David Lynch’s new mystery thriller, Mulholland Drive, was initially conceived as a pilot show for what was intended to be a television series, presumably in the same format as Twin Peaks. It centres on the relationship between two actresses. One is fresh and naive, the all-American type of character which Lynch uses in lots of his work. She is countered by a more established actress who has obviously been scarred by her own experience in the film industry. She is also suffering from amnesia. In the background is a towering wall of menace that represents the corruption and manipulation common in Hollywood.
In itself the film is quite beautiful to watch and the soundtrack is great, however it opens so many doors, introduces so many strange characters, that by the end of the film I was left with the feeling that it might have made a good sequel to Twin Peaks, but as a film it was empty. One of the main characters is a rising young film director. He is blackmailed into hiring an actress he does not want. We see the process of blackmail but not the motives of those who produce the film and force him to accept their choice.
In the early 1990s Lynch directed the Twin Peaks television serial, a mystery that started with the murder of a teenager from an average kind of town. It went on for weeks and weeks, and introduced lots of different characters, all with some secret which they tried to hide. Yet as the series progressed all these different storylines came together to produce a ghastly backdrop to life in smalltown America. In Mulholland Drive the same ingredients are there, but there is not enough time for them to produce a similar statement – even if this time the target is the film industry.
The film features one of Lynch’s favourite motifs, sexuality – as expressed between the two actresses – but it comes over as voyeuristic. As their affair decomposes under the pressure of life in Tinseltown the conclusion, while visually shocking, does not have the impact of, say, the relationships in Blue Velvet. In this film Lynch pulls away the veneer of respectable suburban life and love, brutally transposing it into a world of violence and sexual repression. That film is scary – Mulholland Drive is mostly just weird.
Maybe Lynch, left with few options, like his film director character, was forced to make the most out of his situation knowing there was to be no television serial of Mulholland Drive. Yet the film we are left with says nothing that he has not said or shown in his earlier works, with much greater dramatic effect.
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