Classic Movie Review: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Title: Mulholland Drive
Release Date: October 12, 2001
Director: David Lynch
Production Company: Les Films Alain Sarde | Asymmetrical Productions | Babbo Inc. | Le Studio Canal+ | The Picture Factory

Mulholland Drive starts off appearing to be one of David Lynch’s more straightforward films, but ends up being one of the most surreal. The main story is about Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an effervescent young woman who arrives in Hollywood to pursue her dream of acting.  Betty takes advantage of using her Aunt Ruth’s unoccupied apartment but discovers that there is a woman living there, an amnesiac car crash survivor who calls herself “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring). Betty tries to help Rita discover her real identity and the mystery of a large amount of cash and a blue key in her purse.

Betty’s story is intercut with vignettes of other events in Los Angeles, some of which never intersect with the main plot. But a storyline that does continue involves the movie directory Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) having a bad day where mobsters take over his film and cut off his bank account and he discovers his wife having an affair.  In a normal movie these two plotlines would come together in a neo-noir caper that exposes the seedy underbelly of the Hollywood dream.  In a David Lynch film, things get extremely surreal.

Lynch obviously has his own style, but I feel like this movie is also a tribute of sorts to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Both movies are named after a significant road in Los Angeles and both deal with Hollywood myths and crime. The action of Sunset Boulevard begins with Joe Gillis hiding his car in a Hollywood mansion while the action of Mulholland Drive begins with Rita hiding herself in a Hollywood apartment. There also feels to be some influence from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in that they deal with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and play with chronology.  A scene in which a bungling hitman ends up having to kill three people and its played for comedy feels particularly Tarantinoesque.

But the heart of the movie, especially its most surreal final third, is pure David Lynch at his best.  I read that Lynch originally envisioned Mulholland Drive as a tv series and I can see the movie being a tv pilot with scenes from various episodes, including the finale, cut into it.  And yet somehow it works. A lot of credit needs to be given to Watts and Harring for the range of their performances, capturing different aspects of their characters or perhaps entirely different characters. I’m kind of glad I waited until now to finally watch this movie as I’m more able to simply enjoy ambiguity and consider multiple interpretations than I was when I was younger and wanted to know what it “means.”

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Title: The Magnificent Ambersons
Release Date: July 10, 1942
Director: Orson Welles
Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures | Mercury Productions

If your debut film is hailed as a masterpiece what do you do for a follow-up?  If you’re Orson Welles you adapt a Booth Tarkington novel to present a period drama about a wealthy family in Indiana during the Gilded Age.   This would also see the start of Welles’ off-screen conflicts that interfered with his vision for the project.  In this case, RKO Radio Pictures heavily edited down his film and added a new ending.  Most reviews I’ve read tend to focus on the challenge of following up Citizen Kane and the loss of Welles’ version of this film, so I’m just going to stick to what I watched.

The Ambersons are the richest family in town and daughter Isabel (Dolores Costello) is courted by Eugene (Joseph Cotten).  When he makes a social faux pas, she chooses to marry another man.  They have one child, George (played as an adult by Tim Holt who impressed me in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), a spoiled brat who has the townspeople wishing for his comeuppance.  The main part of the film starts when George is college-aged and Eugene, now a widower, returns to town after a 20-year absence with his daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter, later to star in All About Eve).  George and Lucy begin a romance but George can’t help but be hostile to her father who has become wealthy manufacturing automobiles.  Efforts to appeal to George’s good side by his unmarried aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorhead), who also loves Eugene, or his uncle Jack (Ray Collins), fall on deaf ears.  When George’s father dies and Eugene attempts to court Isabel, George blocks every chance for his mother’s happiness, eventually leading to the family’s downfall.

It’s really hard to convey how loathsome and sociopathic George is as a character.  I know there are unpleasant people in real life and movies have to reflect that but there’s really nothing to care about in this movie when it’s just George making himself and everyone around him miserable all the time.  Still, there were some things I like about this movement.  The opening sequence where the townspeople appear to be interacting with Welles’ narration is cleverly done, and gave me the idea that the whole film would have a satirical feel to it rather than the melodrama we got. The scene where they try to start the “horseless carriage” in the snow is beautifully shot. As someone who dislikes cars, I also like the anti-automobile message of the movie, with even Eugene stating how damaging they can be. And the scene where George tells Lucy he’s leaving forever and she acts giddy about it is great (only marred a bit when we learn she was actually covering up that she was broken-hearted about it).

I don’t know what Welles’ version of this film would’ve been like, but this movie as it is was mostly a miss for me.

Rating: **1/2