Monthly Archives: October 2001
Mulholland Dr. has had a long and winding path to get to the state it is presented today. In the beginning it was 120 minutes of a pilot for ABC, though it was skimmed to 90 for the insertion of commercials. But ABC just didn’t seem to get it and declined to pick up David Lynch’s bizarre pilot. Contacted by the French producers of Lynch’s last film, The Straight Story, it was then financed to be a feature film. Lynch went about regathering his cast and filming an additional twenty minutes of material to be added to the 120-minute pilot. And now Mulholland Dr. has gone on to win the Best Director award at Cannes and Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Association.
Laura Harring plays a woman who survives a car crash one night. It appears just before a speeding car full of reckless teens collided into her limo she was intended to be bumped off. She stumbles across the dark streets of Hollywood and finds shelter in an empty apartment where she rests. Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) is a young girl that just got off the bus to sunny California with aspirations of being a big time movie star. She enters her aunt’s apartment to find a nude woman (Harring) in the shower. She tells Betty her name is Rita after glancing at a hanging poster of Rita Hayworth. Rita is suffering from amnesia and has no idea who she is, or for that fact, why her purse is full of thousands of dollars. Betty eagerly wants to help Rita discover who she is and they set off trying to unravel this mystery.
Across town, young hotshot director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is getting ready to go into production for his new film. He angers his mob producers by refusing to cast their chosen girl for his movie. After some harassment, threats, and a visit by an eyebrow-less cowboy assassin (God bless you David Lynch), he relents.
In the meanwhile, people are tracking the streets looking for Rita. Betty and Rita do some detective work and begin amassing clues to her true identify. As they plunge further into their investigation the two also plunge into the roles of lovers. Rita discovers a mysterious blue box and key in her possession. After a night out with Betty she decides to open it, and just when she does and the audience thinks it has a hold on the film, the camera zooms into the abyss of the box and our whole world is turned upside down.
David Lynch has made an inspiring meditation on dreams, for that is at the heart of Mulholland Dr. His direction is swift and careful and his writing is just as precise. The noir archetypes are doing battle with noir expectations. The lesbian love scenes could have been handled to look like late night Cinemax fluff, but instead Lynch’s finesse pays off in creating some truly erotic moments. Despite the population of espresso despising mobsters, wheelchair bound dwarfs, and role-reversal lesbians, the audience knows that it is in hands that they can trust. It’s Lynch back to his glorious incomprehensible roots.
Watts is the true breakthrough of Lynch’s casting and she will surely be seen in more films. Watts has to play many facets of possibly the same character, from star-eyed perky Nancy Drew to a forceful and embittered lesbian lover, all the while maintaining a sexual resonance of noir.
One scene stands out as a perfect example of the talent Watts possesses. Betty has just been shuffled off to an audition for a film and rehearsing with Rita all morning. She’s introduced to her leathery co-star and the directors await her to play out the audition scene of two kids and their forbidden love. As soon as the scene begins Betty vanishes and is totally inhabited by the spirit of her character. She speaks her lines in a breathy, yet whisper-like, voice that sounds like it is running over with sensuality but also elements of power. In this moment the characters know, as the audience does, that Betty and Naomi Watts are born movie stars.
It’s not too difficult for a viewer to figure out what portions of the film are from the pilot and what were shot afterwards. I truly doubt if ABC’s standards and practices allows for lesbian sex. The pilot parts seem to have more sheen to them and simpler camera moves, nothing too fancy. The additional footage seems completely opposite and to great effect. Mulholland Dr. has many plot threads that go nowhere or are never touched upon again, most likely parts that were going to be reincorporated with the series.
The truly weirdest part of Mulholland Drive is that the film seems to be working best when it actually is still the pilot. The story is very intriguing and one that earns every drop of suspense, mystery, and humor that oozes from this noir heavy dreamscape. The additional twenty minutes of story could be successfully argued one of two ways. It could be said it’s there just to confound an audience and self-indulgent to the good story it abandons. It could also be argued that the ending is meticulously thought out and accentuates the 120 minutes before it with more thought and understanding. The best compliment you can say is that it’s the fastest 146 minutes of your life.
Mulholland Dr. is a tale that would have made an excellent ongoing television series complete with ripe characters and drama. However, as a movie it still exceeds in entertainment, but seems more promising in a different venue.
Nate’s Grade: B
John Cameron Mitchell directed, adapted from his stage play and stars as the sexually confused rock mega-star Hedwig. Hedwig was a boy trying to escape from the constraints of soviet occupied East Germany. His lucky ticket came in with a GI who agreed to marry Hedwig and take him out of the country with him, but Hedwig had to go under the knife and become a proper lady before their escape was to ensue. When the sex change operation is botched it leaves Hedwig with a single nub-like inch left causing gender confusion (“Six inches forward, five inches back”). Dumped by his GI Hedwig turns to song and befriends a lonely and confused boy Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt). Their courtship seems to be going fine until Gnosis steals all of Hedwig’s songs and uses them for his own superstardom on MTV. Hedwig’s defense is to pack up a traveling band and to perform at various salad bars and trucker diners in the same town Gnosis travels to. It’s during these performances that Hedwig dishes about her unusual life.
Unlike most plays turned into films, Hedwig has been adapted for the medium of cinema. Animations, clever camera tricks and sing-alongs follow our story, making it an exhilarating film going experience. Hedwig is excitingly original and spilling over with passionate energy that can’t help but transfer to the audience. Mitchell proves himself a born filmmaker, but also a rock star. Many of the songs of Hedwig are quite listenable and could be found on some music channels. Hedwig is a trans hero for all of us and Mitchell delivers a fresh and resoundingly funny, sad, and technical achievement of a movie.
Nate’s Grade: A
There’s a universe somewhere populated entirely with down-on-their-luck lovable sweethearts and good-hearted friendly buffoons operated under the physics of romantic comedies. In this universe there is no such thing as chance, even if one leaves it up to it, and in this place what would seem like frustratingly idiotic behavior seems romantic. So is Serendipity revolving in this universe. Kate Beckinsale is a gal that leaves everything to fate, possibly even her taxes, and John Cusack is the smitten man running all over the place trying to find this mad woman. In our world Beckinsale would seem foolish or even mean-spirited, but because the two will definitely end up in each other’s arms before the credits roll we allow her to continue her ridiculous behavior. She puts Cusack in a seemingly cruel obstacle course of chance to win her heart. These people operate outside of our known world. Eugene Levy has a brief and funny part in the movie but otherwise Serendipity takes itself as being much cuter and smarter than it is.
Nate’s Grade: C