When David Lynch's Blue Velvet came out in 1986 I went with a bunch of college guys and was quickly ostracized by the rest of the group for being the only one who didn't like it. There was something way too self conscious and smug about the movie that really irritated me.
As a director Lynch seemed to be winking at the elite cinema-as-art crowd (many who happened to be male and college aged). It was as if he was saying "this movie is too deep, too arty for the general public who will only be disturbed by it and won't 'get' it." Well maybe I didn't really get it or see the point beyond a director getting his own jollies by making his lead actress appear naked on a lawn, spread eagled and crucified as we gawk and say how deep it all is. That the rest of the movie was this uncomfortable mixture of odd characters, images and campy humor made the intensity of the undeserved last scene even more unforgivable.
I am the unofficial list organizer of my office. As a way to get to know each other better and to entertain ourselves we do a weekly top ten favorites list. Last week's topic was "least favorite movies of all time." Deservedly Blue Velvet appeared near the top of my list and that elicited a familiar response: "Hey David! Blue Velvet?? Obviously you don't understand David Lynch's vision or the term tongue in cheek..." a photographer responded. The photographer went on to write that I needed to get the hate out of my heart and let the love in. I'd agree with the sentiment if only I still had a heart left. Plus I thought Lynch's foray into TV, Twin Peaks was a great series (at least for a while). The pilot was about as good a start to a series as I've even seen. At the time I thought that Lynch was the rare director who may have benefited from being boxed in by television's limitations. The commercial restrictions of the medium kept his excesses in check. Unfortunately the series quickly dissolved into being weird for the sake of being weird and it quite frankly didn't live up to its original premise.
I always thought the strength of Twin Peaks was the eccentrics somewhat based in reality: the Log Lady; the romance between the naive and dim deputy Andy and the naive and neurotic sheriff's secretary Lucy as opposed to the surreal plot interruptions: the dancing backwards talkin' midget and whatever Bob turned out to be.
Somewhat ironic in its timing and quite unintentionally after being criticized once again for not getting "it" the following day I went to Lynch's latest effort Mulholland Drive. I had been meaning to see the movie for quite some time after a couple of people whose opinions I respect most in such matters recommended the movie. When I saw it was playing at the neighborhood cheap theater I fought my way through my weariness and planted my feet firmly on the sticky floor of the most run down suburban theater in the area.
When the movie was finished I heard some audible snickers from the rest of the audience. I didn't know what to make of what I had just seen. Further I didn't know whether I loved or hated what I had just seen. So I went back and saw it again a few nights later. I can't think of another movie that made me go "huh?" more than this one. And while I've often thought that was the point of much of Lynch's other work, this one somehow intrigued me. I certainly won't forget it for a while. I'm still not sure but here are a few guesses what Mulholland Drive is ultimately about: a) a jilted lesbian b) a delusional loner c) a bright eyed and bushy tailed eager young Hollywood starlet who wants to be a film actress or maybe a movie star or maybe either one or both d) the place where dreams interfere with memories e) the place where dreaming outside the box can lead to the ultimate self fulfilling fantasy f) the place where dreaming inside the box can lead to illusions that you want to badly believe g) a movie director who isn't allowed to make the movie he wants to make h) all of the above i) none of the above j) who knows?
And yes, I think when all is said and done I do like this movie. It's everything that Blue Velvet wanted to be but wasn't capable of being. There is even a reference back to the 1986 film with a Roy Orbison song being sung (this time in Italian or maybe French or maybe backwards midget language). Mulholland Drive also reminded me of my all time favorite film, Pulp Fiction with its episodic structure of seemingly unrelated events being loosely tied up in the end (so to speak) and its humor based on discomfort. Both movies also have mysterious boxes that are either central to the plot or peripheral in every sense of the word.
Naomi Watts is terrific in the lead playing a dual role (or maybe it's just one or maybe she's not playing at all) with her perky pluck as Betty in her Debbie Reynolds's outfit (and derriere). Watts pulls off the complexity of the dual roles so well that when she shows up in the movie not as the perky Betty but as the spent Diane Selwyn I wasn't even sure it was the same actress (and check out the different nuances created by her reading of the cheesy script she's trying out for first in a practice run and then with the sleazy!? Chad Everett). And while it might be the makeup and lack of (a lesson learned from the unforgettable five wheeler who said she could knock the wind out of any man when she puts on the right makeup and believe me I believed seeing another irresistible devilish side first hand) I somehow think it's the fluid dreamlike ambiance created by Lynch's direction that causes the intentional disorientation in the shift of the storyline and our thinking of who the Watt's character is (and what we ultimately think of her).
The other leading actress, Laura Elena Harring, plays a woman who doesn't know her own name and steals one from a similarly fashioned screen vixen and has the same name as the villainous Connie Francis wannabe. The relationship between Watts and Harring is at the heart of the story and at first we may think it's based on curiosity and love and respect but later we think (maybe) that it's based on jealously, possessiveness and cruelty (and maybe all the aforementioned are one and the same).
There are the typical Lynch oddities included but in a movie that seems to take place in a dreamlike trance those oddities seem somewhat tolerable. We are left to wonder what is the deal with (and can appreciate and even chuckle at): the cowboy, the monster behind Winkies, the maniacally happy elderly couple, the wrinkled little guy in the wheelchair, the foreign film mogul who's more than a little particular about his expressos, the bushy mustached hotel manager who is moonlighting as an Italian Ed Sullivan, the Billy Ray Cyrus played character telling the husband of the woman he's caught in bed with "Sometimes it's good not to remember what you see" and Coco the apartment complex owner who complains about the tenant who had a boxing kangaroo who messed up the courtyard.
More than any of the others the cowboy seems to be at the center of things with his cryptic message of if we see him one more time the director did things right but if we see him two more times and the director did things wrong (of course we see him twice more). Mulholland Drive in many ways is Lynch's most personal story yet. After all he has a director in the plot who is being told what he has to do (to make his movie and possibly even live). Mulholland Drive is a movie about Hollywood or maybe with its person asleep under a pillow beginning it's a movie that's all just a dream (or set in Hollywood it is just a movie about a dream). It's about where dreams cross into delusion and fantasy and yet it really isn't about anything at all and it all gets under your skin (the cowboy asks the baffled director, experiencing the worst day of his life, if he agrees that a person's attitude can affect where they are going in life).
If there is one thing I could have changed about Lynch's rejected TV pilot made into a movie is its title. Mulholland Drive, where the movie opens, certainly is an important place in the plot but I think the movie could more accurately be titled: The Man Who Killed Laura Palmer; I've Been Lynched; Not Exactly a Straight Story; Mulling Over MD. Hmmm I still say.