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— Edward Arnold, The Devil and Daniel Webster

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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About 2/3 of the way into David Lynch’s latest sensual mind-fuck noir, Mulholland Drive, the film’s leading females (Naomi Watts and Laura Harring) take a visit to a hyper-surreal nightclub in an abandoned alley.

Inside the club (¡Silencio!) they experience a dreamland variety show, where a sequence of performers carry out a vaudevillian stage show with the apparent aid of a soundtrack running behind the curtain. The show revolves around the way that sound affects audience perception, climaxing with a spine tingling Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” by unknown vocalist Rebekah Del Rio. When “Llorando” begins, it looks suspiciously like Del Rio isn’t doing the singing herself. The action is disorienting, and the song seems forced. As the vocals and images synch, the effect is genuinely breathtaking, and Del Rio’s a cappella sails through the theater.

Put a Spell on You

Naomi Watts and Laura Harring lead the way Understanding the importance of sound is no new thing for Lynch. In Blue Velvet, he put together memorable moments around another Orbison hit – “In Dreams”, and brought Isabella Rossellini’s sexuality to the forefront with a solo performance of the film’s namesake. In Lost Highway, he called on the appropriately dark and angry talents of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor to create a virtually flawless moody soundtrack (with Lou Reed, Barry Adamson, David Bowie, Brian Eno, and others). Even early in his career, the persistent exacerbating noises Lynch used in the cult classic Eraserhead produced some of the strangest (and most deliciously unbearable) movie watching in indie cinema history.

The success of Lynch’s sonic experimentations has largely been the result of his association with composer Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti has made a mark on Twin Peaks, The Straight Story, Hotel Room, and a variety of other Lynch projects in addition to recent work on both Holy Smoke and The Beach. Badalamenti’s tones are always as dark and enigmatic as Lynch’s filmmaking, though the composer himself gives credit to the director, whom he calls a “master sound engineer”. Whomever the credit belongs to, sound is a huge part of what makes Lynch’s work, including Mulholland Drive, so challenging and enjoyable to watch.

The Pilot Plot

Mulholland Drive was originally conceived of as a two-hour pilot for a new series on ABC. Caught in the middle of the Post-Columbine anti-violence movement and apparently mired in a tightly sealed taste vacuum, ABC executives passed on the series, leaving Lynch to fend for his own.

He turned to Europe, where he found French funding to the tune of $7 million from Canal Plus. With new funding and some new plot concepts that made the film far more of a finite entity, Lynch reconvened the cast and post-production staff for a serious update.

The result is a two-hour film focusing on strange and beautiful Los Angeles that won Lynch the Best Director award at Cannes.

The nuts and bolts of the “plot” are thus:

An acting newbie (Naomi Watts) fresh from Ontario, Canada, heads to LA to make her mark in capital h Hollywood and spend some time living in her former movie star aunt’s shwanky, temporarily uninhabited pad. While there, she comes across an amnesiac former actress (Laura Harring) who has narrowly escaped death at the hands of Hollywood’s netherworld forces. Together, they search out Rita’s past and attempt to make their mark in “Czar of Bizarre” Lynch’s version of good ol’ Los Angeles.

Of course, it’s far from that simple. There’s a plotline featuring a young director (Justin Theroux – American Psycho, Who Shot Andy Warhol) whose attempts to make a film are thwarted by the mob, the guy who played the backward-talking monkey man in the Twin Peaks series, and a whole cast of fabulously bizarre characters. Lynch tosses in a Billy Ray Cyrus cameo, a disfigured monster-faced guy, screaming miniature evil grandparents, and a boatload of highly commendable lesbian sexuality to keep us on our toes.

Expectations

As usual, the absence of a truly linear plotline will keep a certain portion of the audience completely flabbergasted. While, by far, more comprehensible than some of Lynch’s other flicks (i.e. Lost Highway), Mulholland Drive is far from your typical L.A. Story.

Those familiar with Lynch’s schtick, however will find in Mulholland Drive a fabulous opportunity to sit back and thoroughly enjoy the familiar sights and sounds of the film world ‘s most famous odd auteur.