Christopher Null, not overly impressed
Twin Peaks stands as one of my favorite television series ever made. But if you slapped the first three episodes together and called it a movie, I doubt I'd feel the same way. Mulholland Drive was originally intended as David Lynch's return to TV. Rumored to be a creepy and atmospheric drama, I had anticipated another Peaks -- and prayed for something better than Lynch's disastrous "sitcom" On The Air.
Trouble began when ABC abruptly pulled the plug on Mulholland, but Lynch, ever the trooper, decided to take the footage he'd shot so far and turn it into a movie. Of course, a few things would have to be added -- namely a lot of nudity and oozing sexuality and, well, an ending -- so it was back to the set for extra shooting. The result is archetypical Lynch -- creepy, uncomfortable, erotic, and devoid of all logic whatsoever.
The story, as much as there is one to describe, is told much like any TV pilot would do. Characters are fed to us slowly -- remember, this was supposed to carry us over 13 hours or so -- and plot details are drawn with a large brush. We witness a Hollywood car crash and meet its amnesiac victim (Laura Harring), we see a farm girl/aspiring starlet (Naomi Watts) take her in and befriend her, and we sit in on a series of strange meetings surrounding the making of an artsy, difficult director's (Justin Theroux) Big Movie. And somewhere among the apartment buildings, the dingy diner, the studio lot, and Mulholland Drive itself, these stories will intersect.
Whether those stories will be comprehensible (and whether that's an important quality for a film to have) are something else entirely, and as with any Lynch movie, it's pretty much up to the viewer to decide all that on his own. Personally, I think that story does matter, and I'd also say that Mulholland Drive simply doesn't make sense when looked at with a critical eye. You can make up your own mind, but between the mystical matter-transference box and its triangular key, a pair of giggling seniors, a yeti that lives in a parking lot, and a good dozen character identity changes a la the boneheaded Lost Highway, even the most patient moviegoer will be utterly lost starting right at the fade in.
I realize that faulting Lynch for not making sense is a bit like being mad at the dog for digging in the garbage. It's in his nature to be random. But Twin Peaks and movies like Blue Velvet are masterworks because they managed to be cryptic think-pieces and still satisfy you in the end, backwards-talking dwarfs or no. To be certain, Mulholland Drive is gutsy and has moments of greatness: Watts' virtuoso audition with a far-too-tanned leading man shows how truly magnificent the movie could have been. Other vignettes are just as memorable -- like when a perfectly ordinary event like coming home from work suddenly turns into a nightmare -- but they end up being islands in an ocean of overly pregnant pauses and wild tangents.
But again, I have to harp on this: Far, far too much of the film (clocking in at almost 2 1/2 hours long) is nonsense. Most notably, near the hurried finale, Harring drags Watts to a way-after-hours performance wherein musicians don't play their instruments. Watts ends up shaking violently until a magic box appears in her lap. Um, okaaaaayyyyy.... It all sounds like some silly dream Lynch once had and scribbled down during the middle of the night. Who knows, maybe that was the point.
Technically, the film is assured and reasonably memorable. The actors' performances (virtually all unknowns) are good but hardly career-making -- with the dual exceptions of Watts and Lafayette Montgomery's miniscule yet thunderous role as a cowboy somehow pulling all the strings. The camerawork is typical of Lynch but his use of out-of-focus shots -- presumably meant to make us question our perspective -- ends up being distracting more than anything else. The music, by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch himself, is appropriately creepy when it needs to be and fun when levity is needed.
To his credit, Lynch at least tried to wrap everything up in the last 20 minutes. It all involves that damn magic box, but still, he does pay lip service to the notion of plot structure. It's no "Who killed Laura Palmer?", but it's something to chew on. It's just too bad that trying to make heads or tails of the dozen last-minute plot twists is a bit like trying to analyze jazz -- the more you think about it, the less sensical it becomes. Let the movie go, and you'll find it far more enjoyable.
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
Jeremiah Kipp, "A Masterpiece"
The dream resembles a TV-movie, and reality itself is fragmented and torn. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is more than just a curiosity piece expanded from a scrapped TV-pilot, though it uses the forms and conventions of television to explore the increasingly addled fantasies of a would-be starlet. Those who found Lost Highway an audacious stunt, transforming its protagonist into someone else at the midway point, will be flummoxed by Lynch's askew storytelling methods here. Not only do the characters morph into deeper representations of their secret selves, the entire schematic approach to the mini-series dissipates into an altered state.
To the tune of composer Angelo Badalamenti's wine-dark funereal melodies, Lynch forages his way into the nocturnal avenues and expressways of Los Angeles. On Mulholland Drive, a beautiful, raven-haired amnesiac (Laura Harring) staggers from the twisted wreckage of a black limosine and makes her way through the night-shadowed Hollywood Hills toward the beckoning city lights. The sound of her high heels is preternaturally loud as she evades impending pursuers, hiding away in the tangled bushes surrounding a residential apartment complex.
The clear light of day brings no comfort. Two men (Patrick Fischler and Michael Cooke) in a coffee shop recount a nightmare about some strange, shadowy figure that peers through walls and lurks behind the diner, a controlling force that brings death. To prove there's no such thing as phantoms, the men investigate the neighboring alleyway and make a startling discovery.
Arriving in L.A. for the first time is a bright-eyed innocent named Betty (Naomi Watts), filled with naïve dreams of becoming a movie star. Temporarily staying at her aunt's opulent home at 1612 Havenhurst (a Lynch preoccupation: showing us Where We Are), her first brush with Hollywood may shatter those illusions. Before this fledgling has a chance to spread her wings, she finds a newfound friend and roommate in the helpless amnesiac. Drawn into the mystery of "Rita's" identity, the two women attempt to uncover the truth. Along the way, a savage attraction blooms between them that could be the start of something exquisite and hazardous.
To delve further into this labyrinth would be a disservice to any audience open to forming their own subjective connections and analysis. Suffice to say, these subplots merge together, involving gangsters and studio moguls, magicians and chanteuses, detectives and assassins, red curtains and pinheaded villains, spare hotel rooms with hissing radiators. There are spontaneous bursts of violence (like when a film director, played by intense, bespectacled Jason Theroux, smashes the windows and headlights of a posh limo with his trusty golf club) and sexual forays that might be described as subterranean. Lynch's preoccupations with noir's form and graphic design prove an ideal match for the impassive, sparse cityscapes of the west coast. "Welcome To Los Angeles" is one of the first signs glimpsed in transit; it has rarely felt so foreboding.
Presuming that Mulholland Drive takes us deeper into fantasy is more than shortsighted; it's a misnomer. Inner feelings of sentiment and dread directly affect the external images, remaining truthful to Lynch's heartfelt observation of the world. Setting aside logic, it's better to consider the Lynchian mold as an emotional, musical tapestry, one that filters into collective anxieties. There's nothing obscure about the question of self, an obstacle Betty and Rita both must confront. Romance and betrayal morph them into new roles. Lingering underneath the starlet might be a calculating rube, under the seemingly timid amnesiac stirs an ever-ripening sensuality.
Sketched in muted colors and pervasive darkness by superb cinematographer Peter Deming (who also lensed Lost Highway), the standards of television rely on conventional medium-shots and close-ups to fit the small screen. Lynch makes advantageous use of those unwritten rules, though he contorts them through his unusual camera placements and penchant for lingering on obscure beats (who else would linger on a cup of espresso during a confrontation scene, thereby making the cup of espresso into a menacing artifact?) As the characters merge into something Other (or, alternately, become fully realized versions of themselves), Deming's photography becomes more ragged and hyperreal, accompanied by Mary Sweeney's serrated knife-edge editing technique of shock cuts.
Holding this bundle of nerve ends together are remarkable ensemble performances from startling newcomers and established veterans: legendary Amy Miller as a freakishly maternal hotel caretaker; Dan Hedaya as a volcanic movie financier; Lafayette Montgomery as a soft-spoken cowboy with murder in his eyes ("You'll see me one more time if you're good. You'll see me two more times if you're bad."). The real finds are Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, whose balancing act recalls Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in Robert Altman's Three Women. They're the lifeblood of Mulholland Drive, offering richly calibrated incarnations of womanhood. Watts and Haring are poised for triumphant careers, two more reasons why Lynch and his collaborators have created a masterpiece. As they say in show business, this is where the magic happens.
Jeremiah's review appears as part of the 2001 New York Film Festival coverage (see link on right).
Run time: 147 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st November 2001
Box Office USA: $7.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $20.1M
Distributed by: Universal Focus
Production compaines: Canal+, Les Films Alain Sarde
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 125 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: David Lynch
Screenwriter: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, Laura Harring as Rita, Ann Miller as Catherine Lenoix, Dan Hedaya as Vincenzo Castigliane, Justin Theroux as Adam Kesher, Brent Briscoe as Detective Neal Domgaard, Robert Forster as Detective Harry McKnight, Katharine Towne as Cynthia Jenzen, Lee Grant as Louise Bonner, Scott Coffey as Wilkins, Billy Ray Cyrus as Gene, Chad Everett as Jimmy Katz, Rita Taggart as Linney James, James Karen as Wally Brown, Lori Heuring as Lorraine Kesher, Angelo Badalamenti as Luigi Castigliani, Michael Des Barres as Billy Deznutz, Marcus Graham as Vincent Darby, Missy Crider as Waitress at Winkies (Diane / Betty) (as Melissa Crider), Robert Katims as Ray Hott, Jeanne Bates as Irene, Dan Birnbaum as Irene's Companion at Airport, Randall Wulff as Limo Driver (as Scott Wulff), Maya Bond as Ruth Elms, Patrick Fischler as Dan, Michael Cooke as Herb, Bonnie Aarons as Bum, Michael J. Anderson as Mr. Roque, Joseph Kearney as Roque's Manservant, Enrique Buelna as Back of Head Man, Richard Mead as Hairy-Armed Man, Sean Everett as Cab Driver at LAX (as Sean E. Markland), Daniel Rey as Valet Attendant, David Schroeder as Robert Smith, Tom Morris as Espresso Man, Melissa George as Camilla Rhodes, Mo Gallini as Castigliane Limo Driver (as Matt Gallini), Mark Pellegrino as Joe Messing, Vincent Castellanos as Ed, Diane Nelson as Heavy-Set Woman, Charles Croughwell as Vacuum Man (as Charlie Croughwell), Rena Riffel as Laney, Tad Horino as Taka, Tony Longo as Kenny, Geno Silva as Cookie Park Hotel Manager / Club Silencio M.C., Monty Montgomery as Cowboy (as Lafayette Montgomery), Kate Forster as Martha Johnson, Wayne Grace as Bob Brooker, Michele Hicks as Nicki Pelazza, Lisa K. Ferguson as Julie Chadwick (as Lisa Ferguson), William Ostrander as 2nd Assistant Director, Lisa Lackey as Carol, Brian Beacock as Backup Singer #1, Blake Lindsley as Backup Singer #2, Adrien Curry as Backup Singer #3, Tyrah M. Lindsey as Backup Singer #4, Michael D. Weatherred as Hank (as Michael Weatherred), Michael Fairman as Jason, Johanna Stein as Woman in #12, Richard Green as Bondar, Conte Candoli as Club Silencio Trumpet Player (as Conti Condoli), Cori Glazer as Blue-Haired Lady in balcony seat at Club Silencio, Rebekah Del Rio as Herself, Lyssie Powell as Blond in Bed (Corpse) in #17, Kimberly Clever as Dancer, Joshua Collazo as Dancer, David Frutos as Dancer, Peter Loggins as Dancer, Theresa Salazar as Dancer, Thea Samuels as Dancer, Christian Thompson as Dancer