather than forwards.

 

The opening theme by Angelo Badalamenti remains one of my favourite pieces of TV music but, until today, I hadn’t really thought about the how the visual part of the show’s opening titles (designed by Pacific Titles) had managed to convey a sense of unease. It did this partly through typography which appeared, incongruously, over a calm backdrop of mountains and waterfalls, heavy industry and the winding roads of the Pacific northwest.

(For a high quality video of the opening title sequence, see the excellent post at artofthetitle.com – which analyses it in some detail.)

 

Looking at the sequence anew, the other odd thing I noticed was that when the show’s title first appears, brilliantly timed with the crescendo of the main theme, it arrives with the ‘Welcome to Twin Peaks’ sign in the same shot. The traditional, panelled hand-painted sign – already announcing your arrival in Twin Peaks – is doubled-up. Who has the name of their show appear twice in the same shot of the opening titles? David Lynch, no doubt.

And not by anything that looks like the first sign either: the title is displayed in a modern-looking serif, a rusty brown outlined by a sickly bright green, in full caps. It still looks so strange today.

“And while the slow transitions and sleepy imagery impart a sense of tranquility, the overall mood of the sequence implies something sinister or somehow unnatural,” writes Shaun Mir on Art of the Title.

“The combination of small town serenity with the eerily empathic score creates a sense of comfort while simultaneously hinting at the underlying truth about the setting. Notably, the town’s residents are absent from the sequence, underscoring the fact that the most important character in the series is the town of Twin Peaks itself.”

 

Researching the opening sequence lead me to an online discussion of the type that was used. Most commenters who concurred (and that’s really not that many commenters) agreed on a single typeface: ITC Avant Garde Gothic Condensed Demi Bold. One of ITC’s first families, the full alphabet was designed by Tom Carnese who worked from the logotype for Avant Garde magazine, created by his design partner Herb Lubalin in 1968 (Ed Benguiat later drew up the condensed designs in 1974).

I doubt that Frost and Lynch, or the person behind the design of the Twin Peaks titles, were attempting a wry reference to the kind of work they were helping to create – yet this was ‘avant garde’ television and certainly felt so in 1990 (though my 13 year-old self would no doubt have just thought it weird-looking.)

Perhaps there’s something in it. While potentially retaining the same look and feel that Twin Peaks fans have hankered for the return of for several years, there’s also one subtle difference in the type used in the new trailer. It’s the same typeface alright – but it’s oblique. By accident or design, that certainly sounds very Lynchian.

A nine-episode series of Twin Peaks is set to return in 2016 on the Showtime network in the US. For a more details on the opening title sequence to the original pilot and series, see artofthetitle.com

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