Film/TV » Film Features

Dream State

David Lynch's Hollywood nightmare Mulholland Drive, plus reviews of On the Line and Haiku Tunnel.



I have no idea whether David Lynch has seen Jacques Rivette's great 1974 French film Celine and Julie Go Boating, in which two women meet and embark on a strange, possibly supernatural adventure centered on cinema, theater, and identity, but Lynch's new Mulholland Drive reads like a nightmare remake of that masterpiece.

The film's narrative is like a dream-logic Möbius strip, which is turned inside-out and upside-down two-thirds of the way through, with the actors seeming to take on different roles and the truth of what has come before being thrown into question. Near the beginning of the film, a devastating brunette (Laura Elena Harring) emerges from a car crash on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills, stumbles down into the city of lights, walks along Sunset Boulevard, and eventually hides in an empty apartment. The apartment is soon occupied by Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a perky, seemingly naïve young blonde from Canada who has moved to L.A. to pursue acting and is staying at a relative's apartment. A startled Betty finds the brunette -- an amnesiac after suffering head trauma in the accident -- naked in the shower. The brunette calls herself Rita after glancing at a poster for the Rita Hayworth film Gilda on the apartment wall. This meet-cute variation out of the way, the film embarks on a dual course that follows Betty's career attempts and the two women's detective work to determine Rita's true identity.

But two-thirds of the way through, Betty and Rita have a traumatic experience and soon end up in bed together, a bit of trademark Lynch weirdness which sends the film spiraling through a wormhole of sorts, with Watts and Harring playing completely different characters -- characters who had appeared in lesser form earlier -- for the film's final section.

The film is obviously open to a wide array of literal interpretations, and I have mine. For the record, and for those who've seen the film, I think the first part is Betty/Diane Selwyn's nightmare -- a dream-state reimagining of her arrival in Hollywood and relationship with Rita/Camilla Rhodes, including Selwyn's witnessing her own decomposing corpse after the suicide that later ends the film. This dream is signaled by a brief shot after the opening credits and ended by the "Cowboy" character appearing from Selwyn's closet and telling her to wake up. But I also think that to fully appreciate Mulholland Drive, one should view it less as a traditional narrative (which it clearly isn't) than as a meditation or essay. Lynch's concern here is for the young women who show up in Hollywood, 8-by-11s in hand, searching for stardom and find only degradation. It isn't a new idea, but it's one that Lynch is somehow able to imbue with mystery, soulfulness, and maturity unrivaled in his previous work. Fans of the Hollywood Babylon series (the great Kenneth Anger books filled with these stories), James Ellroy novels, and film noir who also have a taste for the surrealism of Luis Bunuel will devour this film.

Mulholland Drive originated as a TV pilot for a Twin Peaks- like series that was never made. The final section is a new ending that Lynch shot to convert the pilot into a theatrical feature. That, as much as Lynch's native weirdness, accounts for the film's distracting detritus: characters introduced then discarded, plot strands left unexplored, and oddball red herrings. I have no idea what the creature behind the garbage bin is or what the significance of the assassin's stolen black book is. Leave it to the Lynchophiles to sort out. I just know that, as much as those offhand strands seem to hold no real purpose, the core of this film hasn't left my head since the moment I left the theater.

Mulholland Drive is a paranoiac view of Hollywood as a patriarchal maze governed by shadowy powers -- a wheelchair-bound dwarf deciding a film's fate from a dark room personifies the city's psyche while a Howard Hughes-like eccentric controlling a director from a compound high in the Hollywood Hills hints at the city's bizarre history. And this Hollywood story gives Lynch a focus for his cinematic fetishes that seems more broadly relevant than ever before.

The film is filled with knockout individual scenes: a Kafkaesque director's nightmare set in a blank conference room; Betty's first audition, where we discover that Betty (and Watts) can really act; a murder-for-hire gone awry in Rube Goldberg fashion.

This is plainly Lynch's best film since Blue Velvet, which it mirrors in many ways, and I think it's even better. These actresses, virtual unknowns, find depths of feeling and insight that only Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet has previously provoked in a Lynch film. The voluptuous, doe-eyed Harring conjures up the great damaged-goods dames of film noir past, and the petite Watts, her character(s) forming the film's core narrative and emotional trajectory, is an incredible find. This combination of blonde innocent and wounded brunette mirrors the Laura Dern and Rossellini characters in Blue Velvet, but Mulholland Drive takes that potential relationship much further -- morphing from Nancy Drew to Persona to uncharted territory.

The aforementioned Celine and Julie Go Boating is one of the medium's great love letters to the cinema itself. Lynch's even more twisty doppelganger, by contrast, is hate mail to the American industry that has corrupted the form. But like Rivette's film, Mulholland Drive is suffused with ineffable and transfixing mysteries likely to only deepen with time and repeated viewings. -- Chris Herrington

It's been a rather long-standing practice to put fab singing groups into films, usually at the height of their appeal and usually with a corresponding soundtrack. Think the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night or the Spice Girls' Spice World.

On the Line is a comedy in that vein -- sort of. Lance Bass and Joey Fatone (of international singing sensation 'NSync) might not play themselves exactly like Ringo or Posh Spice did, but they play characters pretty close to their on-stage personas.

Bass is the sweetly romantic Kevin, a guy who can't step up to the p1late for the life of him. He's an all-around wuss at work, at home, and especially in his love life (I only said pretty close to their on-stage personas). Fatone, on the other hand, plays Rod, a sort of crazy, anything-goes kind of guy. In fact, the film borrows heavily from the boy-band formula of "the type." Kevin and his roommates fall neatly into the categories of "the nice guy," "the smart one," "the rocker," and what can only be described as "the freaky Chicago Cubs fan" (okay, so no boy band in history has ever used that ype before, but the movie is set in Chicago, so maybe they wanted some local flava).

Just as 'NSync's fans will go see On the Line no matter what, it will probably be shunned by the rest of the world. So, if anyone else really cares, here's the plot: Kevin, the movie's No Action Jackson, meets this girl on the subway. Except he doesn't really meet her; he doesn't get her name or her number or really any identifying info. And after kicking himself for being, again, such a wuss, he decides to do something about it. He posters Wrigleyville with photocopied signs asking her to call him. The tabloidish daily paper takes notice, and the hunt is on.

Meanwhile, tons of honeys are calling Kevin's number, wanting to meet such a romantic guy. This leads his roommates to hatch a tag-teaming scheme where they help Kevin find "Her" and get their mack on at the same time.

The shocking but true part: The movie isn't half-bad. In fact, I kind of found myself really digging it. Both of the 'NSync boys have an on-screen charisma, no doubt due to all the time spent making music videos, and they give pretty good, solid performances. Add in a little Jerry Stiller, some Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall), and a sweet little storyline and you've got a highly enjoyable thing going on. A little sitcom-y, truth be told, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Lest Justin Timberlake and Chris Kirkpatrick fans feel left out by Bass' star vehicle, those two 'NSync-ers also have an extremely funny cameo (sorry, J.C. fans). It's probably only a matter of time before the group tries to do their own version of A Hard Day's Night. Based on On the Line, I'm not sure it's a bad idea. -- Mary Cashiola

Haiku Tunnel began as an autobiographical monologue performed by co-writer, co-director, and lead actor Josh Kornbluth on San Francisco's stand-up comedy circuit. And in the process of changing the performance to a movie, Kornbluth and his brother, Jacob, manage to retain many of the original one-man-show qualities while successfully incorporating a quirky, humorous cast of characters and plot.

Haiku Tunnel is an office comedy following the transformation of neurotic and frumpy Josh Kornbluth from a temp worker who moves from job to job in a state of semiconsciousness to a full-fledged "permanent with responsibilities and everything." The plot's tension revolves around Josh's first official duty at the S & M Tax firm: 17 "very important letters" must be transcribed from a dictation tape and mailed immediately. Days go by and the letters stay put while Josh thinks and thinks and thinks -- about his ex-girlfriend, his bed, his unfinished novel, anything except the letters.

The climax centers around an envelope-wetter explosion. Josh flashes back to the most perfect temp job he ever had, which was at an architecture firm typing specs for the Haiku tunnel that would connect Haiku to Oahu in Hawaii. But he doesn't want to go back to the Haiku tunnel. Or does he?

With the help of his offbeat, upbeat co-secretaries, his supervisor (played by Helen Shumaker), and eventually his boss, Josh makes some kind of recovery. Haiku Tunnel eventually wilts into the sentimental, but the audience forgives, as is the case in most light comedies, for the sake of all the preceding wit.

This low-budget movie is framed by the frequent interruptions of a narrator, the real Kornbluth, who, while standing in front of a chalkboard, manages not only to add to the humor of the picture but move the plot along and get himself out of some precarious acting situations. Kornbluth, who is accustomed to working alone, falters a bit in the company of other cast members.

And though the Haiku tunnel itself is never fully realized as an important symbol (either by the writers or the audience) and ends up being a flimsy impetus for character development, the movie succeeds at conjuring up more than a few guffaws and grins. Haiku Tunnel is not a spectacular film but one that works hard to make the audience laugh. -- Lesha Hurliman

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