Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive ★★★★★

I had planned to rewatch Mulholland Drive on the anniversary of its premiere at Cannes, which in my mind was May 17th 2001. Then I found out last night that the premiere was actually on May 16th. By that point it was too late, but never one to let a technicality get in the way I decided I would forge ahead this morning anyway.

Mulholland Drive has been my favourite film since probably my second or third viewing, where most of the pieces (though not all of them) seemed to click into place in terms of my understanding its labyrinthine twists and turns. Though my Letterboxd stats will tell you this is my sixth viewing, that's only since I began my account in January 2018. In truth, the number is probably closer to fifteen at this point, and there are still new bits and pieces I pick up each time I watch.

So, in celebration of twenty years (and one day) of Mulholland Drive, I present twenty (and one) reasons why it's my favourite film.

But before we begin, a note on spoilers: I haven't spoiler tagged this review because I don't go terribly in depth on the plot or major twists. I do, however, allude to some things you may not wish to know if you've never seen the film.

And with that out of the way, Twenty (and one) reasons why Mulholland Drive is my favourite film:

1. The opening jitterbug. This manages to throw me off every time, because I always remember the film opening with the limo driving up the eponymous street. The ominous musical notes that open over the austere title card, transitioning into the surreal dance sequence masterfully wrong foots me every time, and I can scarcely think of a more perfect set up for what's to come.

2. The way David Lynch and DP Peter Deming shoot light sources in the night scenes. They're constantly overexposed, blooming in these huge and crazy ways. Especially noticeable in the opening crash sequence, and later on where our protagonists take a taxi to the nightclub. It's like a stranger and dreamier take on the work Dean Cundey did with John Carpenter in the night scenes of Escape From New York and The Fog.

3. Robert Forster and Brent Briscoe's single scene as the archetypical film noir detectives. Their presence in what amounts to only a cameo helps to ground the early goings of the story within the trappings of the noir/mystery genre, preparing us partly for what's to come, and partly to have the rug pulled out from beneath us. That it comes in the comforting form of Forster and Briscoe is simply icing on the cake, along with the fact they were cast in similar roles more than a decade later in the third season of Twin Peaks.

4. The scene at Winkie's but specifically the haunting look Dan's therapist Herb gives him when he's stood at the counter. Many scenes in the film feature a creeping sense of dread, but this is the first and might be the most effective, and a lot of it is down to the pitch perfect performances from Patrick Fischler and Michael Cooke. It's a moment that's evoked again later on to produce a different emotion. I also still oscillate between them being in a therapist/patient relationship or them simply being friends out for brunch... This time I came down on the side of therapist, but next time I may not.

5. "Now I'm in this dream place!" is a piece of dialogue that fits in so perfectly with Naomi Watts' deliberately naive performance of Betty Elms that the winking significance of it didn't even hit me until I'd already seen the movie several times.

6. The sheer terror in the room when Luigi Castigliane spits his espresso out onto the napkin. It's already a ridiculously funny moment, but made even moreso by the fact that everyone else in the room is acting like he just took out a gun. Angelo Badalamenti looks like the most Italian man of all time in this scene.

7. And speaking of Italian, when the Castigliane brothers are staring down Adam Kesher, Lynch films in close ups on each of their eyes, cutting between them like it's the final duel in a Sergio Leone Western. David Lynch is famously secretive about his projects, but if I were to ever meet him, the question of this influence would be one of the things I'd ask about.

8. The absurdist Lynchian comedy of the botched assassination. Everything from the way Vincent Castellanos' hair stands horizontal where the bullet passed through, to "Something bit me bad!"

9. Another piece of comedy; Adam Kesher arriving home to find his wife cheating on him with Gene, the pool guy. Justin Theroux goes ham on some luminous pink paint. And Billy Ray Cyrus' deadpan "He's probably upset, Lorraine" makes me laugh every single time.

10. The slow build of signs that things aren't what they seem. From the aforementioned "dream place" nod to the fact Betty and Rita sit in the same Winkie's booth as previously occupied by Dan and Herb. Then shortly after, a strange telephone call to a Diane Selwyn. "Strange to be calling yourself," says Betty.

11. The audition scene - both permutations. The second is the moment the entire movie turns on, as Naomi Watts finally drops the aw shucks act to showcase Betty Elms at her height as she plays with seducing Woody Katz and everyone else in the room. It's one of those moments that's so blindsiding because of all the ground laid leading up to it in Watts' misleading performance. But no more so than the fact we get to see the audition a couple of scenes earlier as Betty and Rita practice it. Laura Harring is delightfully (and deliberately) wooden in her line reads, and Watts delivers a fever pitch soap opera take on the fever pitch soap opera material. "Such a lame scene!" she complains when they're done, and she's not wrong. But even that lame material is transformed into something breathtaking by the sheer power of her performance when it comes time for her to step up.

12. And speaking of the audition scene, the absent minded director ("Don't play it for real, until it gets real") and the hammy old perv of an actor ("Show me where it hurts, baby!") are delightfully placed as figures of archetypal Hollywood lore.

13. The Sixteen Reasons scene. There was no way I was letting this go by without mentioning what is perhaps my all time favourite scene. As the Connie Stevens music swells and Betty steps onto the set. Adam turns around in his chair to regard her and the camera pushes in on them both like it's old Hollywood love at first sight. Only when Betty looks away and looks back, her eyes seem to swim with fear on top of longing. It's a moment of pure perfect storytelling, capturing all the emotions you could ever need between two characters without them having to say a word to each other. And for a moment as the two main storylines collide we believe that just maybe Adam will tell the mobsters where to get off and go ahead and cast Betty anyway, against their wishes.

14. But of course it all comes crashing down with the appearance of Melissa George as Camilla Rhodes. And her audition... isn't good. She overdoes it in a pretty big way, wearing a huge grin and swaying her shoulders as she mimes to the song. Per instructions, this is the girl. But for this moment, we know she's not the right girl. And it's heart rending.

15. The slow burn daylight horror of the Sierra Bonita apartment scene. Similar to the Winkie's scene from earlier, only now with the added weight of featuring the two characters we've come to care about over the preceding 90 or so minutes. Even as it seems as though they may finally be on the cusp of getting some answers to the various mysteries that have been building, the whole thing is suffused by a sense of dread that refuses to dissipate until the sequence hits its nightmare climax.

16. The haunting mirror shot of Betty and a newly blone Rita. Originally the final shot, when this thing was pitched as a pilot, and for good reason. It feels like a culminating moment from everything that's come before, but also a gateway into something new. It is also the moment when the theatrical feature vision for how this story will end takes full hold.

17. Leading into the end of the second act, the camera begins to drift in and out of focus aggressively, marking the point where things become psychically unhinged.

18. The entire Club Silencio sequence, start to finish. A masterclass in nightmarish and surreal filmmaking that manages to incorporate humour (the Master of Ceremonies tossing his cane) and tragedy (Rebekah Del Rio's heartbreaking cover of Roy Orbison's Crying). On top of everything else, it's the key to unlocking the meaning of the whole film. No hay banda.

19. Angelo Badalamenti does some of his best composing work outside of Twin Peaks in this movie, but I absolutely love the piece "Pretty 50s" by David Lynch and John Neff, which drifts melancholically in and out in the third act's most tragic and beautiful sequence. Far from the falling in love that was Adam and Betty's first meeting on the set, now Naomi Watts can only stare at him with utter revulsion as he commits an unforgivable betrayal.

20. But speaking of Badalamenti, his swelling music scores a wonderful and affecting moment as Naomi Watts and Laura Harring take one last walk hand in hand up a moonlit woodland path.

And finally, 21. The way Lynch and editor Mary Sweeney subvert the cinematic language of linearity and editing to make dreams feel like reality and reality feel like a dream -- or a waking nightmare.

This might be the longest thing I've written on Letterboxd, so if you've read this far, thank you so much! As you can probably tell from the above, I love this film pretty much unreservedly. It's probably not going to be my last word on the matter since I fully expect that in another twenty years time, I'll still be finding it just as gorgeous and confounding, but for now I think this lays out pretty well why I consider it my favourite.

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