“No hay banda! There is no band! Il n’est pas de orquestra! This is all… a tape-recording. No hay banda! And yet we hear a band. If we want to hear a clarinette… listen. Un trombon “à coulisse”. Un trombon “con sordina”. Sient le son du trombon in sourdine. Hear le son… and mute it… drop it. It’s all recorded. No hay banda! It’s all a tape. Il n’est pas de orquestra. It is… an illusion!”
‘Mulholland Drive’, directed by David Lynch in 2001, is an American drama with an ensemble cast set in LA. Naomi Watts plays Betty, an aspiring actress who comes to LA from Canada. When she arrives she finds an amnesiac woman called Rita, played by Laura Harring, in the flat she has borrowed from her aunt. Gradually Betty and Rita are drawn into a noir plot involving hitmen, a cuckolded director, and the darker side of the city, until two thirds of the way through the film when everything changes and the audience is pulled down a David Lynch rabbit hole. The first part of the movie feels, as it was planned, like the pilot episode of a television series. The plan seems to have been to have emulated Lynch’s earlier and more successful ‘Twin Peaks’, but when ‘Mulholland Drive’ the series didn’t fly, the story was adapted into a film. This should have made the whole thing disjointed, but the nostalgic, televisual nature of the opening of the film makes a jarring and effective contrast with the unsettling lurch into darkness in the second. The movie is about artifice and how films themselves, what we see on screen but also the way they are produced, occupy that liminal area between reality and dreams. Lynch elects not to give any explanations either within the film or in interviews after. It’s a movie seemingly designed to allow the audience to construct their own theories about the complex structure and symbolism. In a way, the enigmatic nature of the film means it occasionally risks slipping into pretention, but the subtexts and themes are so strongly delineated that they guide the interpretations. I love this film. I love its impenetrability and the rewards it offers for multiple viewings. I love the repeated motifs throughout, the balance of the two halves. I love, as I do with much of Lynch’s work, the uneasy feeling of being in ‘another place’. It’s miraculous that for a film that has been constructed piecemeal, everything knits together perfectly from the heightened performances to the characteristically meticulous sound design. I also love the way Lynch embraces the heritage of Hollywood, tapping into the city’s corrupted folklore in the same way it constructs the mythology of Twin Peaks.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s one of my favourite films. It’s dark, knotty and at times seems to require recreational drugs to understand, but if you stick with it, a rich and layered world is revealed. Watch in a double bill either with ‘Sunset Boulevard’, a film that inspired it, or with ‘La La Land’, a film that has a similar view of Hollywood but with different results.