Monday, 12 February 2018

An Open Letter to the Office of the Victorian Government Architect: "Sack Yourselves"

To whom it may concern,

I write in relation to learning of your role in the assessment process for the proposed Apple Store in Federation Square.

I am not - other than a couple of Fine Art History subjects, a trained architect, but I am about to be able to tell you in fairly clear and rational terms how your Office has so demonstrably totally voided its entire mandate, such that I write today to demand, on behalf of architecture, your resignation.

This is the city's premier public space, and was created by international design competition. Something almost unprecedented in terms of major projects in this city, but widely regarded as architectural best practice. Your recommendations therefore stand foundationally against architectural best practice even before any of their detail is scrutinised.

So on this basis already it appears that you do not understand that your entire role is to apply architectural best practice to the maximal possible extent in this city, and to advocate as much to government. The alternative is you do understand this, but have chosen for whatever reason to bend to the political wind, or you don't care enough to do your job properly. All conclusions suggest you need to be removed from this role for a fundamental failure of purpose.

Moving on to some of the architectural impact. The importance of this space is established and largely not contested. This space is SO important not just because it won a design competition, but more because of its significance in civic affairs, and that it was designed as a coherent space that had its own spatial symbolism, with stone hewn from all the states being sourced.

That you as an architect can suggest a civic SQUARE (the single urban spatial typology most relevant to an at scale planned coherence) could be improved by having one of the complete coherent set of buildings replaced by a building in an entire other style, and with no architectural logic whatsoever.

That you as an architect can give approval to Norman Foster's, copied and pasted (and he CLEARLY hasn't even TRIED put any contextual design into this) design beggars belief.

The building's balanced zen and extended lines seem calculated to be as violent a jar as possible against the existing style's wildly angular and tesselated postmodern patterning. If you can look at those two building styles in tandem and suggest the architectural realm has been improved, you need to return to architecture school. These are not two neighbouring buildings in a streetscape, these are two parts of ONE SQUARE.

This is a HERITAGE BUILDING. Federation Square would eventually have been listed. Your stylistic intervention, by the principles laid down in the Burra Charter, actually JEOPARDISES THE FUTURE HERITAGE LISTING OF ARGUABLY THE CITY'S MOST IMPORTANT CIVIC SPACE.

You have not thought this through, you have not, once again done any of your duty to uphold good architectural principles in relation to preservation. We are continually losing or seeing compromised (qv IM Pei's Collins Place) important modernist and postmodern buildings before they are listed. The appropriate job for your office here was to ensure this known policy trap within the urban arena did not adversely effect the outcome.

So, the bases on which I believe all individuals within the Office of the Victorian Government Architect with any responsibility for this decision are unqualified to continue in the role are these:
  • 1. This is the most important decision you will ever make, as the public interest has never been more imperiled by politicians' and corporations' vanity, and you have chosen to aid its imperilment
  • 2. You fundamentally only had one job to do at 1, and failed at the most important moment
  • 3. You've thrown out the results of an international design competition for a coherent premier public space
  • 4. The thing you've given the thumbs up to is abysmal in any architectural langauage, and by any assessment.
  • 5. Thinking a non-coherent space is better than a coherent one, and for not comprehending a square needs to be coherent
  • 6. The co-option of Don Bates, and your disrespect to the two dead architects who are spinning in their graves today
  • 7. Failure to consider the heritage impact
  • 8. The absolute obvious inappropriate violence of the juxtaposition of styles

Although, in conclusion, there could be ONE possible out for you in all of this.

We need to be clear that you do actually know where Federation Square IS, yes? CITY square is the one with the right angles ....

Monday, 15 January 2018

Melbourne, It's Time to Bin the Free Tram Zone

The free tram zone is a terrible piece of public transport policy, even inasmuch as it might be good political theatre. I've bleated on this in footnotes previously, but it's time to send the message loud and specific.

I am drawing again here on the latest raft of data from Charting Transport. But also on the anecdote of tonight's experience on the 57 tram from the CBD, time approximately 10.05pm. And we can all agree 10pm is hardly peak hour. But we can all agree that these days that at 10pm, the CBD centre is still very much alive in the retail/entertainment core, as indeed it was this Monday.

Grab a Partner for the Elizabeth Street Shuffle

Stop 1 - Elizabeth Street Terminus (where trams still open their doors one foot in front of shear walls that people wanting to get on are already queueing in front of - this is probably only the city's third largest tram terminus, but hey that's another whinge), the tram is essentially FULL, at 10pm on a Monday night.

In fact the 57 can routinely be full at the CBD end all the way up to the last tram. We are told we have a network that is demand-responsive to this, but I have been reporting evening overcrowding on this route to PTV routinely for well over a year now.

Stop 2 - We are so full that we have to leave passengers behind. It is a 14 minute wait until the next 57 is along. We are so full that "train style", passengers have to alight in order to let other passengers off. Some of those passengers almost do not get pack on. This appears to add significantly to loading times, we miss the lights at the intersection. At 10 pm, there is of course no passing traffic on Lt Collins Street that was worth holding up a full tram for.

Stop 3 - Possibly up to 30% of the tram evactuates, most of them clearly tourists leaving a full but no longer overcrowded tram. The entire tram was empty at the terminus. So all these people have just:
  • travelled a maximum of two stops
  • paid no fare
  • paid basically no Australian tax to support the infrastructure
  • overcrowded the infrastucture for those who are forced to pay (residents traveling beyond the CBD)
  • increased the travel time for those smae people traveling significant distances and for whom the journey time is significant, and who do compare this trip with a car-based alternative
  • prevented people who may have been intended long distance travellers from using the tram, even though the tram was not full once it left the CBD
  • increased the journey time for these same people by at least 14 minutes
  • gotten less exercise
  • reduced CBD street life
Now consider that ALL that is specifically now dialled into our fare structure. And consider that almost every tram journey in this city (step up 78 and 82) passes through the CBD. This is what we have done to basically every single tram journey in this city through the incentives provided by the absurd free tram zone.

Applying the 'EVIL' Test ...

So, let's say for a minute you were EVIL. And let's say you wanted to systemically make people use their cars as much as possible, and you realised how much gridlock the city would be in if all the people who currently use trams started travelling by car everywhere, and you were trying to formulate a policy that made almost every tram trip in the city less competitive with the car, well then I ask you ... can you actually come up with a better policy to achieve specifically this than the Free Tram Zone?

The Charting Transport data showed “The Melbourne CBD itself has had a 12% shift to public transport – and actually a 7% mode shift away from walking (which probably reflects the new Free Tram Zone in the CBD area).”

So the Free Tram Zone is a gimme to those who need it least. Tourists first, Office Workers on well above average earnings second, and inner city residents third (and increasingly this means the well to do, not working Melburnians).

And I'd remind you that all these people pay the same taxes as everyone else. The same taxes as the everyone elses who ARE able to access the decent public transport, and who need it least. These former people have basically never had a new bit of public transport built for them during my lifetime, and the latter have had BILLIONS spent on them. Again, from the same tax pool.

And the Free Tram Zone inconveniences EVERYONE who needs that least also - those who could do without the extra 5 minutes on the CBD leg of their commute because it will take them 30 minutes just to get to their station in Zone Two. The people for whom the car remains the most viable alternative.

Consider that EVERYONE who has had to travel TO the CBD has already had to pay. Almost all are buying a daily ticket. CBD tram trips for these people are effectively FREE ALREADY. What we DON'T need is signs all over the city saying to these people "hop on a tram for free instead of walking two blocks".

We are Governed by the Media

This is SO COMPLETELY ARSE-UP in terms of how we ought to be setting our transport priorities. It just makes my blood boil that nobody far enough up the public transport tree in this state clearly has either their eyes philosophically properly on the main goals to say "whoah!" on this.

This entire idea should have been philosophically inadmissable to any transport planner looking to make this city a fundamentally better place for everyone to live.

This pointless revenue shedding measure only exists because it's the kind of policy that it's very easy to get the media to go "rah rah" around during an election campaign. Literally. It makes no broader public policy sense, it serves no public policy objective worth spending any money on.

This is yet another symptom of what I am going to call the Zone One Mentality or Greenspartyism - advocating world's best public transport only for your wealthy inner city mates who all own homewares depicting W class trams they've never ridden.

It is not a fit or proper policy for a party that claims to be about either social justice or sensible transport advocacy. IN. THE. BIN!

If we MUST have free trams in the CBD, we should have designated free shuttle trams that run up and down Elizabeth, Collins and Bourke to assist in alleviating the crush loads. And that is all.

For more tram-based entertainment ...

Friday, 29 December 2017

Voices from the 'Other' Melbourne - Time for truly needs-based public transport policy

Source: Charting Transport

Cost-Benefit Analysis really is a rubbish way of delivering public transport. I say this in particular reference to Infrastructure Victoria's debatable means of telling us Doncaster Rail was a dud, but a possible future Metro Two tunnel whose longest inner north component would in practical terms do little more than grant hipsters in the inner north subway stations, may well stack up.

Close the Upfield Line

The Upfield line would not pass a cost benefit analysis if proposed today - it would be projected to exclusively cannibalise existing Craigieburn line traffic. Yet we are today actually planning for the line as a crucial conduit to new northern growth suburbs.

But none of the cost of the tens of thousands of cars that would be thrown onto the choked roads network if we closed the Upfield line today would be on that original cost-benefit study.

And none of the benefits of having two rail lines rather than one serving entire new growth regions for decades to come would be in there either. And all of the usage projections for the new well serviced commuter stations in the outer west have exceeded original projections.

The point in bold here, is the benefits of having heavy rail covering your entire urban geography have been obvious with hindsight. Society today considers ALL the prior money here well spent, no smart politician has talked about closing about closing a train line in this city for 30 years.

The point is that if you are going to talk about benefits in such an economically rigid way that you hive off MOST of what society at large infers by the term, then you're deliberately and systemically building a world that is less responsive to society's values.

Your entire methodology is actually invalid, not any scientific basis, but on a moral one. And because of this, your science is incapable of responding the problem.

Cost-benefit analysis is a discipline built on the same foundational faultline that undermines the entire discipline of economics. Statistical modelling is central to most of its foundational and core theories. This requires that an approximation model of the real world be created, and to do this, all manner of "assumptions" are made about the normal operation and behaviour of our world, and us the actors in it.

And here begins the problem, because the essential purpose of these assumptions is to allow for what is largely chaotic and random behaviour to be expressed in some form of mathematical expression.

Close the Frankston Line

To model Doncaster Rail, Infrastructure Victoria have made the assumption that fully 98% of its users would be cannibalised from the existing public transport system. You read that right. 98%. Without, apparently having anything obvious that might contextually support this figure, such as survey data from commuters in Doncaster (call me crazy). This number just appears from the air, and it's essentially this number that hobbles the entire cost-benefit study.

So, I have an unsolicited proposal for Infrastructure Victoria. Let's close the ENTIRE Frankston Line. Today. It doesn't stand up to cost benefit, because 98% of commuters would simply use other public transport modes. OK?

But the other point is the only actual benefit by which Doncaster rail was assessed by Infrastructure Victoria was as a conduit to further enable access to the CBD employment zone, which is correctly assessed as a low priority.

But we will ask the question shortly, what if the real possibilities of Doncaster rail are being deliberately missed? What if rather than connecting Doncaster radially to the CBD, we explored options to connect it ORBITALLY to the heavy rail network? The needs this is then addressing are around creating suburban employment clusters and are instantly much more pressing.

You don't need to dig terribly deeply around the media at present to find articles talking of the increasing creation of TWO Melbournes - an inner city one that has excellent access to all the best paying jobs and which has viable public transport options and a suburban one which faces extensive and increasing daily commutes which are necessarily longer, car based and mostly to suburban destinations.

I believe Infrastructure Victoria has built a number of assumptions about this second Melbourne that are actually deeply classist and that literally dial in more of the same. Working people ('bogans') just love their cars, and this is an ideology of theirs.

Whereas I would start with, "we've never provided adequate public transport to the places where these people live, and so they don't use it, and if this isn't the most obvious causal factor here then there really must be something wrong with me."

And there's an increasing body of evidence that says there's apparently nothing wrong with me at all, and the other viewpoint is in fact dangerous.

Charting Transport in a Non-Parallel Universe

The latest, which has prompted this rant, is from the fabulous people at the Charting Transport blog. Certainly the most thorough publicly available data on journey to work in Melbourne is to be found there for anyone interested. I'll take up the rest of this post by referencing what I thought relevant and really shouting out what I think the lessons here are.

The report is about journey to work, so the data divides fairly neatly into data relating to ORIGIN and that relating to DESTINATION. On the origin side of things, one thing hits us square in the face.

Over the past 15 years, Public Transport mode share in Melbourne has increased ONLY in areas of the city with direct access to rail (tram, light or heavy).

Source: Charting Transport

The data shows it is only suburban household very proximate to the stations who will use the network in volume, further underlining the apparent weakness of the existing suburban bus network as a systemic support to rail.

And all this with quite a bit invested in the system in recent times, so the data is clearly telling us that  simply continuing to invest incrementally in the system the way we have been will only reap the sort of incremental rewards we've seen here, not the significant change that everyone agrees is needed.

Source: Charting Transport

But, build it, and they will come.

Footscray, Flemington, Docklands, Carlton, and South Yarra were more obviously on this list, but the report showed "public transport mode shares of over 50% can be found in pockets of West Footscray, Glenroy, Ormond – Glen Huntly, Murrumbeena."

Glenroy is uniquely well served by both the Upfield and Craigieburn lines. The last three are essentially the same region where the Frankston line diverges from Pakenham-Cranbourne, so this is theoretically one of the best served rail regions in Melbourne. Build it and they will come.

And we HAVE shifted the paradigm for new greenfields development in Melbourne's West with Regional Rail Link. 

Charting Transport continue, "the biggest shifts to public transport in the middle and outer suburbs were in Wyndham Vale, Tarneit, South Morang, Lynbrook/Lyndhurst, Point Cook South, Williams Landing, Rockbank, and Glenroy. That’s almost a roll call of all the new train stations opened between 2011 and 2016."

Source: Charting Transport

I think we should all be crowing about this more, including the advocates for working Melburnians. This is not remotely how we built Noble Park. We seem to be laying the foundations of MUCH better planned communities for tomorrow's 'second Melburnians', and the communities themselves are voting with their feet. Build it and they will come.

I think it's extremely important that we are looking right now at making sure ALL the modifications to Upfield/Craigieburn needed to serve the growth communities in the north are as strategically well forward planned as Regional Rail Link was, and probably gotten underway today in preference to tomorrow. Having built it BEFORE they got there (hello, Caroline Springs station) seems to have been a success factor here.

Or Don't Build it, and They Won't Come

Unlike Sydney (and we've discussed this before), almost nobody is travelling to suburban work destinations in Melbourne by public transport, however the report clearly shows that concentrating jobs in suburban locations properly serviced by heavy rail is a key success factor in reducing car dependence for journey to work.
"There are some isolated pockets of relatively high public transport mode share for journey to work in the suburbs, including
  • 34% in a pocket of Caulfield – North (right next to Caulfield Station),
  • 33% in a pocket of Footscray (includes the site of the new State Trustees office tower near the station),
  • 25% in a pocket of Box Hill near the station, and
  • 17% at the Monash University Clayton campus
  • an area near Camberwell station (26.8% PT mode share)
  • Swinburne University Hawthorn (39.8% PT mode share),
  • a zone including the Coles head office in Tooronga (11.2% PT mode share)"
The commonality here is all too obvious. All are very near heavy rail stations, except Monash which is served by several relatively high frequency buses from three stations. Most are catered for by more than one line, and most are actual branch stations, therefore have an effective "3 spoke" coverage of their immediate region.

Keen readers will note that this was of course one of the key factors we were looking to maximise through the creation of a Wombat outer suburban orbital rail loop to maximise the network for exactly this factor.

Source: Charting Transport

Almost ZERO mode shift to public transport has taken place at workplaces more than 7km from CBD. All most all of the behaviour change of the past 15 years has been amongst CBD or inner city workers.

Source: Charting Transport

The Second Melbourne doesn't work in the CBD.

What particularly annoys me about Infrastructure Vistoria's Donacaster Rail debacle was it failed to consider what could be done from an urban consolidation perspective to make Doncaster a much more effective activity centre in its own right, to give local residents much better options to work and shop locally on roads that are less clogged, but what was modelled was really just existing behaviours.

Source: Charting Transport

The report states "public transport dominates journeys to the CBD, no matter how far away people’s homes are, but the number of such journeys falls away rapidly with home distance from the CBD. Very few people commute from the outer suburbs to the CBD."

So, what about the possibilities Doncaster rail created for all residents who have needs to better access local destinations, rather than just for the probably wealthier portion of that society who work in the CBD? Is it because these latter people probably look a lot like the study authors that their mindset has been dialled so front and centre in to the equation?

Options for connecting Doncaster ORBITALLY to the heavy rail network
 as stage one of a Melbourne outer orbital rail loop, creating new RADIAL catchments
into existing suburban retail, education and employment clusters

We keep extending a radial rail network to suburbs where the data tells us these people do not to a large extent want to travel radially for very far.

Orbital Rail is Needed in Melbourne

The Wombat "Maximal Network Effect" vision for heavy rail in Melbourne

The number of large suburban job centres that are adequately served by the current heavy rail network is very small, and the distribution of jobs across the suburbs is highly dispersed.

The radial public transport network is therefore at its limits to provide anything further for the second Melbourne. While it remains radial, it can only properly transport workers to one destination - the CBD. And while the “new economy” jobs growth is occurring within such a geographically constrained space, if you don’t have access to the CBD, you're getting shut out of the new economy altogether.

So while the network remains radial, it persists as a vehicle of entrenching economic disadvantage, and every cent spent on public transport in this city is actually discriminatory.

For years we have been planning public transport from a "zone one" mindset. But Zone Two is increasingly crying out for the sort of congestion relief that road projects are at their limits of being able to provide. 

Creating effective suburban job centres adequately served by heavy rail is the better mousetrap that we are looking for to solve not merely urban traffic issues, but also address a whole range of social equity and employment access issues that are presently plaguing the second Melbourne.

Every bit of data in this report seems to suggest that creating a secondary rim of suburban job centres around 20kms from the CBD should now be a major policy goal.

Here's a plan for an orbital rail network that will meet this demonstrable NEED. Sod your cost-benefit study, we need to discuss a better future.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Wombat Comes out Boxing from the Heritage Corner on Doyle's Queen Vic Market Stink

Submission to Heritage Victoria regarding
Queen Victoria Market Redevelopment
VHR Registered Property - VHR0734
Permit application P27642

Submission by
Adam Ford,
Former Media Officer, Melbourne Heritage Action
Former Council Candidate, The Heritage Agenda

I am writing in submission of my recommendation that Heritage Victoria reject this redevelopment proposal on the grounds that it does severe violence to the architectural integrity of one of the State’s most significant heritage structures on a wholly spurious and unnecessary basis.

Furthermore this entire proposal and the way it has been formulated represents a fundamental disregard for heritage values in tandem with leaving too many questions of the proposal apparently deliberately unanswered because they likely entail severely negative heritage outcomes.

I am personally unable to properly assess the heritage impact of the proposal based on the submitted documents. I only hope the panel has greater success in this.


Council’s own tendered documents show that the Queen Victoria Market has experienced significant and consistent revenue growth over the past two decades. There is therefore no evidence that the general Victorian public see any imperative for major renewal, and certainly not of the scope proposed here.

What exists in ample evidence is poor management, in that the market’s profitability has demonstrably declined to the point where this is now the real issue management faces. Costs having blown out are therefore actually the issue here.

It would be considered fairly unconventional management practice to address the issue of a rising expenses bill with a massive capital works program that doesn’t come coupled with any concrete future traffic projections nor any short medium or long run plan to control the real issue of cost-overruns.

Only in public service land would this be considered smart decision making. This is exactly the sort of decision-making that dug the existing management, which by dint includes Council, into the massive hole in the first place. The reward for this should not be “OK, you therefore have a valid imperative to trash a structure that is flagged as preserved in its entirety, flagged at the highest level of State significance.


Melbourne City Council, and all supportive Councillors have shown the shabbiest and most outrageous disregard for heritage through this entire process. They have deliberately sought to shield as much detail of their destruction from public scrutiny as possible.

This project has effectively been split in two for purely political reasons, the panel would therefore have been given no opportunity to consider whether Council’s originally proposed 200m tower looming over the outdoor environs would void the VHR’s listed market’s state heritage significance. I’m not suggesting it would, but I am underlining that Council wouldn’t have cared if anyone did.

Heritage destruction is now to be wrought all along Theirry St, with that entire row of non-VHR, but significant buildings being demolished without any public input having been allowed whatsoever.

The two storey heritage structures are all being replaced with two storey BRICK structures “in order to reflect the heritage of the area”. We are in TV series Utopia territory here. However, I as screenwriter, would be unable to submit this script as ‘too corny’.

We first learned of this when photos of the destruction were released by Council to the Herald-Sun. I directly asked Cr. Rohan Leppert on that day to comment on how much destruction appeared depicted. He advised me he was unable to comment as “commercial in confidence”. This remained the case until the Planning Minister approved the development. And these are our ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES talking to us like this about what they’re doing with our money and our heritage. This is completely outrageous.

The destruction of the heritage buildings on Thierry Street was never notified to anyone except the photo editor at the Herald-Sun, and presumably the Minister. No public input into the process on the Munro site was enabled because Council deliberately voted to hand its powers on the site to the Minister and therefore void any public input. This outrageous disregard for the heritage community should not be considered outside the context of the current proposal.


Council has systemically sought to buy off stakeholders through various stages of this process, and have even recently induced the National Trust to issue a mealy-mouthed statement that once again allowed Council to excise the destruction on Thierry Street, which was once again not even mentioned.

If tamecat heritage bodies that have become useful merely to serve tea and sconces at Ripponlea to the blue rinse set, aren’t capable of applying adequate scrutiny here, then it becomes ever more imperative that Heritage Victoria step into this breach and ask for the detail of the applicants that they have refused the general public.

The plans that have been submitted are manifestly inadequate to judge the visual impact of the proposed changes on the shed interiors in general, and Shed D in particular. Yet the plans exist in triplicate, as attested by other parts of this submission. The systemic effort to game the process thus far should therefore lead the observer to conclude that this lack of detail is deliberate, and that it conceals the fact that the addition of the lift housing to the shed interiors WILL fundamentally alter their heritage character and their key sight lines.

The panel is therefore advised to apply a severe degree of scrutiny to the internal visual amenity impact of the proposal, because we the general public don’t have this detail on which to actually submit today, and nor have we been able to scrutinize our elected representatives for this detail.

The panel is therefore also entitled and recommended to assume the worst about the visual and heritage impact of anything it has not been given the necessary detail to judge, and that includes most of the proposed interior changes.


The four main detailed concerns as I see them are as follows:

  • 1. The visual impact on the shed interiors created by the addition of floor to ceiling lift wells, and the inappropriateness of permanently situating such machinery at such scale within the market’s heritage context.
  • 2. The significant and obvious impact (not depicted) of the removal and replacement with presumably replica (not stated) elements of the supports in Shed D to allow for basement access.
  • 3. The significant and obvious impact (not depicted) of the addition of an automobile-sized entrance ramp in Shed D to allow for basement access which will require concrete side protection walls on either side.
  • 4. The appalling attempt at heritage integration that is the proposed new structure on Peel Street, which appears to consider the job done via the inclusion of some bits of wood painted to reflect the heritage roof paneling. Only those elements are triangular, and the new ones are rectangles, and precisely how difficult would even that much have been to reference? The remainder of the structure makes no attempt whatsoever to integrate even in a token sense.

In conclusion, the requirements around basement access necessitate the majority of the heritage vandalism. But the need for these improvements is not proven by the business case. These may improve amenity for traders, but how will they improve profitability? If this cannot be demonstrated, then no imperative for ANY destruction to, nor degradation of the heritage context of a very significant structure on the Victorian Heritage Register should be entertained.

Thank you for your consideration of my submission.

Yours sincerely,
Adam Ford.

CLICK HERE to submit

Monday, 4 September 2017

"What Year is this?" 'It's 2017, and this is seriously DARK' - first thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return Finale

What Just Happened?
Twin Peaks Episode 18, The Wombat Take

An ancient evil has dwelt on this earth in Sarah Palmer since 1945, and the Laura Palmer spirit was sent to this earth to combat this evil.

The year of episode 18 is approximately the present day - the car models alone tell us this.

Sarah Palmer was behind the door, and Jouei has failed in preventing the historic murder of the Laura Palmer spirit, but has just had Coop deliver her right back again.

Coop's attempt to kill the second bird - Jouei with the one stone failed because preventing Laura Palmer's death was pointless as he delivered the same spirit as Carrie Page back to it's clutches as Sarah Palmer.

The white horse I'm certain was in Sarah Palmer's kitchen has always symbolised the Laura spirit's demise, and is perhaps the pure representation of the ancient evil.

Cooper, along with the rest of us has completely misjudged the role and significance of the Sarah Palmer character all along.

Season 4 or no, we can NEVER get Dale Cooper back again

Neither of what returned to this earth of Cooper or Diane was what left it 25 years ago. What returns to this world is affected, haunted, modified by what of themselves has been left in the lodge.

Every transferral of 'something' across dimensions in the Twin Peaks universe, requires an equal displacement of something else from that dimension or time.

We share a last brief moment with Coop and Diane's former "full" (though still seemingly deeply haunted) identities before the strobe effect that occurs as they pass the pylon - apparently the spot where evil coop was first attempted to be pulled back "in" to the lodge.

In the lodges, time does not pass normally if it passes at all, there is some indication this world exists as a dream of the white lodge beings. If characters have ever spent time there, they are still and always spending time there.

Diane states that she remembers everything, although it's unclear whether as Tulpa Diane or Niadoo or both. She always has to have been missing from this world for 25 years in her experience.

Some of Evil Coop has returned with Cooper, and Diane now has a doppleganger rather than a tulpa. They are Richard and Linda. Irrevocably changed, part of them now lodge dwellers forever.

If the Twin Peaks season 3 finale offered us any hope, it left us more than enough dangling for a fourth season.

For the question of Audrey's obviously significant role in the epistemology, and the dream like pervasivenesss of significant red objects across the various universe (not to mention this would be another permutation of the narrative Lynch has used for his last three feature length films) suggest all the narratives may in fact be part of someone's unitary mental fever or dream somewhere.

Cooper's identity definitively splits in SOME dimension as his disembodied voice says slowly "we live inside a dream" at the end of episode 17. The question of the entire validity of ANYTHING we've actually just been watching remains unresolved.

Intriguing Instagram post from Sherilyn Fenn...

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on 

Radical Buddhism - A Final Epistemology of Twin Peaks: The Return

Please see also my mad scribblings over the first episode...

Monday, 19 June 2017

"IS it about the bunny?" First thoughts on Twin Peaks Season Three

David Lynch is specifically attempting to pioneer a new visual storytelling medium with Twin Peaks season three. You can stop searching for hidden "meanings" right here and now. The headline purpose is writ very large.

Readers familiar with David Lynch's most recent cinematic endurance piece (and I say that fondly) Inland Empire, may already have some sense where this post is going.

Rabbits appear as one of the more central, albeit mystifying of Inland Empire's motifs. The film cuts periodically to a 'sitcom' which features three humans with giant rabbit heads, always filmed in one dingy living room. It is always raining outside.

Inland Empire is either all about the bunnies or not about the bunnies. They may be a total red herring, but if they are, they're the most absurd and over-invested one in cinematic history.

The footage is cribbed from a complete online miniseries Lynch created called "Rabbits". It appears to be a parody of the sitcom form. The episodes all feature a randomly inserted laughter track that appears not to be aligned at all to the dialogue, which contains no punchlines. The characters mostly intone sentences that appear to be part of a narrative, but are all delivered out of sequence, it's all quite disturbing and ultimately quite tedious.

And disturbing and tedious are two places Lynch has been decidedly unashamed to dwell during the first seven episodes of Twin Peaks' return. Nostalgia's a location we've only happened across briefly. This is in absolutely no way whatsoever a re-hash of or hat-tip to the first two seasons.

Crucial I think to the cinematic ontology that Lynch is (re-)creating in Season Three is the scene with Hawk and Lucy attempting to determine "what is missing". The deterministic uncertainty around the term seems crucial to the entire project.

"Everything is here therefore nothing is missing" can be simultaneously true with "object x is not here, therefore something is missing", leading Hawk and Lucy/Andy to different conclusions about the possibility of anything being "missing." The confusion arises not over the status of the object, it derives from the definitional uncertainty of what "missing" means.

And the viewer seeking a vehicle via which to engage their nostalgia will find themselves similarly confused, untethered to enough simple truths or histories or narratives to complete that ontological transaction either.

And that's precisely where David Lynch wants you.

What is Missing?

Are the Rabbits in Inland Empire present or missing from the text, are the characters themselves present in any, none or even multiple texts? Where is their "reality" located? None of these questions are answered.

Is Cooper present in the real world twice, once or not at all? And is he still present in the red room? How has he been tricked? What happened when he was sent to 'non-existence'? Who was the companion woman? Where is "real" Cooper, the hero of the first two seasons? We are yet to see him in that identity.

We've been forced to watch so far seven hours of absolutely pained simulacra from Kyle Maclachlan. The Coop we remember hasn't yet spoken a word. Seven out of eighteen episodes in already. The star has been Naomi Watts (and how, Naomi ... you will win an oscar ... and my proposal still stands). What is missing?  

The status of the chocolate bunny is definitely 'missing'. It's been eaten. But is it significant or is it a red herring? Hawk's moment of real uncertainty reflects our own. In fact he about sums up the viewer's entire experience of Inland Empire. "Is it about the bunny?" And he pauses on the actual cusp of attaining meaning, and we viewers pre-emptively reach for it, but ... "No. It's NOT about the bunny."

What is seems to be about has to date been a surprisingly uncomplicated resolution to the ends Lynch left us hanging with. Good Dale has been in the black lodge 25 years, while Bob has wreaked earthly havoc in his body as bad guy Dougie Jones.

But it appears Bob has laid a trap, and somehow created a second Dougie Jones who was living a mild mannered family existence. Instead of returning to his own body, Coop has been sent back into the body of the other Dougie Jones, and thus Bob has not been returned to the black lodge.

Both Bob and Coop have spewed out their creamed corn garmbanbozia and consequently both appear to have manifestly lost their identities and are operating as automata. Phillip Gerard appears to be trying to trying to help Cooper from the black lodge, and informs him one of them now must die.

The arm, as in past seasons appears to be affiliated with the Bob spirit (when we were informed Gerard severed his own arm to stop Bob's murderous bent). The other spirits, the giant and the Laura Palmer figure appear to be on Coop's side. The "evolved" arm is depicted with a "gash" in it that evokes images of the eviscerated corpses to which we've so far been treated.

Somehow the abortive transmission of Cooer between worlds is linked to his being 'trapped' within the glass box, but it's unleashed a murderous force simultaneously, almost certainly linked to Bob. But why was sexual energy seemingly so central to catalysing the exchange?

And where is Twin Peaks? It's already abundantly clear that Lynch has very little interest in this as a nostalgia vehicle. Ben and Jerry Horne are now a completely literal parody of the Zionism-loving ice cream doyens, but the reality is very little in the first four episodes relies on the previous two seasons even for backstory.

And it's going to disappoint a lot of people in this respect. But we need to be aware that Lynch has very demonstrably moved on from the themes that were his obsession twenty five years ago. Small-town, cherry pie loving America was mythologised and pulled apart by Twin Peaks as much as it was in Blue Velvet.

But this project belongs with Inland Empire, a project at the OTHER end of Lynch's career. Season Three is all about big cities and POSTmodern discourses and how they fragment and ultimately deny any possibility of a finite, concrete self, reality or identity.

What is "Missing"?

What we, the viewer are missing is any semblance of a conventional television narrative.

Lynch is the absolute master of the uncanny. Uncanny meaning recognisable enough to identify ourselves within, but never 100% safely. Something's always, as Gordon Cole sums up, "very wrong". To me the most interesting aspects off the return of Twin Peaks all relate to what they tell us about the Director himself, and the "wrongness" of serving something up in this form as mass-market television.

Remembering this is a man who in recent years has expressed not much more than apathy at the prospect of ever making another film, a man who has probably done more than anyone to blur the distinction between cinematic auteur and more traditional notions of "the artist", whose output in the visual arts and music arenas represents genuine engagement with their proper form and tradition such that he's never remotely an amateur or hobbyist, the guy who it's long struck me must surely be astounded that nobody's noticed he's made the same film three times in a row now, the guy who said he wasn't going to make another film until he came up with a new enough idea, the guy who is credited with creating the space occupied by every critically successful TV series to debut in the last 25 years, the guy who has been convinced to come BACK to all this, who actually walked away from the project because he wasn't offered the screen time he needed to do it properly, the guy whose cinema has basically become depicting the postmodern, fragmented, discursively-determined self-identity.

If that guy says he needs 18 hours to tell a story, and puts his foot down for the right to tell it, and when he's the sort of guy who basically doesn't get dragged back to something like this without it having some kind of headline purpose, the bloke whose last movie was there almost ridiculously slow hours in length, and he, the cinema purist shot it on VIDEO and said he may not go back to film ...

When all those things happen in advance, and when what is served up , even in that context is as perplexing, odd and as disconnected to TV or cinema traditions as to seem to be self-sacrificing, then, well, what I'm building up to is ...

This may well be the crowning moving picture career move by arguably the most important figure in the field. And he isn't trying to change either television or cinema. He's looking to invent a NEW FORM with characteristics of both.

He's said it in interviews this is more like an 18 hour movie than a TV series. This is the pilot episode of a series that a TV executive would be so confounded by they'd reject instinctively. Why can that Netflix guy run around likening this show to heroin and think that's a marketing play to middle America? Because today all he needs is your SUBSCRIPTION. He doesn't care - much - if you never watch a minute.

Think about that. Think about how different an operating environment we are now in. Think like that because I'm pretty sure that's how David lynch this is about it. Think about it because you really ought to be paying attention when modern TV and cinema's great innovators invests two seasons worth of production, writing, directing, sound editing -


And now you know how to read it all. And Lynch has peppered his text with little confirmations.

I was watching a vlog recently from a couple of characters discussing the scene with Michael Cera's character. Their take was that it was incredibly humorous. So, sorry Mr Lynch, but in spite of how obvious you've made it, your goals are being thwarted by the medium you've chosen.

The scene ISN'T humorous. It's weird, it's affectatious, it's PAINFUL to watch, it's BORING, it's self-consciously ham-fisted. The Michael Cera character isn't remotely believable. It shouldn't be able to even exist as television. Why have two of the least erudite characters in the show spawned a Shakespearean Brando? It makes as little narrative sense as it does logical.

The same goes for having your lead character not speak a single word for the first seven hours, when you're expected to do nothing more than rote re-fire the same neurons in your audience from twenty five years ago and collect your cheque.

The same goes for the DEEPLY WEIRD game Lynch seems to be playing of turning Gordon Cole into a semi-disturbing office perve. It's actually a trope that's never been put on screen before. And because it's a character that he himself is playing, and because Michael Anderson (the dwarf from the first two seasons) isn't in this because he went to the media and said Twin Peaks was the story of Lynch's relationship with his own daughter ... Lynch seems to be trying to find a million subtle ways to completely, but quietly, and from within, eat the heart out of conventional TV narratives once and for all.

So pay attention to all the boring, and the tedious, and the affectatious and the downright odd. Through those dimensions a revolution is being wrought. It was ALWAYS about the bunny.