Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s homage to Los Angeles. A love affair that began when he moved there in the early 1970s, and one that endures to the present. He stays just around the corner from the actual Mulholland Drive road. In an interview he reveals it’s a road that has fascinated him for many years.
The film began as a failed pilot for a TV series, rejected outright by ABC television, who were allegedly bewildered by what they considered the seemingly endless stream of redundant footage of the dailies, not understanding Lynch’s process of working. In the tradition of other visionary filmmakers before him, he largely creates his films in the editing room, working from many takes to find what he considers to be the perfect shots.
After the project had been shelved for over a year and all hopes of it being salvaged lost; French Studio Canal’s Canal+ (producers Pierre Edelman and Alain Sarde), who had backed some of David Lynch’s other films including Lost Highway, contacted him enthusiastic about producing Mulholland Drive as a feature film. Lynch was still not convinced according to Twin Peaks producer Tony Krantz. The film almost didn’t happen. Krantz apparently had a hard time convincing him to return to the project.
Miraculously over a period of months in the first year of the new millennium he managed to rewrite it, taking what was supposed to be an entire TV series and effectively condensing it into a two and a half hour feature. After reviving the entire cast and crew, he shot an extra fifty minutes of footage, which he combined with the re-edited original pilot to create the film as we see it today. Lynch apparently prefers to believe the pilot never existed. He does not talk about it in interviews. In his world there has always only been this film.
Betty has just arrived in sunny Los Angeles, when her life abruptly intersects with that of a stranger Rita, when she is discovered in Betty’s aunt’s apartment. Rita took refuge there the night before after fleeing the scene of a head on collision, of which she was the sole survivor, on Mulholland Drive. Naively Betty assumes Rita is a friend of her aunts staying there, after discovering her in the shower. Betty discovers that Rita is not her real name; in fact she can’t remember it as she has amnesia. She took it from a poster of Rita Hayworth she saw in the bathroom.
The mystery deepens as Betty and Rita play amateur detectives, trying to discover what happened the night of the accident and her real identity. She thinks her name could be Diane Selwyn. After finding an address under ‘Diane Selwyn’ in the phone book, they investigate the apartment only to discover the putrefying corpse of a woman.
Betty has a successful audition for a part in a film being directed by Adam Kesher, whose films production is mysteriously shut down after a disagreement with the producers over the lead actress and a bad espresso. They hand Adam a mug shot of a girl called Camilla Rhodes saying, “This is the girl.” It’s a recurring phrase that is heard again leaving the lips of other characters. Adam retaliates shouting, “There are six of the top actresses who want this thing. No way! No way! This girl is not in my movie!”
In a corresponding vignette a man emerges from an elevator into an antechamber behind plate glass looking into a strange red draped subterranean room. He says to a strange looking dwarf in a suit seated in a large chair in the centre of the room, “So you want us to shut everything down?” The dwarf gutturally replies, “Yes.” The other man replies, “Then we’ll shut everything down.”
Adam after finding out his credit card is inexplicably maxed out has to meet a man called ‘The Cowboy’ at a cattle corral at the edge of town. Other subplots deepen the mystery. A hired hit man kills a man for mysterious phonebook. Before he shoots the man he says, “So that’s it huh, Ed’s famous black book! The history of the world in phone numbers…” The same hit man also meets a woman who looks like she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown at ‘Winkies Diner’ to talk business. He is handed a mug shot of ‘Camilla Rhodes’, but it’s a different girl. She says, “This is the girl.” We will see other characters meet at Winkies, including a terrified man who says “I had a dream about the place” to another man seated across the table, only to find out to his mortal terror that its real when they investigate.
Uncannily the multiple narrative threads of the film somehow manage to converge with the aid of some kind of unsettling dream logic.
Betty and Rita attend an unusual performance at a downtown theatre called ‘Club Silencio’, involving a mysterious MC in a red suit who introduces the show saying, “No hay banda! There is no band.” A beautiful Singer, Rebekah Del Rio, sings a haunting and intense rendition of a Roy Orbison song in Spanish, and then appears to drop dead on the stage. After the performance Betty and Rita discover a mysterious blue box that ushers in the films other side of the mirror. The dream? The reality? A dishevelled Diane Selwyn awakens in the apartment in place of the dead woman.
Mulholland Drive is hewn out of radical oppositions; the facade of the bright sunny L.A. of the daytime contrasted with its shadowy underworld dimension of unfathomable conspiracies. Betty’s bubbly naïve happy go lucky persona and her dark alter ego Diane, tormented and riddled with jealously. The dream world versus the real or should I say a nightmare reality versus a dream one. By the end of the film one is never quite sure which is which. They could be as interchangeable as other details in the film, like the characters names.
As a film it’s a formidable work of art. A consistently brilliant marriage of spellbinding sound and images that refuses to provide answers to any of its mysteries. Lynch typically impressively plays an enormous role in just about every aspect including the films amazing sound design. A strong case could be made for Mulholland Drive being the apex of his preceding cycle of films, which although exploring very similar ideas, never quite fell together so perfectly as this one.
In a recent international critics poll, Mulholland Drive has been voted the greatest film of the Twenty First Century so far. Even if I thought that might be a bit too exclusive, as there are a few other great films that come to mind, it could quite possibly be in my personal top ten films of the new millennium.