Like a prankster let loose in a puzzle factory, director David Lynch creates dysfunctional mysteries which defy the simple piecing together of a coherent solution. His puzzles may lack key pieces, have extra pieces, or fit together to create a disjointed, nightmare image beyond conscious understanding. Lynch's long journey down his lost highway has led him to a place of supreme confidence as a filmmaker. With Mulholland Dr., Lynch continues to mine the obsessive tropes of his earlier work (doppelgangers, dreams, dissociative disorders), but strikes new ground by openly exploring the two worlds of his own life: Los Angeles and "Hollywood."
Mulholland Dr. most quickly brings to mind Lost Highway, Lynch's 1998 collaboration with novelist Barry Gifford. Like that earlier film, Mulholland Dr. walks a line between ostensibly straightforward modern creepshow and retro noir mystery, as Lynch asks the audience to straddle conscious deduction and dream-like intuition. Lynch's heroine here, Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), fits the now self-conscious model of the typical Lynch hero: wide-eyed, apparently innocent, and pure of heart, but driven by dark desires which inevitably bubble to the surface.
Lacking only cartoon bluebirds around her head, the freshly-scrubbed Betty arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of movie stardom. Met at her new apartment by no less than Ann Miller (as kooky landlord Coco), Betty is given a key to a new life. It takes mere moments for the dream facade to give way to menace, as Betty discovers an univited roommate (Laura Elena Harring), an amnesiac who cribs the name Rita from a poster for Rita Hayworth's Gilda. Names are key elements of the mystery, as identities come in and out of focus like Lynch's floating camera.
Lynch develops many other characters, despite it being impossible to quantify the number of storylines. The most prominent of these belongs to Adam (Justin Theroux), a sardonic, young filmmaker meeting with ominous resistance. Dan Hedaya, Lee Grant, and Robert Forster slink by briefly, and Lynch winks at the personal nature of his "L.A. Story" by casting longtime behind-the-scenes collaborators Angelo Badalamenti (who, as usual, scores the film) and producer Monty Montgomery as creepy henchmen.
As millions argue about what on earth Mulholland Dr. means, Lynch refuses to play the interpretation game, demurring with oblique self-analytical statements. So begin by imagining that a single story is being told in multiple ways throughout the film: a story of naive hopes, heartbreak, jealousy, and death. On another level, the film reflects the beloved and feared nature of Hollywood duplicity; like almost every Lynch film, Mulholland Dr. contains a theatrical show within the show, but for the characters, the price of admission is fearfully high, just like the cost to thieves and authority figures and artists of taking other people's money (an object lesson Lynch has had to learn repeatedly, as with the tussled-over, "failed" ABC pilot that Lynch reclaimed and reconstituted into Mulholland Dr.).
Just as Rita steals her identity from the starlet in her mirror, we look for our reflection in the movies; just like Betty, we all arrive in "Hollywood" full of false hopes, pursuing siren dreams. Finally, perhaps more than any other Lynch work, Mulholland Dr. works on the level of elegant, frustrating puzzle box (unlocked—and locked—with a blue key) and as the object of dream surrender. Erotic, fear-ridden, and beautiful, Lynch's primal imagery has the abhorrent and alluring pull of death itself.
It's been a joy to see the Criterion Collection get into the David Lynch business, with Eraserhead and now Mulholland Dr. (here's hoping titles like Inland Empire and, dare to dream, On the Air follow). The highly anticipated domestic Blu-ray debut of Mulholland Dr. under the Criterion label (following a Region B 2010 Studio Canal release) does not disappoint, with an impressive "restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director David Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming," a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix likewise authored to Lynch's specs (as per Lynch, "VOLUME 3db HOTTER THAN NORMAL"), and a suite of mostly new bonus features. The superlative transfer appears to improve framing (again, using Lynch's instructions) and authenticity of color while delivering a clean, stable, detailed, finely textured, and entirely filmic presentation seemingly untouched by artificial sharpening. The faithful lossless soundtrack will also warm the cockles of Lynch fans' hearts, with its nightmarishly low-rumbling LFE, dynamically ranging source music and Badalamenti score, crazed sound effects and, what the hey, clear and crisp dialogue, perfectly balanced and discretely placed in the sound field by masters of the art.
A treasure trove of bonus features kicks off with a series of new interviews conducted by and for Criterion: "David Lynch and Naomi Watts" (26:44, HD), actors and casting director "Justin Theroux, Laura Harring, Naomi Watts and Johanna Ray" (35:38, HD), composer "Angelo Badalamenti" (19:29, HD), and cinematographer and production designer "Peter Deming and Jack Fisk" (22:09, HD). Lynch and Watts reunite for their interview, which covers the bases from Watts' early-career struggles through production, philosophical and practical thoughts about location, and the finished product, arriving at the film's ongoing popular reception. The other interviews are grouped as noted, but recorded individually, and there's plenty of fascinating anecdotes about working with Lynch, in general and on this film in particular.
With some context provided by Lynch, Badalamenti, and cast members, an assemblage of raw "On-set Footage" (24:44, HD) adopts the European "making-of" featurette style to simply allow us to observe a director—in this case, a master director—at work. Invaluable for Lynch enthusiasts.
Similarly, a Lynchian cutting-room trim is always cause for delight, including the brief "Deleted Scene: Int. Hollywood Police Station - Day" (2:16, HD).
Rounding out the disc is the film's "Trailer" (1:42, HD) and completing the package is the requisite Criterion booklet with illustrations, credits, tech specs, and the relevant interview from Chris Rodley’s 2005 edition of Lynch on Lynch.
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