Blu-ray Review: Criterion Veers Onto The Formidable MULHOLLAND DRIVE
Betty, played by Naomi Watts in her breakout role, is an aspiring actress fresh off the plane from Ontario. Starry-eyed and flush with California sunshine, palm trees, and the lure of the Hollywood dream, Betty moves into her aunt's home temporarily. She discovers that a beautiful woman has taken refuge in the apartment. Played by Laura Elena Harring, "Rita" is what she calls herself --- she's been in an accident and has amnesia. There's no ID in Rita's purse --- just a couple thousand dollars and a steel blue box.
In the meantime, Betty has a very successful audition at a studio. She is brought over to meet director Adam Kesher, who is working on a film in which he's been forced by some shady men to cast an actress he doesn't like --- for the lead role, no less. Their paths intersect again later in another parallel world, after Betty and Rita are able to open that blue box and Kesher meets a cowboy who speaks in calm, veiled threats. After Betty and Rita find the key to opening the blue box, Betty loses her sweetness after she morphs into jealous lover Diane Selwyn to Rita's Camilla Rhodes.
What follows after the box opening may be reality becoming itself. What came before the box opening may have been fiction. Lynch refuses to give any easy answers --- or any answers at all, really. He's notoriously tight-lipped on his films and prefers to let viewers come to their own conclusions, and I'd say that his silence on the topic adds inexorably to the mysterious essence of Mulholland Drive.
I find the film to be a modern-day execution of Hollywoodland malaise --- a noir impact on a dangerous love story --- with a tragedy that keeps looping in on itself. At times, there are pretty funny moments in absurd scenes such as when a hitman shoots someone through a wall, when Keshner meets with the weird Castigiliane brothers and their hatred for the provided espresso, or when Kesher dumps pink paint into his cheating wife's jewelry box, and Billy Ray Cyrus as Gene the pool guy beats him up.
The Criterion Collection has released Mulholland Drive on Blu-ray and DVD. Like a previous bare bones release here in the US, there are no chapters to skip to. Your best bet is to pause the film or watch it all the way through. With this release, there is a good amount of extras, most notably interviews with Lynch, Watts, Harring, Justin Theroux (he plays Adam Kesher), composer Angelo Badalamenti (who is also in the film as one of the Castigliane brothers), production designer Jack Fisk, and casting director Johanna Ray.
These interviews reveal details about the casting, production, and scoring processes. Those speaking onscreen often recount fond memories about the set or working with Lynch. In particular, Watts and Lynch together are heartwarming as they talk about finding each other for Mulholland Drive. Fans of the film will eat these interviews up and wish there was more material from which to cull additional clues and theories.
That the newly restored 4K digital transfer was supervised by both Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming means that the Blu-ray looks great. However, I noticed flickering on my screen and for a few moments, wondered if I'd received a DVD instead of a Blu-ray for this review. Nope, Blu-ray.
Perhaps it was because the film was shot on actual 35mm that viewers may notice grain. The color looks great and the picture is otherwise spotless and improved. Besides, that very minor flickering in a few places doesn't detract from the magnificence of the story. The sound really holds up well; there were no pops, hisses, distortions, drops, and the dialogue is intact. Badalamenti's score (his theme song is among one of my favorite film themes of all time) is impeccable, and Lynch's sound design is always unsettling. Whether you hear ambient noise, music, or even nothing at all, it's perfectly integrated with the picture.
Additionally, there's a deleted scene, the trailer, footage from the set, and a thick booklet that reprises an interview with Lynch from Chris Rodley's book Lynch On Lynch, which makes for some great supplemental reading. In short, Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece of love, sorrow, and the Hollywood dream/nightmare dichotomy --- ensconced in surrealist cinema. Criterion's new release is an absolute essential for Lynch fans and for purveyors of fine cinema. Very highly recommended.