“David Bowie was unique like Elvis was unique. There’s something about him that’s so different from everybody else.”—David Lynch.
The early nineties offered different struggles for two excentric creatives; David Lynch and David Bowie.
While the former’s career was in a rough patch following some unsuccessful attempts to age gracefully, a mercurial performer who had found it difficult to recapture his cool. Lynch, meanwhile, was in a more comfortable place with his cult-classic series Twin Peaks having afforded him a shot at a prequel feature film his work was by no means ubiquitously welcomed. In 1992, Lynch decided to cast Bowie in a small but crucial role.
Although the 1992 film Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me prequel was met with almost universal derision at the Cannes Film Festival, a place in which Quentin Tarantino was reported as saying: “David Lynch had disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear something different,” the project would go on to become another notch on the big cult-classic belt of Mr Lynch. Bowie’s performance as ‘Jeffries’ would go down as one of the seminal moments of the entire film.
Making his appearance as FBI field agent Jeffries who escapes the Black Lodge makes a somewhat deranged appearance in Philadelphia. The character is a walking contradiction, a quantum puzzle of a character—at once present and at another moving in another sphere, even walking through Cooper in one particular scene.
“I’m not going to talk about Judy,” Bowie’s character now famously says. “In fact we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all. We’re gonna keep her out of it.”
The extended cut of Fire Walk With Me, titled ‘Missing Pieces’ show the entire Bowie scene as it plays out in full. It shows Jeffries unable to go on as he breaks down in pain before being teleported to a hotel in Buenos Aires Argentina. It’s certainly not Bowie’s best work on screen.
The scene, however, is a crucial piece of the film offering a clue-dense and metaphor heavy run of Bowie action. The two realities of Jeffries and Cooper running over one another, double-exposing their reality. “We live inside a dream,” says Jeffries—a line that Cooper would relay 25 years later in Twin Peaks The Return.
Although Bowie would never again work as an actor for Lynch, he would go on to lend his Outsider song ‘I’m Deranged’ to the filmmaker to use as the intro and outro to 1997’s Lost Highway. The track is a perfect marriage of Bowie’s unstoppable lyrical creativity and musical nous and works alongside Lynch’s vision. David Bowie was unique, like Elvis was unique,” Lynch once told Pitchfork. “There’s something about him that’s so different from everybody else. I only met him during the time I worked with him and just a couple of other times, but he was such a good guy, so easy to talk to and regular. I just wish he was still around and that I could work with him again.”
After Bowie’s passing in 2016 and the announcement of Twin Peaks’ long-awaited return, many were wondering if Lynch would manage to find room for Jeffries. Could Lynch perform the same miracle he had done for Catherine Coulson with saved and reimagined footage? Sadly that wasn’t to be the case and, when Evil Cooper finally meets Jeffries again, he instead finds a machine. The machine spoke in English and a series of puffed out steam which showed either clues or numbers.
In typical Bowie fashion, David was unhappy with his 1992 performance because of his ropey Louisiana accent. When Lynch offered Bowie the chance to be a part of the character’s return, Bowie asked for a Louisiana actor Nathan Frizzell to be the voice of the redubbing.
The role would end up being a footnote of Bowie’s illustrious career, whom with album Outsider, had reclaimed his seat at the feasting table of ‘cool’. Lynch would also go on to continue his growing reputation as a zeitgeist auteur. But for the fans, Jeffries, will go down in history.