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Mulholland Drive

[1]1,709 words

David Lynch is the greatest director working today, one of the greatest of all time. Mulholland Drive is his latest film. It is one of his best. Those who took their grandmothers to see Lynch’s last film The Straight Story should not take them to Mulholland Drive, which most closely resembles Lynch’s Lost Highway. Like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive is filled with sex, violence, decadence, and dark humor. Both films have almost unintelligible plots. Both are set in Los Angeles. Both films are magnets for perforated misfits who think that Lynch is celebrating their own decadence and snickering along with them at wholesome, traditional White American values. In fact, however, Mulholland Drive, like all of Lynch’s movies, is a categorical indictment of the decadence of modern American society by a man who truly believes in traditional White American values.

David Lynch would love to live in Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet‘s Lumberton. He would love to live in the world of Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons. In Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and above all The Straight Story, he celebrates the independence, resourcefulness, and Eagle-Scout virtues of ordinary, sincere, straight-arrow Americans. But he knows that their world is constantly threatened by evil forces. These evil forces work through the channels of culture and politics, but they are not merely cultural and political. They are spiritual.

Lynch is a modern day Manichean; a mystic who believes in the reality of the demonic, of evil forces that first enter and then dominate our souls through our vices, follies, and blind spots. These demonic forces are personified in different ways in different films: as The Man in the Planet in Eraserhead, which is the ultimate gnostic anti-sex film; as Killer Bob in Twin Peaks; as The Mystery Man in Lost Highway–and as The Cowboy in Mulholland Drive. Lynch even has developed a visual code to indicate the presence of these forces: smoke; flickering electricity; movie theater drapes, especially red ones (the Veil of Maya); freakish and deformed people; time that moves backwards or in loops; and all the machinery of Plato’s Cave–the stage, the screen, the movie studio, Los Angeles itself–that stands between us and the truth, that keeps us in bondage to illusion.

So Lynch is a kind of religious conservative. But is he racially aware? I would venture to say: Yes. First, throughout his films, Lynch has cast very few Jews and non-Whites. Second, most of the non-Whites he has cast are criminals, lowlifes, and buffoons, e.g., Bob Ray Lemon, Reggie and the Mexican sisters Juana and Perdita in Wild at Heart and the two negroes working in the hardware store in Blue Velvet. The only exceptions that come to mind are in Twin Peaks: Deputy Hawk, an American Indian, and Albert Rosenfeld, a sneering, arrogant, urban Jew who turns out to be a good guy under it all. It should be noted, however, that Lynch was not in complete creative control of the Twin Peaks series.

Mulholland Drive provides the strongest evidence of Lynch’s racial awareness. But first, something about the plot of the film. Mulholland Drive falls into two parts. The first part is a mystery story and satire of Hollywood that is engaging, suspenseful, and extremely funny. Then the story turns darker. A woman’s rotting corpse is found in her apartment. Then comes a lesbian seduction. Then a journey to a mysterious club called “Silencio” where performers mime to pre-recorded tracks. We are moved by a beautiful Mexican love song sung by Rebekah del Rio. (it is actually a translation of a Roy Orbison song.) We are encompassed by the illusion. We forget that it is an illusion. Then the illusion is shattered when the singer falls dead on the stage but the song plays on. A blue box is discovered. When it is opened, the second half of the movie commences. The second half is dark and tragic. It is told through a series of flashbacks. It culminates in madness and suicide. I am not giving anything away by saying that, as I read it, the first part of the movie is the dream of a dying madwoman and the second part explains what drove her to madness and death.

The most remarkable feature of this movie is its entirely negative, and entirely accurate, portrayal of Hollywood Jews. We see a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed woman, starry-eyed and grinning with joy as she arrives in Los Angeles. Her name is Betty, played by Naomi Watts. Betty has come to Hollywood to be an actress. She is a classic Lynch heroine: an earnest, wholesome, small-town girl from Deep River Ontario. She speaks in the G-rated cliches of old Hollywood. Later we discover that she became interested in acting after winning a jitterbug contest. She is next to an elderly, white-haired woman named Irene. They have met and struck up a friendship on the plane. Irene seems to be from the same wholesome mold. She and her elderly male travelling companion bid Betty goodbye and good luck. Then we see Irene and her friend in the back of a limousine, their faces insanely distorted with cynical, sniggering leers. The man has stereotypically Jewish features. (The actor’s name is Dan Birnbaum.) They are apparently enjoying a good laugh at the expense of this naive, corn-fed shiksa. Later they return as demonic apparitions.

Another Jew, Dan (played by Patrick Fischler), meets a well-dressed gentile, Herb, at a Winky’s restaurant. The gentile is apparently a psychotherapist. The Jew is his patient. This is no surprise. Jews had to invent psychoanalysis because they practically invented neurosis, what with their “high investment” parenting strategies and the hatred and fear of non-Jews they instill practically in the womb. This Jew is certainly neurotic, but he may have a touch of divine madness. He describes two dreams he has had, both of them set in the restaurant. In the dream, he sees through the walls. Behind them is a face that utterly terrifies him. The two men go behind the restaurant. The Jew sees the face (played by Bonnie or Ronnie Aarons) and faints dead away. The psychotherapist does not see it, but we will see this face again. It is the face of a supernatural embodiment of evil. It is the face of a devil, maybe the devil. It is he who is ultimately behind all the walls in this movie, pulling the strings in Hollywood, drawing people to their doom.

The central Jewish character in this movie is Adam Kesher, a hot-shot young director played by Justin Theroux. We met Kesher on a bad day. He is being pressured by two mysterious Italians, the Castiglione brothers (played by Dan Hedaya and composer Angelo Badalamenti) to cast a particular girl in his film. He refuses. The mysterious wire-puller Mr. Roque orders Kesher’s movie shut down. Mr. Roque is played by Michael J. Anderson, the dancing midget from Twin Peaks. Even the drape-lined set is similar, although more luxurious, as if the Little Man from Far Away has received a promotion in the hierarchy of Hell. (Roque does not dance because he is an a wheelchair.) Kesher then finds his blonde shiksa in bed with a beefy, tattooed Aryan working man played by Billy Ray Cyrus, who drives him out of his house. (The side of Cyrus’s pickup truck reads “Gene Clean.”) Kesher hides out in a sleazy hotel, but “they” — the wire-pullers — somehow find him. His credit cards are cancelled and his bank accounts emptied. Finally, he is told to meet with someone known only as “the cowboy.” Kesher is filled with just the sort of cynical, sarcastic contempt for cowboys that one would expect. The cowboy’s appearance is accompanied by flickering electricity, announcing his supernatural origin. He is an enforcer in Hell’s hierarchy. He looks and talks and dresses like an overgrown child in a cowboy suit that is slightly too large for him. Kesher can barely contain his arrogance. He is smug, supercilious, smirking, ironic. In the cowboy’s words, he’s a smart Alec. But this corn-fed goy manages to scare and humble him nonetheless. He chooses the girl. Later in the film, we see him at a party celebrating his engagement to another beautiful shiksa, this one a brunette. His conceit, affectedness, and irreverant frivolity are boundless. We also see from whom he gets it. His mother, played by Ann Miller, is a nasty, gnarled, snobbish old biddy with too much jewelry and too little taste.

There are other, minor Jewish characters in the film. One pair appears in a wonderfully satirical audition scene. Jimmy Katz, played by Chad Everett, looks like a dashing older WASP, while Martha Johnson (played by Kate Forster) looks stereotypically Jewish. A comment on name and nose changes, perhaps? The slightly bitchy, slightly dykey woman in Apartment 12 also looks quite Jewish, and the actress’s name turns out to be Johanna Stein.

There are only two negroes in the film, and they are there strictly for laughs. They are backup singers in a 1950s set piece directed by Adam Kesher. Not only are the negroes’ faces comical (one looks like a drag queen), but their very presence is risible, because integrated music groups are not plausible for the period. But this is the Jew Adam Kesher’s film, not David Lynch’s, and in the Hollywood of today’s Jews there are negroes everywhere. I watched the film in theatres twice, and both audiences saw and laughed at the joke.

I cannot say anything more about this film without giving away the plot. Suffice it to say that Mulholland Drive is a beautiful, funny, shocking, mysterious film about how people like us are destroyed by the Hollywood illusion machine, a machine run by the devil but staffed by people like Adam Kesher.

Lynch strips away the Veil of Maya and tells us to be silent. Yes. Be silent. Think about what you have seen. As I pondered this deeply disturbing, uncanny film, my perplexity slowly turned to understanding, my understanding to anger, my anger to the desire to fight. Frankly, I do not know how to fight the devil. Perhaps we’ll figure that out someday. But there are enough Adam Keshers to keep us busy in the meantime.