Sunday, 25 October 2015

MULHOLLAND DRIVE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Criterion Does David Lynch Death Dream

Mulholland Drive (2001)
Dir. David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller,
Michael J. Anderson, Lafayette (Monty) Montgomery, Robert Forster,
Dan Hedaya, Billy Ray Cyrus, Chad Everett, Lee Grant, Rebekah Del Rio

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The tagline for David Lynch's first feature film Eraserhead was the aptly creepy, "A Dream of Dark and Troubling Things" which, frankly, could be applied to most of his great work. Few filmmakers understand dream logic and even fewer know how to use it within narrative cinema. Lynch is the exception to all rules and he might be the best living example of a filmmaker who brings the properties of nightmare to his drama with the kind of intelligence and aplomb that most can only, if you will, dream of.

Plus, his work continues to be the epitome of cool. Better yet, it never feels dated. Yes, it can be rooted in whatever time frame its rooted in, but his technique feels timeless, which bodes well for its unending value beyond the mere ephemeral that most contemporary films are hamstrung with.

Mulholland Drive was a film that chilled me to the bone and moved me deeply when I first saw it on a big screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001 (one day before the 9/11 attacks, no less). Subsequent viewings in the next couple of years or so maintained the degrees of richness I'd come to expect with so many of Lynch's films.

Though screenings eventually dropped off my radar, the film itself did not and it continued to haunt me.

And then, the Criterion Collection issued a spanking new, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director David Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming.

No two ways about it, Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece.

I think it's safe to say that like Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive is indeed a cinematic "dream of dark and troubling things". Lynch has, however, chosen a very simple tag line for this creepy, terrifying tale of contemporary Hollywood and billed his picture as "A love story in the city of dreams . . . "

This is clearly appropriate in more ways than one.

Set against the backdrop of the movie business, we follow the story of Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a small town girl who decides to grab her shot at stardom. She's completely unprepared for the deep horror and secrets beneath the dream factory's veneer. Upon taking possession of a homey suite owned by her aunt, she discovers Rita (Laura Harring), a gorgeous amnesiac passed out in the bedroom.

Betty, being a Canadian missy from Deep River, Ontario (no less) is an especially wide-eyed, kind-hearted star-struck blond naif. She also shares the Jeffrey Beaumont obsession (Kyle McLachlan's character in Blue Velvet) with solving mysteries. Rita has been involved in an especially horrific experience on Mulholland Drive and Betty is determined to assist her new sexy brunette friend.

This not only leads to all manner of delving into hidden corners they shouldn't, but the two gorgeous lassies begin to fall in love and Lynch happily has them diving into each other's respective love pockets.

A juicy, compelling sub-plot which wends its way into the lives of our heroines (and is, in fact mysteriously and inextricably linked to them), involves wunderkind film director Adam (Justin Theroux) who is being given thug-like orders by a raft of agents and executives - all of which seem closer to the edicts of gangsters. He's been clearly used to the business vagaries of the film industry, but his refusal to play ball seems to go deeper than usual as his life starts to spiral out of control. To restore normalcy, he is eventually forced to pay a visit in the deep night to one of Lynch's scariest incarnations, The Cowboy (Lafayette "Monty" Montgomery).

Betty's ascension to stardom seems to be getting more than a few helping hands. At one audition, she plays a love scene with Jimmy Katz (Chad Everett) a cheesy soap opera actor. The assembled slime bags for the audition appear to fetishize the love scene to creepy extremes, but Betty seems naively oblivious to the weirdness of it all. Deep french kissing with Chad Everett (no less) might well have been every gal's dream come true in his TV-star heydays of the 60s/70s, but it seems almost irredeemably sickening here.

And as her detective work on Rita's behalf intensifies, the very identities of both herself and lady love begin to morph into some extremely scary places. One of the more unsettling and moving sequences involves our sapphic couple visiting a strange club where they experience a live performance by an intense blue-haired chanteuse (Rebekah Del Rio) of Roy Orbison's "Crying" in Spanish.

The film swirls deeper into a thick morass which many might find utterly unintelligible, but in actual fact, there is a fairly straightforward narrative buried beneath the layers of mystery. (Lynch provided several cheeky clues for viewers to make note of that are now all over the internet after first being published with the first DVD release, but I think it's going to be a far more rewarding experience to let the film wash over you and keep discovering its secrets on subsequent viewings.)

I much prefer the big hint in Lynch's tagline for the film. He makes it clear that our film is set in the "city of dreams" and with elements of film noir coursing throughout the picture, Mulholland Drive might be as savage an excoriation of said dream factory as Nathanael West's classic 1939 novel "The Day of the Locust" (and its flawed, but worthy John Schlesinger 1975 screen adaptation).

In that great book, its "hero" is a production design storyboard artist who has been working on a sequence entitled "The Burning of Los Angeles" and one which terrifyingly comes to life in the book's shocking climactic moments. The portrait West paints of the film business is one of greed, exploitation and misogyny. Eventually, the only way to exorcise the evil is for total destruction.

Alas, Los Angeles, or rather, Hollywood, has not really burned. In Lynch's film, the greed, exploitation and misogyny West evoked has become more further entrenched than ever. It is a world of crime and corruption - a dream factory of nightmares. One of the orders director Adam receives is to utter the simple words "This is the girl" at an audition. At one point, Betty's alter-ego (yes, her personality does morph into someone else's) utters the same words.

"This is the girl," she says.

These words could belong to any "girl" for any reason. Using elements of dream logic to tell her dark story reveals how tenuous the thread between reality, dream and waking dream actually is. In many ways this dream of dark and troubling things in the city of dreams is not unlike a death dream and death, might well be what the dream factory is ultimately all about.


In addition to the new restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director David Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, the Criterion Collection version of Mulholland Drive contains new interviews with Lynch; Deming; actors Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux, and Laura Harring; composer Angelo Badalamenti; production designer Jack Fisk; and casting director Johanna Ray, on-set footage, a deleted scene, the trailer and a booklet featuring an interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book "Lynch on Lynch".