“Mulholland Drive” started as a 1999 television pilot that was rejected by ABC. Since its release in 2001 as the expanded film, Mulholland Drive has claimed the number one spot on “Best of the Decade” polls from Film Comment, The LA Film Critics, and indieWIRE. More recently, it was voted the best film of the 21st century in a BBC poll of 177 film critics from 36 countries around the world.
As we should have suspected when we saw Lynch’s “demented matinee,” Blue Velvet, Lynch is our most evocative Hollywood filmmaker. As the movies around Lynch have become bigger-business comic-book strips and redundant brainless marathons, it is also evident today that he is our most resonant motion picture storyteller. David Lynch is a Cinematic Visionary.
The surreal, richly colored dreamscape of Mulholland Drive is the fascinating terrain that Lynch first managed to stake out in his black-and-white Eraserhead. Lynch now inhabits his movie landscape alone. Lynch’s world is a monumental aesthetic creation. In his re-imagining of decades of movies, fashion, music, luxury cars, design, and interior décor, Lynch re-invents the Glory Days of Hollywood Glamor. It is Hollywood backlot as geography and the sound stage as history. With examination, each of his films becomes understood among his expressionist collection. Of course, looking a second time into Lynch’s movie credits to determine how each movie fits is compelling. As with everything about Lynch’s movies, including making narrative sense out of his visual stories, Mulholland Drive deserves—in fact, demands—this second look because the plot becomes more understandable upon returning to engage with the movie again.
But Lynch movies are not just plot…each story is an artistic universe.
The first look at any Lynch movie provides an intense and unique sense of moviemaking that gives ingress to the art of David Lynch. Like a first look at Henri Matisse’s Joy Of Life or Francis Bacon’s Jet Of Water…if you’ll let it, the first viewing of Mulholland Drive telegraphs why this movie is top of that Best Films of the 21st Century list: the visually engaging and stunning movie is cohesive on screen—so too the audio is developed and fully realized from that throbbing first jitterbug to the last word, “Silencio.” Since it is not a Hollywood genre film, we do not know where Mulholland Drive will lead. Nonetheless, we do know from that first dance that the film is moving, about three-quarters of the story with choreographed threads in sequence, and then…and then it is moving as it must. Hot as hell from the purple dancing tinged with phantom images that ignites it on the screen, Mulholland Drive commands our attention and our involvement.
When a great looking brunette takes a limousine ride to start the story—into the past and out of the present…onto the screen and out of the audience—a car wreck comes out of nowhere—but you know it is coming…because this is pure Hollywood. Landlady Ann Miller—another glamorous Hollywood ruin—tells us the whole story when she speaks her first line. Theroux punches Billy Ray Cyrus—composer Badalamenti spits up his espresso—the janitor gets shot through a wall—a street person jumps out of a crate—the singer faints doing Roy Orbison…in Spanish—a cowboy…a cowboy?—hilarious as well as grotesque because it all personifies Hitchcock’s “to scare in daylight.” The movie morphs the glorious dream with the dirty underbelly of Hollywood. In and out of dream—from desire to audition—who the actress plays is not who she is or even who she wants to be…the brunette is sometimes blonde...girl on girl…who is that girl?...this is THE girl…and every time Watts is in her bathrobe, the movie goes all nightmare. Two worlds collide. Naomi Watts gives an outrageous performance as the post-modern Lana Turner: she “acts” in love but never messes her make-up; her character melts down but the actress never does; because Mulholland Drive is all about Movies—the Reality of the movies—meta-moviemaking: in Mulholland Drive, the Dream Factory sideswipes the Hollywood Dream. Ambition is Casting is Exploitation is Delusion is Death. Art compels—not invites—engagement. Once we see the key open that blue box, we know, as Shakespeare’s Horatio must learn, that “the rest is silence.”
I saw Mulholland Drive on its date- of-release fifteen years ago before I would have to hear about it. Now as-many-screenings-as-years later, I know a lot more about Mulholland Drive. But do I understand Lynch’s film any better than I did that first screening when it woke me up and knocked me out?