Let’s Cameo

To put a pin in how an actor’s offscreen fame can inform their onscreen performances, let’s transition from Spike Lee to…Twin Peaks?

Specifically, to…David Bowie?!

Cameos might be the perfect encapsulation of how real-world celebrity can define an actor’s fictional role, because what else differentiates an “extra” from a “bit part” from a “cameo” other than the audience’s pre-existing familiarity with the thespian? Luminaries can’t just blend into the ensemble firmament.

Which David Lynch utilized to Twin Peaks’ advantage by casting David Bowie as a spectral figure in Fire Walk with Me, one who subsequently looms over the whole third season. If his Phillip Jeffries was played by someone with less name recognition, few viewers would even consider the character’s importance. But by linking such a magnetic presence to someone with scant screen time, Ziggy Stardust elevates Jeffries’ profile so that we take sufficient notice of his function in the narrative. 

Since superstars are commonly at the center of elaborate plots structured around them — to me, one amongst many definitions of star power is the ability to alter their surrounding gravitational pull so that we expect the story to orbit around their planetary center — Bowie’s largely unexplained appearance suggests worlds of mysteries and secrets that stretch beyond the confines of the show.

If Twin Peaks’ unusual artistry and construction are imbued with and meant to reflect its metaphysical philosophy, then this Bowie phenomenon reinforces the idea that the limits of earthbound consciousness cannot begin to encompass the complete complexity of life as we (don’t) know it. If the small town of Twin Peaks offers enough intrigue to sustain hours after hours of episodes, imagine the riches hidden in DAVID FREAKING BOWIE’s portion of the show’s universe, which we only get glimpses and shards of. 

And yet, Bowie’s tragic detachment from his mortal coil reminds us that, in true Twin Peaks fashion, our corporeality might constitute merely one plane of being, and the keys to unlocking what’s really going on out there, around and inside us may be available to us only in/through the great beyond. Or, will the answers we seek always be waiting just beyond reach just beyond the great beyond, as in, beyond our ordinary means of human perception?

Like so much of the series and what it says about existence, Bowie and his Phillip Jeffries’ unexamined aura will remain just that: a fleetingly-observed but still unanswerable unknown. And yet, this unattainability shan’t stop us from striving to understand, no matter the impossibility of such a task. Bowie and Phillip Jeffries might reside in the ungraspable stratosphere with Major Tom, but those of us down here at Ground Control can still look up to the skies and/in wonder.

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