Thursday, June 09, 2011

Mulholland Dr.

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/17/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Ever since 1977's Eraserhead, David Lynch has been a director that has always warped the mind of audiences. With films like Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Elephant Man, Lost Highway, and the TV series Twin Peaks. Lynch has always been a storyteller who never tells his audience what his films were really about. In 1999, Lynch shocked his most devoted hardcore fans and his most hated detractors with a film that didn't have the Lynch-style of surrealistic images, weird characters, and complex storylines with the film The Straight Story. The straightforward film about an old man riding on a tractor to meet his dying brother touched fans and critics alike as Lynch moved forward into the 21st Century. By that point, he had become an elder statesman in film as he tried to create a new TV project that eventually was dropped. Yet, that project would become not only into a film but also one of his greatest entitled Mulholland Dr.

Written and directed by David Lynch, Mulholland Dr. tells the story of a Hollywood actress who has suffered amnesia after a car accident. Befriending a young, aspiring actress, they try to unravel the mystery of who she really is while a film director is trying to find the right girl for his new film. Eventually, the two would suddenly go into another world as different identities where things changed. A dark, layered film with twists and turns, the film is pure Lynch as he balanced both his love of experimental films and traditional genres into what would be his finest work yet. Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Dan Hedeya, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Robert Forster. Mulholland Dr. is a provocative yet hypnotic masterpiece from David Lynch and company.

Driving into the dark night on the Hollywood hills, an actress (Laura Elena Harring) is riding on a limo where it stopped when a man pulled a gun at her. Then suddenly, a car collided with the limo leaving almost everyone dead except for the actress who had a concussion on her head. Walking down to Hollywood, she lands herself in the home of an old actress named Ruth (Maya Bond), who was just leaving to work in Canada. Arriving to Ruth's home is her niece and aspiring actress named Betty (Naomi Watts). Betty meets the apartment's landlord Coco (Ann Miller) who gives her a tour of the complex. After settling in, Betty finds the actress in the shower as they later talk where the actress, who has no idea who she is, calls herself Rita.

Meanwhile, a film director named Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) has lost his lead actress as a couple of mob brothers (Dan Hedeya and Angelo Badalamenti) suggest in using a woman named Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George). Kesher refuses as he later beats their limo with a golf club. Things only get worse when the studio head Mr. Roque (Michael J. Anderson) heard what has happened as he makes a decision to have Kesher's film shut down. Returning home, Kesher finds his wife sleeping with the cleaning pool man named Gene (Billy Ray Cyrus) as he stands to lose everything until he meets a mysterious cowboy (Monty Montgomery) later at night.

When Betty learns that Rita isn't a friend of her aunt, Rita reveals she has no idea who she is as her purse is filled with money and a blue key. The two decide to try and find some clues into her identity where at a restaurant, Rita remembers the name Diane Selwyn as the two try to continue their own investigation. When Betty gets called for an audition, she accepts as she auditioned for a producer (James Karen) that goes well even though the casting director though the material was awful. When Betty is accompanied by the casting director to look at the studio, she catches the eye of Adam Kesher during an audition. Betty leaves to go with Rita to continue their investigation as they find out where Diane lives and eventually, who she is. Rita, now fearing for her own life wears a disguise as she and Betty bond.

Then later that night, Rita says the word "Silencio" as she remembers about an event at a theater late in that night. The two women go to the event where they see numerous illusions including a woman (Rebekah del Rio) singing a devastating cover of Roy Orbison's Cryin' in Spanish. There, Betty finds a blue box in her purse where upon returning to their apartment, Rita gets the key and opens the box as the two women are then lead to a new reality where they both take on different identities and situations as Betty learns who Rita really is.

While many of David Lynch's films never reveal any kind of details into what it's really about, leaving the viewer to give an open interpretation. Mulholland Dr. is no exception since it has many elements of a Lynch film. It's got surreal images, strange characters, unrelated subplots, and a complex narrative. Yet, unlike these films, the film is a commentary on Hollywood and the industry on some aspects. Referring to a director wanting control as he is being pushed by a mob and an aspiring actress hoping to reach her dreams. The worlds that Lynch express isn't just the harsh reality of Hollywood but also the naive dream that one might have coming to that place. Yet, that's an idea of what the film is about, until the last 30 minutes of the film where things definitely change.

Again, it all comes down to Lynch's script and the interpretation of what the audience might have. Every scene, including the opening scene that involved a Gap-like commercial of people swing-dancing, and unrelated subplots that included a man having a strange dream and a hitman screwing things up are all important to what the film and its story is about. While there isn't a real plot to the film, the first two hours of the film definitely grabs the audience with its mix of irreverent humor, dreamy sequences, and its ode to the mystery genre. In those two hours, the film kind of pushes back and forth to the Betty/Rita scenes and then to the situation of Adam Kesher in his bid for control.

Then comes the last thirty-minutes of the film (which will not be revealed). Everything changes where both Betty and Rita play different people and the situations emphasizes a much harsher reality of not just Hollywood but also the relationships the two had in the last two hours of the film. Whereas the first two hours had this sense of naivete, it crashes down to something darker in order to give one of the characters a larger role to play. Even some of the dialogue that was uttered in the film early on is heard again but this time, from a very different interpretation. It's a twist that definitely changes the entire tone of the film in which, the audience has to think about what they have seen and what they really think happens.

All of the credit must go to Lynch for his emphasis to experiment on both structure and presentation. His eerie, evocative, and often surrealistic direction works on every level. In fact, everything he had done before must've given him the chance to use what he had done while maintaining his experimental side as well. The close-ups he has on some of the characters, notably their eyes, along with tracking shots, flashing lights, and eerie shots of Los Angeles all work to emphasize the tone of the film. Especially from the emotions of the characters who are going through these events in their lives. In that third and final act where everything has changed, Lynch definitely has a sense of detachment of where the camera is placed to emphasize the troubles of the person dealing with the harshness of reality. The result isn't just Lynch at his best but also in his mastery of the art of filmmaking.

Cinematographer Peter Deming brings an eerie style to his photography from the sharp, dreamy look of exterior Los Angeles at night to the intimate, sunshine look of the film's interior sequences. Deming's photography also includes some unique lighting from some of the interior scenes where only a red light is lit and in the theater sequences, a blue light is shimmering to convey the sense of suspense in the film. Deming's work is superb in every way as he gives Los Angeles a haunting look and tone. Editor Mary Sweeney brings a wonderful approach to the film's editing with its leisurely-paced tone while using dissolves, jump-cuts, and fade-outs to convey the film's unconventional tone.

Production designer Jack Fisk, known for his legendary work with Terrence Malick, and art director Peter Jamison create a unique look to the film with its posh-like set decorations that is pure Los Angeles with its apartment and mansions to objects that surrounds the place that includes the blue box and the red lamp at the home of Diane Selwyn. Costume designer Amy Stofsky also brings a unique look to the costumes from the casual, L.A. clothing the two female leads wear to the all-black clothes that Adam Kesher wears. Sound editor Ronald Eng and David Lynch on sound design definitely create a unique tone to the sound to convey the haunting atmosphere that is L.A. and all of strange wonders.

Longtime collaborator in composer Angelo Badalamenti brings a wonderfully haunting film score that is a mix of jazz, blues, electronic music, and orchestral that is wonderfully exquisite and haunting. Lynch and John Neff also add material to the film's soundtrack with its use of haunting electronic music to convey the darkness of Hollywood. With cuts from 50 acts like Connie Stevens and Linda Scott for an audition sequences, the most haunting and devastating track comes from Rebekah del Rio doing Roy Orbison's Cryin' in Spanish.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with notable performances from its diverse cast. Small performances from Patrick Fischler as a man named Dan, who is haunted by a dream is great as is Lynch regular Scott Coffey as a dinner guest, Michael J. Anderson as Mr. Roque, James Karen as a film producer, Lee Grant as Betty's strange neighbor who sees something bad in Rita, Maya Bond as Aunt Ruth, Mark Pellegrino as the incompetent hitman Joe, Missy Crider as a waitress, Jeanne Bates as an old woman named Irene whom Betty befriends early in the film with Dan Birnbaum as Irene's companion, Elizabeth Lackey as an auditioning actress named Carol, Melissa George as Camilla Rhodes, Katherine Towne as Kesher's secretary, and Lori Heuring as Kesher's cheating wife.

Other notable minor performances from Robert Forster in a one-scene appearance as Detective Harry McKnight is great for that brief moment as Forster continues to shine since his Oscar-nominated performance in Jackie Brown. Country music star Billy Ray Cyrus is very funny as the pool-cleaning guy Gene who manages to say some hilarious one-liners throughout the film. Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti and Dan Hedeya are great as mob brothers who are very quiet with Badalamenti getting more to do, including a scene with an espresso. Ann Miller is great as Coco, a landlady who shows Betty around her apartment while warning her about the quirks and such that goes on. Miller also appears in the third act as a woman with the same name but a different background.

Justin Theroux is great as Adam Kesher, a director striving for control who is unaware of who runs the business and the lifeblood that is his work. Theroux is wonderfully engaging in every scene he's in while filling himself with sarcasm and sometimes, sadness as a director who ends up losing control and appears in the third act as a completely different person. Laura Elena Harring is wonderful as the exotic, beautiful Rita, who looks like a Hollywood actress while channeling all of the emotions one would expect from an amnesiac. Harring's performance is wonderful to watch as she and Naomi Watts have great chemistry as Harring also displays her sultry persona in the third and final act of the film.

The film's breakthrough definitely goes to Naomi Watts, who for years prior to this film had been struggling for attention while appearing in smaller films and bit parts in big films. In the role of Betty, Watts displays all of the innocence, perkiness, and naivete one would expect from a young actress wanting to make it in Hollywood. It's Watts' portrayal of that innocence that lights up the screen as her spirited, charming performance is amazing to watch. When she takes on a different character in the third, everything changes as Watts' appearance is more startling, her performance is more raw and decayed as she proves herself to not just be a complex actress but a force that was to be reckoned with in the years to come. If there was a star that came out of this film, it's Naomi Watts.

When the film premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, it received an excellent response from audiences and critics as Lynch shared the Best Director prize with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn't There. Upon its theatrical release later in the year, the film drew not only Lynch's best reviews but also box office as the director received another Oscar nomination for Best Director. Another surprise for the success of the film was a glowing, four-star review from Lynch's biggest detractor Roger Ebert who called the film one of the year's best. Following this success, it's clear that Lynch had finally attained the long, overdue respect and prestige that he's craved for all these years.

While some audiences might be confused by a lot of the film's complex narrative style, Mulholland Dr. is still an amazing, unconventional, and eerie film from David Lynch and company. With a great cast led by Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, and Justin Theroux, it's a film that seeing it once isn't enough. It's a film that's worth watching over and over again to give out new interpretations. Fans of Lynch will no doubt consider this one of his quintessential films though it would also spark on whether this or other films are his best. In the end, for a wonderfully dreamy, complex, eerie mystery that doesn't play to conventions, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. is the film to go see.

© thevoid99 2011


Castor said...

A fantastic movie indeed. What I love so much about Mulholland Dr. is that it is so open for interpretation. There is literally dozens of theories as to what Lynch intended (check out Nicely written review Steven.

thevoid99 said...

Thanks Castor. This is my favorite Lynch film. I've read so many theories about what probably happened. It's one of those reasons why the film is so much fun to watch over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Ebert isn't alone. This is the Lynch that also won me over. I prefer The Straight Story over this, but Mulholland Dr. is where Lynche's bizarre, signature style clicked for me.

thevoid99 said...

@cinemasights-I always a bit of interest of Lynch before Mulholland Dr. but this too, was the film that really won me over. I still think it's his best work to date.