When reviewing David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, legendary critic Pauline Kael described watching the movie in New York.
As the crowd filed out of the auditorium, she overheard one punter say to another: “Maybe I’m sick, but I want to see that again!” with Mulholland Drive, Lynch went one better. Audiences didn’t just want to see it again, sick or not.
They positively had to re-watch it if they entertained any hope of understanding it. Well-deserving of its place atop many recent end-of-decade polls, Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece.
Erotic, psychotic, satirical, indelible, it’s a 21st Century noir that engulfs you like your favourite dream. But like the best dreams, its meaning is slippery: who is Betty (Naomi Watts), the seemingly perky actress?
Who is Rita (Laura Elena Harring), the amnesiac car-crash survivor with whom she becomes entangled? What’s with the box, the blue key, the cowboy, the big burnt tramp? Don’t expect Lynch, a purist who loathes yak tracks, to save you.
“A mystery,” he once mused, “is the most beautiful thing in the world.” At least that explains why the extras on this Blu-ray release are basically a bunch of people going “Huh?”
It only adds to Mulholland Drive’s inimitable air of weirdness that most of the bods shrugging are Frenchmen you’ve probably never heard of. Produced by Studio Canal, the disc’s docs are full of Gallic rapture and bemusement.
In half-hour retrospective/chin-stroke In The Box, even the metaphors are muddled. “It’s almost like a musical piece,” says director Fabrice Du Welz (whose nightmare Calvaire has hints of Lynch).
“The scenes don’t really need each other… it’s like an amazing pearl necklace that remains very consistent in its entirety.” Fortunately, Lynch and his collaborators are on hand elsewhere to beef up the disc.
Interviews are limited to editor Mary Sweeney and composer Angelo Badalamenti, but doc On The Road To Mulholland Drive gives us the chance to watch Lynch work at close quarters.
One highlight is the candid banter he shares with his leading ladies. “It was all good, but I was shit?” Watts quizzes Lynch. “Laura was great, she looked beautiful – but was I shit?”
Beneath the faux grins you glimpse the insecurity of Hollywood egos, one of the movie’s key themes momentarily played out for real. And no, Watts isn’t “shit” – she’s a sensation in her big breakout, blitzing dark desire (the audition scene), white-hot distress (the masturbation scene), innocence, guilt… she’s been as committed since (21 Grams, Funny Games, King Kong even), but never so dazzlingly mercurial.
You also get a mercilessly good look at her and Harring’s skincare regime, such is the crispness of the hi-def transfer. Day or night, overlit or inky, it’s a clean presentation of Lynch’s painterly palette.
Strange, though, that the only option for the film’s equally rich soundscape is 5.1 ch DTS-HD.
But the biggest gripe? Given the film’s unique genesis – it’s essentially a salvaged ABC TV pilot – it’s a real pity that we don’t get a warts-and-all breakdown of the film’s production history (briefly recapped in the accompanying booklet).
Instead we get another doc that ploughs through Lynch’s now-infamous 10 clues to unlocking the movie (“Pay attention to the dress, the ashtray and the coffee cup”), in the hope of a definitive explanation.
Handy for the record, sure… but don’t these people get it? Deliriously in thrall to its own nightmare logic, Mulholland Drive isn’t meant to be deciphered, pinned down, cleared up. It ends – perfectly – with the word ‘Silencio’ for a reason…