Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mulholland What?

Editor's note: This is another old one, but I like it, so I'm reposting it.


I recently watched a rather interesting movie. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, even though it was directed by—ugh!—David Lynch. The movie was Mulholland Drive, starring Naomi Watts and another woman whose name I cannot currently remember. The movie is weird, even for Lynch, but it was still pretty good. I’ll give you the basic rundown.

Above: David Lynch

The first thing you should know is that Mulholland Drive is split along the middle into two marginally connected, yet at the same time totally separate, movies: Movie A, and Movie B. Got that? Okay.

Movie A is about Betty (Naomi Watts, whose name, unfortunately, can be rearranged to spell, "a woman's tit"—this will become oddly appropriate as the movie goes on), a young and impossibly naïve blonde aspiring actress who comes to LA hoping to be a movie star. Her aunt, an old Hollywood player, is letting her use her (the aunt’s) apartment while she (the aunt) is out of town. Okay.

Betty gets to the apartment, looks around. The apartment is spacious and tastefully appointed and very nice, and there is a naked brunette (the other woman) hiding in the shower. The naked brunette has been struck by a car (she thinks) and has amnesia (she thinks). Betty asks for her name, and the brunette, seeing a poster for an old Rita Hayworth picture on the wall, answers, “Rita.” All Rita has to her name is a purse full of hundred-dollar bills and an odd, blue key. She doesn’t know where the money or the key came from. Got it? Good. All right. Betty lets Rita stay at the apartment with her. Rita eventually shares with Betty that she can’t remember who she is. Betty decides to help Rita remember, and asks her if anything rings a bell. Rita is pretty sure she was in an accident. Like a hit-and-run, maybe.

“Where?” Betty asks.

“I think it was Mulholland Drive,” Rita replies.

“Mulholland Drive?”

“Mulholland Drive.”

"Rita, let’s go there tomorrow and see if you remember anything.”

“To Mulholland Drive?”

“Yes. Mulholland Drive.”

Having thus hammered the title into our skulls like an icy spike, Lynch continues with the “plot.”

Having said that, I just want to reiterate that I really do like this movie.

Above: Naomi Watts and What's-her-name

Oh, by the way, within Movie A are several submovies, which are again only marginally connected to Movies A or B. The submovies are as follows: Movie A(1), about a Hollywood director (Justin Thireaux, whose name can be rearranged to spell, "just rest in a ruthix," which means absolutely nothing) who is being pressured by the mob to cast a particular actress in a particular part; Movie A(2), about an inept hitman, and Movie A(3), which actually occurs earlier in Movie A (within the first ten minutes) than either A(1) or A(2) but which I place last because it appears to have absolutely no connection at all to this movie, or, indeed, any movie ever made. Or, for that matter, any piece of drama, music, performance or visual art, or indeed anything made by human hands at any time in the history of mankind. Movie A(3) is about a guy who walks down an alley and is suddenly frightened into a fatal heart attack when a troll jumps around a corner and surprises him. Apparently this sort of thing happens a lot in the Valley, and Lynch just threw it in for a touch of realism.

Okay, back to Movie A. Betty and Rita go to Mulholland Drive. They find out that there was an accident there. (“Yes, Rita. There was an accident on Mulholland Drive!” “Mulholland Drive?” “Mulholland Drive.”) Then they go to Denny’s. Rita suddenly remembers a name. I can’t remember the name she remembers. Let’s say it was “Shirley.”

(Actually, it was “Diane.” I watched the movie again yesterday and am just too lazy to go back and replace the subsequent “Shirleys” with “Dianes.” Therefore, I will be calling this character Diane sometimes, and Shirley at other times, depending solely upon my whim. Try to bear with me, and keep in mind, this is exactly how Lynch directs a movie anyway. And probably, exactly how he eats a pie, puts on his socks, golfs, and has sex with his wife. After seeing a couple of Lynch films, I can’t believe the guy lives anything like a normal life.)

Above: This sort of thing would seem pedestrian in a Lynch film.

Anyway, they track down Shirley’s address. Or Diane’s. When no one answers their ring, they crawl in through a window. They find Shirley. Diane has been shot through the head and is curled on the bed, looking sort of sunken and decayed. Rita screams.

They leave.

They go back home. Rita takes a shower and feels much better. She’s about to go to the couch to sleep, but Betty insists that there is plenty of room in the king-size bed, and sleeping on the couch is just silly.

Everyone in the audience sees exactly where this is going.

Rita gets into bed with Betty, dropping her towel in the process and treating the audience to a dandy full-frontal shot. The two talk for about thirty seconds, then have hot topless lesbian sex. Fade out.

At this point, the audience rewinds the tape a time or two, or fifteen as it turned out, to review the last scene again. In order to make sure that no clues were missed.

On with the movie.

At three in the morning, Rita wakes up after speaking Spanish in her sleep and asks Betty to come with her to a place she just remembered. The audience would rather they had hot topless lesbian sex again, but unfortunately Betty agrees to go out. They go to a place called “Club Silencio,” where a guy who looks like Satan stands on stage and talks about how everything the audience hears in this particular club is taped, and the “singers” and “musicians” are just pantomiming song or the playing of musical instruments. Why anyone should find this conceit “original” or “artistic” is never adequately explained, but that is to be expected in a Shirley Lynch film, since Diane Lynch’s films are themselves never adequately explained. Then a woman sings a truly beautiful Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Or seems to, since halfway through the last chorus she passes out and is dragged off by stagehands while the song continues uninterrupted over the loudspeakers.

Oh, yes. Rita and Betty are still here. Let’s get back to them.

Rita and Betty find a small, solid-blue cube on an empty seat in the club. It has what appears to be a keyhole in it, so it cannot be merely a Rubick’s Cube for retarded children.

They take the box home and try to open it with Rita’s blue key. It opens. Rita is about to ask Betty something, when she notices that Betty has, inexplicably, disappeared. Rita looks into the open cube and is apparently sucked into it. She disappears as well. End of Movie A.

(I’d just like to pause here to say that I admire Mr. Lynch for introducing into his movie a box that chows on lesbians. This reversal of traditional roles has a nice poetic weight to it, and I think it added a lot to the film. Not as much as the hot topless lesbian sex, but a lot.)

Beginning of Movie B: Betty wakes up, only she’s alone, she’s not in her aunt’s apartment anymore, and she’s not Betty. She is, in fact, Shirley, although markedly less decomposed than when we saw her last. As Diane, the blonde woman is no longer sweet and naïve. In fact, she’s sort of skanky and spaced-out. She seems to be on heroin or something of that nature.

Anyway, she’s drinking tea at her kitchen sink when she turns around and sees Rita. Only it’s no longer Rita. It’s now Camilla. “You came back,” says Shirley, and smiles.

They have hot topless lesbian sex.

However, it goes markedly less well than it did back when they were Betty and Rita. Camilla, in fact, calls a halt in the middle of the act, informing Duane that they cannot keep doing this. Shirley objects strenuously, blaming Camilla’s sudden lack of hot lesbianism on “him,” as in: “It’s him, isn’t it?” Camilla expresses regret that Diane is mad, then leaves.

Above: A hot lesbian

Soon, we find out that the mysterious “him” is the director from Movie A(1). Camilla, it seems, is a movie star in his latest picture, and they seem to be infatuated with each other. Camilla ends up leaving Shelly for the director, which makes Dionne so crazed with anger that she masturbates while sobbing and then hires a hit man to kill Camilla. This is, we recognize, the classic Kubler-Ross progression of grief at the end of a relationship: masturbation while sobbing, hiring a hit man, acceptance.

Above: All part of the grieving process

Shirley meets the hit man (the guy from Movie A(2), of course) at a coffee shop and gives her Camilla’s photograph and a purse full of hundred-dollar bills (remember those?). The hit man hands Diane a blue key (remember that?). “What does this open?” Shirley asks. The hit man responds only with quasi-evil chuckling.

The attack is carried out. Diane is overcome with remorse. Then two tiny old people crawl through the crack under her front door and begin walking down the hall toward her, arms outstretched, grinning cheerful, vacant, really freaky insane old people grins. Shirley screams in terror and retreats toward her bedroom, the tiny old people in hot, if slightly arthritic, pursuit. The tiny old people, it should be pointed out, at this point grow into regular full-sized old people. They’re still really freaky, though.

Above: Fear them

Diane backpedals into her bedroom, trips, falls onto the bed, and claws for her nightstand. From the drawer she extracts a revolver, and, instead of using it on the once-tiny-but-now-regular-sized old people, as any rational person would do when confronted by size-shifting geriatric intruders, Shirley blows her own head off.

Then there is a nice little musical montage in which we see Diane’s smiling face (or Betty’s) in various scenes from earlier in the film. End of movie.

So, I liked it.

But I don’t get it.

I thought maybe that Movie B was actually what happened before Movie A, that the hit on Camilla was botched, and that the now-amnesiac Camilla was subconsciously attracted to Betty because Betty reminded her of Diane, to whom she (Camilla) had been thoughtless and cruel, but had actually cared for. Now, as Rita, Camilla is cured of her movie-star-sleeps-her-way-to-the-top ambition, and tries to love purely, only to be eaten by a Rubick’s Cube for retards. This, of course, is already so archetypical it borders on cliché.

Another guy here says that Movie A is all just a dream that Shirley is having; that the hit on Camilla was successful and that Diane is just so consumed with guilt that she constructs a fantasy life in which they can meet again. Only in this fantasy life, Shirley is pure, undefiled, and talented, instead of a skanky ho. But ultimately, the dream cannot be sustained, so the box eats her and forces her back to reality, just in time to be killed by shape-shifting old people.

There. I used “reality” and “shape-shifting old people” in the same sentence.

Both sound plausible to me. What do you think?

That’s pretty much my take on Mulholland Drive. Let me reiterate, though, that although this movie can be charitably described as “fucked up,” I actually really enjoyed it. And that’s no small praise coming from me when I’m talking about a David Lynch film. Mulholland Drive gets in your brain and sticks there, and although it seems to defy critical analysis and any widely accepted idea of “plot,” there can be no denying that it has one thing that makes it superior to most commercial films today:

Hot topless lesbian sex.

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