Tuesday, October 25, 2011

David Lynch's Lesbian Love Dream Masterpiece Mulholland Drive Suffers When Viewed Rationally . . . Or On DVD.

The Good: Great weird for the sake of weird movie, Direction, Sexual graphicness, Acting, Moments of character.
The Bad: Lack of DVD bonus features
The Basics: If there was ever a film that deserved slews of DVD bonus features, Mulholland Dr. is it; unfortunately, we don't get them on this DVD presentation!

Recently, I made a tradeoff in my reviews and I was pretty straightforward about it. On my yearly cross-country trip, I was given a copy of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Having watched and reviewed the entire Twin Peaks series, I was psyched. And when I was done, I was just shaking my head and I was pretty peeved. The problem with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was that it was weird for the sake of weird, without any respect for the already known story of Twin Peaks. As a result, I allowed myself to pan that film, with the caveat: I would re-view and (finally) review Mulholland Dr. a later and better film by writer and director David Lynch and give it a positive review.

The reason I was willing to do this - and be so straightforward about it - was that I enjoyed Mulholland Dr. when I saw it and I appreciated what David Lynch was trying to do with the film, which was to create a dream on film. I could dig it and with its non-linear sense of time and creepy conceits (my ex called it "The Best Of David Lynch") it is a pretty astounding film, nine out of ten, maybe a little more. On DVD, though, it is starkly presented and for such an ambitious film, viewers deserve more. Much more.

This is the point at which I usually leap into a plot description of the film. I will, but it's important to note this: the film is not linear in its storytelling, is not supposed to make perfect sense, and includes deep philosophical ideas some of which are not brought in until the last half hour of the film. Moreover, in that last half hour, characters swap identities (so actors we have been watching for the prior hour and a half are suddenly running around with different names and characters, but not all of the characters are swapped out). Sound confusing? It's supposed to be, just like a dream. To David Lynch's credit, he does a bang-up job with making something creepy, deep, erotic and visually stunning with Mulholland Dr. I cannot recall another movie I could actually recommend sitting through with the film muted just for the creepy presentation.

A brunette is riding in a limousine up Mulholland Dr. late one night when she is ordered at gunpoint out of the car, which is immediately crashed into by young kids speeding down the canyon. She survives, memory lost and she stumbles down the hill and falls asleep under some bushes in front of an apartment complex. The next morning, she sneaks into an apartment there. This happens to be the apartment Betty Elms is housesitting for her aunt at and she discovers the woman there, who names herself Rita off a poster in the house. Betty is an eager young woman fresh in Hollywood waiting for her big break in films and preparing herself for auditions. Still, she is intrigued by Rita and her lack of memories.

At the same time, director Adam Kesher's film is being taken out of his hands. The female lead is being recast and the local mob - led by a very particular espresso-drinker - is demanding that their actress be given the lead. Kesher resists, but upon finding his wife in bed with the pool man and visited by a strange, prophetic cowboy, he gives in and hires actress Camilla Rhodes for the part. By this time, Betty and Rita are tracking down Rita's true identity and are falling in love, which puts them on a collision course with a mysterious artifact that alters reality itself.

The artifact is a blue box, which Rita has the key for. I liken Lynch's blue box to the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. From that interpretation, the color scheme during the opening scene dance contest presumes that the entire film takes place within the confines of this supernatural plane and it pleasantly voids the need for any strong, linear connection to the film.

This works better for the viewer as well because there is no real mystery to Mulholland Dr. It is a thriller where mood is heightened, colors are brightened and the stories are more contrived than real. The characters are largely archetypes, making their interchangability more understandable and acceptable. It also excuses the actors for some of their presentations.

For example, anyone watching Mulholland Dr. and looking at it rationally must conclude instantly that either Naomi Watts cannot act or David Lynch cannot write and direct. Why? Betty's first scenes in the film are strings of cliches of the young woman come to Hollywood to make it big, hammed up with an unbelievable earnest quality that makes her into the complete rube. Her appearance follows two detectives arriving on the scene of the limo crash and speaking dull lines that simply repeat the same observation over and over again. The lack of inflection in that scene plays off the over-the-top performance of Betty as an archetype screen virgin who truly is out of her element.

When one accepts that she is supposed to be this way and simply goes with it, the film becomes much more enjoyable. Lynch is incorporating a camp quality into Mulholland Dr. that only enhances the overall weirdness of the film.

And that is what Mulholland Dr. is truly about: style as an expression of genuine surrealism. Is there substance? I'm not sure. There is relevance as this is easily one of the most artistic films ever conceived and executed. Visually, it is stunning. Lynch plays reds and pinks off opposition blues throughout the film, creating character colors that resonate (bad things happen in the blue). As characters shift and change, so too does their color scheme. It's clever and subtle and artistic.

As for substance, it's hard to argue there is little or no substance in Mulholland Dr. when the acting is this good. Whether they come easy or not (Watts was recently interviewed saying she preferred her love scenes in this film because there was no sexual tension with her costar, Laura Harring), Watts and Harring fearlessly leap into some of the most passionate lesbian love scenes shown on the big screen. The film is sexy and it's only after one actually sits and considers it that they might realize that the most passionate moments are actually the kissing scenes. Arguably the sexiest moment comes when Harring as Camilla Rhodes kisses Melissa George as Camilla Rhodes and one is able to see that George walks away with her pink lipstick smudged over with Harring's deeper red.

The reason I belabor this is that Mulholland Dr. is largely about mood and surrealism and it manages to be both sexy and scary, tense and confusing. Adam might be the most sensible and realistic character as he has the most straightforward struggle in the film and the most believable presentation. Adam fights the fight of an artist against the mob and a studio that is strange and manifests itself only to attempt to thwart his artistic expression and one feels this is Lynch channeling his frustration at Hollywood itself.

Adam is played with subtle brilliance by Justin Theroux. Theroux is required to play Adam with quiet anger that erupts with an efficient sense of controlled ruthlessness, like when he discovers his wife's infidelity, he takes her jewelry and pours pink paint over it all. Theroux is joined by an amazing cast, which includes Lynch regular Michael J. Anderson. Fans of Alias will appreciate seeing a very different side of actress Melissa George. George erupts onto the screen in Mulholland Dr. as a pink-clad singing actress who smiles and swoons, something no one who became captivated by her in the third season of Alias would have bet she could do!

Naomi Watts might well give the performance of her career as Betty. She is absolutely convincing in every scene she is in as she goes from the eager and naive, cliche-speaking rube to the amateur detective determined to save the woman she loves. Watts makes us believe that she is a terrible actress, but by the end of the film it is so clearly a script contrivance we are forced to concede that she was amazing in her presentation.

But it is Laura Harring who rocks Mulholland Drive, not for anything as simplistic as her nudity (Lynch airbrushed out much of that). She immediately establishes the tone with her clear performance of an amnesiac without any lines of dialogue. As the film continues, she is utterly convincing as a lost woman whose identity has been robbed from her. Harring plays the vacant stares as compelling and the moments of stronger dialogue as unforced.

David Lynch writes and directs the film in such a way that it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. This is a dream on film and it is often a nightmare, one that is confused and sweaty and an eccentric combination of darkness and bright colors. Lynch's use of music is impressive (the Spanish version of "Crying" in the Club Silencio is amazing) and one forgives him most of his conceits, even the ones he used in prior cinematic endeavors.

On DVD, Mulholland Dr. suffers from a lack of DVD bonus features. There is no commentary track (the film desperately needs one) and only a theatrical trailer for the movie. More than that, the paper slip within the DVD case gives viewers ten "clues" to solving the mystery of the movie, as if there were an actual point to it. This feels particularly low to a cinephile who loves surrealism and has stuck with Lynch through some of his more questionable works.

And this brings us back to the comparison between Mulholland Dr. and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The reason this was a "no compromise" compromise is simple. Mulholland Dr. has no cannon to betray and can do whatever it wants (and does!). Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was in some ways confined to what had been presented in that universe before and the film version made some problematic contradictions. So, for weird for the sake of weird, there is one clear choice and that is to take a trip down Mulholland Dr.!

For other works Justin Theroux is involved in, check out my reviews of:
Iron Man 2
Six Feet Under - Season Four


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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