Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Mulholland Dr.

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

MULHOLLAND DR.

8/10

aka Mulholland Drive. : USA 2001
director/script : David Lynch
cinematography : Peter Deming
editing : Mary Sweeney (also a producer)
music : Angelo Badalamenti
lead actors : Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller
also : Michael Anderson, Lafayette Montgomery
146 minutes

A slinky brunette (Harring) stumbles from a car crash on Hollywoods Mulholland Drive. Bewildered and amnesiac, she calls herself Rita as in Hayworth and befriends Betty (Watts) a nave blonde who’s just arrived in town from Canada. A hotshot young film director Adam (Theroux) is coming under strong pressure from the mafia-like producers of his new project, while behind the scenes lurk the real string-pullers: paraplegic midget Mr Roque (Anderson) and a shadowy figure known only as The Cowboy (Montgomery). All the elements are in place for a neo-noir mystery thriller then at the two-hour point writer-director Lynch throws all the pieces into the air, forcing audience and characters alike to play a very different kind of game

There is a very straightforward explanation for what seems, at first, to be an entirely baffling turn of events but its so basic you presume Lynch has another agenda in mind. If so, its impossible to fathom and were probably wasting our time even trying. As Lost Highway showed, Lynchs anergy often comes from embracing the irrational, and he’s always been happier evoking moods than exploring ideas: this lack of smart-ass cleverness is perhaps what makes his surrealism so approachable and enjoyable. He takes us with him, confident were in safe hands: Lynch is one of the very few directors who makes the audience feel he can do anything he likes with sound and image. There are some amazing images here: Harring and Watts taking a short cut up from Mulholland to a hilltop mansion, the city gradually coming into view behind them as they stalk through the foliage. And there are delicious moments when Lynchs bravura technique combines with his weird sense of humour, producing some of the funniest, most startling and memorable scenes youll find in any film this year.

Despite the ambitiously long running-time, there’s one truly duff sequence in the whole two-and-a-half hours: Rita and Bettys 2am visit a bizarre nightclub-theatre is a forced, tedious kind of cod-surrealism. But this is very much an exception: crucially, the performers all seem to get what Lynch is doing especially Theroux and Watts, who rarely puts a foot wrong in a nightmarishly difficult role. Despite prominent billing, Hedaya and Forster are disappointingly restricted to one-scene cameos apiece, but Lynchs unique approach to casting sees eyecatching support turns from composer Badalamenti, Billy Ray Cyrus (of all people) and veterans Lee Grant and Miller, a veteran star of musicals star making her return to the big-screen after 25 years off. Entirely appropriate for a movie that presents LA as a phantasmagoric town of the not-quite-dead Lynchs insistence on the abbreviated title isn’t the only nod to Sunset Blvd. The Cowboy is thus Lynchs pale-faced spirit of Hollywood Past, a Gower-Gulch ghost come back to give new Hollywood a ticking-off, in an electric scene given extra resonance by the fact that the dubious-sounding Lafayette Montgomery is himself a shadowy enigma with no prior credits.

Then again, The Cowboy for all his impact – is clearly a variation on the Mystery Man from Highway, just as the Roy Orbison song we hear in the 2am-nightclub scene is a limp rehash of Dean Stockwells mime antics in Blue Velvet. Lynch isn’t exactly reaching out to new audiences here, nor is he breaking any new ground. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with Badalamentis atmospheric score – except the fact that we’ve heard it so often before: for all its virtues, Mulholland is the undeniably work of an artist treading water. But while he may never again match The Elephant Man and Velvet, its unfair to use those classics as sticks with which to hit him whenever he falls short. We should instead remember that, even treading water, Lynch makes movies most directors can only dream of.

25th November, 2001
(seen Nov-1-01, National Film Theatre London Film Festival, and Nov-24-01, Tyneside Cinema Newcastle LFF on tour)

for a longer analysis of Mulholland Dr, click here (warning contains SPOILERS)

by Neil Young