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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Mulholland Drive
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing at Lighthouse Cinemas and at the Nickleodeon, David Lynch's latest film, Mulholland Drive, is a beautiful creation, if dense and difficult to follow.  Lynch is most famous for the surrealism of his work in Twin Peaks, one of the most unusual visual pieces to be aired on television, a strange, garishly colorful, noirish sort of story characterized more by its compelling and compellingly eerie vignettes than by its overall plot line.  Mulholland Drive does this too, establishing a campy, anachronistic noir plot whose thread seems irrational but plausible, until the moment when it frays.  At that point--100 minutes into this long film-- our desires for coherent narrative get frustrated and, following a psychoanalytically precise sort of dream logic, the movie unravels, reframes and reworks all its elements from beginning to end in a forty-five minute race to the finish.

A story that-with homage to Hitchcock of course--explores the sinister connotations of the cliché of Hollywood as the dream factory, Mulholland Drive takes that scary winding road where bad things happen and, well, makes a mystery happen:  lushly brunette Laura Harring steps unscathed from a car crash with a case of amnesia and wanders into an empty apartment in one of those classic Hollywood courtyard complexes (everything about the décor and about LA in this movie is fabulous and fabulously artificial, a period piece of the first order, where the period is now).  The apartment, which belongs to Aunt Ruth, comes to be occupied by Naomi Watts playing Betty Elms, a plucky blonde innocent from Ontario who wants to become--what else?--an actress.  Betty finds the nameless woman-who calls herself Rita after glimpsing a poster of Rita Hayworth-in the shower, and the two embark on a venture to discover Rita's true identity. "It'll be just like in the movies," Betty says.  Indeed.  A subplot involves a young director (played by Justin Theroux) whose film gets mysteriously taken over by a mob-like boss who then forces him to accept an alternative leading lady-the prize scene in this plot is when the director goes to a corral at the top of Beachwood Canyon to meet The Cowboy and receive an ultimatum.  For a while we think that the two plots may be connected:  is Rita the missing leading lady from the director's film?  But, as we begin to realize, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.  Of course everyone and everything is connected, because these are the dream scenes of someone's unconscious, but the connections are not those of narrative logic, even the seductive and tortuous logic of mystery.  They are associate, erotic, driven by wish and desire, fear and guilt.  If you want, you can reconstruct a plausible story from this collection of scenes, but to do so you need to be an analyst.

The turning point is when Rita frantically drags Betty at  2 am to a dingy nightclub called Silencio, where, as one reviewer pointed out, "the mystery being celebrated is that of sound-image synchronization, which is to say cinema" (J. Hoberman, Village Voice, 3-9 October, 2001).  All is illusion, the MC says, while the scene culminates in Rebekah Del Rio's astonishing Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison's "Crying."  She falls to the floor in a faint and the song just keeps on crooning.  After that, everything changes.

I wonder why Lynch chose to make his two female protagonists, blonde and brunette, final girl and femme fatale, into perfidious lovers? That a Hollywood satire should feature two women is no surprise. Theirs are the images trafficked, traded, exchanged; they are the currency of the dream factory.  Hollywood is patriarchal, Lynch knows. So is it because they are the same person?  And would this then be a comment on the narcissism of cinematic fantasy? And is it because girl-girl is the male fantasy par excellence, and so the movie winks back at-even as it satisfies-that voyeuristic male gaze?  These dreams, though, are supposed to be-I think-a woman's.  Lynch seems thus to slyly identify with these feminine figures as both puppets and masters of the seductive illusion that is the Hollywood movie.  It is, finally, both his enchantment with and his critique of cinema that gives us pleasure, even as we find his work so difficult to understand.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero. 

Copyright Carla Feccero 2001