Director: David Lynch
Starring: Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Luna Lauren Velez
Running Time: 147 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Wrestling the plot of David Lynch’s masterpiece is like solving a Rubik’s Cube while walking a Möbius Strip. Locked inside this evocative film, is simple pulp fiction, where sex reliably leads to jealousy and murderous intent. Lynch has said the best way to watch the film is to float through it; it is the job of cinema to create a feeling, one unique to the viewer regardless of the supposed intention.
Some of Mulholland Drive is funny. Some of it’s scary, but as a whole appears to defy logic and everyone will take something different from it. Lynch’s own modest assessment obfuscates that the construction of the film will stand up to fierce scrutiny.
It has a misleadingly brief synopsis: Rita (Laura Harring) lost her memory after surviving a botched hit on Mulholland Drive. She stumbles to an abandoned apartment and meets naive Betty (Naomi Watts). Betty is a walking cliché following her dream of being an actress. They clumsily help each other and pick at the edges of a Hollywood conspiracy.
That all sounds too ordinary for a film with such a reputation. It really doesn’t scratch the surface considering that critics once voted Mulholland Drive the greatest film of this century so far in 2016. Rich in character, confidence and a weirdness that doesn’t feel at all out-of-place in LA, it’s hard to argue, even as you wonder, what on earth is going on?
Mulholland Drive utilises the impossible glamour, madness and corruption of Hollywood that has proved fertile ground for the thriller genre for decades, especially when looking inwards. The dry California sun-baked town that twists Bogart around its little finger in In a Lonely Place gets an extra frisson of potency by introducing a narrative wormhole in-between Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard. It converges in the diner, behind which something unspeakable lives. Or perhaps the answer lies in the suspiciously time-locked ghostly apartment complex, where Rita and Betty both struggle with their identity. Or maybe it’s in Silencia, the bonkers nightclub that seems to have all the answers you won’t want. Wherever the otherwise perfectly normal timelines cross -and there are several- the boundary between dreams and reality has never been quite so blurred or fragile since Fellini created 8 ½.
There’s a frustrating sense of pretension that permeates 8 ½, unfolding as it does as Fellini’s own therapy, but Mulholland Drive isn’t about navel-gazing. It’s a noirish thriller with heroes, villains and Femmes Fatales. The mood is similar to Gilda, the poster for which hangs in Betty’s apartment, with Rita Hayworth inspiring Laura Harring’s amnesiac to find a name to hide behind; or Hitchcock’s Vertigo, using the same themes of obsession and identity. The unassuming plot plays out until it becomes clear that some of what has gone before is the dream of one character. And still more happened long before the narrative thus far suggested. It’s a generous and playful conceit that rewards repeat viewings.
While the story as a whole resists immediate explanation, every scene bristles with confidence and energy, even out of context. The cast of fantastic characters wouldn’t be out of place in a Coen Brothers movie, especially the cameo by the film’s composer Angelo Badalamenti, a man who probably doesn’t rely on Starbucks to serve him the most perfect Espresso; or Mark Pellegrino’s hitman, who pops up occasionally and is vital to the plot, but is introduced to us by an attempted assassination going hilariously wrong in a perfectly directed bit of slapstick. There’s also room for Billy Ray Cyrus in a very funny scene as the lover of Justin Theroux’s wife.
Laura Harring is brilliant even though her portrayal of Rita is seen through an unreliable Betty’s eyes. Watt’s performance as Betty meanwhile, is a tour de force and extraordinarily nuanced. An audition scene stands out and is as clever a moment as any in the film, but it lives and dies in her jaw-dropping delivery.
Mulholland Drive might make you want to tear your hair out, but throw yourself in anyway and float through it, because there are at least two solutions: one of them is David Lynch’s, and he’s tantalisingly obscured it such that it will be discussed ad infinitum; the other solution is yours.
The previous Blu-ray release was only in 2017 and that was a brand new Director approved restoration, the best version of the film yet seen, until now. The UHD is absolutely worth yet another upgrade. Under supervision of David Lynch and cinematographer Peter Deming, Studiocanal worked with Criterion just this year to scan in the original 35mm negative to 4K resolution. We even get the Criterion logo at the beginning of the film.
Deming’s photography is essential to pulling off the narrative spell; for example, Betty’s apartment is dark, almost opulent in a cheap way, and yet tired and old-fashioned. The diner is bland, neutrally lit, suitable to the environment, which has a dry, washed out appearance. As if everything has had just a little too much sun. The level of detail is wonderful and tactile, with a perceptible depth even in the night-time moments. The UHD has given the film a gorgeous bloom. Contrast is boosted to a noticeable degree and this naturalistic film has the otherworldly quality that was always intended. The production was never straightforward, but arguably, this new transfer has done nothing but emphasise the consistency of a singular vision.
As with the video, the surround mix is remastered from the original negative. The sound design of Mulholland Drive is superb and serves equally the demands the variety of styles in the film make. The core is drama, where characters are centred and clear. But listen in particular to the diner scene early in the film where environmental sounds and Angelo Badalamenti’s subtle, haunting score work together to create a palpable sense of unease. Later, there are opportunities for musical extravagance: a Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying or film-within-a-film 60s style pop earworms.
Most of the features from the previous Studiocanal release are retained. Conspicuous by its absence then is a substantial interview with David Lynch and Naomi Watts that was new for the 2017 release. So too it appears the archive material -some behind the scenes b-roll and a deleted scene- have also been dropped from previous releases.
For the collector, this is a double-dip rather than an upgrade thanks to the inexplicably dropping of some extras, but an upgrade I still recommend without hesitation. Studiocanal’s presentation overall is phenomenal, with a striking piece of artwork on the cover.
- Back to Mulholland Drive – 24m
Narrated in French, this is a brilliant dissection of the film, following David Lynch’s own “Ten Clues”, with fascinating demonstrations of where the scenes connect. It’s like a video game walkthrough. Maybe you want to know immediately, or give the film another run and see how much falls into place. Even then, there are intriguing omissions, but the last word is given to Lynch who has a beautiful explanation of where subjectivity ends in the creation of a feeling for the viewer and the role of intellect to appreciate the nuances.
- On the road to Mulholland Drive – 24m
Nice behind the scenes piece because David Lynch is so open about his approach. This is far less spoilerific than the first extra feature, but should still only watch after the film.
- Interview with Laura Harring – 14m
Laura Harring recalls with affectionate detail her perception of the role. Harring clearly still enjoys talking about the film.
- Interview with Mary Sweeney – 17m
Sweeney is the editor and has some fantastic insights into the construction of some of the scenes, albeit without delving quite so deeply as in the Back to Mulholland Drive feature.
- Interview with Angelo Badalamenti – 16m
Badalamenti is a composer that has worked with David Lynch several times. In Mulholland Drive he also has a very memorable cameo. He talks about his process and how he ended up in front of the camera for once.
- Introduction by Thierry Jousse – 10m
Jousse is editor of Cahiers du Cinema and briefly explains the film’s inception.
- In the Blue Box – 28m
A number of French critics and filmmakers, as well as Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) discuss the construction of the film and their affection for it.