The initial trappings of Mulholland Dr. are obvious — innocent, pretty young girl becomes trapped in the twisted world of Hollywood film-making, with other examples of this world like a frame around a painting, most notably the Adam Kesher subplot. However, the “movie about movie” basic idea really does have things to say about the rest of the film, including the more mysterious, surrealistic elements near the ending.
Mulholland Dr. is one of my favorite films of all time and it’s one of those things you encounter that completely changes your brain- a demarcated “before” and “after” feature in the mental landscape. Nothing I could write will do it justice. I only wish to briefly expand on the stranger, and to me, more affecting elements.
The basics of stage magic (card tricks, etc) state that “a magician never reveals his secrets”- that is, the lustre, the allure of the performance is lost once you understand the reality of how exactly it is done. It can still be impressive — sleight of hand is all skill on the magician’s part, and required years of practice to get right. But it is not “magic”.
David Lynch performs magic in Club Silencio. True magic with a very clear distinction from the magic described above. The emcee plays the trumpet convincingly and demonstrates that the noises he is making- or pretending to make- are prerecorded, we are told quite clearly, everything here is not real. When Rebekah Del Rio comes on stage and begins to sing, these statements are forgotten once again and we are recast under the spell, only for it to be broken — again — with her collapsing and voice still singing on. This is Lynch performing the trick once, showing us how the trick is done, and performing the trick again, perfectly, and we no less affected by the performance or the final effect. If anything the second rendition is done more beautifully than the first. Lynch could do this to us any number of times- but two is sufficient. This is pure directorial magic- the spell-casting ability that causes us to give ourselves over to a movie- or allows us access to that world- I think Lynch would refer to it as some kind of shared dream- I prefer the idea of a shared reality. Club Silencio demonstrates that the greats can create and dispel this reality at will, with the dusty, grimy streets kept safely away from this thundering inner sanctum.
The Cowboy is played by the producer of Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. (There’s no way you could know this by watching, but it is part of this line-blurring about movie-reality that suffuses the film).
The Cowboy says-
“…you will see me one more time if you do good, you’ll see me two more times if you do bad.”
Diane sees the cowboy two times, Adam sees him one more time, and we see the Cowboy two times.
DIANE / BETTY CAMILLA / RITA
The idea of being so dedicated to a character you become jealous of them- the total drowning in the dream of the thing- I see this reflected in both faces of the actors in the film. I’m not talking about method acting or any kind of that modern bullshit, and I’m also not talking about the binary division idea behind this film that I hate- I hate, hate the simplistic, this is a dream, this is reality, clear lines in the film. Nothing is that clear. It is, however, clearly significant that both lead roles are actors in both realities we are presented, each as real as the other, separated only by blue box and key, and both pairs collectively long for something together, each only seeking achievement at the expense of the other. The idea is difficult to put into words- and I will have to visit this again- Diane / Betty + Camilla / Rita like two particles, each switched to a different polarity, different reactions with different combinations, left-and-right handed molecules, two images projected upside-down… each actor dreams of being an actor who can become another effortlessly, and this idea is doubled up on itself here so tensely and beautifully, without end, two mirrors lined up with two people between, and if you look closely enough- far enough- you’ll see your third and fourth counterpart there, leaning out, trying to catch a glimpse of you.