Today: July 22, 2024

Mulholland Drive

It is more than a coincidence that in the year David Lynch’s Twin Peaks returns to screens we also get a spruced up 4K edition of his masterpiece Mulholland Drive. Because, back when Lynch was beavering away with Agent Cooper and the residents of the mysterious Peaks, he was conjuring up a spin-off TV show that would, over many years, become Mulholland Drive.

That it isn’t a Twin Peaks spin-off, that it isn’t a TV show are not by design but, like the film itself, serendipitous misfortune, chaos and perfect timing. Lynch originally shot the film as a pilot episode but when the studio behind it decided it wasn’t working, even going so far as to destroy the sets and sell the wardrobe, Lynch refused to let go and instead turned it into a film. A film that in 2016 was voted as the best film of the 21st Century by the BBC.

There is an ongoing, often disputed, concept in cinema surrounding the idea of the auteur. That a director is the sole creative force on a film. It is easy to refute this given the importance of such things as script, lighting, editing and, of significant importance to any Lynch film, music. Whether the theory holds water or not, and one would expect Lynch would be someone happy to dispute it, there are a handful of directors in the world whose style is utterly unique to them.

Lynch is one of them, utterly unique in his own style and ideas. Many have aspired to be like him, many have tried to hone his nonlinear, ambiguous narratives. Most recently the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn with films such as Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon and Richard Kelly with Donnie Darko have clearly been influenced by Lynch but never quite hit the highs that he has throughout his career.
If Lynch has a unique style then Mulholland Drive is the film that captures it with glorious terror. Lynch doesn’t make horror films, at least not conventional ones. With Mulholland he created a waking nightmarish vision of Hollywood and the film industry itself. The noirish visuals, the unnerving, slow-building sense of dread that often crescendos in such a way as to have you barely able to keep your eyes fixed on the screen. Such is its ability to so perfectly play to your deepest darkest fears. Given its troubled journey to the screen it’s easy to read Mulholland Drive as Lynch’s essay on the Hollywood experience, one that includes murder, dreams, nightmares, forced hands and shady organisations determined to sap creative energy out of a room in the name of bigger goals.

To Lynch plot is almost circumstantial. Actor Justin Theroux, who plays a director who could easily be interpreted as a Lynch avatar in Mulholland, asked Lynch during filming about a key plot point to which Lynch is reported to have responded with, “I don’t know, we’ll find out together”. The basics are these: A young aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood in the hope of making her big break. Staying at her aunt’s house she discovers a woman with no memory who she comes to know as Rita (Laura Harring). As the pair set off on a quest to find Rita’s real identity director Adam Kesher (Theroux) is strong-armed by a dark organisation into casting a specific actress in his latest film. From there, chaos ensues and much of the film is left up to the audience to decipher and decide upon its meaning.

If you struggle with ambiguity, or any of Lynch’s other works other than perhaps The Straight Story, then Mulholland Drive is going to do little to change your mind. But, submit yourself to its power and it is intoxicating. Rarely does a film manage to pick you up, gag you, carry you off to some dark corner and infest your mind so completely. The Club Silencio scene alone is a masterclass in filmmaking, an exercise in messing with your preconceptions while getting into the earth shattering headspace of the characters.

And in case you really weren’t sure how much Lynch is messing with you much of the performances, like those in Twin Peaks, are intentionally overwrought, often bordering on soap opera pastiche to both heighten and confuse the senses. Lynch isn’t a filmmaker who wants to make you feel comfortable, he wants to watch you squirm, shift and quiver in your seat.

Mulholland Drive isn’t one of the best films of the 21st Century. It’s one of the best films ever.

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