This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon, a collection of writings related to The Criterion Collection. The blogathon is hosted by hosted by Criterion Blues, Silver Screenings, and Speakeasy. Follow the #CRITERIONBLOGATHON HQ. Aaron West of Criterion Blues and I reviewed Mulholland Drive on the Criterion Close-Up podcast.
Mulholland Drive has been described as an enigma; OK, so has the film’s director, David Lynch. There are many theories on what the film means or how the plot fits together. Interesting to consider, of course, but what was the director’s intentions outside of the plot? Each viewing of Mulholland Drive yields new ideas and interpretations so with the Criterion Collections’ most welcome release on blu-ray and DVD of the film so let’s focus on director David Lynch’s commentary.
Mulholland Drive stars Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Justin Theroux about an amnesiac and a Hollywood-hopeful searching for clues as to Harring’s characters’ identify. Mulholland Drive was originally pitched as a pilot to a follow-up television series to Twin Peaks on ABC. After the pilot was rejected, Lynch considered how to make the pilot into a feature film. The rest of the film came to him after a session of Transcendental Meditation.
There are three themes that David Lynch may be considering in Mulholland Drive: the loss of innocence, power, and artifice as it relates to both film and life itself. Lynch would cut through the artifice of suburban life in is excellent 1986 films Blue Velvet. Here he directly references Hollywood and the studio system.
The very first scene speaks to a loss of the innocence of the 1950’s. With the 50’s music and dancing Lynch seems nostalgic for that era of music and film. Later we see the film within the film as Adam is casting his film with the actors lip synching Linda Scott’s “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star”. Lynch was not making films during that period but may be pining for those days.
Power and who is pulling the strings is another prominent theme in Lynch’s films. Viewers could assume gangster rule in Mulholland Drive, but gangsters seem more of a façade of what Lynch may consider more sinister in the film executive with absolute artistic control. From the homeless person who Dan at Winkie’s says is “…the one who’s doing it” to Mr. Roque, the man behind the glass; who holds the keys? The cowboy represents intimidation and control. Viewers might be reminded of the man towards the end of On The Waterfront who we only see from behind but who is certainly Johnny Friendly’s overseer. Though Mulholland Drive’s pilot and much of the film was produced before he faced studio rejection one wonders if Lynch is commenting on the loss of artistic control and the sovereignty of the studio executive.
We see references to the artifice of film in the Silencio scenes. “No hay banda” – there is no band. Lynch could well be saying there is no film. Mulholland Drive has been compared to Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” in how the protagonists’ personas meld, but Bergman also references the end of film in a scene where the film itself we are watching breaks apart. The artifice of life could be in the two difference lives we see of Betty/Diane Selwyn; which life was real and is the reality more important than the fantasy.
Criterion Collection blu-ray and DVD: Per David Lynch’s customary request, there are no Chapters, Timeline, or Bookmarking features on the Criterion disc. Also not surprising for a release of this caliber is the slipcase digipak packaging. From the Criterion site are the disc features:
David Lynch references film when Laura Harring’s amnesiac character takes the name Rita from a poster of Rita Hayworth in “Gilda”, releasing January 19th, 2016 from The Criterion Collection. His Mulholland Drive television pilot was rejected but in its place is perhaps his best work.