When I was back in college, I decided to watch the catalog of some of cinema’s greatest directors. I didn’t know much about David Lynch when I started that particular journey, aside from hearing that his films are famously weird. It was perhaps both my fault and my good fortune when I, for some reason, chose to begin with his 2001 Oscar-nominated film, Mulholland Dr. “Uhhh…what?” I was nothing but baffled by that movie, and kind of disturbed at how it made me feel. Later, I watched Lost Highway and turned it off during the infamous “Robert Blake on the phone while Robert Blake is standing right there” scene.
After a few years, I started getting more and more intrigued by Lynch’s films, especially the ones that I didn’t understand at first. Lynch’s movies feature dark storylines, quirky characters, and general senses of doom and dread, but their plots and themes are things that need to be intuited more than dissected. He doesn’t hold your hand or expect the audience to keep up, even if they’re not entirely sure where the story is going to go, or has gone. You could dismiss that style as pretentious, but then you’d be dismissing David Lynch.
Criterion is releasing Mulholland Dr. as part of their latest collection, who in the past released Lynch’s first film, Eraserhead. It’d been awhile since I’d seen Mulholland, and with years of living in Los Angeles under my belt, I find it a lot more comedic than I did before. It was also never really intended to be a feature film. As Eric Diaz pointed out in his terrific Twin Peaks Revisited column, Mulholland Dr. was initially meant to be a spinoff of the cult TV series starring Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). When that project didn’t materialize, it was recast with a new character, Betty (Naomi Watts), and begins a new mystery about a woman (Laura Harring) with memory loss and more than a few secrets.
In 1999, the pilot for the series wasn’t picked up, and after languishing for a couple of years, Lynch eventually hit upon the idea to turn the pilot into a film. It’s here when the movie gets extra weird. Losing several of the threads involved in what would have been a full series, the latter part of the movie is all about identity, possibly split personalities — or assuming someone else’s — love, lust, obsession, loss of innocence, and the rather fickle and insidious nature of “making it” in Hollywood. It’s sort of like Bergman’s Persona by way of Sunset Blvd. I only think that’s what this movie’s about, by the way.
What makes Criterion’s release of the movie great is that it doesn’t try to explain what the movie is, but why it is and how it was to make. The extras contain interviews from Lynch, Watts, Theroux, Harring, Director of Photography Peter Deming, composer Angelo Badalamenti, production designer Jack Fisk, and casting director Johanna Ray. From these, you get a sense of what it was like to make the movie, and how much people were excited about the project when it was supposed to be for TV. There’s discussions of the film’s many difficult scenes, especially for Watts and Harring, and how Lynch was both sympathetic to their concerns but knew it would make the movie better.
Also, very much in keeping with Lynch’s whole aesthetic and approach to movie making, that’s pretty much it for extras. The interviews are great, no question, but aside from a single deleted scene featuring Robert Forster’s cop, some on-set footage, and the trailer, there are no other extras. No commentary, no scholarly exploration of the themes or attempt to decipher the movie’s mysteries. There are also no chapter separations; you have to watch the whole movie in one sitting if you want to watch it, or fast forward to where you left off. That’s Lynch all over — just sit down and watch a damn movie the way it was meant to be seen. I kind of love that, even if it does make it more difficult to watch the 146-minute flick.
Criterion has always been the best at exemplifying both the love of cinema and the love of filmmakers, and each of their releases perfectly encapsulates the mentality and mood the film and director were trying to instill. So far, their two Lynch releases have done exactly that. Weird, sparse, and without much explanation. This is Mulholland Dr., dammit. If you don’t get it, you just need to watch it again.
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!