Mulholland Drive Review
There are two kinds of people in the world; those who say they can explain Mulholland Drive and the rest of us. Wrestling the plot into some sort of sense is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube while walking the full length of a Möbius Strip. Somewhere, locked inside this wonderfully evocative film, is a perfectly reasonable piece of pulp fiction, where sex reliably leads to jealousy and murderous intent. Director David Lynch has said the best way to watch the film is to float through it, because it is the job of cinema to create a feeling, one unique to the viewer regardless of the supposed intention.
It would seem this makes Mulholland Drive a perfect example for the argument that film is entirely subjective and critics are superfluous, a perennial debate that usually pops up when a film’s performance is at odds with the critical consensus. And if there was ever a film impossible to review to the point of a guaranteed recommendation, it’s this one!
Cinema is not entirely subjective, it simply can’t be. Art requires discipline and skill regardless of the intention of the story and when the craftsmanship of David Lynch’s finest work is considered and put into context, it’s value becomes clear. It is a timeless masterpiece. Will you like it? Not a clue! And it’s none of our business to say that you should. Some of it is funny, some of it is (very) scary, but the thing as a whole appears to defy logic and everyone who sees it will take something different from it. Possibly even take something that wasn’t intended; it’s that generous a film. Lynch’s own modest assessment obfuscates that the construction of the film is of an exceptional standard and will stand up to fierce scrutiny.
A misleadingly brief synopsis tells you that Rita (Laura Harring) has lost her memory after surviving a botched hit on Mulholland Drive. She stumbles her way to a recently abandoned apartment and meets naively optimistic Betty (Naomi Watts), a walking cliché who has just arrived to follow her dream of being an actress. They clumsily help each other and pick at the edges of a Hollywood conspiracy. If you think that all sounds too ordinary for a film with such a reputation as this one has, you’re right. It really doesn’t scratch the surface considering that critics have recently voted Mulholland Drive the greatest film of this century so far. Rich in character, confidence and a weirdness that doesn’t feel at all out-of-place in LA, it’s hard to argue, even as you wonder what on earth is going on?
Mulholland Drive succeeds because it utilises the impossible glamour, madness and corruption of Hollywood that has proved fertile ground for the thriller genre for decades, especially when looking inwards as this does. The dry California sun-baked town that twisted Bogart around its little finger in In a Lonely Place here is given an extra frisson of potency by introducing a narrative wormhole in-between Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard converging in the diner, behind which… something unspeakable lives (deceptively revealed in one of the scariest scenes of modern times) or in the suspiciously time-locked ghostly apartment complex, where Rita and Betty both struggle with their identity. Or maybe it’s in Silencia, the bonkers nightclub that seems to have all the answers you won’t want. Wherever the otherwise perfectly normal timelines cross -and there are several- the boundary between dreams and reality has never been quite so blurred or fragile since Fellini created 8 ½.
There’s a frustrating sense of pretension that permeates 8 ½, unfolding as it does as Fellini’s own therapy, but Mulholland Drive isn’t about navel-gazing. It’s a noirish thriller with heroes, villains and Femmes Fatales. The mood is similar to Gilda, the poster for which hangs in Betty’s apartment, with Rita Hayworth inspiring Laura Harring’s amnesiac to find a name to hide behind; or Hitchcock’s Vertigo, using the same themes of obsession and identity. The unassuming plot plays out until only in the second half does it become clear that some of what has gone before is the dream of one character, and still more happened long before the narrative thus far suggested. But it’s a generous and playful conceit that rewards repeat viewings, not a cheap trick for the sake of sensationalism.
While the story as a whole resists immediate explanation, every scene bristles with confidence and energy, even when they appear out of context. The cast of fantastic characters wouldn’t be out of place in a Coen Brothers movie, especially the cameo by the film’s composer Angelo Badalamenti, a man who probably doesn’t rely on Starbucks to serve him the most perfect Espresso, especially if they forget the napkin; or Mark Pellegrino’s hitman, who pops up occasionally and is vital to the plot, but is introduced to us by an attempted assassination going hilariously wrong in a perfectly directed bit of slapstick. There’s also room for Billy Ray Cyrus, one of the last people you’d expect to see in a modern L.A. noir, in a very funny scene as the lover of Justin Theroux’s wife.
Ostensibly lead by Naomi Watts’ Betty, the indistinct nature of the film might actually be misdirecting us from paying close enough attention to Laura Harring. She is brilliant even though her portrayal of Rita is seen through an unreliable Betty’s eyes. Watt’s performance as Betty, in any of her forms, is a tour de force and extraordinarily nuanced. An audition scene stands out and is as clever a moment as any in the film, but it lives and dies in her jaw-dropping delivery.
Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s sandpit and it’s testament to his method and reputation that the film never feels compromised because he created a cinematic puzzle for everyone’s amusement, least of all his own. He’s more magician than director. Quentin Tarantino is but a child in his narrative shenanigans compared with Lynch’s elegant unpredictability, but Tarantino did once speak of the rumoured links between his films: simply put, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know, so long as the director does. Lynch definitely does know what he is doing and does so without a shred of pretension. The more you watch the film, the more solid it becomes.
The first reaction you have to any film will always be your most honest. Even if cinema itself is subjective, how you consume it is not to be disputed, least of all by critics. They love the film as much as anyone and want it to be enjoyed it as intended. Despite the brilliance of how Mulholland Drive was made, it might make you want to tear your hair out, but throw yourself in anyway because there are at least two solutions: one of them is David Lynch’s, and he’s tantalisingly obscured it such that it will be discussed ad infinitum; the other solution is yours.
The brand new Director approved 4k restoration is the best version of the film yet seen, with a healthy level of grain and no artefacts or damage. Peter Deming’s photography is essential to pulling off the narrative spell; for example, Betty’s apartment is dark, almost opulent in a cheap way, and yet tired and old-fashioned too. The diner is bland, neutrally lit, suitable to the environment, which has a dry, washed out appearance. As if everything has had just a little too much sun. The level of detail is wonderful and tactile, with a perceptible depth even in the nighttime moments.
The sound design of Mulholland Drive is superb and serves equally the demands the variety of styles in the film make. The core is drama, where characters are centred and clear. But listen in particular to the diner scene early in the film where environmental sounds and Angelo Badalamenti’s subtle, haunting score work together to create a palpable sense of unease. Later, there are opportunities for musical extravagance which are treated like full musical numbers: a Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying or film-within-a-film 60s style pop earworms.
Aside from the new interviews, the extra features are largely the same as Studio Canal’s previous release. That Blu-ray wasn’t too shabby, so while the interviews are worth seeing, the real value in the new release is the 4K.
(i)Back to Mulholland Drive(/i) 24m
Narrated in French, this is a brilliant dissection of the film, following David Lynch’s own “Ten Clues” and explaining them, with fascinating demonstrations of where the scenes connect. It’s so thorough, consider it as you would a video game walkthrough. Maybe you want to know immediately, or give the film another run and see how much falls into place. Even then, there are intriguing omissions: just who is that behind the diner? Where does the cowboy fit in? And so on. The last word is given to Lynch who has a beautiful explanation of where subjectivity ends in the creation of a feeling for the viewer and the role of intellect to appreciate the nuances.
On the road to Mulholland Drive - 24m
Nice behind the scenes piece because David Lynch is so open about his approach. This is far less spoilerific than the first extra feature, but should still only be watched after the film.
Interview with Naomi Watts & David Lynch - 27m
A new interview that, with the benefit of time passed, is relaxed and enlightening. Lynch explains the history of the film and how it was originally a rejected TV pilot, a spin-off from Twin Peaks. His insight into how film is constructed at all is fascinating.
Interview with Laura Harring - 14m
Laura Harring recalls with affectionate detail how she was cast in the film and her perception of the role. Like the first interview clip demonstrated, Harring clearly still enjoys talking about the film.
Interview with Mary Sweeney - 17m
Sweeney is the editor and has some fantastic insights into the construction of some of the scenes, albeit without delving quite so deeply as in the Back to Mulholland Drive feature!
Interview with Angelo Badalamenti - 16m
Badalamenti is a composer that has worked with David Lynch several times. In Mulholland Drive he also has a very memorable cameo. He talks about his process and how he ended up in front of the camera for once. He’s a lovely man, entirely at odds with his on-screen persona or indeed the sinister, mournful theme that runs through the film and which he plays on piano at the end of the interview.
Introduction by Thierry Jousse - 10m
This sort of works as an introduction, but is insightful in any case. Jousse is editor of Cahiers du Cinema and briefly explains the film’s inception.
In the Blue Box - 28m
A number of French critics and filmmakers, as well as Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) discuss the construction of the film and their affection for it.
These are the original interviews from when the film was released.
Deleted Scene - 2m
A brilliant scene with the two detectives who otherwise are seen only once in the final film. It’s easy to see why it was cut. Pacing or one misdirection too many. Still, it is a fascinating curiosity and Robert Forster is always worth seeing.