Thursday, 8 May 2014

Detective Stories

Who knew I could be such a fan of detective stories? I cannot be the only one who, when thinking of the word 'detective' , immediately conjures up a mental image of Humphrey Bogart drivelling on in some hideously sexist 'film noir'? The trench coat, the fedora, the shadowy lighting...alas that is not what I am getting at here! I'm referring to my televised obsessions as of late, that exist within the detective genre, but go beyond the detective genre and now I am fully fledged fan of all things related. It started off with Twin Peaks, took an expected turn to True Detective and finally to The Fall. And now I must explain my deep love and obsession for the mentioned above, in hope you will join me or nod in agreement with the testimonies I am about to relay.


Twin Peaks, the magnum opus of David Lynch's surrealist ambition of the mundane and esoteric, began my love affair for the detective genre. I feel a little conceited in explaining my love for it, as fans of the show tend to think of themselves as belonging to an elite group of superior tastes (myself included), especially if they made it through to the end of the show. Twin Peaks is hard to get through, mixing the bizarre with early 90s cheese but when the grand moments reveal itself, it does feel like holy grail. And it sticks with you forever. The story follows 'Agent Cooper' and his investigation of the murder of the enigmatic 'Laura Palmer'. Lynch takes the image of the pure, all American, 'prom queen' teenage girl, that pervades the idea of the 'ultimate' American (or at least how it appears as being to a non-American) and taints it and makes it an almost ugly thing. 'Laura Palmer' serves as being the perfect American girl in every way and ends up murdered, washed up on the banks of a river covered in plastic. Twin Peaks explores the layers behind Laura, the two Lauras, the town of Twin Peaks and its inhabitants. In fact much of the show relies on this theme of duality, balancing the perfected with the soiled and it feels disturbing not being able to distinguish between the two.

 Twin Peaks, takes elements of film noir: the jazz, the righteous detective,the 'femme fatale', the innocent woman that needs saving, the 40s/50s styling (many of the women of Twin Peaks have beautiful, symmetrical faces, with features that that resemble actresses of that time). And then throws in these horrifying surrealist scenes, that feel trance- like, that really dig at what is hidden behind the subconscious. Again the duality- everyone in Twin Peaks hides something sinister behind a perfected facade. It sounds cliche, but it works so well. And with Twin Peaks, everything is left to interpretation as things exist on so many layers, that you can't ever stop thinking about it. Well, for me at least.


Everyone and their cat seemed to up in arms about True Detective, when it aired quite recently. It is quite easy to think of it as Twin Peaks 2.0, or Twin Peaks revisited, as it explores the same theme of 'women in trouble'  being killed under very strange circumstances. Again it has the similar surrealist qualities and motifs that are ever present in Twin Peaks, but  True Detective feels more polished, more mature and more catered for a 2014 audience. True Detective feels dark throughout, soaked in a heavy feeling of melancholy and the foreboding. It follows two detectives, Rust Cohle and Marty Hart and their 17 year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana, who murders women, poses them and places deer antlers and strange motifs on their body. Its so creepy, in fact the entire thing is so creepy, I was hiding behind a pillow most of the time- aghast. Because it felt like 'Laura Palmer' x10. The evil that men do against women...if you will. All the cultish-carcosa vibes truly had me freaking the hell out.

True Detective is not just about crazy men killing young women and children in horrific ways, but a systematic detective story...that really  takes it time to build up clues, trails etc and does this smartly. Essentially the story is about the relationship between two detectives, Rust and Marty, with this marvelous, grand detective hunt serving as a back drop. It is about two men, who are seemingly opposite in character, lose themselves in the isolation of their work, from family, peers, partners etc. Through this grand narrative and their subsequent loneliness they come to understand each other- and become the only ones to truly understand one another. In addition to this I love True Detective because of the 'southern' accents, if anyone knows me well they know I love the southern drawl. True Detective and True Blood (why the true though for all things southern?) has persuaded me I should visit the state of 'Lou-isi-ana' soon. Also the camera work is so amazing, the entire thing is shot so beautifully and I was pleased to  to see the director, Cary Funkunaga, exert the same emotional and brooding style he used for my favourite rendition of Jane Eyre (2011).


The last detective story I want to talk about is The Fall. I have to rather reluctantly admit that I was drawn into watching The Fall because of Jamie Dornan's beautifully crafted beard, more than it being a detective story. I actually didn't have high hopes for the show, because I lumped it into the same category as other British crime dramas which have no appeal for me. I was surprised at how amazing it was - I was fully absorbed. In fact, the rawer, toned down British style of The Fall is what makes it work so well. It felt so realistic. Although set in Belfast, it felt like it could be any UK town . Everything is presented so purely in The Fall, it really gets down to the story and wastes no time with irrelevance. It follows 'Stella Gibson' (played by the same actress who played Scully in the X-files) investigating the murders of two Irish women and 'Paul Spector', the murderer. Both characters are neither elusive, with both being of equal importance.

What really engaged and horrified me was how the lines between normality and the monstrous are presented in the most matter of fact way, with the lines between the two being blurred.  The killer is shown as a multi faceted 'normal' man, married with children. Obviously it is the choice of casting Jamie Dornan as a serial killer is what makes it work so well. There is no 'monster', no lecherous, seemingly evil force guilty of terrible acts. You see a charming, almost boyish and sweet looking man go about his daily activities of work, looking after his children...then murder. It is not operatic, or dramatic and that is what makes it so chilling.

Like Twin Peaks and True Detective, The Fall deals with the murders of women. However, instead of hapless, doomed women, the women of The Fall are everything the murderer isn't. I found this to be interesting, that the murderer chose victims who looked almost identical to each other, professional, highly educated women- women that intimidated the killer. A certain type that made him feel uneasy. In fact, the show deals with the feeling of uneasiness towards women, directed by men, questioning their motives, which is shown both in the murderer and the police/detective force against 'Stella Gibson'. If the women of Twin Peaks and True Detective are voiceless, or at least try attempt to make you feel empathy, then the women of The Fall provide an explanation.