Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

''Silencio'': Hearing Loss in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

''Silencio'': Hearing Loss in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

Article excerpt

"Silencio": hearing loss in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

Allister Mactaggart*

Digital and Creative Industries, Chesterfield College, Chesterfield, United Kingdom


In a filmmaking career replete with extraordinary images and sounds, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) stands out for attention as a striking and seemingly inexhaustible resource for analysis. In this article, this film is used to examine the specific ways in which Lynch uses pre-existing pop songs to wrap the spectator within the filmic soundscape. Nowhere is the complexity and uncanniness of pop music made more explicit than in Rebekah Del Rio's stunning performance of "Llorando (Crying)" in the Club Silencio scene. The split between the singer's powerful performance and her subsequent collapse with the sound of the voice left hanging in the air marks a pivotal point in the film. This scene, coupled with other examples of feminine jouissance, is contrasted with the deadening roar of the master's voice, which solely demands obedience but is deaf to any reply. At the core of this article is an analysis of the status of the voice (and the gaze) as examples of the Lacanian object a and its relationship to Marx's concept of surplus value. Mulholland Drive provides a powerful demonstration of how these concepts can be seen, heard, and felt in relation to film, and how sound can reverberate into the spaces and silences beyond the screen.


Allister Mactaggart (PhD) is a Lecturer in Media and Film Studies, and Art and Design History. His work on David Lynch includes a monograph, The Film Paintings of David Lynch: Challenging Film Theory (2010), and a chapter entitled "Lynchian Landscapes and the Legacy of the American Sublime", in Graeme Harper and Jonathan Rayner (eds.) Film Landscapes: Cinema, Environment and Visual Culture (2013). He is currently working on two projects for publication: one on austerity and popular culture; and the other upon artists' cinema, political aesthetics and pedagogy.

Keywords:psychoanalysis; marxism; pop music; the voice; miming

Published: 26 November 2014

*Correspondence to: Allister Mactaggart, Well Green Cottage, Off Main Street, Calver, Hope Valley, Derbyshire, S32 3XX, United Kingdom. Email:

©2014 A. Mactaggart. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Citation: Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 6, 2014

Throughout his filmmaking career, David Lynch has provided a unique "voice" in the field of cinematic sound. The impact of his esoteric, haunting, and disturbing soundscapes has rightfully been acknowledged by leading film scholars. Indeed, Michel Chion goes as far as to argue that "Lynch can be said to have renewed the cinema by way of sound ... [and that in Lynch's films] ... Sound has a precise function, propelling us through the film, giving us a sense of being inside it, wrapped within its timespan."1 This proposition that the spectator is "held" by the film and enclosed within its temporality also suggests that the spectator is simultaneously wrapped within the folds of the filmic soundscape, which opens up interesting areas for analysis and discussion about this rich and complex body of work. Lynch's idiosyncratic use of sound design can be traced back to his first "moving painting," Six Men Getting Sick (1967), made as a fine art student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, in which a siren was used to accompany a 1-minute film loop of animated visuals which were projected onto a specially designed sculpture-screen. …

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