The time: late at night, the place: Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, and this woman (Laura Harring) is being taken along it by limousine when suddenly the vehicle slows to a halt, and she starts to be concerned. This worry only increases when the passenger up front turns around holding a gun and points it at her, but before he can pull the trigger, a joyrider smashes into the car and kills both him and the driver. A little time later, the woman emerges from the wreckage, dazed and confused, and wanders off down the hill, hiding if anyone approaches - but who is she? Even she cannot recall...
This started out as a pilot for a television series David Lynch was planning to make, but when it was turned down, Lynch crafted it into a feature film. It's sort of a "greatest hits" collection, mostly reminiscent of Lost Highway in the way the narrative changes part of the way through and in the main character's wish to be someone else, but with echoes of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet as well. It's as if, when Lynch took back the pilot, he wanted to say, "See? This is what I could have done with that starting point! It's not what you expected at all!", as it takes a dim view of how talent is treated by the big shots in Hollywood and indeed how it can be warped. By changing most of the characters for the final half hour, he certainly adds greater depth to the story - who knows how the series would have continued?
Harring's character renames herself Rita after Rita Hayworth on a poster of Gilda she sees in an apartment she conceals herself in, where she meets the actual new tenant, Betty (Naomi Watts, remarkable). In a film of dual identities, the Betty we see is an idealised version of what the main character wants to be: a promising actress, a good friend, a Nancy Drew-style investigator, a lover. Before it becomes clear - or clearer - what is going on, the two women team up to solve the problem of Rita's identity, but the solution is too heartbreaking for Betty to bear, as grows apparent while they grow closer, both in friendship and romantically. Their scenes are a tribute to the classic ideal of Golden Age Hollywood, with Ann Miller showing up as a reminder, but even then we are aware that all is not as it seems.
As all this is going on, we also follow the story of Adam (Justin Theroux), a film director who has hit a snag on his pet project when sinister elements try to force him to use an actress in the lead against his wishes. His resistance plunges him into a nightmare where he storms out of a meeting that is going spectacularly badly, smashes up the gangsters' limo with a golf club (why was he carrying it with him in the meeting otherwise?), zooms off home to find his wife in bed with Billy Ray Cyrus, then has to spend the night in a dive of a hotel where the heavies catch up with him and inform him that his credit cards have been cancelled. Then there's the Cowboy he is told to meet, one of those Lynchian enigmas who are significant but troubling in ways difficult to articulate.
And the ending? Maybe Diane's dead end life becomes all too much for her, she is overwhelmed by her thwarted ambition and dreams of what her life could have been, with the hopes of the folks back home for her future becoming too much to bear in light of her failure and the path to oblivion she takes (surely any actress's idea of hell). Mulholland Drive can be viewed as Lynch's take on Valley of the Dolls, where the starry-eyed, fresh talent arrives in Tinseltown full of hopes and dreams only to be crumpled up and thrown away. Perhaps a little overfamiliar to be counted amongst Lynch's greatest, it's still an excellent piece of work as it mixes the sinister, the innocent, the humorous, the sexual and, occasionally, the violent. It's even poignant when you get past the weirdness. Watch out for: the bungling hitman, the eerie club where performers mime to old songs (in particular a certain Roy Orbison tune), and a few recognisable faces in small roles, including composer Angelo Badalamenti.
[Optimum's Blu-ray presents the film with excellent picture and - especially - sound, with a range of featurettes with interviews and documentaries. A must-have for Lynch fans.]
One-of-a-kind American writer-director and artist. His low budget debut Eraserhead set the trends for his work: surreal, unnerving but with a unique sense of humour. After Mel Brooks offered him The Elephant Man, Dino De Laurentiis gave Lynch Dune to direct, but it was an unhappy experience for him.
Luckily, despite the failure of Dune, De Laurentiis was prepared to produce Lynch's script for Blue Velvet, which has since become regarded as a classic. He moved into television with Twin Peaks and On the Air, but it was with film that he was most comfortable: Cannes winner Wild at Heart, prequel/sequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, plot-twisting Lost Highway, the out of character but sweet-natured The Straight Story, the mysterious Mulholland Drive and the rambling, willfully obscure Inland Empire. His return to directing after a long gap with the revival of Twin Peaks on television was regarded as a triumph.