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Mulholland Dr.

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                     Mulholland Dr. (revisited)


NOTE: A previously-posted essay on Mulholland Dr. needed to be revised and rewritten. What follows is a simplified version.

 

Mulholland Dr. is a bleak statement … yes, a statement … about Hollywood and those who desire to pursue the dream of achieving success in this setting. In the film, the dream film-factory can be a nightmare, filled with delusions and disappointments. Which has a dangerous, damaging effect on the psyche of those who are fragile enough to desire inhabiting it.

 

The film's statement is best illustrated by the arc of the Naomi Watts character (NW) who is an innocent optimist as the story begins and who degenerates into an unemployed, hardened failure, envious of the success of another (the Laura Harring's character or LH) in the end.

 

NOTE: In this essay, initials are used because names are too often changed in the film.


To demonstrate examples of the film's statement ...


First, dream-related examples.


NW says to LH: “.... I’m in this dream place.”

In a minor and a totally unrelated scene to the story, two male characters converse in a diner. One man recounts a dream that has a horrible end.

 

Man 1: I had a dream about this place.

Man 2: .... So you had a dream about 

               this place. Tell me. 

Man 1: Well, it's the second one I've

       had.  But they're both the same ….

       You’re in both dreams .... I hope

       that I never see [someone's] face

       ever outside of a dream.    

 

In the original screenplay, Los Angeles is described as “the City of Dreams”.  

Also in the original screenplay, NW comments to a relative about her aunt's apartment: “It's more beautiful than I ever dreamed.”


The element of dreams probably connect with sleep-related elements in the film.


There are insert shots of a pillow on a bed. When NW first enters her aunt’s apartment, the first sign that something is amiss is in the bedroom where a dress and purse are on the floor next to the bed. LH rests in the bedroom to recover from the trauma of her accident. The first seduction scene occurs in the bedroom. The bedroom is the place where LH’s purse and a mysterious blue key are found. It is in the bedroom where NW seemingly dies from a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound.


The word “sleep” appears in the dialogue.

 

LH: I need to sleep.  

NW: If you have a concussion, you shouldn’t

    sleep.

LH: It will be okay if I sleep. I just need 

    to lie down here and sleep.


NW reports to her aunt that LH is “sleeping”. LH erroneously believes that “sleep would” solve her problems. In the original screenplay, NW converses with her aunt: “ Well, you'll sleep good tonight.”


Consider with the use of related words, the repetition of “dream” and “sleep” is unnecessary. Does the listener in the diner need to coax his companion to continue with his dream anecdote? An interested look would suffice. The line “Tell me” is unconvincingly delivered, undoubtedly deliberately so for effect. Or, as an alternative, the frighted narrator could continue with his narrative without interruption.


Man 1: I had a dream about this place.  

       Well, it's the second one I've

       had. But they're both the same ….

       You’re in both .... I hope that

       I never see [someone's] face ever.


In the second example, the word “sleep” is equally overused. Wouldn't the message still be conveyed without its multiple use?


LH: I need to sleep.  

NW: If you have a concussion, you shouldn’t.

LH: It will be okay.


Second, examples of nightmares.


The word “nightmare” is suggested with the description of one male in the diner. And his nightmare is realized, but maybe in his mind. In the final scene, NW is haunted by the elderly couple who mock NW as she is at her lowest point. Definitely unreal.


Third, an example of achieving success. NW appears to have given a stellar performance at her first audition. LH finds happiness by being engaged to a director.


Fourth, an example of delusion/disappointment: NW has deluded herself into believing that because she has a familial connection in the entertainment world, she will be embraced by VIPs in the industry.


Fifth, regarding the dangerous/damaging effect on the human psyche, ... Is not amnesia a byproduct of a damaged psyche? Is not violence danger-related?


The film begins with LH in a car which is driven to an uninhabitable area where, we can reasonably assume, she will be killed: Instead, others are killed when the car crashes. Hence, the motif of danger. Subsequent patterns of potential danger: an implied threat by the apparently mob-connected Castigliane brothers to Adam Kesher, an uncooperative film director; Adam damaging the Castigiliane car; the assault of three characters in Kesher's residence; a cowboy issuing an ultimatum to Adam and, lastly, a hit man who kills thrice.


In the audition scene, NW says, “You're playing a dangerous game here.” In the original screenplay, NW says to LH about the cash in her purse, “That might be dangerous money.”


There is also psychic damage to LH with loss of identity. In the story, this is especially evident with the change of names, often on multiple occasions to NW and LH. Changes which are disorientating to the film viewer.


As an aside, on a realistic level, name changes have been common in Hollywood to make the actor more acceptable to the public. Think Rock, Tab, Cary, Marilyn, etc. And in many cases, a name change has an added bonus: It is a means to an end. Instant reinvention. Marilyn Monroe was no longer the insecure, damaged waif, Norma Jean Baker, but a sexual icon, instead. Yet that transformation came at a tragic price.


Two actors, Rita Hayworth and Cary Grant, revealed that they were not their on-screen personas. Rita: "Men go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me." The film poster of Hayworth's Gilda appears in the bedroom. As for Grant, when informed that all men wish to be Cary Grant, Grant replied that he wished that he were Cary Grant.


LH confesses her identity problem to NW.


LH: I don't know who I am.  

NW: What do you mean? You're Rita.

LH: No, I'm not. I don't know what

    my name is.  I don't know who I am!


Taken out of context, LH's words can be translated: I don't know who I am because my name has been changed. And I am no longer who I used to be.


Regarding a physical transformation, in the filmed version of Mulholland's Dr., LH cries before her hair is cut and dyed blonde. In the original screenplay, LH embraces the change.


BETTY

…. You have to start all over again.

You look like a brand new person

and you can be a brandnew person ...

whoever you want to be.

 

RITA

It sounds kind of nice ...

being somebody brand new.

 

BETTY

Hey, let's introduce the

brand new you to Hollywood.


NOTE: As with the words “dream” and “sleep”, the words “brand new” are also needlessly repeated in the exchange.


By contrast, NW's transformation is a descent into the abyss. She begins as an innocent who, in the course of the story, degenerates. Why shouldn't she be optimistic? Her aunt is an actress, and, therefore, NW has an advantage when she auditions for a role. A first hit home run. Out of the ballpark. High praise from those who attend the audition. But was there an audition, or was it in her mind? And is she deluding herself to maintain her optimism?


In the end, NW is unable to deal with failure. She has to helplessly watch as her friend LH reaps the rewards which should have been bestowed upon her. Being seduced by the director. And being the third wheel at a dinner party where, it is announced, that LH is engaged to be married to director Adam Kesher. Insuring NW, of course, of the loss of prime-cut acting roles.


NW has sunk to a level of physical, mental and moral degeneration. She is a slovenly shut-in who has lost her drive to pursue any dream. She is bitter and friendless when, from envy, she more-than-wishes harm to her roommate.


NW is not the person she presents in her introductory scene. Betty Elms does not live up to her last name. Elms, of course, is a reference to the elm tree. And the characteristics of an elm tree? As it applies to the profession of acting, its ability to survive and thrive. Not true for NW.


And a moral degeneration for NW? She seduces her roommate, LH. Maybe in an effort to acquire roles. The dream of succeeding by association.


NW's descent (i.e. going in a downward direction) is shown geographically. NW relocated from Ontario, our northern neighbor in Canada, to California which is located in the southern United States. Other examples of going downhill? LH walks from the hill where is almost killed to Los Angeles, the city below. The spooked man in the diner walks down steps before he encounters his realized nightmare. An assassin descends the fire escape after he kills three.


In the end, the Hollywood experience causes people in the business to descend financially, morally, and psychologically. Adam Kesher loses his wife, his house, his credit line, and temporary control of a film; he moves out of his luxury home into a seedy motel. A casting agent comments on her ex-husband: “Wally’s days were up twenty years ago.” .


There is a love/hate motif in the film. Can this explain the feelings of the artists who devote themselves to an industry that exploits their talent, and then ignominiously dismisses them when they are no longer useful? “I love Hollywood,” Orson Welles said. “But the feeling is not reciprocated.”


Regarding love, the word “love” appears in the songs “Sixteen Reasons”, “I Told Every Little Star” and “Crying”. It appears in a note left by Aunt Ruth to her niece NW. It appears in NW's audition scene and Wally Brown's appreciation for her audition, the toast preceding a wedding announcement and NW's bedroom confession to LH. In the original screenplay, there is an exchange between Carol, the singer who sang “Sixteen Reasons”, and Adam, the director.

 

Carol: I love this script! Where do I sign?  

 Adam: Look ... I love you, but there's no

       way they're gonna let me cast this

       thing until I've seen everyone.


NW’s love for LH is a metaphor for her love for Hollywood which eventually betrays her by rejecting her, leading to heartbreak, hate, self-hate, and self-destruction. This is evident in the audition scene. When NW rehearses the scene with LH, she projects only hate. But when she rehearses the scene with Woody, she demonstrates extant sexual feelings. And it becomes a seduction scene.


Crying is also a motif in the film. Tears are associated with tragedy and disappointment. The Roy Orbison song “Crying” which is sung in Spanish in Club Silencio is a song about heartbreak. Characters cry: LH when NW reenters the bedroom, LH before NW opens her purse, NW at the end of her audition with Woody Katz, LH and NW when the performer with the painted tear sings “Crying”, NW when Adam announces his marriage plan. In the scene in the car on a film set, Camilla is supposed to be crying. As LH rehearses the audition scene, NW comments: “Cry, cry cry ….”


Regarding hate, the word appears in the audition script: “I hate you. I hate us both.” NW’s inability to handle rejection by LH sends her off the deep end. Love gone bad is also evident in Adam’s relationship with his wife Lorraine who cheated on him with the pool man.

David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. references another film about Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard. Where? A street sign (Sunset Bl). And the similarities with Billy Wilder's film?


The titles of both films are landmarks in Los Angeles, the site of the film industry and in the storyline the sites of tragedies. A character in each films has the same first name Betty: Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard and Betty Elms in Mulholland Dr. Betty Schaefer, like Betty Elms, aspired to be an actress and failed. In both films, a disillusioned actress, NW and Norma Desmond, resorts to murder.


To continue the comparison, in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond and her silent-era, card-playing companions have been discarded by the film industry for an age-related reason. In Lynch's Mulholland Dr., Wally Brown is considered a has-been, and in the original screenplay, the same characterization applies to the Chad Everett character.

Also, there are former actresses who are out-of-touch with reality: Louise Bonner in Lynch's film and Norma Desmond in Wilder's film.


Films about Hollywood, like Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Dr., are cautionary tales. Lynch's film more so by literally infusing his film with words of caution and advice. Fellow airline traveler Irene issues a casual warning to NW before they part: “Take care of yourself and be careful.” Before they get involved in an adventure, NW reassures LH: “We’ll be careful. I promise.” Louise Bonner, a seer-like character who appears at NW’s door, predicts impending trouble: “Something bad is happening.”. Warnings are also issued by Adam’s secretary Cynthia (for him to return to work instead of going home where he discovers his wife with the pool man), Cookie (to Adam that his enemies know where he is staying), the mysterious Cowboy (to Adam to leave the choice of a lead actress to others), and Coco (“Louise Bonner said there’s trouble in there .... if there is trouble, get rid of it.”)


Advice is given in the story. While he is in bed with Adam’s wife, Gene, the pool man, makes a suggestion to the husband: “Just forget you ever saw it. It’s better that way.” The Cowboy advises Adam Kesher to reconsider his need to totally control his film. Before her audition, NW is given instructions by the director Bob Brooker (“Don’t play it for real until it gets real.”) and the lead actor Woody Katz (“You don’t rush it. I don’t rush it, okay?” ) A frightened LH gives advice to a cab driver (not to stop the cab) and NW (not to knock on the door of apartment 12 and not to illegally enter apartment 17). On the film set, Adam informs an actor:


Now when she starts to cry, 

don’t pull her towards you.  

Let her fall into you. Just

let her fall. Now when you kiss 

        her, it’s just a continuation of that move.

There’s no break.


In Mulholland Dr., David Lynch may have been making a broader statement about the film industry, actors notwithstanding. Access a photograph of the late producer Dino De Laurentiis and compare it to the Castigliane brothers. Similar, right? De Laurentiis and the Castiglianes are Italian and they have influence in the film business. Both have family bonds in the business: With regard to the De Laurentiis clan, 45 are listed in a variety of film positions in IMDB.


Like the relationship that Adam Kesher had with the Castiglianes, the connection between David and Dino was not one made in heaven. The source of the conflict? Lynch's Dune produced by De Laurentiis. Lynch's choice of an actor was problematic with De Laurentiis who later conceded. Can this be the source of the Castiglianes imposing their choice of an actress in the film directed by Adam Kesher? Kesher lost control of his film, and Lynch was denied final cut of Dune. And according to De Laurentiis in a BBC video interview from Dino De Laurentiis: The Last Movie Mogul, one hour was cut from Dune. In one version of the film, Lynch had his name removed as director. Lynch's assessment of the experience? “It was a nightmare for me. I kind of died the death on Dune.”


According to the Time Out article, “Dune: The Movie That Cost the Earth”, the article's author, Richard Rayner, reports a most unpleasant situation involving Lynch and De Laurentiis' daughter Raffaella, the film's on-set producer:

 

At one point, months into shooting, 

Lynch was behind schedule.  He was

over budget. The de Laurentiises

decided it was offer-you-can´t-refuse

time. Lynch was summoned to Raffaella´s

office for a meeting. The situation was

simple, she explained. Here was the

script and here was the budget and here

were the schedules for the remaining

days of shooting. For every day you

run over budget, she told Lynch,

a page will be ripped from the script.

At random.

 

Thus, money became an issue with Dune. Is money an element in Mulholland Dr.? Money is in the purse carried by LH.


Other related films which make statements about the film industry are The Bad and the Beautiful, Barton Fink, Body Double, Hollywoodland, Maps to the Stars and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

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