|Director: David Lynch|
|Screenplay: David Lynch |
|Stars: Justin Theroux (Adam Kesher), Naomi Watts (Betty Elms / Diane Selwyn), Laura Elena Harring (Rita / Camilla Rhodes), Ann Miller (Coco Lenoix), Robert Forster (Det. Harry McKnight), Rebekah Del Rio (Club Silencio Singer), Dan Hedaya (Vincenzo Castigliane), Mark Pellegrino (Joe) |
|MPAA Rating: R|
|Year of Release: 2001|
|Country: U.S. |
David Lynch’s masterful, perplexing Mulholland Drive is an unsolvable puzzlebox movie, which is probably why we are continuously drawn back to its inscrutable mysteries and logic-defying narrative. It is a fully engrossing experience, one that intrigues and frustrates, amuses and disturbs by an entirely different set of rules—those of a fascinating artist confident enough to bring the conventions of avant-garde and experimental filmmaking to a broader audience.
Interestingly, Mulholland Drive began life as television pilot that was rejected by ABC and rescued from potential oblivion by producer Michael Polaire, who was able to raise the capital that allowed Lynch to reassemble his cast and reshoot some scenes and shoot 18 new pages of script to turn it into a feature. The resulting film has many thematic and visual similarities with both Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet (1986) and his groundbreaking television show Twin Peaks (1990–1991), yet it feels like something wholly original. One of Lynch’s greatest gifts as an artist is not only his emotional immediacy (despite the surreal, fractured nature of his films), but his ability to constantly work over the same ground again and again, exploring the same traumas, anxieties, and perversions while still making it feel new.
As you might guess from the title, Mulholland Drive is about the strange wonderland that is Hollywood. It begins in mysterious fashion, with a glamorous woman (Laura Elena Harring) about to be killed by her limo driver when a group of drag-racing kids smashes into their car head-on. The woman survives the wreck and stumbles down a hill into a wealthy neighborhood, where she holes up inside someone’s apartment, unaware of who she is or what happened to her.
The house she finds herself in is owned by the aunt of a bright-eyed, innocent ingénue named Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), who is fresh off the plane from a small town in Canada. Blonde, perky, and dreaming of stardom, Betty has an audition set up and is hoping to catch her big break. When she first runs across the amnesiac woman, she thinks she is one of her aunt’s friends. The woman, who eventually calls herself Rita after seeing a poster on the wall for the great romantic film noir Gilda (1946), begs Betty to help her. And, much like the naïve Jeffrey in Blue Velvet, Betty finds herself quickly sucked into a menacing world hiding just below the everyday surface that she finds not only mysterious, but strangely compelling. (Lynch loves to generate humor out of these go-getter young hopefuls who wade too deep into the darkness of the underworld.)
Of course, this is merely the beginning, and to try to explain what happens from there would not only spoil the film for those who have not yet seen it, but would take much more room than is allowed here. Suffice it to say that, much like Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), the narrative surface is not what it seems to be, and about two-thirds of the way into the film everything suddenly collapses in on itself. Characters switch identities and previous events are forgotten as if the two parts of the film take place in alternate universes. An argument could be made that the first part of the film is a dream and that the second part represents reality, but one could make the exact same argument in reverse, which inherently draws us to the exasperating question, “What is real?”
In some ways, this is maddening; but, at the same time, Lynch’s freedom from traditional narrative logic and his willingness to twist convention to get at deeper themes is exhilarating. Mulholland Drive may not make sense in the way we normally expect from a Hollywood narrative, but that is a fundamental part of its power. The surreal, dream-like logic is a thematized narrative strategy that works in tandem with the film’s scathing critique of the institution of Hollywood, the “dream factory” that has turned out more than its share of nightmares. In Mulholland Drive, Hollywood is a place that draws in innocent dreamers, chews them up, and spits them out. Betty’s identity may change completely in the course of the film, but her two selves form a path from idealism to despair.
Mulholland Drive plays not only with narrative, but also with generic classical Hollywood conventions, particularly film noir and the backstage melodrama. Lynch is an expert at establishing moody atmospheres and dark, foreboding mysteries (aided and abetted by a wonderfully sinister, yet beautiful score by his frequent collaborator Angelo Badalamenti), and he dishes out some truly memorable sequences here, especially a scene in which Betty and Rita sneak into the apartment of the woman who may hold the key to Rita’s identity only to find a decomposing body in the bedroom.
It is from the same well of dark impulses that Lynch also gets some of his funniest moments, including a sequence in which Betty auditions for a role with a lecherous older actor—perfect, windproof gray hair and skin bronzed to orange perfection—and turns it into a highly charged sexual performance of which we had no clue she was capable. Lynch maintains the sexual intensity throughout, especially once Rita and Betty become romantically involved. While sex in Lynch’s films is often a path to the deepest human perversions, here it is played straight, and Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring generate true heat together.
On another level, it is fascinating to watch Mulholland Drive as a television pilot turned into a feature film. After it was rejected by the networks, Lynch gathered all the actors together and shot new footage in order to rework the material as a feature. Such a move almost demands Lynch’s fractured approach because a television pilot by its nature is extraordinarily open-ended. Introducing more than a dozen characters, including a narcissistic movie director (Justin Theroux), a police detective (Robert Forster), and a host of shady movie financiers (including one played by Dan Hedaya), Mulholland Drive was obviously designed to establish the beginnings of multiple narratives that would play out over dozens of episodes that never happened. Instead, Lynch had to find a way to tie them all together in less than an hour—an exercise in futility. Thus, he rejected any notion of truly resolving any of it, and instead used it to his advantage in constructing a dream-like exploration of the great unresolvable conundrum that is life.
|Mulholland Drive Criterion Collection 4K UHD|
|Audio|| English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround|
|Supplements||Video interview with writer/director David Lynch and actor Naomi WattsVideo interview with actors Justin Theroux and Laura Harring and casting director Johanna RayVideo interview with composer Angelo BadalamentiVideo interview with production designer Jack FiskOn-set footageDeleted sceneTrailerInsert booklet featuring an interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||November 16, 2021|
| Criterion’s 4K UHD edition of Mulholland Drive derives from the same restored 4K digital transfer that was supervised by director David Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming and used for their Blu-ray release six years ago (a disc of which is also included in this package). Now that we get to see it in its full, 2160p/Dolby Vision HDR glory, it is even more stunning and exactly what fans of the film have been hoping for. Transferred from the original camera negative, the image is crisp, sharp, and extraordinarily well detailed (notice the fine detail of make-up and sweat rivulets you can see on Dolores del Rio’s face in her extreme close-ups). Color, which is so important to Lynch’s vision, looks fantastic, with deep, rich reds and blues that contrast wonderfully with the inky blacks around them. The disc also features the same robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack transferred from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. The film features a great deal of dialogue, but unnerving sound effects and Angelo Badalamenti’s gorgeously wrought score play crucial roles in the film’s effectiveness, and they are all beautifully rendered in the six-channel mix.|
All of the supplements are included on the Blu-ray disc (the 4K UHD disc reserves all its space for the film itself). These consist primarily of more than an hour of interviews that were newly recorded in 2015 with the film’s main collaborators. Lynch himself sits down with Naomi Watts in a 26-minute discussion of the film, with much of the focus being on how Watts was cast, her working relationship with Lynch, and how Lynch created a feature film from a failed television pilot. In a second 16-minute featurette, we hear from actors Justin Theroux and Laura Harring and veteran casting director Johanna Ray, who has worked on numerous Lynch projects, including Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Finally, there is an individual video interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti (20 min.) and one with cinematographer Peter Deming and production designer Jack Fisk (22 min.), all of whom had worked with Lynch on previous films, as well. In addition, there are 25 minutes of on-set footage, a short deleted scene, and a trailer. The insert booklet does not include a new critical essay, but rather a lengthy interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch. There is, of course, still one big thing missing here, which is the original pilot version of Mulholland Drive that was rejected by ABC. Fans have had access to this as a muddy bootleg for years, but some have held out hope that it would some day be given an official release. Alas, it is not here, most likely because Lynch has gone on record numerous times that he is “embarrassed” by its quality and apparently doesn’t want to give it any more exposure, so fans will have to continue to make do with their bootlegs.
Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Universal Pictures / Focus Features / The Criterion Collection