Academic journal article Post Script

"You Came Back!"; or, Mulholland Treib

Academic journal article Post Script

"You Came Back!"; or, Mulholland Treib

Article excerpt

The revenant keeps watch over the living and the dead.--Heraclitus of Ephesus

A jarring moment occurs in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) (1) when a singer, accompanied by an unseen orchestra, appears just after the aspiring actress Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) auditions before a group of Hollywood insiders. As the woman performs Connie Stevens's "Sixteen Reasons," the camera begins a protracted tracking shot, pulling up and away from the singer's face (fig. 1) and revealing that what had appeared to be a stage performance is in fact a recording session; now we see the performer and her back-up singers framed in the soundproof glass of a recording studio, along with the dials and controls of the mixing console and recording apparatus (fig. 2). This image still seems to bear no relation to the rest of the film; but as the camera continues to dolly backward, we see that the image of the recording studio was also an illusion, that we are really witnessing a screen test for The Sylvia North Story, overseen by the director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), whom Betty was about to meet (fig. 3). The long shot of the screen test fools us twice: We think we are witnessing one thing, which turns out to be another when what is hidden by the frame is revealed--a process which, in its double iteration, also draws attention to itself. All of this uncertainty, ambiguity, and partial revelation contrasts with the gliding, continuous motion of the camera, which keeps the fascinating image of the singer centered in its view, all the while accompanied by the sentimental lushly-arranged plenitude of the music to which the woman is lip-synching. In this scene it is as if the camera, in its graceful fluidity of motion, reassures us that it (thinks it) sees everything, has everything under control, even if we (and Betty) do not.

[FIGURES 1-3 OMITTED]

The structure of this shot, with its continuous revealing of an image that makes us repeatedly revise our reading of what has gone before, cannot help but evoke the scopophilic allure of cinema in general--the pleasure not only of looking, but of uncovering. The shot self-consciously exemplifies what Laura Mulvey calls the cinematic "hermetically sealed world that unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience" (17); it furthermore illustrates the way in which this "unwinding" of the film continually shows us what was previously hidden. The formal qualities of the shot, then, double that of fascination of movies in general; but, to the extent that each "incomplete" image not only revises but cancels, or contradicts, the one before, the shot repeats the specific structure of this film, Mulholland Drive. The film, that is, continually places clues in our way that suggest that behind the mystery of the identity of the mysterious "Rita," there is an inconsistency or subtle flaw in the very story of "Rita" and Betty's detective game. Nonetheless, even if we know very well that something is missing from the picture, that something isn't quite right about the ostensible search for "Rita's" origins, we consent to play along, to engage in the detective game--not just, as Betty says, "like in the movies," but like at the movies, as if we're watching a standard Hollywood thriller which by generic convention perfectly account for all its clues.

But, of course, Betty the would-be starlet from Deep River, Ontario is really the dreamed alter-ego of Diane Selwyn, a failed actress who has arranged the death of her ex-lover, the ruthless and ambitious Camilla Rhodes. Therefore, since the detective story of the film's first two-thirds turns out to be nothing other than Diane's dream--a dream that complexly revises the real event that we witness in the final third--the real mystery in Mulholland Drive is the way, and to what ends, the dream-work works. To be properly read, the spectator must juxtapose the two parts of the film, as she would place a key into a lock, and undo the dream-work's an-amorphosis. …

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