Friday, April 22, 2005

A Weird Ride on "Mulholland Drive"

With our schedules somewhat out-of-sync, being that Friday was, in part, a running around day for me, and a non-office work day for Kaia, I settled in to watch the remainder of David Lynch's 2001 film "Mulholland Drive" while Kaia napped. While I preferred the situation involving my private viewing of the film -- ie, a week ago with Kaia in bed -- I opted to watch it despite knowing I'd be left scratching my head and wondering if the experience was worth the time.

In answering that head-scratching question regarding whether the film was a waste of my time, I can emphatically state it wasn't. It was actually pretty solid. But it's not a one-time through empty-headed exercise in disturbing imagery, gore and/or violence. It's more like a novel or a similar work of art that requires investment, repeated viewings and a willingness to explore the myriad symbols, twists, images and auditory environment put forth by one of the most talented, enigmatic and weird filmmakers of the modern era.

Incidentally, I plan on doing some brief but revealing exposition herein, so if you haven't seen the film and plan on (or might consider) doing so, skip the remainder of this entry. But keep it bookmarked, as it's pretty likely you'll want a good explanation for what this film's anachronistic double entendres, twists and contradictions actually mean in the real world. that we've gotten that out of the way...the film, essentially, begins both setting-wise and metaphorically with Mulholland Drive, which -- for those of us not from California and not in the movie business -- is an ideal example of the duality of Hollywood. Mulholland Drive, by day, offers pretty, scenic views, fun and engaging curves, and its landmark status is well-known outside the state in which it exists. By night, however, Mulholland Drive is treacherous beauty, in that it's dangerous to navigate, but offers spectacular views of Los Angeles below. It's glitz and glamour and shine and beauty, but it offers treachery, danger, mystery and a foreboding warning to those who overlook its penchant for evil and only admire its beauty.

If that cavalcade of metaphors, cliches and contrasts didn't throw you, then continue on -- but be warned, by the end of this post you might wish you had been equipped with a barf-bag.

In short, as with all other David Lynch films, "Mulholland Drive" offers up a variety of out-of-sequence plot twists, symbolism both subtle and overt, cinematography that is sweeping and memorable, and characters and dialogue that too is memorable. Essentially, this film, on its surface, is a noir murder mystery of sorts, although the mystery commences during the first frames of the film, well before any murder actually takes place.

Keep in mind, incidentally, that the cast of this film involves a variety of high-profile (and all very talented) actors, yet I have specifically omitted their names from this post thus far. That says a lot about the film's core, which is its story. But in case the participants in this exercise in confusion and statement are significant, there's a veritable who's who: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya, Justin Theroux, a cameo from Billy Ray Cyrus, and a solid supporting grouping which includes old-time actress Ann Miller and some other "hidden" gems. But as we are advised later in the film, everything is an illusion and nothing is what it seems. So true.

At this point, a brief run-down of the plot should suffice: Naomi Watts plays Betty, an optimistic, fresh-faced Canadian who comes to LA while her aunt is away in Canada filming a picture. She's going to audition and she's incredibly happy, naive and excited. She arrives at LAX and bids goodbye to an older couple who one could easily mistake for her grandparents, and from that moment forth, her curiosity, innocence and honesty pervade every scene she's in. There begins a trio of sub-plots, one of which involves a studio (and, purportedly, the mafia) leaning on an up-and-coming director to cast an actress named Camilla in his next picture, the existence of a hitman, and, most notably, the sudden appearance of a beautiful brunette who has survived an attempt on her life in the back of a limo by an equally near-fatal car accident. The hit attempt, as well as the car accident, occur on -- you guessed it -- Mulholland Drive. And she dizzily walks to the nearby apartment complex in which Betty is staying while her aunt is away on location. The hit/accident survivor discovers she has amnesia. Later in the film, she and Betty become lovers in several highly-charged, near-erotic interludes that are tasteful but extremely powerful.

And that's about the first thirty minutes of this 150-minute movie.

Essentially, the film is not so much a series of scenes derived and designed to reveal and move the plot, but rather a series of scenes which include symbolism, notable nuances, and a selection of carefully-placed, -worded and -scripted interactions which are of significance later in the film. This is a multiple-view film in that there's no way to absorb, understand or process what transpires over the course of a single viewing of the film. Much of Lynch's work predicates itself on shock value, and this film offers up a large dose thereof, not only visually, but in its soundtrack and its sound effects as well.

My take on the film, for the most part, is this: Lynch's point in telling the story is to show Hollywood's dual nature. It's beauty, glamour and shiny "tinsel" at odds with the nefarious, dark, macabre underbelly that supports or belies it. With the red carpet and the gowns and the jewelry come evil, inhumanity, cattiness, disingenuous personalities and plastic characters. As Betty, the young ingenue, Naomi Watts is incredible -- she pulls off her role as a naive, fresh-off-the-boat young woman with ultra-believable aplomb. And as Diane, in the dual (or secondary -- or primary) role, she is frighteningly believable as a jaded, washed-up, desperate, pathetic shell of Betty's alter-ego. Every actor in this film pulls of his or her character(s) perfectly; there's no real weak link in that the majority of the performances are of a calibre worthy of the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson. The main issue that keeps one from being comfortable with the film is the story itself.

Lynch tells the story out-of-sync, much like Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Christopher Nolan's Memento, which, once that is made clear, allows the viewer to somewhat latch onto the stilted, disjointed and downright weird imagery presented herein. The film's tagline is "A Love Story In The City Of Dreams" -- and the noir description almost misses because the film is directed as a noir, but its true patina is one of a young ingenue who comes to Hollywood optimistic, fresh and eager to be a "star, or known as a great actor, or both" but who ultimately is washed up, passed over, chewed up, eschewed by her lover (another woman) and who winds up having her former girlfriend killed before killing herself. In other words, as Lynch is wont to do, the film heaps multi-layer upon multi-layer, and by the time the credits are rolling it's hard to tell which layer preceded the prior one.

All in all, armed with a sensibility and some foreknowledge, this is a wonderful movie. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's almost a dreamlike experience -- hence why I fell asleep both times I began watching it -- but aside from a few lulls, it heats up from the very start and gets hotter and hotter and never looks back.

The DVD, incidentally, is clean, offers a stunning 5.1 mix, and should be purchased rather than rented simply to facilitate a few viewings. The auditory mood is unsettling, the thrills and the tension are palpable, and the plot -- or the corkscrewed smattering of scenes that substitute for same herein -- are worth the time and investment one needs to make in something that will likely be a keeper.

No comments: