One of the dilemmas with a television series is knowing when to bow out gracefully. When to exit at the top of your game. A series allows creators to really flesh out their characters, to portray them in both extraordinary and humdrum situations. This is why we feel like we know them, as if they're friends or family, even. But often they wear out their welcome. Or when their story is sufficiently tied up, anything more just seems unnecessary. That's why film is a more satisfying medium for me - the beauty of economy. A strong conclusion leaves everything frozen in perfection, leaving us free to wonder what would happen the next day if we so desire. A T.V. show that runs a season too long just confirms how great film really is.
David Lynch created the iconic Twin Peaks in 1990 and its first season was near perfection. Then came Season Two. More was less. In 1999 Lynch filmed a pilot called Mulholland Drive that likely baffled network executives. Others, even HBO, also passed on it. The director escaped to retreat and meditate and a wellspring of ideas came to him. He was ready to rework and complete his project as a feature film.
As you watch 2001's MULHOLLAND DRIVE, you can see how it was originally conceived for television. Multiple characters are introduced, usually in very colorful ways. A clumsy hit man ends up killing two additional unfortunates in a botched attempt. A mobster spits out espresso he finds unacceptable during a meeting. In a diner a nervous man explains a horrific dream to his companion, then goes outside and sees the object of his fear behind a dumpster before passing out. There are also scenes that appear to be introductions to ideas to be developed later, like when a man dumps pink paint over his wife's jewelry after he finds her in bed with the pool guy.
As a result, some of these elements remain unresolved in Lynch's film. Some characters are only seen in flashes, as if many of their scenes hit the cutting room floor. Story lines lost. Yet here, it all seems to follow the entropy of the creator's universe. Criticizing the lack of follow through just seems beside the point.
It's a sun drenched afternoon or a pitch black night. Either way, you can never trust what is before your eyes in Los Angeles. Especially the L.A. in a David Lynch motion picture. A city he loves, a natural habitat for a transplanted artist of fever dreams and dark visions. Art imitating life and vice versa in an endless cycle. A town that was Lynchian long before there was a David Lynch. Is MULHOLLAND DRIVE the movie he was working toward his entire career?
Lynch would, to date, direct one more film. 2006's INLAND EMPIRE is his most inscrutable work, a film that almost makes MULHOLLAND DRIVE seem conventional by comparison. I am an admirer of INLAND EMPIRE and would love to revisit it sometime, but it does seem like an afterthought in the wake of the previous movie, one of the most debated of its time.
If you know Lynch at all you do not look for linearity in his films. Even if a narrative threatens to form you always wonder if we're actually in the midst of someone's nightmare. Maybe in a parallel universe. Lynch will offer no answers. He does not do DVD commentaries or directly answer questions as to what his films mean. Although, for a 2002 issue of MULHOLLAND DRIVE he did offer the viewer a list of moments to watch carefully, as to what clues may be present.
By the end of the movie, you may think you know what it's about. For all of the seeming red herrings and unresolved vignettes, a closing statement emerges. In its final images of a corpse (seen many times earlier) and plume of blue smoke, one could understand the cold end to the life of a woman first known as Betty and later (concurrently?) as Diane, and why. It could be as simple as "a broken heart for every light", although that was used to describe the millions who sought the glory of Broadway in New York City. There are millions more in the City of Angels.
Naomi Watts delivers an absolute bravura performance. Two of them, actually. A wide eyed innocent (Betty) in the early scenes who comes to L.A. to realize her dreams, who as it turns out has real talent. But a mysterious woman with amnesia who calls herself Rita (Laura Harring) disrupts Betty's plans, prompting the latter to play detective, to find out how Rita got that gash on her forehead, why she survived a car crash on Mulholland Drive. Later, as Diane, Watts portrays a deeply depressed "never-was" wrecked by lost professional opportunities and the loss of love, of a woman named Camilla Rhoades (also Harring).
Camilla Rhoades is also the name of the actress a pair of mobsters want to star in the latest picture of hotshot director Adam Kesher (Justin Thoreux). The young man does not share their point of view, and finds himself driving to a corral high above the city to meet "The Cowboy", who, after some mild dress down of the young man's attitude, convinces him to cast Camilla. And who is the short guy with the long arms who the mobster calls? Wasn't he "The Man From Another Place" in Twin Peaks? And isn't his room the one we saw on that show and its prequel film FIRE WALK WITH ME?
There is much to unravel, to sort out. MULHOLLAND DRIVE has a point, and is not merely pretentious wankery, which you might've accurately stated about LOST HIGHWAY. MULHOLLAND is my favorite Lynch movie, and one that becomes more beautiful and intriguing with each viewing. Criterion finally released their remaster so now is a good time to (re)acquaint yourself with its power. Including/especially those of you who only watch the film for its, ahem, rather erotic moments.