Little White Lies Weekender: Mulholland Drive

Casting calls, a whodunnit and a little blue box: Oli Rahman revisits classic Lynch, courtesy of Little White Lies magazine…

In celebration of their 50th edition, indie film journal Little White Lies held a series of events for cinema, art and design lovers this month (more here). The special launch ended in style with a lovingly-selected program of screenings at the ICA, including The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and Punchdrunk Love.

As we rocked up for a special screening of David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive, there were a bunch of excited looking people still wearing red Zissou (Bill Murray’s character in the film) hats dotted around the room. They looked like cute hypothermic elves on a cinema trip.

This was all part of the theme, although its hard to think of something similar that would have worked as well for my chosen film. Little blue boxes, with blue keys?

A LWLies usher handed us a free DVD at the door. “A gift from David Lynch”, was the only explanation given. It promised to reveal the secrets of one of Lynch’s hobbies: “transcendental meditation”. Fair enough. I was a bit sad that there hadn’t been any free David Lynch brand coffee (he used to drink an unhealthy number of espressos a day). But this was definitely original.

“It was my first experience of his twisted universe and I wanted to see how it stood the test of time”

So why Mulholland Drive? Because it was my first experience of his twisted universe and I wanted to see how it stood the test of time. A friend introduced me to MD back when we were still teenagers dreaming of rock stardom, and even then I remember thinking that there was something special about it.

Watching the film is a bit like getting into a limousine driven by its director. You don’t know where you’re going, and you worry the crazily coiffured driver chainsmoking in front of you is about to cause a high speed traffic accident just so he can record the twisted wreckage.

But somehow you’re happy to sit back and enjoy the ride, safe in the knowledge that the guy at the wheel has a (mostly excellent) CV that includes Twin Peaks and Lost Highway.

Mulholland Drive tells the story of a naive young actress, a failed actress, a casting call, a waitress and a beautiful amnesiac. All at once. It’s a horror tale in a noirish Hollywood, with characters who all swap places, where no two ends meet but all roads lead to Mulholland Drive.

Betty (played by Naomi Watts) arrives at her Auntie’s Hollywood pad, a place to crash while she auditions for her big break. She finds a strange girl (played by Laura Harring) in the apartment suffering memory loss after a car crash in the opening scene. She calls herself Rita.

They set out to discover what happened, a whodunnit in the city of angels, chasing ghosts and dead trails across the freeways.

Their relationship is sweet and caring and soon blossoms into an uneasy romance.

Mulholland Drive

Rita and Betty leave the apartment in the middle of the night to watch a show in a club called Silencio. “Everything is recorded! It’s only a tape”, cackles the announcer as he introduces a singer.

She performs a beautiful song that moves the two girls to tears. Mid-performance she crashes to the floor, unconscious or possibly even dead, and as the singing continues we realise she was miming; it was only a recording.

The spectators stop crying instantly, in what has to be one of the most powerful moments of the entire movie.

Perhaps we can be moved  by art, but real moments of sadness leave us dry eyed. Or maybe we can only cry when we believe art is genuine, no matter how many times Lynch reminds us of its total insincerity.

A similar scene is Betty’s audition, where she transforms from a nervous young actress to a smouldering vixen at the snap of a director’s fingers. And it’s still incredibly real.

“Soon after Silencio, Lynch’s camera moves through a mysterious blue box, a slightly obvious but still interesting way of telling us that everything is about to go haywire”

Soon after Silencio, Lynch’s camera moves through a mysterious blue box, a slightly obvious but still interesting way of telling us that everything is about to go haywire, and the world is going to get a lot more bleak.

A subplot that provides some light relief is the hipster producer Adam (played by Justin Theroux, cousin of Louis Theroux), fighting the pressure from shady executives to cast a talentless actress as the lead in his new film. “When you see her audition, you say: ‘That’s the girl,’” they proclaim.

Furious, he attacks an executive’s car with a golf club and drives home, only to discover his wife in bed with a half-witted redneck. “Now look what you’ve gone and done”, she admonishes.

His revenge is beautiful: he pours a tin of neon pink paint into her jewelley box.

In a surreal turn of events  he finds himself strongarmed into meeting an oninous character known only as The Cowboy at a ranch outside the city to discuss his casting call.

Another sketch which delivers Tarantino-style capers involves a bungling hitman who accidentally shoots an overweight woman through a partition wall, prompting a killing spree of cosmic stupidity.

The satisfying thing about Mulholland Drive is the way it isn’t a film for the Memento-nuts out there — applying forensic standards of logic to the plot seems pointless. Enjoying this film as a moody meditation on Hollywood is more fun.

Going through it frame-by-frame will doubtless reveal plenty of nuggets you missed first time, but I feel like Lynch is more interested in creating a world with depth than a plot that ties up perfectly. (Apologies to any die-hard fans who want to Lynch me for my views or my criminal puns.)

Mulholland Drive is spectacular filmmaking: sad, entertaining and beautifully acted, with a score (supervised by Angelo Badalamenti, who collaborated on previous Lynch projects Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) that rams home the unease.

Right from the gorgeous opening shot of an actress being driven towards Mulholland Drive,  I wanted to be part of Lynch’s world, a feeling that hasn’t changed in the ten years since I last saw it.

Although a couple of scenes are so terrifying I need to find a way to bury them deep in my subconscious. Again.

But kudos to LWLies for picking a such a great selection for their film festival.

And TDN is looking forward to practising a bit of transcendental meditation — the free dvd handed out at the screening (“A gift from David Lynch.”) is without a doubt the most bizarre press freebie we’ve seen in ages.

Although if it had been in an ominous blue box we definitely would have thrown it away.

Oli Rahman

Posted on 17/12/2013 by thedoublenegative