Sunday, June 12, 2011

MULHOLLAND DRIVE

David Lynch, 2001
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Dan Hedaya

If you haven't seen a David Lynch film, don't start here.
Mulholland Drive is one of his most highly praised films, but is definitely not the most accessible. With that said, it comes highly recommended and stands as a beautifully surrealistic piece of filmmaking that has to be seen to be appreciated.

The plot doesn't really follow a linear narrative structure, but I will try to sum up the important elements. Betty (Watts), an aspiring actress, has come to L.A. to get her big break. She stays at her aunt's apartment while her aunt is out of town on a film shoot. In the apartment she discovers an amnesiac (Harring) who can only remember that she was in a car accident. The naive, earnest Betty works to help her, which leads them down a dangerous path. There are a series of seemingly unrelated scenes that coincide with this, namely where a famous director (Theroux) is singled out by the mob to hire an actress for his new film. At first he refuses, which doesn't go well. Soon we morph into the second half of the film, in which Diane (Watts) and Camilla (Harring) are lovers in affair going south. Camilla is working on a film and is falling in love with the director (again Theroux). Bitter and angry, Diane is bent on getting revenge.

Lynch is excellent at what I like to think of as stream of consciousness filmmaking. There is a basic narrative structure, but it is free to diverge and twist in any way possible. If you enjoyed
Lost Highway you will also like this film. It is not as narratively sound as his earlier work like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, but still has much that is weird and surreal. He does particularly interesting work with interchangeable characters and timelines - instead of getting new actors to play the "second act" characters of Diane and Camilla, Watts and Harring take on these roles. I very much get the sense that the first and second halves of the film, like Lost Highway, are divided by a split in reality - we are with the same people, but we are seeing them as they would be had they made different life choices. Or perhaps they are the dream or nightmare versions of themselves? In Twin Peaks, we see each character's dark underbelly progress with the show, but maybe in Mulholland Drive we simply see polarized realities.

Whether or not you are a fan of surrealist filmmaking, there are some truly wonderful things about Mulholland Drive. There is great chemistry between Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring. Allegedly Lynch was totally unfamiliar with either actress, but hired them based on head shots and a thirty minute interview. The man might be crazy, but he knows what the hell he's doing. The film garnered Lynch the Best Director award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination. It also received great critical acclaim, which blows my mind. There are some truly amazing scenes, but they are far from the typical mainstream Hollywood cinema-going experience. I think my favorite moment is when Betty and Rita go to the Teatro Silencio; this one scene sums up the entire film. And don't forgot about another wonderful soundtrack supervised by Lynch-regular Badalamenti, who actually shows up as the espresso-hating mobster.

Like most of Lynch's other works, Mulholland Drive can best be described as a psychological thriller, though it is definitely influenced by noir and surrealist cinema. It was originally supposed to be a television series, which explains why the film is so long and is clearly divided in two section. Lynch combined the discarded pilot with later feature film material to complete the film after the series was rejected. Pick up the single disc Universal DVD and you won't regret it.

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