Mulholland Dr., the Essential Lynch


Leigh Singer


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Accompanying text

It speaks volumes when a filmmaker who hasn’t made a feature in over a decade, whose last full-length film was a three-hour enigma, shot on the fly using consumer-level digital video, remains one of the art form’s major talking points. But then David Lynch isn’t just any filmmaker. From his 1976 debut, Eraserhead, onwards, Lynch has become an unparalleled cinematic explorer of the subconscious, his generation’s greatest dream-logic audio-visual artist, even his own adjective: the term “Lynchian” now connotes subverted, perverted Americana; mystery, menace, and the uncanny lurking behind the chipper, can-do facades of smalltown U.S.A. or its PR arm, Hollywood, California. With the probable exceptions of compromised space oddity Dune (1984) and, by his wild-at-heart-weird-on-top standards, his strangest film, sweet-natured, Disney-backed road movie The Straight Story (1999), Lynch’s compact body of work is eerily singular and strong. So much so that all other films, from Blue Velvet (1986) to Lost Highway (1997), even the DV-smeared aesthetics of Inland Empire (2006) have fervent champions asserting them as Lynch’s key work. But since its 2001 release, no film has been as universally acclaimed as Mulholland Dr. Number one in numerous prestigious pollsfor the Noughties Film of the Decade, last year a panel of global film critics voted it the 21stCentury’s Greatest Film. For a film as fractured, sensual and nightmarish, let alone one salvaged from an abandoned TV pilot, such overwhelming consensus is nothing short of miraculous. You’ll find no contrarian position here. I still consider my first big screen encounter with Mulholland Dr. one of the most astounding, unsettling moviegoing experiences of my life. As the film is re-released in gleaming 4K, this video essay avowedly does not seek to “decipher” the film (though there are numerous, often misjudged guides to its mysteries in print and online). Instead, it’s an attempt to gauge just why Mulholland Dr. has taken up such a prominent position, not just in the canon of movie masterpieces, but in Lynch’s own work. Why this particular blending of dreams and doppelgängers, terror and transcendence, women in trouble and the shadowy figures who seek to control them, speaks to so many of us. It’s like a clandestine performance in a red-velvet-curtained club at witching hour, that we know is an illusion, yet works real, dark magic. Lynch knows more than most that some things have to be felt, intuited, experienced, not explained. The rest is silencio.