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Mulholland Drive (2001)

by on 2011/11/30

“Come on, it’ll be just like in the movies. We’ll pretend to be someone else.”

* * * *

My sort-of-boss was sort of beside himself the morning after Mulholland Drive. He was practically sputtering with excitement. His familiar smile spread across his face, sly and knowing at first, then split into an uncontrollable grin.

“Have you ever seen it?” he asked me, still reeling from the affair. He thought — he knew — I would love it too. “It’s about . . . well, I can’t tell you. Trust me. You just have to see it yourself.” He refused to say any more.

Such was his way, excitable, melodramatic and, often, correct. Maybe he could sense what I enjoyed. So I did as he suggested, a copy followed up by a purchase. I had to make sure it was a proper part of my collection.

Now I’ve seen it again, for the third time in several years. It has yet to drop an iota in impact. It’s a romantic film noir, a surrealist tone poem, an unpretentious hybrid, and more. What amazes me most — or perhaps not at all — is a network rejected it as the pilot for a television series. Did they learn nothing from Twin Peaks’ cult following? Both were masterminded by Blue Velvet director David Lynch, and involved some of the same participants.

Upon its rejection, Lynch shot scenes for “closure” which, in truth, address loose ends with even more tantalizing questions. What little he’s explained amounts to possible red herrings, and seems more than happy to leave things as they are.

Everything happens in the so-called City of Dreams, in Hollywood, California. One major thread involves an injured amnesiac nicknamed Rita (Laura Harring), assisted by an aspiring Canadian actress, Betty (Eastern Promises’ Naomi Watts). Their investigation of the clues in her purse brings them closer together as friends, all the while revealing hints of a sinister plot.

Shorter threads, tangents, and parallel lines involve a disparate group of characters: policemen puzzle out an accident, espressophile mobsters and a cowboy influence a casting call, an assassin suffers a run of terrible luck, two men discuss their nightmares in a diner, performance artists stage a pre-dawn show.

What does it all mean? I know what I personally think, but I doubt I should say more than my boss. I can say how much I admire it. As in Donnie Darko and, to paraphrase Solaris, I could tell you what I believe is happening, though I don’t know if it would really tell you what’s happening.

I will concede, it looks incredibly good for TV. This well-lit, widescreen film has none of the shallow, boxy, eerily animated appearance of tight-budget video. Lynch clearly approached his pilot little different from a feature production. Only the raft of loose threads and characters suggest an unrealized breadth. In other ways — language, violence, nudity — its roots are never betrayed. His care and patience are obvious in the long, lingering takes and sustained close-up shots, both of which add complexity and intensity.

The sound supports the visual interest with a score by frequent collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. Often nearly subliminal, a rumbling bass rises into prominence with possibly significant clues. His beautiful melodies, dark and moody, describe the haunted characters. Diegetic music suggests a more idyllic version of Los Angeles: the jitterbug tunes, the malt shop songs, and Milt Buckner’s vintage jazz. The performance of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish is as impressive as apocalyptic.

My first reaction after taking it all in was “performance art that doesn’t suck” . . . faint praise, perhaps, and yet describing the experience in words is like that “dancing about architecture” cliche, prohibitively difficult if not outright impossible.

Relentlessly compelling, and always interesting, it’s worth seeing, not just because you should, but because you might actually enjoy it. I may well love Twin Peaks just a little bit more, but I know Mulholland Drive is superior. It’s weird, no doubt, but also ecstatic, intriguing, interpretive, hilarious, horrifying, and heartbreaking, and all pretty much in that order.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

147 minutes

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