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Resumé Copy Writing Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' a Haunting Portrait of Hollywood's Legacy
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  Mulholland Drive
  2001
  Universal
   
 
  David Lynch
   
 
  Naomi Watts
   

Once again we plunge into the upside-down world of David Lynch and watch dumbstruck as he peels back the thin veneer our grandfathers used to mask a society rotted at the edges by want and war. To eee-liminate the negative, keep up with the Joneses, defeat the Reds, and participate in the Eisenhower-era prosperity of post-war America. But the memories of a soul-killing depression and a war that changed us forever lay just under that thin veneer even now.

And when the bitter stench of heartache and regret seeps through it, we can all smell the odor. But Lynch’s films are like night vision goggles that allow us to see the vapors in all their sickly malevolence.

We see the sometimes artificially innocent minds of small-town America lusting corruption in search of something real -- as in Blue Velvet. We see the unwholesome emphasis on prestige dooming romantic love -- as in Wild at Heart. We see middle-class old-boy networks devouring young women heart and soul -- as in Twin Peaks.
 
This time, with Mulholland Drive, we affix a new pair of goggles as Lynch takes us out looking for Hollywood.

Pretty young Betty Elms arrives in Los Angeles from Deep River, Ontario, to pursue an acting career. Betty is forthright, plucky, and full of good cheer. But is she the person she appears to be?

Movie-star Camilla Rhodes thinks she’s being driven to a social engagement somewhere on Mulholland Drive. But her chauffeur turns out to be her would-be assassin. Are her chances for escape better in the real world or in the movies?

When Betty and Camilla meet and fall in love, is Camilla really alone in the world and humbled by amnesia? Or is amnesia something that happens more often in the movies?

Bratty movie director Adam Kesher assumes he has the right to hire whomever he wants for the lead in his movie. Does he have any say in his vision, or is he just a cog in a corrupt dream machine? Will he have his attitude adjusted or end up with a couple of broken legs and a career to match?

Is Hollywood a mecca for creative people where desire and talent are welcome, cherished and nurtured? Or is it a soulless fame factory that runs on star-struck blondes?

The answers to all these questions reveal themselves in another sublime Lynchian kaleidoscope of artistic ambiguity, exquisitely scored by Angelo Badalamenti. The private shrines Betty, Camilla, Adam and others erect to fame, lust, resentment and power in this film all come in to focus at the end. Some crumble, others soar, but all frighten.

Lynch has said that he tries to leave enough ambiguity in his movies so that each audience member can decide for themselves what the picture was about and indeed, his stories never quite take place in a reality we can all agree on. They tend to occupy that odd, gray space between what its characters hope to be and what they really are; between what they wish for and what is; between what they pray will happen and what must inevitably be. That bizarre twilight reality we all sometimes experience when we first wake in the morning after a powerful dream -- did I really have a date with Jennifer Aniston? But there is definitely an identifiable theme to Mulholland Drive and probably an identifiable plot if you take the time to work it out. Others may disagree, but at least one does fit all the plot points. If you have not seen the film and do not care to have it decoded for you, skip the next two paragraphs.

Imagine that you are an aspiring Hollywood actress but that you’ve had a run of really bad luck lately. First, your lover landed a great role that you wanted and got it because she slept with the film’s director and now seems content to rub your nose in it. Second, you’ve hired a lowlife to have her killed by way of payback and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Third, and worst, you’re still in love with her. What kind of dreams would you be having in your torment? What thoughts would pass through your mind just before you finally snap? Would you wish that somehow, in classic Hollywood fashion, your lover is saved in the nick of time but loses her memory and returns to you humbled and vulnerable, giving you, essentially, a second chance at true love? Would you dream that you embark on a mission to help her and, in the process, prove yourself an unfailing, unselfish and lion-hearted companion who just also happens to be quite more talented an actress than anyone would have guessed?

That's the movie. Your dream. Your last crazy Hollywood wish is the vessel containing the entire film and all its roaming sub-plots. Lynch just turns the whole thing inside out so we never have a chance to distance ourselves from this poor woman’s plight. By the time we understand her desperation and treachery, we’ve already become her.

The sub-plots seem to be where people lose track of this picture. And you really can not blame them because each sub-plot is conveyed by its own dream-world vessel. And each sub-plot dream-world obeys the rules of whichever character involved is dreaming it. When Adam gets his attitude adjustment, is he really speaking to an anemic cowboy dressed like Howdy Doody? Or is this cowboy symbolic of something only Adam would understand? Is this Betty’s world or Adam’s? How can anyone dream someone else’s dream?

Many of the film’s dream-worlds of perception and intention are left dangling and hint tantalizingly at what could have been made of them if Mulholland Drive had been made into a TV series as was originally intended. The two police detectives in search of Camilla definitely had a story to tell, but they are introduced and then vanish from the story entirely. A man in a restaurant describes his powerfully frightening dream to a policeman and then disappears, too. It is maddening at times, but Lynch is no ordinary filmmaker.

An ordinary filmmaker, had he wanted to show us the heartless nature of fame beneath Hollywood's shiny exterior, would have directed a standard narrative start-to-finish story about a small-town girl who comes to LA, succumbs to corrupt relationships, and loses her grip on reality. This kind of film would have put members of the earliest movie-going audiences -- those of the ‘40s and ‘50s -- in that tragic character's head. The experiences of these audiences forged Hollywood's reputation as the dream-factory. But the jaded 21st century audience has seen a million such tales on TV and in the movies by the time they've bought a ticket to Mulholland Drive. Lynch knows this so he finds a new way to do to you what the Hollywood-of-old did to those first movie-goers. By dropping you in the middle of her rationalizations, fooling you into thinking it’s reality, and then slowly, layer by layer, taking you out of the onion, he puts you in another world; in another head; in another soul. In this respect, Lynch's film is a most sublime homage to that Hollywood that has brought so much magic into so many lives. How can anyone dream someone else's dream? We've been doing it in theatres for years, thanks to Hollywood. But Lynch pays tribute by making more real to us than ever before the miserable plight of the countless lost young women who come to worship at Hollywood’s church of fame and then find themselves excommunicated because they’ve too stridently subscribed to its dehumanizing dogma. In this respect, Lynch is Hollywood's sharpest critic yet.

But not all the credit for this film’s wrecking ball of emotion can go to Lynch. Naomi Watts’s performance as Betty is unsettling in its brilliance. When her part changes in the last eighth of the film, one might easily mistake her for a different woman altogether. When Watts got this role, she was a struggling blonde actress from another country trying to make it in Hollywood. It must have been at times terrifying to play a struggling blonde actress from another country trying to make it in Hollywood who flames out and becomes suicidal. In interviews she has said one scene in particular, a quite memorable one that could only be played solo, drove her to tears and made her stop the scene at least once. One hopes it was a larger part authenticity than latent sadism that brought Lynch to choose this particular actress for this particular role instead of one who had already made a name for herself. But either way, the performance is a stunner and it should earn her an Oscar for best actress. In the happiest irony to come out of Lynch’s latest cathedral of irony, this film made Watts’s career in Hollywood and I doubt any actress has ever done more to earn that success.

By entertaining us with his exquisite insights, and framing them in such a way that we become the story, David Lynch has proven himself a true auteur and a very new kind of filmmaker. Mulholland Drive will probably not win the Academy Award for best picture; but only because Hollywood, sexy old gypsy that she is, won't have the courage to hold the mirror that close.

To Lynch she would whisper, "Silencio."

 
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive a Haunting Portrait of Hollywood's Legacy by Erik Gloor
     
 
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