RIP Angelo Badalamenti — 5 Scores to Remember ‘Twin Peaks’ Composer

The staff of IndieWire select five of the film and television compositions that will forever transport us to a place where the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.

Composer Angelo Badalamenti has passed away, leaving behind a musical legacy that includes ’80s slashers, Christmas slapstick and, of course, his longtime creative partnership with director David Lynch. In memory of the man who worked with a Beatle and Bowie and was responsible for so much of the distinctive mood of Lynch filmography, the staff at IndieWire have selected five of the film and television compositions that transport us forever where the birds sing a pretty song and there is always music in the air.

“Blue Velvet”, “Main Title” (1986)

The first collaboration between Badalamenti and Lynch, Blue Velvet, boasts a main title that ironically alludes to the late composer’s diabolical duplicity of Jeffrey Beaumont’s (Kyle MacLachlan) descent into a suburban underworld with characteristic brilliance.

Presented over a blue velvet curtain, with the ornate names of Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and the rest of the unique cast fading in and out, the 1986 film’s opening is at first classic in its theatrics: rugged, solemn, safe. But as the orchestra swells and warm brass builds on a snowball cascade of minor chords, Badalamenti introduces a malicious playfulness that crystallizes throughout the rest of the horror soundtrack. As the main title “Blue Velvet” gives way to Bobby Vinton’s singing rendition of the 1950s love song that gave the film its name, the literal and the ethereal collide at the dreamlike foundation of what would become a decade-long collaboration. —Alison Vorman

“Twin Peaks”, “Laura Palmer’s Theme” (1990)

As Badalamenti narrated, “Laura Palmer’s Theme” flowed from his fingers, while Lynch described the elementary imagery of his groundbreaking TV crew with Mark Frost: trees, wind, an owl, a lonely girl’s emergence from the darkness. Given the way each section of the theme flows into the next, it’s impossible to imagine any other coming together – just as it’s impossible to imagine a version of “Twin Peaks” without those menacingly held chords, the modulations, that feel like they could just build infinitely towards the sky and the cascading beauty and romance that only lasts for a few brief bars before the whole thing dissolves back into terror. It’s an eclectic cue that punctuated melodrama, terror and the end credits throughout the show’s ABC run and returned full circle in its 2017 sequel for a particularly poignant moment. Things have a habit of repeating themselves in “Twin Peaks” and “Laura Palmer’s Theme” depicts these cycles beautifully, forever fading between light and dark, never fully surrendering to one or the other. —Eric Adams

“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”, “Theme from Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me” (1992)

The opening credits of 1992’s “Fire Walk with Me” — white, lynched sans-serif typeface set against the vibrant, bluish-white noise of TV noise — is essential in telling us what this prequel film will be. That means total annihilation of the ABC broadcast version of “Twin Peaks” you’d cozily love. As the credits end, the television set framing them is immediately smashed by a hammer and a woman’s bloodthirsty scream is heard out of sight.

Thus begins Fire Walk with Me, in which the audience learns what really happened to Laura Palmer. (It’s a lot worse than you thought.) But it also begins with Badalamenti’s reinvention of the classic “Twin Peaks” theme, here a jazzy, amorous, Miles Davis-esque trumpet-tinged ballad by Jim Hymes, slowed to anesthetized levels. It’s the sort of moody preamble you might imagine Laura coked up in her bedroom or the sleazy Pink Room nightclub, vibrating and squirming to in slow motion. Musically, “Twin Peaks” exists primarily in an electronic world, but smacks of smoky jazz like this “theme” give a glimpse of Badalamenti’s real flair for other genres – like much of his film music, this one stands on its own, out of context, as one Kind of uncomfortable listening. In context, however, it’s much more nightmarish. That oddly soothing sentiment found in the unrelentingly horrifying and demonic defines Lynch’s work—white noise as a nightmare—but that’s largely thanks to Badalamenti’s contributions. That sticks in your mind: Something terrible is coming and it’s kind of comforting. —Ryan Lattanzio

“The Beach” (2000)

Is The Beach a real movie, or is it a flimsy excuse to watch Leonardo DiCaprio meet up with Tilda Swinton and fight a shark? Who can really tell. But there’s a clarity and lushness to Badalamenti’s score for this Danny Boyle-directed and Alex Garland-written adventure that feels like turn-of-the-millennium Hollywood, a blend of thematic orchestrations with more atmospheric material that helps mark the film’s titular location as enticing and alien. Badalamenti draws on percussion and synths for the more unsettling aspects, but also uses reverberant strings that feel as far as a sunset in the more romantic moments. The score always suits the on-screen action, meaning it’s often as goofy and swinging wildly as the film, but perhaps even more successful than the film itself, Badalamenti’s music always suggests there’s something more here, or in some aspect of it the place is happening and these people are still waiting to be discovered. —Sarah Schachat

“A Very Long Engagement” (2004)

Badalamenti may be more celebrated for the synth textures of his Lynch scores, but he works with just as much precision when composing with a conventional orchestra. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement is both conventional film and not at all, a love story that oozes the visual life and cheeky tangents that make Amelie so delightful, but the film also takes place shortly after Der World War I and most of the characters introduced in the opening of the film are dead and everything is terrible. Badalamenti’s score perfectly captures the essential contradiction in the film’s happy and sad heart. It’s dark in the expected way, with the mournful horns and swelling strings that seem standard in war imagery. But it is also insidiously curious and energetic in its rhythms and in the way Badalamenti develops his themes. There’s a choppy forward motion that makes the score feel different than a generic trudge through the trenches. The seven-minute track at the end of the title sets a good foundation for not only the depth but also the nuances of emotion Badalamenti was able to evoke with his music. That it is also beautiful is (and is not) a happy coincidence. —Sarah Schachat

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Lindsay Lowe

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