CANNES 2001 REVIEW: On the
Road Again: David Does The City of Angels
(indieWIRE/05.18.01) -- As coy and tight-lipped as ever, David
Lynch provided critics with but a one-line summary of his
newest film: "A love story in the city of dreams." He's right,
of course, but "Mulholland Drive" isn't your grandmother's
love story, and the dreams he presents are shattered on every
level. Those sulky viewers who deserted the pop surrealist master
with the psycho-fugue of "Lost Highway," and may have been
gratified with the ultra-linearity of "The Straight Story"
might as well stay on their couches, because "Mulholland Drive"
is Lynch at his most structurally ambitious and mind-blowing best.
In "Mulholland Drive," the underlit and overimagined streets
of Los Angeles are used as a launching point for the exploration
of the dark recesses of the mind; loosely connected ideas ebb
and flow and leave psychic scars in their wake. Like the mode
of transportation L.A. is most noted for, the film speeds up and
down, shifting gears, and runs down a road full of twists and
turns, ultimately ending up with . . . Silencio.
The genesis of the project was as an ABC pilot (soon rejected),
and the first half is shot in a more traditional style, parodic
of Hollywood filmmaking -- with gratuitous establishing shots,
a (mostly) linear narrative, and iconic characters culled from
Lynch's favorite decade, the 1950s. The only two "stars" in the
film -- Robert Forster and Dan Hedaya, both prominently
featured in the press book -- each have a total of one scene in
the film's elliptical prelude. The bulk of the material falls
on the shoulder of relative unknowns, Australian Naomi Watts
and former "Sunset Beach" actor Laura Elena Harring
(this millennium's Lara Flynn Boyle and Sherilyn Fenn).
Watts plays Betty, a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed blonde from Deep
River, Ontario (where?), who arrives in the City of Dreams fresh
off winning a jitterbug contest to make it big as an actress,
aided by her aunt's contact with a studio exec. When she arrives
to stay at her aunt's, she discovers an amnesiac, shell-shocked
Harring in the shower, who we have earlier seen barely survive
a phenomenal car crash. Not knowing her own name, she espies a
poster of "Gilda" and assumes the name and sultry mantle
of Rita Hayworth.
Over the course of the next hour; the time of which roughly coincides
with that of a TV pilot, Betty has her first, excessively sultry
audition, meets director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) the
two women play Nancy Drew (Betty, full with glee, says
"It's like we're in the movies) and try to discover Rita's true
identity using the clue of a name: Nancy Selwyn. Diane, it turns
out, has been rotting in her apartment for three weeks or so,
and the girls are frightened -- rushing out into the sun, and
shot (by "Lost Highway" cinematographer Peter Deming,
he of the shaky heads) in a blur of blinding, shaking whiteness.
But have no fear, in a lovely and tender "Red Shoe"-sque
moment more suited to Cinemax than ABC, Betty and Rita
(now wearing a blonde wig) end up making out in Auntie's bed.
Then, to put it mildly, all hell breaks loose.
In a severe and extensive reworking of the pilot (Lynch acknowledges
that pretty much all of the film's second half were reshoots),
characters switch names, personalities are inverted, a woman with
blue hair in a mysterious nightclub called "Silencio" lip-synchs
Roy Orbison in Spanish, and we are left with the obtuse
portrait of a psyche shattered from professional and personal
let down. (To give away any more would be cruel.)
The impulse to interpret exactly what goes on is undercut by
elements thrown in by Lynch as unreadable, primal symbols (remember
these new entries into the Lynchian lexicon: The Cowboy; The Burnt
Man; The Blue Box). In a way, though, grasping the film as a secure,
definable object isn't all that crucial. As abstract filmmaking
goes, this is the bomb. "Mulholland Drive" builds at break-neck
speed, as Lynch intuitively integrates unforgettable images with
a dense, intricate sound design of his own fashion. (The film's
multiple variations are also echoed in Angelo Badalamenti's
sublime score.) In these areas, "Mulholland Drive" is among Lynch's
But, as par for the course, he gives us one expository scene
to tide us over: Betty who is now Diane, relates her story --
what can be loosely defined as "the reality" in a manner that
encourages one to recast the entire opening moments as a pop-life
fantasy sequence of the idealized version of Hollywood for a newcomer
and the painful fall that occurs when dreams end up diverging
from reality. As the two halves are meant to be treated dialectically,
there are still moments where, as it were, text enters subtext.
This should all become much clearer on second and third viewings.
But don't expect to get it all.
"Mulholland Drive" may be a remix of Lynch's other films (familiar
signifiers pop up aplenty), but it's a remix that manages something
unique. Lynch taps into a well of concealed despair and disillusionment,
castigating Hollywood -- and those in American society who have
subsumed its values, or who think their lives can be lived according
to its movies. To sum up the allusive and illusive object that
is "Mulholland Drive," you only need to know that it also has,
in a small role, none other than Billy Ray Cyrus.
par Mark Peranson