MULHOLLAND DRIVE - An Interpretation by Guest Contributor Tim Greaves

ESPRESSO, THE COWBOY AND THE LITTLE BLUE KEY - An Interpretation of David Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
 
by Guest Contributor  Tim Greaves
 
Understanding a David Lynch film is rarely less than a provocative challenge to the little grey cells. However, as any Lynch acolyte worth his mettle will attest, probing between the lines is all part of the pleasure to be derived from his work. On face value, with MULHOLLAND DRIVE he taunted audiences with his most impenetrable conundrum yet. I say on face value because, in spite of vitriolic accusations by some that the film is an unintelligible mess of phenomenal proportion, it takes only a modicum of focus to reveal a thought-provoking cinematic tapestry of the highest standing.
 
Rooted in a tale of unrequited love, yet set against a backdrop where almost everything is something other than it first appears, MULHOLLAND DRIVE is also Lynch’s twisted sideswipe at Hollywood and its avaricious, self-serving machinations; it’s rarely what you know, but rather more often who you know. The director takes a few thinly veiled pot-shots at the unscrupulous nature of the studio system, as well as a few distinctly unveiled ones. Thus the film gradually shapes itself into a metaphor for the decimation of the archetypal Hollywood Dream of fame and fortune, depicted via the tale of a wannabe actress who experiences the heartbreaking clash between the naive notion of what she believes life in Tinseltown will be, and the uncharitably harsh reality it accords those for whom dreams and aspiration have soured.
 
I can think of few other instances where failure to comprehend a film has divided audiences in the way that MULHOLLAND DRIVE has, at its worst spurring cries of ''the emperor’s new clothes'' in derogation of those able to identify it as the astounding piece of cinema it is.
 
What you are about to delve into is nothing more than my own thoughts on, ideas about and interpretations of the myriad of events, both real and imaginary, surrounding the suicide of aspiring Hollywood newcomer Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts). If you have yet to navigate your way through the intricate maze that constitutes MULHOLLAND DRIVE you may wish to stop here and return after you’ve had an untainted chance to deliberate its multifarious nooks and crannies for yourself. Then you can compare your own theories with those that follow, determine where we agree and upon what we steadfastly disagree. Further yet, if you are as deliciously perplexed as was I upon my first viewing, you may simply wish to seek clarification of your 150-minute investment. I hope to be able to assist.
 
Although I’m in no doubt that I have winkled out symbolism where there is none, whilst failing to identify hidden meaning where it practically screams out at me, I make no apology for this. The catacombs of MULHOLLAND DRIVE are bathed in shadows of uncertainty. But there is one thing when entering the fray of which you can rest assured: you’ll find no conceited, highfalutin thesis here. You’re reading the words of someone who laughs at lame gags in Jay Roach’s AUSTIN POWERS movies (1997 - 2002) and mists up at the emotional finale of Frank Capra’s IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). I say it as I see it and if you disagree that’s entirely your prerogative.
 
Yet all said and done I’m not entirely convinced that the director himself ever intended every question the narrative engenders to be accompanied by an answer. Anyone approaching a David Lynch movie with expectation of having everything spelled out for them and a smiley-smiley payoff is in for a rough ride. It certainly helps to know that MULHOLLAND DRIVE  was forged from an aborted US TV series pilot. As such it’s safe to conclude that what Lynch salvaged and stitched together -- blending in some additionally lensed material to expand the proceedings -- is some distance from his original vision.
 
To make any headway in fathoming the bulk of the narrative one must first don a deerstalker and piece together, as coherently as possible, the foundations upon which everything we witness throughout the film rests. Bear in mind before you proceed that 99% of the material from which the following plot summary is born isn’t revealed until the destructive final half hour of the film. Also that, from this point forward, we’re headed into serious spoiler territory.
 
Diane Selwyn has won a jitterbug contest in her hometown of Deep River, Ontario. Taking money left her by her recently departed Aunt Ruth (Maya Bond), with the blessing of her proud grandparents (Jeanne Bates and Dan Birnbaum) she arrives in Hollywood with dreams of becoming a famous actress. Having earned a minor role in 'The Sylvia North Story', a film being directed by Bob Brooker (Wayne Grace), Diane meets Camilla Rhodes (Laura Elena Harring), who also has aspirations of stardom; ''I wanted the lead so bad,'' Diane later confides, ''Anyway, Camilla got the part. The director didn’t think so much of me.'' Regardless of any feeling of bitterness, Diane and Camilla become friends and, at some later point, lovers. Things go well for Camilla and she finds success under the wing of director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). In the spirit of amity she arranges bit-parts in some of her films for the less successful Diane. But their relationship is on the wain with Camilla’s lascivious interests having wandered to Adam, who she probably sees as a meal-ticket to fame and fortune. Eventually Camilla tells Diane that they can no longer be intimate with one another. They remain friendly, but their relationship deteriorates further when Camilla embarks on an affair with Adam. One day Diane visits the set of Camilla’s new film and witnesses the cruel delight her ex-lover seems to take in flaunting her relationship with the director. Later, angrily turning Camilla away at the door of her apartment, Diane masturbates in a feverish malaise. Unable to repudiate her feelings entirely, when Camilla telephones Diane accepts an invitation to a party at Adam’s opulent home on Mulholland Drive. She is driven in style by Cadillac to the party where, unbeknownst to her, the recalcitrant Camilla will spring the ultimate humiliation. The car stops short of the house and, although she’s at first confused as to what’s happening, Diane’s fears are placated by the appearance of Camilla. She takes Diane’s hand and together they walk up the hill to Adam’s house. Subsequently Diane spends most of the evening talking with Adam’s overbearing mother Coco (Ann Miller), who appears to see Diane as a mildly embarrassing hanger-on, an object of pity. She struggles to hide her tears. When Camilla and Adam, giggling like silly children, announce their engagement, Diane can stand it no more. Her career is going nowhere and she has lost the woman she loves. Taking the money bequeathed her by her Aunt, she arranges a meeting in Winkie’s diner on Sunset Boulevard with a hitman, Joe (Mark Pellegrino), whom she hires to murder Camilla; if Diane can’t have her, no-one shall. Diane gives Joe a photo of Camilla, informing him ''This is the girl.'' He tells Diane that when the deed is done he will leave her a blue key. When she asks what the key is for Joe just laughs. Sometime later Diane is woken from a dream by a woman from a neighbouring apartment (Johanna Stein). It transpires that she has switched apartments with this woman, primarily to avoid two detectives who want to speak with her. On the table is a blue key, suggesting that Camilla’s execution has been carried out. Diane has no money and no career and she knows that the police are hot on her tail. A fit of guilt and despair engulfs her and, possibly drug-induced, she begins to hallucinate, first that Camilla is still alive and has come back to her and then that miniaturised versions of her grandparents have entered the apartment. As they advance on her, clawing and howling in outraged disgust at her failure not as an actress but as a decent human being, Diane runs screaming to the bedroom. Pulling a gun from the bedside drawer she shoots herself through the head.
 
So those are the facts. The 'reality'. As it stands it’s all pretty straightforward, right? Well, as previously indicated, all of the evidence from which this is assembled is presented in the final fifth of the film.
 
 So what about the preceding two hours? Pure Lynchian verisimilitude. 
 
Everything that the viewer has, quite understandably, taken on board as reality in those first two hours is in fact a multi-faceted dream (not that we are made aware of this until after the fact). It is Diane’s dream, a frenetic rearrangement of the facts to salvage what little self-esteem she has left. It is the dream from which she is woken by her neighbour, whereupon we see Diane as she really is. Gone is the radiant ingenue whose adventures we’ve been sharing, in her place a depressed and dishevelled mess, slouching around her apartment in an old robe, hating herself for what she has done as the truth of her failed ambition and fractured passion is presented to us in a nimble effusion of information. 
 
It’s a fundamental failure to comprehend the enormity of the director’s audacity that has angered some viewers, who think the intriguing situations he has so enticingly peddled them have been discarded without reason or explanation. They depart the experience scratching their heads and dismissing the film as nonsensical tosh, not realising that they have in fact been watching the longest, most intricate dream sequence in cinema history.
 
Detractors might claim that although this dream is slightly disjointed, it isn’t sufficiently so as to represent the illogical nature of most genuine dreams. Beyond the retort that this is, after all, a David Lynch film and anything goes, this is difficult to dispute. So perhaps it’s all part of a drug-fuelled hallucination illustrating how Diane wished her life had been, and by virtue a rationalisation of why she never made it in Hollywood. Instead of laying the blame on her own inadequacies she sees conspiracy in every corner. In her own mind she was perfect, her downfall being simply that she was unable to control the manipulative acts of those around her.
 
Be it a dream or hallucination, it really makes no difference to the outcome, it’s still all a falsehood. In fact Diane’s 'dream' (as we shall continue to refer to the first two hours of the film) is so uncharacteristically linear of real dreams, when the narrative reaches its sudden turnaround - with characters changing identities and situations altering drastically - it’s no wonder that viewers are prone to lose track of what’s going on. The sustained intrigue that Lynch has had us bear witness to is all a sham. All the characters whose trials and tribulations have been laid out before us are scooped up with alacrity and tossed into the blender, to emerge as different people living different lives.
 

Not being able to interpret this sudden cant in the proceedings at the two hour mark has proven an insurmountable liability for many. But for others, myself included, refusing to accept that it all has no purpose, not to mention the challenge of fathoming everything out, prompts a return visit which reveals far more than one might expect. For example, following the opening sequence in which we see a montage of jitterbugging teenagers and Diane, the overjoyed winner of the contest, standing between her grandparents, there follows a blurry point-of-view shot via which we vicariously crawl up onto a bed and fall face first into the pillow. This, as we can in hindsight ascertain, represents a bleary-eyed Diane collapsing onto the bed where she has her dream. With this single opening shot Lynch is dropping a sly hint to the audience that what is about to unfurl is a dream. This is just one of several instances in which the evidence is thrust upon us, possibly to be overlooked on a first viewing, but falling into place like the pieces of a jigsaw second time around. Armed with the knowledge that the first two hours represents Diane’s dream and only the final half hour depicts reality, we can begin to piece together and understand the whats and whys of MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Returning to the dream and understanding from whence much of it has been derived transforms the proceedings into a fascinating and rewarding experience.
 
Ask ten different people to explain a dream and you’d probably get ten different variations on a theme. What follows, whether it tallies with David Lynch’s vision or not, is my own interpretation. But before we begin, one should take a moment to consider those involuntary contrivances that inhabit our own dreams, which often incorporate random pieces of visual and aural trivia from the storeroom of our subconscious. It’s not uncommon upon waking to understand how people and situations from your recent or distant past have mutated into something else within the world of sleep. By way of a simplistic example, perhaps the face of the man who sold you a newspaper yesterday has remained in your subconscious, only to appear in your dream as a member of your family. Or perhaps a member of your family cameos in your dream as a newspaper vendor. In the waking world either of these scenarios would be preposterous (unless of course you happen to be related to a newspaper vendor, but let’s not go there). Yet whilst one is in the arms of Morpheus these notions adopt their own natural reality and seem perfectly in place.
 
Thus, with this criteria firmly in mind we can begin to probe Diane Selwyn’s dream. And as we do so we begin to appreciate just how much of it is born of her experiences striving to make good in Hollywood. Sequence by sequence we can anatomise it, sifting out allegories and moments emblematic of the tragic events that shaped Diane’s self-destruction in reality. As for elements that appear to me to be less than explicable, rather than blaming David Lynch for failing to make sense of the narrative in the editing suite, I prefer to chalk up such idiosyncrasies as those moments that we all experience in our dreams which have no discernible bearing on anything at all.
 
Punctuating the following synopsis of Diane Selwyn’s dream, my perceptions are distinguished via italicising.
 
Night. A Cadillac coasts along Mulholland Drive in Hollywood. In the front a driver and passenger. In the back a dark-haired woman (Laura Elena Harring). At the bottom of the hill the car draws to a halt, which unnerves the woman: ''What are you doing? We don’t stop here!'' The driver turns and points a gun at her. But, before he can shoot, two cars full of joyriders come screaming round the bend in the midst of a race. One car impacts immediately with the Cadillac whilst the second races past. Emerging from the blazing wreckage, the woman stumbles away in a state of frightened and dazed bewilderment.

- Up until the point where the driver turns nasty, right down to the use of the same words of bafflement, this journey mirrors precisely the one taken by Diane to Adam’s party. The driver is the same man who was behind the wheel that night. The woman substituting Diane, though at this point not identified, is Camilla. The life threat posed to Camilla could be Diane’s vision of how her death took place, Camilla’s last second redemption possibly symbolic of a thread of hope on Diane’s part that the assassination wouldn’t be successful.
 
Police are at the site of the crash, where at first it appears everyone was killed. With the discovery of an earring in the back seat and no body to match it to, suspicions are raised that someone has survived and may still be in the vicinity. Detective Harry McKnight (Robert Forster) seems unduly concerned that something is amiss.

- A translation of Diane’s awareness that the police are suspicious over the hit on Camilla?
 
The dazed woman has spent the night hidden in the undergrowth outside an upmarket apartment block on Sunset Boulevard. It’s now early morning and she is awoken by the sound of an elderly lady (Maya Bond) packing suitcases into the back of a cab. Still apparently in a state of shock, the woman grabs the opportunity to slip unseen through the open front door into the apartment where she hides out, frightened and disconcerted, until the owner locks up and leaves.

- This segment is setting up the Camilla character as she will continue to be throughout the dream -- wounded, vulnerable and utterly reliant on Diane’s loyal friendship, the stark antithesis of the real, successful and self-assured Camilla.
 
At Winkie’s, a small diner on Sunset Boulevard, a nervous young man named Dan (Patrick Fischler) is sitting telling his companion Herb (Michael Cooke) about a recurring nightmare he has been subjected to. Apparently it unfolds in the very place they’re now sitting. Dan’s ill-ease increases as he explains how the nightmare culminates with the appearance of a terrifying figure, lurking in the yard behind the diner. Herb urges that Dan go outside and confront his fears. Reluctantly he agrees. When they reach the back corner of the yard a shadowy figure (Bonnie Aarons) with a burned and scarred face emerges from behind the wall. Only Dan appears to see this frightening apparition and he promptly blacks out.

- Winkie’s diner is the place in which Diane arranged the hit on Camilla. The nightmare-plagued Dan is a man she caught sight of standing beside the counter, looking at her whilst she was paying off hit-man Joe. The grotesque character lurking in the yard has its grounding in a shabby female vagrant who, although the audience doesn’t actually bear witness to it, Diane probably espied in her makeshift hovel when she visited Winkie’s. The tramp’s distinctly more sinister reinvention in the dream has several possibilities. She could symbolise the harsh realities that the streets of Hollywood bestow upon the less fortunate, or perhaps she’s the commis of the evil that dwells in the recesses of everyone’s psyche. However, given that in the reality portion of the film Diane hallucinates another vagrant unleashing the miniaturised versions of her grandparents (cackling harbingers of retribution for the crime she has committed), I prefer to believe that this dreamstate incarnation is a physical manifestation of the darkly flagitious business that has been arranged between Diane and Joe at Winkie’s.
 
From the confines of a wheelchair in a half-lit, curtained room, Mr Roque (Michael J. Anderson) informs an unseen minion that ''The girl is still missing.'' This initiates a chain of calls, culminating in the unanswered ring of a telephone bathed in the red glow of a table lamp.

- Roque is a character who appears to bear no relation to anyone within Diane’s reality, or at least no-one that we see. But since he appears on several occasions throughout the dream orchestrating (as Diane perceives it) the opportunites of others to the detriment of her own, I tend to view him as the embodiment of the corruption she believes exists within the Hollywood casting system. The unanswered telephone is Diane’s own real-life phone.
 
Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives at the airport in Los Angeles. Beautiful, starry-eyed and bubbling with her success as a dance contest winner, as well as anticipation of the fame and fortune that lies ahead, she chatters enthusiastically to the elderly couple who have been her travelling companions (Jeanne Bates and Dan Birnbaum). They exchange farewells and, wishing Betty good luck, the old couple are whisked away in a cab. Fixed, rather ghoulish grins adorn their faces; they appear to be unnaturally pleased about something.

- In her dream Diane is not Diane Selwyn at all, she is Betty Elms. The Christian name has been adopted from the tag on the uniform of the waitress who served Diane at Winkie’s. Her arrival at the airport reflects her real arrival some months prior, flushed with the excitement of what might lay ahead; she’s in Hollywood, the city where dreams come true. Anything can happen. Seen in the dream as mere travelling companions, the elderly couple are in fact her grandparents. Although they could be her parents, I have settled on grandparents for the obvious reason of the age divide. Their zeal as they wish Betty good luck and the unnaturally fixed smiles suggest the pride Diane knows they felt about her Thespian dreams.
 
Betty arrives at her aunt’s apartment, the same apartment in which the dazed crash victim is hiding. She meets the block’s manager, Catherine Lenoix (Ann Miller), or Coco as she prefers to be known. Betty, it transpires, has the use of the apartment whilst her aunt, Ruth Elms, herself a successful actress, is away filming a movie in Canada.

- Within her dream Diane’s deceased Aunt Ruth is still alive and has loaned her plush apartment to her niece. Coco is a recharacterisation of director Adam Kesher’s mother. Diane met her at the party on Mulholland Drive where she appeared to offer a sympathetic ear over her lack of success on the audition circuit. Thus, in the dream, Coco is recast as the sympathetic landlady who through her own contacts within the business ensures that Diane gets a foot in the door.
 
Excitedly Betty inspects the apartment and is dismayed to find the dark-haired woman in the shower. She learns about the accident and reaches the mistaken conclusion that the woman must be one of her Aunt’s friends who has also been granted lodgings in the house. She isn’t unduly concerned by this turn of events; having a room-mate will be more fun than living alone, she reasons. When she asks the woman her name though, it’s apparent from her confused state that she’s sustained a blow to the head and is suffering amnesia; on the wall the woman espies a framed movie poster for Gilda starring Rita Hayworth, so she tells Betty her name is Rita. Loquacious by nature, Betty chatters away about her hopes and plans for a new life in Hollywood, but Rita clearly isn’t well and asks to be left to sleep. Afraid that Rita may be suffering from concussion, Betty nevertheless agrees to let her rest.

- All this reinforces the transmogrification of Camilla’s real-life personality, from the hard-hearted Hollywood bitch she had become to the dreamworld’s defenceless creature who would be lost without Diane’s cheerful resilience and support.
 
Film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is attending a meeting with studio executives over the casting of a leading lady for his new film. He’s baffled when Luigi and Vincenzo Castigliane (Angelo Badalamenti and Dan Hedaya) enter the room and take a seat. The brothers present Adam with a photograph of an actress, Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George), indicating that Adam is to choose her as his star: ''This is the girl,'' Luigi calmly repeats over and over. It’s implicit in their tone that Adam had better not cast anyone else. The wheelchair-bound Mr Roque is listening in on the meeting via a hidden microphone. The other executives in the room are clearly in league with the Castiglianes over the enforced choice of leading lady, their manner indicative of a keenness not to upset these powerful brothers. They present Luigi with a cup of espresso, enthusing over its quality. Adam watches in angry and confused silence as Luigi takes a single mouthful and spits it out. A minor rumpus ensues during which Adam refuses to have his artistic choice compromised in this way. Vincenzo tells him he is no longer directing the film. Outside Adam spots the brothers’ expensive limousine. Taking up a golf club he gives the limo a sound beating before jumping into his own car and speeding off. Later one of the studio executives meets with Roque, who instructs him to shut down the movie; it is now apparent that Roque is the puppetmaster behind the casting of Camilla.

- A great deal can be gleaned from these scenes. Foremost it reinforces Diane’s deep-seated belief that she lost the starring role in 'The Sylvia North Story' to Camilla Rhodes due, not to any inadequacy on her part, rather because of outside interference, represented in the dream by the influential Mr Roque and the Castiglianes. She believes unequivocally she would have got the part had there not been pressure to use Camilla. The Adam of reality is to all intents and purposes the same Adam in the dream, even though his motivations are played out differently. Camilla in the dream, however, is not at all the Camilla we know of reality, she’s completely different, having adopted the features of a blonde-haired girl Diane has seen briefly embracing Camilla at Adam’s party. She possibly remained more prominently in Diane’s subconscious because of the perversely proud glance Camilla affords her as she and the stranger embrace, implicitly hinting that Adam Kesher isn’t the only person with whom she has been unfaithful to Diane. Luigi Castigliane is another face Diane glimpsed fleetingly among the guests at the party. Scraping the surface, and without wanting to probe too deeply into the realms of remote metaphor, the prolonged malarkey with the coffee and the puffery the cow-towing executives expend on the subsequently foul-tasting liquid could be interpreted as a yet another allegory for the “eager expectation versus harsh reality” backbone of the entire film. Then again, since she was sipping an after-dinner espresso as Adam and Camilla announced their intentions of marriage, it’s more likely that the disgusting tasting coffee in the dream is a representation of the bitter taste of despair that welled up in Diane in that horrible moment of revelation. The words ''This is the girl'' are those used by Diane herself when handing Camilla’s photograph to Joe in Winkie’s. Adam’s attack on the Castiglianes’ car reflects Diane’s mistrust of him, specifically that beneath his apparently charming and handsome exterior he’s a nasty and vindictive man. Roque meanwhile is now very clearly the human manifestation of a corrupt Hollywood.
 
Sitting in a cluttered office, Joe (Mark Pellegrino) and Ed (Vincent Castellanos) are chatting about an accident which the latter claims was spectacular to see. At mention of ''Ed’s famous black book'', Joe pulls a gun and swiftly shoots him through the head. Whilst placing the weapon in the dead man’s hand to imply suicide, it goes off by accident and the bullet passes through the wall, clipping a woman in the office next door. After a protracted struggle Joe finishes her off but he’s seen by the hapless janitor, so Joe has to dispose of him too. With the bodies piling up, Joe grabs the book and makes a hasty exit down the fire escape.

- In this blackly humorous interlude the killer, Joe, is the same man Diane hired to murder Camilla, so possibly this is her reinvention of the adept hitman as a crass oaf, representative of her deep seated hope that he might bungle the job and Camilla will survive. How Ed, the man he shoots dead, fits into the picture we can’t be certain. And just what importance rests on the telephone numbers inside his ''famous black book'' also remains a mystery. But assuming the crash they’re discussing was the accident on Mulholland it’s possible that Ed, as a witness, was in the second car of joyriders that sped away from the scene. Then again, remember this is just a dream and although Lynch’s original intentions may have differed, a lot of ideas must have perished during the reshaping of the TV pilot into a movie. I think we must pigeonhole Ed and his little black book among those inexplicable facets of Diane’s dream.
 
Chatting on the phone with her Aunt, Betty discovers not only that she doesn’t know anyone named Rita but that she hasn’t given permission for anyone else to stay in the apartment. Confronting her house guest, Betty takes pity on Rita when she breaks down and admits this isn’t really her name and that the blow to her head has rendered her an amnesiac. Curiosity piqued, Betty suggests they look in Rita’s bag for some ID but what they find is a fortune in banknotes and a strangely shaped metallic blue key. Betty is now in full Nancy Drew mode and they decide that the best place to begin to trace Rita’s true identity is the site of the crash on Mulholland Drive, the one thing Rita can remember.

- The discovery of the money is representative of the undoing of Camilla’s murder. Its retrieval and endowment upon Camilla negates Diane’s dreadful crime of passion. The blue key is a weird variant of the one Joe leaves Diane upon completing the hit. Again, that Camilla has possesssion of it makes void the intended crime. An additional function of the key within the dreamstate, though unclear at this juncture, becomes apparent later on.
 
Joe is pressing low-lives in the district for information pertaining to the whereabouts of a brunette, indicating he is looking for Rita.

- Taken on face value this is Diane’s imagining of the killer looking for Camilla, in order to complete the hit for which he was paid.
 
Adam receives a phonecall from his secretary Cynthia (Katharine Towne) and learns that production on his movie has been closed down. Arriving home he finds his wife Lorraine (Lori Heuring) in bed with Gene the pool man (Billy Ray Cyrus). Already in a state of high agitation over his disastrous day, Adam flips. Grabbing Lorraine’s jewellery box he runs to the garage, selects a pot of garish pink paint and pours it all over the valuables. As Lorraine and Adam come to blows, Gene intervenes and beats the director up.

- The business with the pool man stems from Diane having listened at the party to Adam’s humorous account of his failed marriage (''... so I got the pool and she got the pool man''). Her innate hatred of Adam manifests itself yet again as she wills ill fortune upon him, physically through the beating he takes but also emotionally via the discovery of his wife’s adultery, the ultimate hurt, the same hurt Diane felt upon learning of Camilla’s betrayal of affections.
 
Betty uses a payphone adjacent to Winkie’s diner to call the police and establish that there was indeed a crash on Mulholland Drive the previous evening. She and Rita retreat inside for a cup of coffee to decide upon their next move. When Rita spots the name Diane on the waitress’s nametag it stirs a memory and she tells Betty she knows someone named Diane Selwyn; it might even be her true identity. They return to the apartment where, trawling through the phonebook, they find a number. ''Strange to be calling yourself,'' Betty whispers as they dial. They reach an answerphone message. Rita says that the voice on the tape isn’t hers, but feels sure it is familiar.

- Much as, for the purposes of her dream, Diane has borrowed the name Betty from the waitress at Winkie’s, so she has dubbed the same girl in her dream with her own name, Diane. The remark she makes during the telephone call to Diane Selwyn is subtly indicative that it is actually Betty, not Rita, who’s calling herself. The voice they hear on the answering machine -- “Hello, it’s me. Leave a message.” -- is Diane’s own answerphone voice message, heard in reality when Camilla calls her about Adam’s party.
 
A burly associate of Mr Roque arrives at Adam’s house looking for the director. Lorraine, in a frenzy, sets about him. He efficiently disposes of both her and Gene. Adam meanwhile has taken up residence in a grotty hotel room. Answering a knock on the door from the manager Cookie (Geno Silva), Adam is told that the men he’s hiding from know where he is. He’s also told that the credit card with which he has attempted to pay for the room is void. Adam telephones Cynthia; she tells him that someone powerful has been interfering in his private affairs and to all intents and purposes he’s been left penniless. She advises him to meet a man called The Cowboy (Monty Montgomery) who she’s sure is involved in his downfall.

- Within the context of the dream the men Adam is hiding from in the hotel room are probably the mob seeking revenge for his assault on their car. As an analogy, however, it could also represent Diane’s awareness and fear of the detectives she has switched apartments to try and evade.
 
Betty and Rita decide that at the first opportunity they will go and visit Diane Selwyn in person. Answering a knock at the door, Betty is greeted by an elderly woman, Louise Bonner (Lee Grant), ominously warning that ''Someone is in trouble''. When Betty introduces herself - ''My name’s Betty'' - Louise responds ''No it’s not.'' At that moment Coco appears with the pages of a scene Betty has to learn for the following day’s big audition. She apologises for Louise and escorts the eccentric woman back to her own apartment.

- Louise’s blunt response when Betty tells her her name is, in spite of the all-consuming nature of the dream, Diane’s inner recognition that the role she is playing within it is not really her. On a more fundamental level, Lynch is unveiling the core truth of his film to the audience right there and then: what you’re seeing is a fallacy. That Coco has apparently been pulling strings on Betty’s behalf stems from the compassion she displayed at the party when Diane spoke of her frustrating failure within the Hollywood system.
 
Adam arrives at the predetermined rendezvous on the outskirts of town and meets The Cowboy. A man not to be trifled with, he tells Adam to return to work, host his auditions and ensure that he chooses Camilla Rhodes as his star. His co-operation is, he is told, to be conveyed with the words ''This is the girl.''

- The most sinister sequence in the entire film. Remember how our dreams can bestow significance upon insignificant aspects of our reality? The Cowboy, as is the case with a number of the characters who inhabit Diane’s dream, is an insertion of someone glimpsed fleetingly across the room at Adam’s party. Again Diane’s own words - ''This is the girl'' are heard.
 
Rita helps Betty to run through her audition scene, though she doesn’t seem to be taking it all that seriously and her performance is far from stellar. Coco arrives and, taking Betty to one side, tells her that Louise believes Rita will bring her trouble.

- It’s likely that the shared reading of lines is something Diane and Camilla did often during the early days of their friendship. That Rita is presumed to be ''in trouble'' is self-explanatory; we know only too well the torment ultimately visited upon Diane via her relationship with Camilla.
 
Consumed with awe, Betty arrives at the film studio. Wally Brown (James Karen), the producer of the film for which she’s auditioning, introduces her to several people she’ll be working with if she gets the part, including director Bob Brooker (Wayne Grace) and ageing Lothario Jimmy “Woody” Katz (Chad Everett). Betty enacts her rehearsed scene with Woody and, much to the delight of the assembled sycophants, delivers an astonishing performance. Although Bob still finds cause for minor criticism, it’s unanimously agreed that Betty has won the role. Outside, however, she learns from casting agent Linny James (Rita Taggart) - who also happens to be the ex-Mrs Wally Bown - that Wally is living a pipe dream and is unlikely to get his film financed. Linny whisks Betty off downstairs to where Adam is auditioning singers for his film. Their eyes meet and it is evident that the director is drawn to her. But his hands are tied. Before getting the chance to show what she’s capable of, Betty sees Camilla (Melissa George) step up in front of the microphone. Adam utters the requisite words to the assembled executives: ''This is the girl.'' Betty suddenly realises the time and, even though she knows she could be blowing her big chance, dashes off to meet Rita.

- Diane’s audition in her dream is remarkably good, leaving witnesses gasping. It is in stark contrast to how we have ascertained her real life audition for Bob Brooker went when he was casting for 'The Sylvia North Story', the film for which Camilla snared the lead. Bob’s minor reservations over Diane’s audition maintain a thread of truth with the reality that he didn’t care for her acting skills. In spite of her brilliant audition, the news that the film is unlikely to go ahead again reinvents the actuality; in her own mind it wasn’t that Diane was no good for the film, it was that fate conspired to prevent her doing it. Even though it was Bob Brooker who turned her down, within the dream Adam is the one rejecting her. This rejection functions on two levels, firstly in his decision to use the dream version of Camilla - he would have used Betty had outside coercion not foisted an alternative choice upon him - but perhaps more significantly as a metaphor for Adam’s real life closing out of Diane when employing his status and charm to steal Camilla from her. And once more we hear ''This is the girl'', an echo of Diane’s own words upon arranging Camilla’s assassination. Betty’s sudden departure from the studio to keep her appointment with Rita illustrates Diane’s belief that another factor in her lack of success was the forfeiture of her dreams for the love of Camilla.

Betty collects Rita and together they go by cab to find Diane Selwyn’s house. Avoiding two men in a car parked nearby - men who appear to be watching the apartments - they locate the place they’re seeking and knock on the door. A young woman (Johanna Stein) answers but it’s not Diane Selwyn. Instead it’s a neighbour who tells them that she switched apartments with Diane and hasn’t seen her around for a few days. Failing to get an answer at the right apartment, Betty forces a window and she and Rita sneak in. In the bedroom they discover the dead body of a woman (Lyssie Powell), her features indiscernible due to decomposition.

- The neighbour who switched apartments with Diane is the same in both her dream and reality. In the dream Rita believes that the men in the car are after her, but since they are watching Diane’s apartment we can assume this is another reflection of Diane’s awareness that the police are hot on her trail for Camilla’s murder. The interior of the apartment is that of Diane’s own real abode. The position of the body that the women discover foreshadows Diane’s own body at the moment she is woken from her dream. On a more profound level it could be surmised that Diane is envisioning her own death, just another failed wannabe starlet taking her own life, by no means the first and most assuredly not the last.
 
Now convinced that there are people after her, Rita disguises herself with a blonde wig. ''You look like someone else,'' Betty tells her. That night she invites Rita to share her bed so she can get more sleep than the couch has been affording her. A kiss goodnight develops into something more passionate and they make love. ''I’m in love with you,'' Betty whispers repeatedly. Later, Betty is woken by Rita talking in her sleep. ''Silencio'' she says, over and over again. Even though it’s the middle of the night Rita asks Betty to go with her to the Club Silencio, convinced they will uncover a clue to her true identity.

- Betty’s observation that Rita looks like someone else is very appropriate. Not only does the blonde wig make her look more like Betty herself, in reality Rita really is someone else: Camilla. Although Betty tells Rita several times that she has fallen in love with her, Rita doesn’t express similar feelings; this signifies Diane’s intuition that the love she once thought existed between Camilla and herself was all one-sided. Even in the land of sugar, spice and everything nice the fantasy is overshadowed by the truth that her feelings were not reciprocated.
 
The women travel by cab through deserted streets until they arrive at the Club Silencio. Taking a seat in the sparsely populated auditorium, Betty and Rita listen intently as the Magician (Richard Green) explains the upcoming entertainment; there is no orchestra, all the performers will be miming to tape recordings, everything that the audience will see is an illusion. The Magician vanishes in a cloud of smoke and the Emcee (Geno Silva) introduces a singer (Rebekah Del Rio). She steps onto the stage and without musical accompaniment performs in Spanish a powerful and moving rendition of Roy Orbison’s 'Crying' ('Llorando'). As the song intensifies so both Betty and Rita begin to weep. The singer collapses halfway through her performance but, because she is miming, the song eerily continues. Betty reaches inside her purse for a handkerchief but instead pulls out a small, metallic blue box. The pair hurry back to the apartment to retrieve the key Rita found earlier in her own bag. But when Rita finds it and turns around Betty has vanished. The key fits the box and Rita opens it.

- The Emcee’s summation of the Club’s show as being an illusion is, one can suppose, an allegory for the entire structure of the movie up to this point; don’t believe what you’re being shown, it’s all an elaborately staged hoax at the expense of you, the viewer. The presence of the Emcee marks the second appearance of an earlier dream character in a different role, Cookie the hotel manager. The box that Betty finds in her purse is far more intriguing. What purpose has it? In terms of narrative it forms the segue between dream and reality, the point at which everything we’ve seen is turned upside down and inside out and the true identities and lives of the protagonists begin to unspool. The box is a conduit between the fantasy world of Diane’s dream and her rather more grim reality, for as Rita opens it and peers inside...
 
We plunge into blackness. The box falls to the floor. Aunt Ruth has heard a noise in her bedroom, but upon investigating she finds nothing. Betty - now dressed in a robe - is laid on her bed in the same position as the dead body in her dream. The bedroom door opens and The Cowboy appears: ''Hey, pretty girl, time to wake up.'' A loud rapping on her apartment door brings Diane back into the waking world.

- The final images of Aunt Ruth and The Cowboy are imagined by Diane in the fleeting moments as she begins to wake. The mysterious box is actually seen one more time at the film’s climax, in the hands of the vagrant living behind Winkie’s. Although this is the reality portion of the film, the sequence is linked to the appearance of the miniaturised grandparents so can in essence be assigned to Diane’s climactic parade of hallucinations. The box’s significance at this point then? I like to view it as a little bit of mysterious symbolism in its own right. It is, I believe, the corporeal custodian of Diane’s dreams, more than that perhaps the dreams of thousands of Tinseltown’s failed hopefuls. Dreams of happiness, dreams of success, dreams of finding true love, all played out in a fairytale Hollywood that simply doesn’t exist. Everything Diane ever wanted is now consigned to the grubby underbelly of a City too self-absorbed to care about or even notice the grief and despair being cultivated in its own backyard.
 

So there you have it. One man’s reading of David Lynch’s most challenging cinematic sweetmeat yet. Love it or loathe it, there’s no disputing that the wildly unpredictable MULHOLLAND DRIVE is Lynch doing what Lynch does best: demanding his audience really think about what they’re watching. In an era waist-deep in popcorn movies -- toothsome enough in the consumption, but often neither filling or memorable -- such a principle is something to be applauded. Whether my personal understanding of the film is right or wrong isn’t all that significant, for I believe viewers take away from MULHOLLAND DRIVE whatever they wish. Working through it all methodically certainly proved a cathartic exercise for me. And if my explication has illuminated just one misconstrued aspect or brought enlightenment to a single previously baffled reader - perhaps giving him pause for thought and invoking a desire to return to the film with renewed interest - then my being here has not been in vain.
 
Originally written in 2002.

NIGHT MOVES (1975) - An Appreciation by Guest Contributor Willy Romano-Pugh

Arthur Penn solidified himself as an American auteur with such cinematic landmarks as BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and LITTLE BIG MAN (1970). NIGHT MOVES, starring the incomparable Gene Hackman, deserves a reexamination. It can easily be mentioned alongside other neo-noir classics like CHINATOWN (1974) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). 
 
With a lead detective character that’s subjected to obstacles that might seem alien to such noir regulars as Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, Harry Moseby (Hackman) escapes the troubles of his failing marriage with Ellen (Susan Clark) and throws himself headlong into a convoluted international case. A former movie star, Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), with more than just fading glamour, puts Moseby on her payroll to track her missing daughter, Delilah (Melanie Griffith), whom she envies a great deal for her sexual prowess. Haunted by his wife’s philandering with a handicapped Marty Heller (Harris Yulin) the chess-obsessed detective buries himself in this case that brings him to the Florida everglades. It's there that he encounters an inappropriate 3-way relationship between Delilah, her stepfather Tom Iverson (John Crawford) and the troubled nomad Paula (Jennifer Warren). Between his own fractured home life and an intricate international smuggling plot that complicates the initial mystery of this missing-persons case, Harry Moseby soon puts himself in a situation that throws him into an identity crisis, while also provoking grave danger.
 
With the advent of the neo-noir genre came a string of ambitious filmmakers who opted to break some of the long-standing conventions that had lingered on in hard-boiled detective films. THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) placed old-fashioned Philip Marlowe in an alien society with hippies and marijuana. THE LATE SHOW (1977) (which I coincidentally saw on a double bill with NIGHT MOVES at The New Beverly) toys with the familiar idea of a detective’s loose-non committal sexuality, and gives the protagonist a more paternal relationship to the female character, as opposed to a lusty one. The film offers something rarely seen in a hard-hitting detective movie: a man who wants a happy marriage but is distraught by his wife’s infidelity. In the confines of his own home, Harry deals with more psychological difficulties than on the job as he verbally spars with the woman he thought he could trust. She reveals her resentment for him not fulfilling his own true potential and being uncommunicative about his childhood vulnerabilities. The sound and set design prove to be a great asset in this simple setting. In one scene a garbage disposal that gratingly grinds up broken glass, mirrors the nature of Harry’s fractured jagged thoughts (Ellen: “Can you turn that thing off? I can’t hear myself think!” Harry: “Lucky you.”) The small TV tucked away in a hidden room quietly broadcasts a professional football game to constantly yet subtly remind our hero of his dead dream of being a powerhouse athlete. These little touches far outdo other noir classics in terms of providing backstory to the protagonist and giving him some semblance of motivation. It is a calculated genre pot-stirrer that nullifies any pre-conceived notions of the classic authority figure that is irresistible but cold and a mere machine of unbiased justice. It is this relationship-based part of the story that might be deemed a non-essential subplot for a lesser detective movie but actually holds more interest for me than the convoluted mystery itself.
 
Of course the film isn't totally unbalanced to the point where the mystery is not at all compelling. The unorthodox relationship between Tom Iverson and his stepdaughter Delilah is undoubtedly sickening but Tom’s humanity also shines through in taking the troubled Paula underneath his wing after an upbringing of abuse that led her to part-time prostitution at one point in her life. He has conflicted feelings about his own ethical boundaries in courting the young siren, Delilah, but gets emotionally attached. He also unintentionally drives Paula to escape the torment of the disjointed romance through alcoholism, all the while he not-so-secretly engages in criminal activities. It is a disorderly union that’s not ideal by any standards. But the odd “family” also serves as a frank conversation-starter about societal sexual mores especially at the time of the film’s release in the mid-70s. After all this was the era of free love, when ideas of monogamy and commitment were being greatly challenged. The good and bad dynamics of such a loose relationship is put on display here as each party's conflicted emotional state is brought into full focus. A strangely erotic yet pathetic dance scene that happens mere minutes after a shocking discovery communicates the ever-changing libidinal drives of the four characters involved with great succinctness and uncomfortable humor.
 
This bizarre encounter even allows Hackman’s character to do some sexual exploration himself. Moseby's initial outrage at his wife's cheating followed by his eventual one-night stand with love-lorn and unsure Paula is simply put, a heart-broken rebound effort. But with further examination this instance of the film yet again holds a mirror up to our ingrained societal practices. The brief affair asks the question: did such a tryst that would be otherwise frowned upon, in a way, help his failing marriage and aid him in realizing his true full potential?
 
As if not enough uncharacteristic detail is given to Moseby's backstory, the film also expounds upon his twin obsessions with chess and football. Throughout the film, Harry is constantly poring over a chess board in various situations to relive a famous tournament in which a world-class player made a simple but game-losing mistake. Looking at the strategies that happened to lead to such a terrible loss metaphorically draws comparison to the way he planned out the battles in his own life. He’s no doubt thinking about what simple thing he could have possibly done to avoid losing his domestic happiness. The mentions of his former athletic football prowess on the football field cause his eyes to light up at a more glorious yesteryear. The reminiscences of his robust youth shed more light on his current state of existential angst. He lives an unfulfilling life where he brings only cursory fulfillment to strangers.

Gene Hackman doesn't make one false move in this masterful performance. He allows the audience to see a calculated measure of his inner turmoil. He puts up just enough of a steely reserve to communicate that he has the implied emotional toughness to succeed with such a difficult job but also can’t hide a softer side. An intimate moment between Harry and Ellen, where he desperately fights the instinct to cry while talking about his father prompts his wife to plead for him to succumb to his emotions and let loose the tears for the sake of their communication, which will in turn salvage their relationship. It's to the benefit of the movie and his performance that we see his weeping as an underlying possibility but an action that never comes to fruition in his constant emotional struggles.

Seeing as how this film doesn't follow the usual stylistic conventions of a typical procedural it also has the distinction of not utilizing well-worn editing methods to communicate the differences in location or plot points. As this is more of a personal tale of our hero (who appears in every scene) than anything else, it is somewhat confusing at times to determine exactly where he has ended up or his relationship to other characters in the somewhat-sprawling plot. Arthur Penn uses no cross fades or other flashy cutting methods. Some scenes instead are framed by Hackman's physical actions of kicking or thrashing in frustration. The audience sometimes feels as if they're experiencing something more than just a movie and instead are getting privileged but brief moments of Harry Moseby uninterrupted. The subtle yet carefully constructed editing techniques place this film in a different more intimate category than most other noir films whose styles reflect the restrained but noticeable bravado of the sleuthing protagonists.
 
Powerful imagery and a heartbreaking revelation aside, the climax proves to be an expertly staged homage to the crop-dusting sequence in Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) but with no logical explanation concerning the outstanding coincidences and the revealed perpetrator's intangible motivations. The film ends beautifully with stunning symbolism that suggests the circular nature of the consequences with which our protagonist is doomed to suffer for his insistence at getting to the bottom of each truth, which in his case might be better left unexplored. An anecdote told midway through the film reveals that earlier in his life he had stopped just short of getting satisfaction in solving the mystery about his missing father to spare him the pain. It is this refusal to bring closure to a personal demon in his own life that perhaps prompted him to make a career out of bringing other people answers to their own mysteries to provide vicarious satisfaction. But in the end, the missing pieces of the mystery become more frustrating than elusive (see Michael Haneke's CACHE, 2005, as an example of a film that pulls off such an admirable quality.)

In Arthur Penn’s interesting experiment to kind of cement itself as an anti-noir film, NIGHT MOVES succeeds in differentiating itself with some minor missteps. The film serves to be entertaining and provocative on multiple accounts. It is a forgotten gem and an intimate character study with heartfelt performances. Penn's film deserves to be thoroughly re-examined and hailed as a classic in its own right, no matter what category people choose to classify it as. With such a wide array of genre conventions on display here, it is safe to label this hybrid product as a movie in its own class. 

Willy Romano-Pugh is an L.A.-based actor who has acted in short films as well as a number of productions at the Grand Guignol style theater group, Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood. He has always been an avid fan of films, has ambitions to be a filmmaker and is passionate about film criticism.  

Willy's appreciation of FRUITVALE STATION.