Academic journal article Post Script

Dancing in Hollywood's Blue Box: Genre and Screen Memories in Mulholland Drive

Academic journal article Post Script

Dancing in Hollywood's Blue Box: Genre and Screen Memories in Mulholland Drive

Article excerpt

The opening sequence of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) offers a condensed image for the film's complex exploration of postmodern subjectivity as mediated for the viewing public by the Hollywood film industry. In this highly reflexive sequence, Lynch portrays the cinematic screen as a depthless, indeterminate space devoted to performance conceived as pure artifice. Jitterbugging couples clothed as from an idealized, timeless moment of 1950s innocence multiply on the screen to fill its space. Background and floor level are erased, leaving the couples dancing gleefully past and even through each other, until a faintly readable image of the film's star-struck central female figure emerges, smiling beatifically, as the implied winner of the dance contest.

Lynch succinctly embodies in this opening sequence a range of ideas about the cinema, conveying both ambiguity and ambivalence about its capacity to project and satisfy desire. For example, viewers can discern apparently directionless but actually scripted and edited movement enclosed within the screen space. The sexual dance is at once enlivened and constrained by the standard of heterosexual coupling. We see performance enacted primarily for an audience's approval and only secondarily for the performer's pleasure. We also bear witness to the Hollywood medium's endlessly proliferating, fractured selves as they become visible in palimpsest (I count only three distinct couples here). Finally, we infer an American culture in which the cliches of genre film both embody and parody the nostalgia for wholeness and coherence. The joyful sequence diagnoses the problem of subjectivity in a culture whose populace gleans self-image from the ubiquitous screen-image, its joyfulness made ironic by the flat simulations that substitute for the "real." (1) Lynch offers in the film a vision of the Hollywood unconscious, exposing the repressed material of the dream factory and the challenges that the almost infinitely replicated selves projected in the world market of images pose to identity. (2)

The claim for a mediated subject is certainly not new, but Lynch forges a special link between the construction of subjectivity and Hollywood production, by way of the overdetermined symbol of the blue box. An image that appears in key scenes, the blue box offers a mystery to be solved to audience and characters alike. It is a portal into a realm of suppressed knowledge. When Lynch's camera draws close to the blue box, it proves to contain both the blankness of the unknown and inexplicably frightful images. In this visual trope, Lynch conflates references to the movie screen and the unconscious, particularly regarding the desires that threaten the self's illusion of coherence and control. The blue box is the theatrical space of performance--most visible in the Club Silencio sequences--and it is also, in two exaggerated close-ups, the blank screen representing the void of unconscious fears and desires into which the main characters terrifyingly vanish. The imagery of the film elicits a psychoanalytic reading of the spectator's insertion into screen space, since the viewer is positioned in such a way as to follow the characters, themselves spectators, into the void.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

At the same time, Lynch draws attention to the blue box as the space of fantasy, making literal within the iconography of the film an aim he has claimed publicly, to "]make] films to give his audience a place to dream" (Nochimson, Passion 16). In Mulhol land Drive, Lynch conveys an allegory according to which the dream work that Freud identifies as converting latent into manifest content is equivalent to the production of cinematic narrative. The blue box signifies the mechanism-of cinematic genre--by which this transformation takes place. The central character in Mulholland Drive, Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts), is an aspiring actress whose imagination is steeped in the classic Hollywood cinema. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.