Film review: Mulholland Dr (2001)

Originally was going to be a made for TV production, ended up being a film. A star making performance by attractive Naomi Watts.

All his career, director David Lynch has made films that demand something from his audience. The story doesn’t have a traditional beginning middle and end. On the DVD, Lynch himself has reluctantly provided David Lynch’s 10 clues to unlocking Mulholland Dr (To be fair, I don’t know if you can ever fully understand a Lynch film, but some of the major structures may be solvable)

The movie makes detectives of the audience. For example, notice how the cup changes into a glass above. The story is like a dream most of the time, we must try and decode what’s reality and what’s a dream world.

Los Angeles is in many ways the main character in Mulholland Drive, and together with Angelo Badalamenti’s music is a very atmospheric location. It’s a place where everyone dreams of being someone, or something else. It can make a few of those dreams come true, while shattering the rest. It’s the city where many would-be actors have two names – the one they were given at birth and the one created especially for their successful other selves.

Roads seem to appear often in Lynchs films.
Lynch: “And Fellini’s La Strada is one of my favourite films! A road, I’ve been thinking, is a moving forward into the unknown and that’s compelling to me. That’s also what films are – the lights go down, the curtain opens and away we go, but we don’t know where we’re going” (quoted from the book Lynch on Lynch)

Spoilers ahead: Lynch talks about the Naomi Watts character from Mulholland Drive in the interview book Lynch on Lynch:

“This particular girl – Diane – sees things she wants but she just can’t get them. It’s all there – the party – but she’s not invited. And it gets to her. You could call it fate – if it doesn’t smile on you, there’s nothing you can do. You can have the greatest talent and the greatest ideas, but if that door doesn’t open, you’re fresh out of luck. It takes so many ingredients and the door opening, to finally make it. There are jokes about how in LA everyone has got a resume and a photo. So there’s a yearning to get the chance to express yourself – a sort of creativity in the air. Everyone is willing to go for broke and take a chance. It’s a modern town in that way. It’s like you want to go to Las Vegas and turn that one dollar into a million dollars. Sunset Boulevard (1950) says so much about that Hollywood dream thing to me”

Interviewer: And you’ve included some specific references, or allusions to Wilder’s movie in your own?
Lynch: “There’s a shot in Mulholland Drive of a street sign that says Sunset Boulevard. I would have loved to put a small piece of the original music in there”.
Lost Highway seemed to occupy at least two completely different decades. Mulholland Drive is also defiantly contemporary and yet it has a feeling that it’s happening in the past – the fifties or even the thirties and forties. Lynch: “But that’s so much like our actual lives. Many times during the day we plan for the future, and many times in that day we think of the past. We’re listening to retro radio, and watching retro TV. There are all kinds of opportunities to re-live the past and there are new things coming up every second”

Asked about what genre Mulholland Drive fits into, Lynch answers:
“There may be noir elements in Mulholland Drive, and a couple of genres swimming around in there together. For me, it’s a love story (…) All the characters are dealing somewhat with a question of identity. Like everyone” (Lynch on Lynch, page 269-293)

I’ve also read the “cowboy” could be interpreted as a meta level, Lynch speaking directly to the audience through that character.

Cowboy: “You will see me one more time, if you do good, you’ll see me two more times, if you do bad”
In other words, talking about how many viewings it would take for you to better understand the ambiguity.

A lot of trademark Lynch can be observed, dreams, nods to the 50s, taboo sexuality, downright weirdness, the use of electricity and lamps, music provided by composer Angelo Badalamenti, etc. A clue to solving what’s going on I heard about in the actors studio, where host James Lipton says the name on the badge the waitress is wearing is different depending on who’s looking at her, so someone must be wrong.

Among my favourite Lynch films. Several scenes play out as comedy, which is part of the charm and appeal for me, the director shows he has a sense of humour and doesn’t take everything too seriously.

Although not horror, to me, the film at times has the atmosphere of a video game like Phantasmagoria, where you play a beautiful blond trying to solve a mystery with dangers lurking around every corner, keys and secret doors, etc.



Readers, any thoughts on Mulholland Dr?

Film review: The Straight Story (1999)

Deceptively straightforward (no pun intended) story about old man Alvin Straight, who travels on a lawn mower to visit his brother. He’s a stubborn old timer who refuses to listen to his doctor, he does his own thing. Along with The Elephant Man, I think this is probably Lynch’s most tender and tear-inducing movie.

Lynch quoted from the book, The Complete Lynch:

“The Straight Story is an unusual film for me. But I was so moved by the screenplay that soon enough I found myself in Iowa. It doesn’t matter if the story is true or not. It’s a story. Everything is a story. This is a different world than I’ve been in, one in which nature plays a big part. And, although it appears to be calm, there are many things going on”

According to an interview done with Cousins for The Straight Story on youtube, Lynch thinks, in an ideal world, you should come to a film knowing nothing about it. In the opening, we float slowly into the story. In that interview, Lynch admits there is only one Alvin Straight, but that there are similar qualities to Lynch’s own father, being a cowboy with an inner strength coupled with an innocence and tenderness. Also discussed in the interview is how some people stay in the same town all their life, and Lynch compares The Straight Story to It’s A Wonderful Life, where Lynch thinks you don’t have to travel around to get a lot of experiences. Without giving too much away, one of the scenes has the camera moving up into the sky, and Lynch claims this is to show the small and the infinite, the stars are there for everybody, and they make you dream, Alvin Straight shared the stars with someone, and it’s a beautiful memory. The Elephant man (1980) also contained such a scene filming the stars.

Actor Richard Farnsworth met many of the people who’s lives had been touched by Alvin Straight:
“He was very independent. He might not have had any money, but he didn’t want anyone to know about it. He was a very hard-headed old guy. I might have played him a little softer than he is” (The Complete Lynch, page 227)

Mary Sweeny talks about:
“it was really important to them to be emotional but not sentimental, which is really hard to do, and thank God David directed it, because our script could so easily have turned into a schmaltzy glossy Hallmark version of this guy’s life”

The snail’s pace editing gave time to show the simple pleasures of watching a breeze waft across a cornfield, or emotions play across a face. Similar in some respects to The Elephant Man, Lynch’s earlier true-life portrayal of a sensitive soul trapped in a failing body.

Both The Straight Story and Lynch’s Wild at heart (1990) are road movies, albeit moving at vastly different speeds. Perhaps the story of Alvin Straight allowed Lynch to quietly oppose the often mindless speed of so much contemporary cinema, or even the world we live in. When you drive slowly through the US, it gives you the opportunity to meet some people from the different cities on the way, something road movies tend to strive towards.

What about Alvin Straights many encounters with people in the movie? Were they based on actual meetings?
Lynch: “A lot of them were and some were not” (…) “In my mind, Alvin could have travelled in much easier ways but these would not have meant the same to his brother. His journey to me was about forgiveness and making something right” (Lynch on Lynch)

A life-affirming story, I love parts of the music score by Angelo Badalamenti, the pacing, and some of the quotes that we hear are very memorable to me. I think my favourite scene is when Alvin talks about how a bunch of sticks, as opposed to just a single stick, are strong and unbreakable, like family.

Other road movies starring an old man you might enjoy are Harry and Tonto (1974) or About Schmidt (2002)

Readers, any thoughts on The Straight Story?

Film review: Lost Highway (1997)

A psychological thriller film with elements of neo-noir. Something about this David Lynch movie has me hooked every time. Contains one of my favourite opening credits sequences. So mysterious and with an awesome song, which in it’s own twisted way sums up the movie. Another reason I love the film is the 90s soundtrack. Despite receiving mixed reviews upon initial release, the film has now developed a cult following.

The soundtrack is really great, highlights for me are Lou Reed’s This Magic Moment, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Eye, (who I don’t usually like), David Bowie’s I’m Deranged, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Insensatez.

Much like Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, it’s a cryptic film that demands repeat viewings to better understand what’s going on. I’m pretty sure Lynch has added some Hitchcock MacGuffins to confuse his audience!

Another favourite sequence of mine is where Pullman meets the mystery man/death character, who says “We’ve met before, haven’t we?” So creepy and atmospheric to me.

Definitely one of the darkest and most disturbing Lynch films along with Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart.

The car chase was actually a situation Lynch himself experienced, I noticed on the extra features of Twin Peaks.

A minor problem I have with the film is the sound, the dialogue on my dvd is very soft, but when they shift to the club and saxophone, it’s very loud all of a sudden. Although, this may be intentional for the shock value. Unfortunately, I find myself turning the volume up and down.

Spoilers ahead: I’ve heard in an interview on Canal Plus, that Lynch was inspired by the O.J. Simpson trial, in such a way that O.J. could go on living despite the killings. People do things, and yet they keep on living. Lost Highway is about how you can repress some events and feelings in order to continue living a normal life. Having something, and the mind helping you to hide it, but sometimes these terrible things reveal themselves briefly, when the mind doesn’t work.

Lynch on Lost Highway: “A graphic investigation into parallel identity crises. A world where time is dangerously out of control. A terrifying ride down the lost highway

Lynch fell in love with a sentence from the book Night People by Barry Gifford: “We’re just a couple of Apaches ridin’ wild on the lost highway”.

Lynch on the title: “Its just a dreamy thing – Lost Highway. It evokes all kinds of things in your head. And then later on I found out that Hank Williams has written a song called Lost Highway” (Lynch on Lynch, page 221)

Interviewer: Fred and Renees house has an uncertain geography. It seems that it might be endless: that once you step into it, you’re entering some potentially vast, dark labyrinth. Dorothy Vallen’s apartment in Blue Velvet is a little like that.

Lynch: “Right. And that’s the way it is in relationships sometimes. You just don’t know how they’re going to go, if there’s an end to them or if there’s just more trouble” (Lynch on Lynch, page 225)
The metaphor of waking up beside your partner and experiencing them as a stranger can perhaps be traced back to some of Freud’s writing, a contemplation on how we grow apart?

I think the main character is losing his mind. One interpretation of the film is that in this breakdown the main character tries to imagine a better life for himself, but he’s so messed up that even this imaginary life goes wrong. The mistrust and madness in him are so deep that even his fantasies end in a nightmare. Lynch as quoted in Lynch on Lynch: “But why though. Because of this person. This woman. No matter which place you first start walking, eventually you’re going to walk into trouble – if you’re walking with the wrong person

Lost Highway has the logic of a dream, in other words there is no logic! Anything is possible in a dream, and everything doesn’t necessarily make sense, even for the director creating the dream.

In case you’re curious, a clue to solving the ending is the Pullman scene at about 23 minutes into the movie, where he talks about he likes to remember things his own way, not necessarily the way they happened. Good luck!

Readers, any thoughts on Lost Highway?

For more on Lost Highway, I recommend the website 35 years of David Lynch



Film review: Blue Velvet (1986)

In a very honest and personal frame-by-frame interview with Cousins (on youtube), Lynch talks about the beginning of Blue Velvet, how it’s a slow dreamy feeling, where things can go either way.

A disturbing vision of small town life in America. Kyle Maclachlin plays a voyeuristic amateur detective named Jeffrey, and he is sort of director David Lynch’s alter ego, with that trademark buttoned-up look. Lynch stated in the interview above, that he doesn’t like wind on his collarbone.

Lynch is a very visual storyteller. Those blue curtains in the opening credits sure are strange and dreamlike, they don’t look like regular cloth. They represent what the film is about, something hidden. A theatre curtain that will soon reveal the story. Another indication of delving beneath the surface is the iceberg model at the police station, which probably symbolizes that certain things are out of sight to the people of Lumberton, most of the iceberg is below the surface.

In the first few minutes, the man waving from the fire truck is interesting, is he waving to the audience, and why? Perhaps to make us aware that we the audience are also voyeurs like Jeffrey is.
I love the metaphor of the insects down in the grass, an insect battle that encapsles everything dark under the surface of the perfect green lawn and white picket fence. Things are not what they seem.

Jeffrey’s role models at home and his childhood world is kind of falling apart, the story is a coming of age tale about Jeffrey discovering the real world outside the safe environment of his family. He goes on a journey to the dark side of Lumberton and himself.

Lynch on Blue Velvet:

“Surrealism deals with things that are hidden beneath the surface, and in most of the cases the subconscious. Blue Velvet is a film that deals with things that are hidden within a small town called Lumberton, and things that are hidden within people”

Blue Velvet can be perceived as an examination of how sex can lead to domestic trauma, fear, power and on occasion euphoria. Lynch’s first film Eraserhead is comparable, a film seen by some as founded on sexual anxiety.

Some were shocked by the erotic content, which is ambiguous. Critics hadn’t seen anything like Blue Velvet before when it came out in 1986.

Cinematographer Frederick Elmes claim in the dvd extas, that Lynch has found that spot in our subconscious where there is a little bit of a voyeur. What could be seen that shouldn’t be seen. He thinks it’s a film about what people think about, not what they talk about or do.

Blue Velvet, and other Lynch films have been accused of glorifying violence. According to Lynch in the interview book Lynch on Lynch, the wild, unpredictable Frank Booth is similar to Killer Bob in Twin Peaks, in that he seems to represent masculinity at the extreme – twisted, violent and psychotic. Some people were upset with Dorothy’s masochism and Frank’s extreme sadism, a sort of sado-masochistic relationship, where you are confused if Dorothy is willing or unwilling. In the interview book, Lynch points out it isn’t right to assume that a character like Dorothy is every woman. Movies tend to stereotype, suddenly if he is a black man, he represent all blacks. The actress playing Dorothy, Isabella Rossellini, interpreted her character as someone masking herself because she is afraid of what she looks like. She’s shy and she hates herself. The wigs and make-up was because she wanted to look like a doll – perfect – to hide her madness. The more she becomes a victim not to elicit sexuality, the more she does. I played her that way: Everything she did turned out to be something she didn’t mean! Certainly plausible that a part of Dorothy enjoys being kidnapped, an escape or a change from her daily life? A few critics point out that Dorothy’s apartment could represent a mother’s womb, the walls are pink and red colours, she is a mother who has lost her son. The building she lives in is called Deep river. Several critics have talked of the themes of family. Jeffrey finds a perverse substitute for parents in Dorothy and Frank.

Lynch had final cut, which he would have for all his subsequent films as well. What I like about his films is how he is artistically uncompromising, he doesn’t go for box office records, but makes a film he wants to make.

David Lynch explored many similar themes of the “disease” lying just under the surface of small town America in his later television series Twin Peaks (1990-91)

In spite of the disturbing elements, it’s the visuals and funny dialogue that stay with me, I think my favourite quote is uttered by Dennis Hopper: “We’re taking our neighbour for a joy ride!”

A bit of trivia. Contains several references to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Jeffery is warned not to go to Lincoln Street. Frank Booth’s name evokes John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin. A reference to Lincoln also appeared in Mulholland Dr.( The blue-haired lady sits in the same position as Lincoln did in the Ford Theater)

Spoilers ahead. Some film critics claim the ending is a parody, things are not really resolved. There is still much twisted sexuality and violence in Lumberton. The bug in the beak of the bird near the end is a clear signifier that there will always be darkness to balance the light.

One of those films where you are not sure how to react. Will definitely divide audiences, Roger Ebert hated Blue Velvet, and thought the issues should have been taken more seriously without the comedy.

Doesn’t seem to be much point rating, as my reviews are always recommendations. Anyhow, here goes: 8/10



Readers, any thoughts on Blue Velvet?

Film review: The Elephant Man (1980)

A moving story that can bring a tear to your eye about a deformed 21-year-old man, who escapes the circus. He must deal with constant prejudice and rejection because of his looks.

Among other things, the film is about how we focus so much on appearance and it determines how we perceive other people. You can be deformed and ugly, but have a heart of gold. There could be some truth to the theory that ugly people try and have a likeable and friendly personality, because they are unable to charm people with their looks. In a way, it’s a more honest way of charming someone you meet I think.

Based on a true story about a man from London who probably suffered with a condition called neurofibromatosis, which results in cauliflower shaped deformities on your body. It hasn’t been confirmed exactly what disease he was suffering from according to the documentary on the dvd, there have been attempts to extract dna from Merrick’s remains.

The film suggests Merrick fell in with the freak show crowd against his will, in reality, he had hopes they might accept him as a showpiece and thereby give him a means of earning a living.

John Merrick believed his deformity to have been caused by the shock his pregnant mother suffered after being frightened by an elephant. The discovery that his mother and younger sister were crippled however supports the argument for a genetic defect.

The story is also about exploitation, taking advantage of “the freak” at a circus, or to advance your career as a doctor, or as a member of the upper class, who want to mould him into their image. Treves lets us into Merrick’s world, the one that no one saw because his appearance was too frightening.

The scene where John Merrick is at the theatre is powerful, for the first time he is part of the audience instead of being the subject of horror. He is treated with respect and as an equal citizen. But we realize this is just a brief moment of happiness, he can never escape the monster he is.

You can certainly argue that comparisons can be made to the film Freaks (1932), about some deformed humans who perform in a circus environment like animals, but make an escape.

You get the feeling it’s the people around John Merrick and their reception and fear of him, that have made him into a monster, not himself. Inside he seems normal. He is the most sympathetic character. People are often afraid of the unknown and what they don’t understand, and that which they have a lack of knowledge of. Eyes are always on John Merrick, he is constantly the center of attention wherever he goes, and this must be bothersome for him, he can never just blend into the crowd, and never had a choice about being a freak. We are made to feel sorry for him. The theme of voyeurism is something Lynch would later explore in Blue Velvet (1986)

Favourite quote: “my life is full, because I know I am loved”

In the book The Complete Lynch, John Merrick is compared to Victor Hugo’s hunchback, a romantic hero, a beauty trapped in the body of a beast, a monster who teaches those he meets how to be human. As billsmovieemporium writes in his review: humanity that can’t accept him are the real freaks.

According to blogger friend Steve in his review at 1001plus, rumour has it that the make-up didn’t look very good in colour, so David Lynch decided the film should be shot in black and white.

I think this was a wise decision, not least because to me b/w transports us into the past, much like director David Lean in 1946 managed to create the atmosphere of the 1800s in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Spoilers ahead. The ending to me is interesting, Can you only be true to yourself by being abnormal? What is normal anyway, and is it desirable to be like others? John Merrick’s death is a tragedy I think, because he was such a lovely person inside, if anything, other people should have tried to emulate his gentle behaviour, rather than him trying to fit in with there’s. In a way, I think John Merrick was weak at the end, he didn’t go on fighting, perhaps because it was too painful being regarded as a freak. Although, you could also interpret his suicide as a wise decision, if he could only imagine the rest of his life being unhappy. So the suicide was perhaps his only way out, he believed he would join his mother in heaven, so maybe this would be a happier place for him. As Lynch himself says in scene by scene interview 1999 with Mark Cousins on youtube, the shot of the stars indicates that many things remain, it’s just the body that’s dropped. People’s memory of you remains, and your achievements in life.

I think the overall message is not to judge someone too quickly by his or her appearance, but take the time to understand someone’s actions and words. But I couldn’t help thinking if John Merrick had been given an unpleasant personality in the film, then nobody would want to watch, this is what makes it Lynch’s most mainstream film in my mind, the character’s flaws are not addressed. As Roger Ebert suggests, a little sentimental by being emotionally manipulating. That being said, the film can change the way we see ourselves and other people.

My rating 7.5/10

Readers, any thoughts on The Elephant Man ?