Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This miniseries - turned feature film garnered a lot of praise from David Lynch fans, who've called
it his most successful offering since the Twin Peaks television show. It certainly solidifies
Lynch's departure from the orbit of anything predictable - into his personal world of directorial
obsessions and themes. Non-Lynchian audiences need not apply, as there's nothing but frustration,
impenetrable games-playing, and the slow-paced unfoldment of One Artist's dream vision. Those already
inculcated into his inner circle will find plenty of the hip weirdness they expect.
Canadian hopeful Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood and moves into her
Aunt's apartment while she's away. But an amnesia-stricken woman known only as Rita (Laura Herring)
has already sneaked in. Instead of calling the police, Betty tries to help Rita recover her memory
and discover her identity. On the first of many parallel stories, film director Adam (Justin Theroux)
is being forced to use an actress he doesn't want, by shadowy forces who freeze his accounts and
make him a veritable fugitive in just a few hours. Rita and Betty grow closer as they collect
clues that eventually lead them to the bungalow apartment of someone named Diane Selwyn. Corpses,
a weird homeless man, lesbian sex, a phantom nighttime stage show, a mysterious 'whatzit' box,
and incredibly shrunken relatives are only the surface symptoms of a puzzle that recasts the women in
After decades of ignoring home video and avoiding contact with his rabid fan base, David Lynch has this
year fully embraced DVD and the web. His subscription home page is as commercial an enterprise as
they come, and his involvement in DVD work has so far led to some irritating extras: the purposely
surreal 'interviews' on Fire Walk With Me and, on this show, his 'personal' ten clues to
solve the mystery. Mysterious auteurs add to their legend by letting their work itself serve as
their last word, rather than interpreting it for us in interviews. Until his own recent need for
positive publicity, Woody Allen kept a tight leash on any official analysis of his films. Lynch
was the king of this, following the lead of Stanley Kubrick, of course - allowing rumors of recuts
and special editions of his work to bounce around the fan ionosphere until everybody was talking
about him. Now he has to play at least some of the same self-promotional games the rest of 'em
do. This DVD of Mulholland Dr. has no extras at all, so his Remote Genius persona is safe
Reviews of Mulholland Dr. have been talking about its status as a PG rated television show that
was later transmogrified into an R-Rated film, as if the information were vitally important ... as if
a disclaimer card up front would have been useful: "Dear viewer, Mulholland Dr. makes no
linear sense because it was an inexpensive television show that was reworked for the big screen. A
fairly straightforward, but unresolved mystery has been left unresolved, and instead fleshed out
with weird tangential subplots in a new structure that deconstructs the characters and relationships
of the original, with a new story (or several new stories) that bend the original back upon itself."
If the puzzle aspect of Mulholland Dr. is a good one, it's because the original piece was
clearly developing hints that would have been addressed as the miniseries went on. The characters
dress up like one another - Rita and Betty seem interchangeable at one point, an idea interestingly
timed with their sexual collision. The theme
is nicely echoed through the semi-interchangeable actresses Adam is trying to cast for his
lip-synching pop-song scene.
When the film turns in upon itself, setting up an entire reorganized set of relationships - Betty
becomes Diane Selwyn, Rita becomes Camilla Rhodes - there's a nice feeling of narrative
plasticity ... the shifting identities and relationships could be alternate realities, alternate
possibilities, dreams of potential realities - who knows? Reality shifts just as if God said, 'What
if the mystery woman was already a big star and the neophyte actress a lesbian hanger-on who's
being dumped? So be it." Lynch does a great job of handling the way one plane appears to intersect
Camilla is the object of a Diane hit (I think) but then transforms into Rita, who can't remember
her identity. Some events are definitely happen in a specific timeline, and others, like
the dead-of-night performance of the Orbison song in Spanish, are isolated dream experiences that
seemingly happen out of time, outside the story we are watching.
The downside of this is that being a Lynch insider (which Savant doesn't consider himself) is practically
a prerequisite to even beginning to have a clue as to what's happening in the film. In theaters,
there were the initiated, who treated the picture like it was Holy writ, and the others, who wondered
if they were being had, or insulted, or both. Lynch, when he repeats himself, can be just as annoying
as any other filmmaker who asks you to find things significant only because they are
thematically linked to earlier work. I try to keep an open mind, but the tiny squeaking Aunt and Uncle
serously gripe my patience. The 'everything is an illusion' mantra at the Club Silencio is so
grindingly obvious, that it borders on trite, no matter how brilliant other aspects of the show
might be. Likewise, the truncated dead-end subplots remind me less of narrative roads not taken, than
of shoes left dangling. When they add something to the story, such as the genuine
craziness of the hit men, the pain is lessened. But additional strangers drifting onscreen to describe
dreams that mirror their present realities, are just more gum in the gears.
What works best in Mulholland Dr. are the same elements we're always attracted to - interesting
and sensual characters, and perplexing plot turns that make us want to see more and find out what's
going to happen next. The performances are all fine except for Ann Miller's catty landlady. Strangely,
Naomi Watt's Betty is more convincing when acting in a scene-within-a-scene, than she is playing herself,
the naive newcomer in tinseltown. Lee Grant, Chad Everett, James Karen, Robert Forster and Dan Hedaya
are just a few of the bits and just-bigger-than-bits that fill out the undeveloped subplots.
Savant also took exception to the present sentiment that Mulholland Dr. is Lynch's greatest
work so far. Even the disparaged Wild at Heart was visually distinguished, and Lynch's
earlier films, even flawed work like Dune, were deliriously beautiful. Mulholland Dr.
was shot for television and simply looks drab. I suppose it's the sign of the dilettante, when I can
sit happily entertained through this director's most self-indulgent passages when there are
interesting visuals to watch. Without the hypnotizing images of Blue Velvet,
Mulholland Dr. sometimes resembles a dry run.
Yet interesting enough to want to see it again, as soon as I have the right co-audience ...
Universal's DVD of Mulholland Dr. is a careful transfer that makes the many dark-on-dark
scenes look as attractively murky as they did in the theater. Jack Fisk's wholly believeable settings
often look better on DVD, as many theaters chose to project the show narrower than 1:85,
cropping off many compositions too tightly. Lynch probably did some vertical repositioning in his
transfer, while selectively darkening parts of Laura Herring's nude scene to frustrate DVD weenies
with nothing better to do than to surf for celebrity private parts. The lack of chapters is a bother,
but understandable. Savant is of the opinion that 'David Lynch's ten clues to unlocking this
thriller' is a pretty cheesy move, unbecoming the reigning Genius King of the Weird.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mulholland Dr. rates:
Packaging: PP keep case
Reviewed: April 16, 2002
Reader responses for MULHOLLAND DR. as of 4/21/02:
Glenn, Just a few comments on your interesting review of Lynch's latest. You
refer to it as a "mini-series" turned feature film, but that's not
entirely accurate. While it did originate as a television project, it
was to be an on-going series for ABC, not a limited mini-series. Lynch
never filmed anything more than the two-hour pilot, which of course was
rejected by the powers that be after numerous editorial reworkings.
I'd argue with the statement that "Non-Lynchian audiences need not
apply, as there's nothing but frustration, impenetrable games-playing,
and the slow-paced unfoldment of One Artist's dream vision. Those
already inculcated into his inner circle will find plenty of the hip
weirdness they expect."
While calculating the hipness of his weirdness is certainly subjective,
I don't think that it's fair to say that non-Lynchian audiences can't
appreciate the film. I believe that one of the picture's many strengths
is its accessibility. Lynch somehow managed to remain true to his "One
Artist's dream vision," while still making a film that appeals to a
variety of different audiences on different levels. How else to explain
the widespread critical praise from mainstream critics who normally
scoff at Lynch's artiness? Mulholland Dr. even garnered rave reviews
from Roger Ebert, a critic who was notorious for his across-the-board
hatred for Lynch's films. Every audience isn't going to make sense of
the film--most won't even try--but they can certainly enjoy it. The
same cannot be said for the very similar, but far less mainstream, Lost
Highway, a film that I find superior in every way to the enjoyable
While you can't argue with the folks who say it's an impenetrable mess,
I do think that its semi-mainstream popularity is clear evidence that
Mulholland Dr. is as widely accessible as, say, Blue Velvet or
Twin Peaks. I don't think that the film's pleasures lie solely in decoding
its narrative. Perhaps Lynch's list of "clues" included on the disc was
a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of this? A gentle ribbing for those
who aren't looking for anything other than a clear solution to the
mysteries? - Mark Wickum
Hi Glen, I would have to rate your review on Mulholland Dr. a 4 start effort.
You told it like it is.
I remember working for a small Canadian distribution house that handled
offbeat and foreign product. Whenever we screened potential new releases
the acid test for a film's suitability seemed to be: a) were you be able
to stay awake? b) is there a plot? For our group a plot was deemed
unnecessary - having a theme was O.K. c) if you couldn't figure out what
the director was trying to say, the film was labeled as being
"cerebral." This was considered a good thing.
David Lynch's films remind me of those weird old days. Mind you, we did
distribute David Cronenberg's first two short features. I even appeared
in one of them. They were slow, deliberately paced efforts, had a theme,
no synch. sound and perplexed most viewers. I guess nothing much has
really changed, has it? - Jon
In response to your review of Mulholland Dr., I can understand your
frustration with seemingly dead-end subplots. At first viewing I did feel
that it was a two-hour tv pilot with a tacked-on "square peg in a round
hole" ending. But subsequent viewings have fleshed out the story and it
works wholly and totally as one fluid piece. I don't believe there are any
dead-end scenes and that everything has a purpose in telling the main story
whether it seems to or not. I was not a big Lynch fan when I saw it. I was
only vaguley familiar with Twin Peaks and was frustrated by Lost Highway
and I can still get this movie and see a whole coherent narrative (and the
Ten Clues might help, but you shouldn't need to use them. The film takes
care of itslef if you pay attention). I suggest watching it a few more times
and it will open up and all of sudden it becomes a film of undeniable genius
and beauty. Just my opinion, Evan M. Pulgino
Glenn, I have to note that the Chelsea New York audience I saw Mulholland Dr.
with thought Ann Miller stole the whole movie. Really.
My opinion is similar to yours: I found the film somewhat compelling, right
up until it was clear it intended to make no sense, after which I saw it for
what it was, which was unfinished TV footage rounded out with some
afterthought filming. Yes, it looked drab. Yes, it went nowhere, and it
took its time, too. And yes, I too was confused at how many critics fell
all over themselves about this thing. Even the usually dependable and
well-grounded Roger Ebert (my personal hero) continues to fall prostrate
at Mulholland's feet, and he generally dislikes David Lynch films (he really
didn't like Blue Velvet one bit). He even wrote a glowing essay on it
this past week.
I'm not a Lynch nut. I liked Blue Velvet but I was very young when I
saw it on video (``Dig it, man, suburbia is repressive and twisted under its
facade of normalcy -- whoa''). I suffered through Fire Walk with Me, a
film which makes Pink Floyd's the Wall look like it has the linear
structure of a Matlock episode. I loved Twin Peaks, though.
So: Ann Miller, drab filming, pointless story. What's not to like? - Chris Rywalt.
Savant Note: I really expected more letters telling me how dumb I was for not 'getting'
Mulholland Dr. I have to assume the people who really worship this picture just read what
I wrote, rolled their eyeballs and moved on .... I like (and print) any kind of dissent short
of 4-letter words, let me remind you! Glenn
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson