Mulholland Drive (review)

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Made for TV

As movie fans, we must be eternally grateful for David Lynch. The man is a national treasure. He may not always be entirely successful in his filmic ventures, but he has a startlingly unique vision to which he remains true. Lynch’s work — good, bad, or middling — is guaranteed to warp your brain and haunt your dreams because, in his seeming lack of concern for things like enormous box office, he dares to transfer his own twisted neuroses to celluloid with a delightful disregard for the rules of conventional storytelling, so that you can’t help ruminating on them not only to figure out what they’re about but what exactly happened. His films are, in an arena clogged with instantly dismissable Xeroxed action movies and cloned romantic comedies, uniquely unforgettable.

So Mulholland Drive is more than just welcome — it’s a refreshing change of pace for moviegoers who prefer a mind warp over another car chase or meet cute, even if it isn’t everything we might have hoped for from Lynch’s latest.
The problem is, Mulholland Drive wasn’t meant to be a movie. It was meant to be the pilot of a television series, and what a series it would have been, populated by Lynch’s typical grab-bag of weirdness: the good girl and the bad girl in cahoots, a midget who runs Hollywood from the shadows, aging glamour pusses, and uncanny Log Lady types who make strange prognostications, all interconnected by a byzantine plot that wends its way through general spookiness in a retro-fusion, late 20th-century dreamscape where reality blends into waking nightmares.

Your typical Must-See TV, in other words.

The film opens on a limo crawling up Los Angeles’s Mulholland Drive at night, the mournful, eerie Angelo Badalementi score slamming you right back into Twin Peaks mode, in which the ordinary is ominous… or maybe the ordinary becomes ominous only because you know it’s Lynch, you know something awful is going to happen. (Who can forget Twin Peaks‘ opener: “She’s day-ed, wrapped in plastic”?)

The limo does not reach its destination, its, um, detour spawning perhaps that sudsiest of soap-opera clichés: the beautiful chick with amnesia. But you know Lynch would have spun new mystery out of that, given 22 episodes to play with the idea. He starts here by having the gal (Laura Elena Harring), a red- lipstick- wearing vamp, dub herself Rita and hook up with the dreamily naive Betty Elms (Naomi Watts: Dangerous Beauty), just off the plane from Cornfield, Canada, and determined to become a movie star. Betty fancies herself Nancy Drew and sets out to solve the mystery of Rita — who has no ID but does have some rather interesting stuff in her purse — along the way. Intersecting Betty’s story are film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux: American Psycho) and the midget (Michael Anderson, who danced in Agent Cooper’s dreams and is perfectly still here) and his heavy Vincenzo Castigliane (Dan Hedaya: The Crew) and funky apartment manager Coco Lenoix (Ann Miller) — what a knack for names Lynch has.

The thing is, just at the point at which the original pilot would have ended — about an hour and a half into the film, just before it swerves into the territory that earns it its hard-R rating — the film enters a parallel universe: the Land of Dead Television Pilots. In an hour, Lynch rushes to answer all the intriguing question he has set up, mysteries that were meant to be unraveled slowly, over 22 hours. The resolution of the Betty/Rita story is intriguing, providing fodder for numerous arguments with your fellow film fans. But too many other story threads are forgotten. The nefariousness with the midget, possibly tied into the theft, by another character introduced and immediately forgotten, of an important address book, would have been something worth exploring. The indispensable Robert Forster appears early on as cop, only to be instantly dropped again. It’s like we rushed ahead to the season finale of Mulholland Drive and missed all the episodes in between, which is no way to watch a David Lynch TV series if you want to retain your sanity.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dissing Lynch’s truncated film version of Mulholland Drive so much as I’m lamenting all we’ll never get to see. I wouldn’t have missed this version for the world, since it’s all we’re going to get. I love Lynch’s waking dreamworld — the awkward disconnects between his characters and between his characters and their settings, the suspense he mines from stiltedness — and if I had my druthers, I’d take more of it rather than less.

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