Yes, Labyrinth was huge, not only as a introduction for many ’80s babies to Bowie himself but also an introduction to codpieces. However, the role that strikes me as especially important is the small one he played in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. His character, Agent Phillip Jeffries, barely appears in the film, but in those few seconds, he manages to sum up a lot about why David Bowie was cool: He’s otherworldly, he’s inexplicable, he leaves too soon and he makes you wish he stayed around just a short while longer.
Here’s the whole scene, in text form and video form.
Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is at the FBI headquarters in Philadelphia when he realizes that it’s 10:10 a.m. on February 16 — a date he apparently once had a dream about. Coop steps into the hallway into the eye of a security camera, then walks back into the monitor room to see that he’s still appearing on camera, as if he were still in the hallway. Then out from the elevator walks Bowie’s character in a white suit. Agent Jeffries heads straight into the office of chief, Gordon Cole (David Lynch), starts babbling about Judy and questions who Coop is. The scene cuts to shots of the creepy Red Room residents as Jeffries talks, and then he vanishes.
It’s hard to understand everything that’s being said in the scene, but the preliminary script for Fire Walk With Me at the very least clears up some of what was intended to be said, even if the dialogue differs from what it spoken in the final cut of Fire Walk With Me.
Jeffries: I'm not going to talk about Judy. Keep Judy out of this.And that’s it.
Cole: Stand fast, Coop.
Jeffries: (pointing at Cooper) Who do you think that is there?
Albert: (trying to calm Jeffries) Suffered some bumps on the old noggin, eh, Phil?
Cole: What the hell did he say? That’s Special Agent Dale Cooper. Are you okay, Jeffries? Where the hell have you been?
Jeffries: I want to tell you everything, but I don’t have a lot to go on. But I'll tell you one thing: Judy is positive about this.
Albert: How interesting. I thought we were going to keep Judy out of this.
(Jeffries stumbles to a chair.)
Jeffries: Listen to me carefully. I saw one of their meetings. It was above a convenience store.
Albert: Who’s meeting? Where have you been?
Cole: For God’s sakes, Jeffries, you’ve been gone for damn near two years.
Jeffries: It was a dream. We live inside a dream.
Albert: And it’s raining Post Toasties.
Jeffries: No, no. I found something… in Seattle… at Judy’s… at then, there they were.
(Albert is about to say something, but is stopped by Cole’s gentle pressure on his arm.)
Jeffries: They sat quietly for hours. I followed. (Jeffries begins to cry quietly at his table.) The ring… ring…
Cole: Albert, I’ll take that second mineral water.
(After a hesitation, Albert gets the message and discreetly leaves the room.)
Cole: Phillip, let’s calm down and get all of this interesting story on paper.
(Cole tries to raise someone on the intercom but it doesn't seem to have any juice. The static begins to build on the intercom. The wiring in the wall and the flourescent lights start to hum as well.)
Cole: Let me hear some good news. My device is faulty. Where the hell is the sound on this thing? (He pounds on the intercom) Mayday…
(Hearing “May,” Jeffries turns and stares at a calendar on the wall.)
Jeffries: May? 1989?
(Cooper looks out of the room to see if anyone is coming to help Cole, who is still trying to get the intercom to work. The static grows even louder.
Cole: What… Am I alone?
(Cole turns back to Jeffries, but there is no one there. Jeffries is gone. Papers from Cole’s desk are now sticking to Jeffries’ chair.)
The script provides a little more insight as to what David Lynch might have been thinking in writing the scene, but in true Lynch fashion, it answers no questions about who Judy might be, exactly what happened when Jeffries went to the other place and why he vanished a second time. If anything, I think the scene is supposed to foreshadow what happens to Coop (and to a lesser extent, Chris Isaak’s Agent Chet Desmond) in investigating these otherworldly elements and ending up zapped into the Red Room.
It should be noted that there’s a scene in the movie in which a monkey says Judy’s name, though I’m not sure I’d ever heard it clearly until now. Here’s that scene too, with a bit of context. Yes, it’s all very creepy.
There are also theories that Judy is the sister of Josie Packard (Joan Chen) or maybe Laura Palmer herself. (The fact that the monkey saying her name precedes a shot of dead Laura would seem support the latter.) I suppose this is one of the many loose threads that could get tied up in the forthcoming new season of Twin Peaks, but it seems like Bowie’s death would preclude us from seeing Agent Jeffries again — a bummer, yes, but that’s a comparatively small pity when you think about the strangeness of a world without David Bowie.
I interviewed Jake Shears last year about him taking on his first acting role and asked him if there was a instance of a musical performer-turned-actor that he found particular memorable, and he picked Bowie in Fire Walk With Me. I was stoked, but for those Lynchy reasons that always make words difficult, I can’t explain exactly why this scene resonates so much with me, or why I’d pick it as my favorite instance of Bowie acting in a movie over The Labyrinth or The Hunger. And now that he’s gone — vanished from the world just like Philip Jeffries, and more or less just as inexplicably — I think the scene means even more to me, even if I still couldn’t tell you exactly what it’s supposed to be about.
I have questions without answers, but why shouldn’t I? The world is suddenly missing someone who should have outlived us all, who should have returned to his home planet rather than dying as a result of something as mundane and human as cancer. None of it makes sense.