Blu-ray Review: Mulholland Dr. | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, November 27th, 2021  

Mulholland Dr.

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Nov 19, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

There’s a shot early on in Mulholland Dr. in which Detective McKnight (played by Robert Forster) overlooks the iconic view of Los Angeles from the titular road in which an auto accident has just occurred. This nighttime POV shot, revealing the city in all of its quiet splendor and glory from a bird’s eye view, is placed over Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score, seething underneath the beautiful yet cold panorama. This juxtaposition of ungraspable beauty with corrosive terror is a subtle but important moment in this conundrum of a film, which at 20 years old still stands among the most analyzed to death films of all time, alongside other perplexing cinematic milestones such as Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Much like these films, David Lynch’s magnum opus Mulholland Dr. continues to fascinate not because of any concrete answers it holds, but for the questions it provokes in each individual viewer.

Initially conceived as a TV series for ABC and described by Lynch as “a love story in the city of dreams,” Mulholland Dr. was set up to be a spiritual successor to Lynch’s much-beloved Twin Peaks, with its plethora of quirky characters and inexplicable goings-on amid a seemingly idyllic American landscape. When ABC pulled the plug after an executive viewed the pilot, Lynch would go on to tack an additional hour of film to the 90-minute pilot, with financial support coming from French studio Canal+.

Viewing Mulholland Dr. certainly feels like watching a TV pilot in its first 90 minutes. Characters such as Detective McKnight feel as if they will make a significant reappearance, and they most certainly would have, had the time constraints of a feature-length film not been a problem. Lynch has gone on to state that ABC cancelling Mulholland Dr. was the best thing to happen to the project, as it was always meant to be a feature-length film. It’s difficult not to agree with Lynch on this—in making Mulholland Dr. a film, the arc of its main characters remain relatively undiluted, with the deluge of supporting characters providing an endlessly ambiguous psychological framework with which to portray its central, timeless, tragic love story.

Naomi Watts, then a relatively unknown actress, delivers perhaps the best performance of her career, playing many different facets of the same person (or perhaps several different people, depending on how you view the film). In the first portion of the film, she portrays the unrealistically naive and optimistic aspiring actress Betty. If one pays close enough attention, it becomes apparent that her voice is dubbed over in her first scene—a brilliantly subtle means of depicting the vapidity of her archetypal character. This surface level depiction of a Hollywood hopeful begins to melt away over the course of the first half, morphing into something more heartbreakingly real and tangible as her desire for the woman of her (literal?) dreams in Laura Elena Harring’s character(s) continues to blossom.

It’s become rather obvious at this point that finding definite answers to all of Mulholland Dr.’s never-ending slew of mysteries is a futile effort. This is a film that makes the most sense from an emotional standpoint, something that will intrinsically differ depending on the viewer and where they are in their life. The surrealism and uncanniness of dream logic inherent in the film, and most of Lynch’s work for that matter, gives the viewer a primal understanding of the film’s emotions, with all of its various characters/symbols/points of contention being something of a Rorschach test for the individual. Various interpretations often collide and refract to create entirely new ones—look no further than for an idea of how endlessly perplexing the film can be. It’s perhaps the closest cinema has ever gotten to resembling a hall of mirrors.

Repeated viewings of Mulholland Dr. speak volumes to just how much nuance and detail Lynch put into every facet of the film, from the script to the art direction and, of course, to the sound design. Distortion, reverb, and a barrage of other effects are used in such an experimental and interesting way that it makes one wish more directors took as many risks with sound as Lynch. After all, as he states, sound is half the picture, and Mulholland Dr. certainly wouldn’t be the same without its soundtrack—at times quirky, at others terrifying, always unpredictable, and certainly intrinsic to the psychological effectiveness of this complicated and warped film.

All of the film’s ambiguities would be for naught, however, if it didn’t have a strong emotional and thematic core, and it is this very element of the film that gives it its lasting power. Lynch, as an artist, is always interested in “putrefaction,” or decay of the ideal. The spectacular view of Hollywood from the titular road, as was mentioned earlier, also overlooks all of the lost hopes and dreams of nearly a century’s worth of people who didn’t make it in the movies—Mulholland Dr. is a profoundly affecting deconstruction and decomposition of that dream, where idealism, as portrayed by Betty in the beginning of the film, withers into jadedness and resignation. The dream is no longer exciting and new, and as the enigmatic cowboy character states at the film’s turning point, it’s “time to wake up.”

In a film that hinges on the minutiae of its details, viewing it in Criterion’s stunning new 4K release is simply the best way to experience its obtuse and at times phantasmagoric imagery. It certainly is a spectacle to behold, especially for devout fans of the film. Peter Deming’s photography has never looked more beautiful than it does here, illuminating the picturesque photographic quality of the first half and the haunting, grittier look of the second half. Special features from the original Blu-ray release remain intact, and make for an entertaining and informative smorgasbord, containing interviews with Lynch, Watts, Harring, actor Justin Theroux, Badalamenti, cinematographer Peter Deming, production designer Jack Fisk, and casting director Johanna Ray, along with behind-the-scenes footage and a super cool booklet featuring an interview excerpt with Lynch from his 2005 book, Lynch on Lynch.



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