Thursday, February 12, 2009

Studies on Mulholland Drive: A Book I’d Love to See

With sites like this and this it might seem redundant or meaningless to dream of a book of critical studies about David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, but I'm old-fashioned and I would love to have just such a book.

What would I put in it? Well, here's a list of insightful pieces about Mulholland Drive that I've read over the years. Each one would be a great chapter in a comprehensive examination of this stunning film:

"Creative Differences" by Tad Friend; The New Yorker, 9/6/99, pp. 56-67

This article is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to study Mulholland Drive. Tad Friend has access to Lynch immediately after ABC decided to pass on making Mulholland Drive a weekly TV series. (In fact, Friend is in the room when Lynch gets an early call with the news that ABC may not be interested in the pilot.) Friend describes both the uncut and edited versions of the Mulholland Drive pilot and he reveals some of the proposed plot lines for the series: "[I]n the course of the first year Betty and Rita would 'cross': Betty would sink into the city's underbelly and Rita would be redeemed. Lynch promised that when Rita's identity was finally revealed it would only open up other mysteries" (p.62). In addition to detailed descriptions of the early stages of making Mulholland Drive, Friend also recounts lengthy and unprecedented conversations with Lynch about the pilot. Since these early days, Lynch has talked little about the Mulholland Drive pilot preferring to think of the project exclusively in terms of the film. (As he told Chris Rodley in the revised edition of Lynch on Lynch, "The pilot was just a stage this thing went through.") Friend was in the right place at the right time and his essay is not only important for what it tells us about Mulholland Drive, but it is also essential reading for anyone who interested in how David Lynch makes movies.

"Silencio! David Lynch's Mulholland Drive" by Jonathan Valin; Perfect Vision, May/June 2002, pp. 84-89

This is a surprisingly good review of the film as a whole. I say surprising because the piece appears in a high-end audio/video magazine but reads like it could come from any top film journal. Valin concludes that Mulholland Drive is a "breakthrough" for Lynch who "finally manages to evoke a pity to match the terror he has always excelled at creating." I share the same thoughts. For me, Mulholland Drive represents a major step forward in Lynch's handling of character. The audience comes to understand and pity Diane despite the horrible things she does. Lynch tried to evoke similar sympathy for Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me and while he came real close, the TV series put too many constraints (about Laura) in his way. Mulholland Drive, however, is Lynch's triumph.

"Babes in Babylon" by Graham Fuller; Sight and Sound, December 2001, pp. 14-17
"In Dreams" by Amy Taubin; Film Comment, Sept/Oct 2001, pp. 51-54

These two essays by Fuller and Taubin represent early efforts by the scholarly community to get a handle on Mulholland Drive. Both make important observations about dreams and dreamers in effort to unlock the mechanism of the film's narrative. Fuller: "Where Lynch makes most effective use of dreaming in Mulholland Drive is in exploiting, whether consciously or not, its capacity for over determination and the notion that the dreamer is all the characters in his or her dream" (p. 17). And Taubin: "Mulholland Drive is constructed entirely on the language of dreams. [O]n a narrative level, the temporal collapses, the shifting identities, and the displaced objects are all aspects of what Freud describes as 'dreamwork'"(p.54).

"Auditioning Betty" by George Toles, Film Quarterly, Fall 2004 (Volume 58, number 1), pp 2-13

This is perhaps my favorite Mulholland Drive essay. Toles meticulously examines Betty's audition scene to reveal a number of fascinating possibilities, not least of which is the idea that Betty is a false persona. Toles argues that it is in the audition scene where the real, driving personality behind Betty (Diane) is first revealed: "We gradually catch on to the fact that 'Betty' has been slipped off like the gray jacket and another, far more formidable presence stands in her place" (p. 9). (I might argue that Diane dreams Betty as a better actor than she (Diane) was in real life because she wants to change what was probably a failed audition into a stunning success. My take on the scene may merely be a distinction without a difference, however.) This is a superb piece, well-written and informative.

"Navigating Mulholland Drive, David Lynch's Panegyric to Hollywood" by Todd McGowan in The Impossible David Lynch, 2007, pp. 194-219

I'll admit that I've only skimmed this piece by McGowan. But his writing is crisp and clear and some of his observations about Lynch's film technique and the conveyance of fantasy and "reality" are valuable: "As we contrast the first part of the film with the second, it quickly becomes evident that the first seems more real, more in keeping with our expectations concerning reality" (p.196) and, "After seeing the body Betty and Rita quickly flee the apartment . . . . We see several images of them on each frame and consequently it looks as if Betty and Rita exist outside of themselves, as if the encounter with the real has disrupted their existence relative to time" (p. 211).

"'All I Need is the Girl': the Life and Death of Creativity in Mulholland Drive" by Martha P. Nochimson in The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams, Nightmare Visions edited by Erica Sheen and Annette Davison, 2004, pp 165-181

This piece is more accessible than an earlier essay Nochimson wrote for Film Quarterly. Here, she provides an interesting discussion about Lynch and the happy ending and how Mulholland Drive may signal a new direction for Lynch, one that Nochimson describes as "protagonists who miss their moment." I think this is a fascinating point. How close was Diane Selwyn to the typical Lynchian "happy ending" – one in which she finds happiness somewhere outside of reality? She almost achieved happiness in her dream. But the guilt of her actions was too much for such an "escape" to last. Does Mulholland Drive represent a contrasting position to Eraserhead? Henry kills his baby but finds peace; Diane kills Camilla and finds despair. Clearly, there is more to be examined on this topic.

Finally, I'll bet that Greg Olson's Chapter on Mulholland Drive would be a great chapter in my mythical book. (I will be reading and reviewing it the next few months.)

So there you have it. My "dream" Mulholland Drive book. Each essay provides some unique insight into the film and there is little repetition in content. I think that, collected, these essays would provide a comprehensive look at the history, themes, and creative techniques of the film. Are there any good essays I'm missing? Should something else be included in a definitive study of Mulholland Drive? Let me know.


  1. thank you for such a great list! i'm writing a paper on mulholland drive for my psychoanalysis in film class, and found some great articles i missed in my preliminary googling. and its always nice to see another david lynch fan :)

  2. I became curious to learn Mulholland Drive but I do not have a basic in the field of cinematography. Is difficult to learn it? Thank you...

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