Sunday, June 18, 2006
Mulholland Dr. (USA, David Lynch, 2000)
Wherein Ben and I have further disagreement about the merits of another of the works of David Lynch.
[Blue Velvet] is worse than Mulholland Dr. even.
Don't get me started on your misreading of Mulholland Drive. I believe that I suggested to you an avenue into this film (a vicious expose of the cruelty of the dream factory that is Hollywood) that reveals that it is MUCH more than a simplistic piece of debauchery.
You may ignore such a reading at your own loss, I guess.
As for Mulholland Drive, yes, you did suggest that avenue into that film but it was, if not entirely a dead end for me, obstructed by the traffic of my feeling that the film was an excuse to see two hot chicks neck. Again, I absolutely adore that one scene in the film, which I experienced as a side street off the main drag. Perhaps you could convince me that the big drive is what you say it is by starting from the lane I love. Whatever, you do, steer us off this road metaphor.
The film starts with dreamy images of couples in a jitterbug contest, then proceeds to the sound of somebody breathing heavily (sounding distressed rather than aroused). Next shot is of a shadow moving towards a pillow. I believe the implication is clear. What follows is a dream.
The next hour and a half of the movie is pretty straightforward lesbian-tinged Nancy Drew story, with car crashes, amnesia, and lesbian sex. The two leads, "Betty" and "Rita," are trying to figure out the ID of the amnesiac girl (Rita, the dark haired one who took her name from a movie poster of Rita Haywood) who has survived a car accident where those in the car were about to kill her. It is interspersed with a buncha stuff in the movie-making world. First, there are scenes of a director being nearly fired from his movie and ultimately being strongarmed by some mafioso types into accepting a girl for the lead role in his film when he's clearly more interested in other options, and there's some weird behind the scenes activity involving a "little person" (same dwarf Lynch used in Twin Peaks) who appears to be manipulating the action from a sealed off room someplace in the heart of Hollywood. Oh, and there's a very strange and oddly humourous scene of a hitman whose hit goes all haywire, and he ends up having to kill a janitor and telemarketer in order to cover his tracks. And there's also a peculiar scene in a restaurant where a man is trying to tell a friend about a horrific dream he had where this really terrifying ogre, who lived just behind this same restaurant, scared him out of his mind. The men leave the restaurant to go look for the ogre. And they find it, in one of the great jump out of your seat moments in the movie. And the guy who had the dream collapses and appears to do. I think the two guys are male versions of Betty and Rita, who are trying to solve a mystery of their own, one which will turn up a dead body of its own.
Then there's also the sleazy audition with Chad Everett that contains all sortsa suggestions of potential molestation. Finally, after her stellar audition for a movie that will, according to the agent, never get made, our heroine is sighted by the director, who is going through the motions of auditioning the lead role for his film. The director is clearly fascinated by and attracted to her, but chooses the girl he has already been told to choose.
The scene then shifts back to the mystery, as the two beauties arrive at a Hollywood bungalow where they believe they'll get some answers about "Rita's" past. When no one answers, they break into the bungalow and discover the rotting corpse of a woman. The flee in terror, Rita cuts her hair, and the two lovely ladies have sex. Then, the scene at Club Silencio, where nothing is as it seems, it is all an illusion, it is all on tape, and yet we completely believe every single second of the singer's amazing performance of Roy Orbison's "Crying" (in Spanish.) She collapses (dead?) and yet the song goes on. We've been conned, she's only been lip-synching. The girls find a mysterious key in one of their handbags, flee the club, head home, and when the blonde (Betty) retrieves her aunt's hat box to see if the key fits this mysterious box in her aunt's house, Rita (who looks quite a bit like the singer at the night club, though they are different actresses) disappears.
And the dream ends. The rest of the movie takes place in "real time," and lasts about 45 minutes. As I see it, this is "Betty's" (whose real name it turns out is Diane) attempt to make sense of the things that have recently happened to her. As she does so, their connections to the dream are sometimes explicit, other times more tenuous. But as I pieced it together, it turns out that Diane lives in the same rundown bungalow that appeared in her dream as the living quarters of the dead girl. Her roommate (who appeared in the dream as the ex-roommate of the dead girl on the bed) has just moved out, and Diane is clearly in dire straits, as it takes all her effort just to make a pot of coffee. Diane ruminates on the disintegration of her relationship with the beautiful Camilla Rhodes (who was the amnesiac Rita in her dream) whose star is clearly on the rise as she has taken up a relationship with the director who appeared in her dream. The woman the director was ordered to cast in his film was named Camilla Rhodes, though she looks completely different (blond, blue-eyed) in the dream. Diane flashes on an invitation from Camilla to come to a fancy Hollywood party, where she is essentially snubbed by Camilla, and made to feel inadequate in the company of all the Hollywood hotshots. These are the same hotshots who appeared to be manipulating the action in her dream. It looks like all the Hollywood machinery is lined up against poor old Diane, and the dreams she harboured when she came to Hollywood have all turned to ashes.
In response to the loss of her lover and her dream of being an actress, Diane hires a hitman (same guy who was so inept in her dream) to kill Camilla. This is driven not merely romantic jealousy, but also professional envy; if Camilla is gone, maybe she get some parts, win over the director, get a toe hold in the business. Anyways, the hitman tells her that when the job is done, she'll receive a green key (remember the key in her dream that lead to the disappearance of Rita?), and lo and behold what should sit on her table but a green key? And the key gives Diane, who is already clearly a nervous wreck, the shakes and shivers. Maybe she dreamt the hitman was inept in hopes that he might not succeed at his task, but alas it appears that he has.
Then these two ancient folks who appeared in the beginning of Diane's dream as friendly folks she met in the airport, come laughing screaming under the door as some sorta pint sized demons who drive Diane into her bedroom where she grabs and gun and shoots herself, ending up in the same position on her bed as the dead girl in her dream.
Shit. Forgot all about the cowboy scene, where he tells the director to do as he's told. Or else. Great scene. The cowboy reperesents all the powers that be in Hollywood, laying it all out for the director. The director is told that he's just another cog in the machine, easily replaced. So put up and shut up. Which he does. And Diane later, in the post-dream sequence, sees the cowboy wandering by at the party held by the director and Camilla.
Oh yaaaaa, it's all so clear to me now.
With all due respect, your account is more of a synoptical description than an analytical explication. To give you your due, though, you have made me remember the film and the fact that I can remember it means that it made more of an impression on me that I have been willing to admit. On the other hand, in my defence, I did already say that MH has a Memento vibe to it that I found engaging. If I follow your account, however, I am wrong to attribute any sort of mental/memory illness to Betty/Diane akin to that of the guy in Memento. The whole thing in MD is a who-shot-JR? withinin another who-shot-JR?, concentric dreaming within dreaming? I thought the chick was nuts. Or am I missing the point when I attempt to differentiate an Alice with a reality principle intact but falling down the rabbit hole from a lady with a worm in her brain? These are not rhetorical questions, by the way. You have made me remember the film but all I remember a lot of sleight of hand.
So much for how it all works. As for what it all means, how exactly is MD "a vicious expose of the cruelty of the dream factory that is Hollywood?" Assuming that she isn't wacko but indeterminatly located in the concentric dream tissue, what per se is being viciously exposed? And who is exercising cruelty to whom? Betty/Diane abused by Rita/Camilla? Vice versa? Both of them in either or both of their incarnations are tormented by the factory? The latter is a technico-economic term, but I suspect you do not mean that the cruelty is of a technico-economic type. What else? Hollywood is a sort of zone wherein the big blur is between illusion and delusion, long having eclipsed any demarcation between fact and fantasy? You tell me man because for me it's a bunch of gobbledegook that we are expected to accept on the merit of its neato-keano style (and hot chicks) alone. I like it a lot more than BV, but I still think it's a load of rubbish.
Yes, that was mostly synopsis. I was under time constraints, and didn't have time to sink my teeth into it.
I dunno if you know the history of the film, but it was originally envisioned as a pilot for a tv series, a la Twin Peaks, which was going to follow the fate of a young naif from Canada as she tried to find her fortune in Hollywood after winning a jitterbug contest in her hometown. The idea was to show how this sweet young thing becomes beaten down and embittered by her experiences. The Dream Factory becomes a Nightmare Torture Chamber.
Unfortunately, ABC pulled the plug at the last second, leaving Lynch with a 2 hour pilot and no place to go. He sat on it for quite awhile, before some French financing came through. But he was still not sure what to do with this half-formed story, until (he claims) the idea for how to finish the film came to him in a daydream. As you might imagine, the original pilot ended long before the sex scene and Club Silencio. In fact, I am pretty sure it ends even before the discovery of the dead body (just before, I think), but I'd hafta do some homework before commiting myself to that as fact.
So anyways, yeah, the chick IS crazy, but the question is how does she get there? And I think Lynch's intention for the tv series--to chart Diane's disillusionment and eventual descent into madness by showing how her experiences in Hollywood contrasts sharply with her original naiviety and innocence--is still visible in Lynch's reimagining. The dwarf who runs the show from his isolation tank, the cowboy who directs the director, the bullying mafioso, the sleazy leather-skinned leading man, are all Hollywood authority figures who have played a part in Diane's debasement. Her insanity hasn't happened in a vacuum, or merely as a response to a soured love affair. These figures appear in her dream as threatening and degenerate figures for a reason, I think. And it isn't just cuz Diane's a nutcake. That's putting the cart before the horse. She's gone crackers because of what these figures (or whomever they represent) have done to her, the way they've shattered her smalltown Canadian dreams.
So, sure, there's some lovely lesbian sex and a very stylish cinematic veneer to lap up. But there's also something more meaty to chew on.
And I think Naomi Watts gives one helluva performance, moving from the sweet and innocent Betty to the disillusioned and shattered Diane. She knocked my socks, and various other pieces of clothing, right off.