Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Director: David Lynch                                         Writer: David Lynch
Film Score: Angelo Badalamenti                        Cinematography: Peter Deming
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theoroux and Melissa George

This film started as a television pilot from 1999 and it shows. Twin Peaks may have been a huge cult favorite in the early nineties but studio execs passed on this, and for good reason. The film, which David Lynch converted from a pilot to a feature, is essentially Blue Velvet in Hollywood, though not nearly as interesting and certainly not as unique as the idea was a decade and a half earlier. Mulholland Drive is still a prime example of Lynch’s aesthetic, which is no aesthetic at all really. Much of the pseudo-intellectual writing about his film feels a lot like the cult of Miles Davis in jazz, where writers go to great lengths to manufacture artistic genius where none exists. Ultimately Lynch is a mediocre independent filmmaker who has been pushed to the margins of the Hollywood mainstream. Leger Grindon once wrote that Blue Velvet was no more original than a Hardy Boys mystery. Given that, Mulholland Drive is no more original than a Nancy Drew Girls mystery. Probably the one area where Lynch’s films impress the most is in the area of sound design. There’s an emotional manipulation that goes on there that is far beyond simply film scoring. While some of the sound cues are musical, there’s a powerful sense that they stand alone on the soundtrack and enhance to a major degree the disturbing elements on the screen. But that’s about it.

The film opens with a limousine driving along Mulholland Drive at night. In the backseat is Lara Harring looking nervous. When the two men stop the car before they’re supposed to, one of them gets out to kill her. But just then a couple of cars full of joyriding teens come barreling around the corner, with one smashing into the limo and killing everyone . . . except Harring who walks off down the hill and sleeps in front of a house on Sunset Boulevard. Detective Robert Forster and his partner figure someone left the scene, but they don’t know who. Meanwhile Patrick Fischler goes to breakfast at a Denny’s knockoff with Michael Cook. He’s had a couple of nightmares about the place featuring Cook, but when he tries to confront his fear he’s literally frightened to death. It’s then that the innocent Naomi Watts comes to Hollywood to become a movie star, but when she goes inside to housesit at her aunt’s apartment, she finds the traumatized Harring who can’t remember who she is. When they look inside her purse all they find is a pile of money and a blue key. Somewhere else in town film director Justin Theroux has his film taken away from him by Dan Hedaya and friends, then finds his wife cheating on him with Billy Ray Cyrus and his bank accounts cleaned out. Elsewhere, Mark Pelligrino kills his friend for a valuable black book of phone numbers, then winds up having to kill two other people who discover his attempt to make it look like suicide. But things are just getting started.

Of course Lynch isn’t content to allow something as prosaic as narrative to inform his film and so much of the film’s idea of story is thrown out the window at the end when the viewer is taken down the rabbit hole--in this case inside a blue box. Does that make it artistic? Not really. Lynch has been silent about the “meaning” of the film, but that’s probably because there isn’t one. It’s the hallmark of an artist who has an eye for scenes and details but no genuine sense of narrative. David Bowie said once in an interview that he used to take the lines to songs and cut them into individual strips, throw them in the air, and assemble them in the order that he picked them up. That may work for a pop song, but not for a feature film. Though to be fair, the film isn’t quite that random. But in some ways it’s almost worse, promising something it can’t deliver. It’s as though Lynch made eighty percent of a film, then couldn’t think of how to end it, so he shot twenty percent of a different film and tacked it on the end. Naomi Watts does an impressive job in the lead role, with able support from Laura Harring. Justin Theroux doesn’t have much to do in the film, as is wasted at the end. Lots of recognizable faces appear in small roles, including Ann Miller, Lee Grant, James Karen, Robert Forster, Chad Everett and Michael Fairman, but again, to little effect. In the end, Mulholland Drive is an interesting four fifths of a film, but little else.

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