MAN OF THE WORLD
In both his art and life, David Lynch tries to keep a tight control over what is revealed and what is hidden. Naomi Watts says, “Our minds create everything that’s in our dreams, from a table leg to the texture of someone’s coat; we are our dream.” With Lynch, a deep-delving, intuitive, resolutely personal artist, he is all the extreme rage and consuming love, physical pleasure and pain, hellish entrapment and euphoric spiritual transcendence that fills his films, TV shows, paintings, and songs. Always sensitive to dualities, Lynch knows that he lives a double life: His essence is in his art, but it also dwells with the body he moves toward his meditation chair, through his son’s bedroom, and into press conferences in Los Angeles, California. His artist’s mind, manifested in his work, is here and there for everyone to experience; its passion and inventiveness are both his bliss and our gift. But his public persona constitutes a genial, well-mannered barrier that hides his motivations and intentions about his work, and the detailed, day-to-day life process that generates them. Lynch’s head is his most precious, sovereign territory, and he will decide who, where, and when anyone else can have access to it, and for how long. In one of his late-2001 thirty-second Sony PlayStation 2 commercials, an artistic-type man wearing dark sunglasses is being interviewed by an insistent off-screen voice, which keeps requesting that the man remove the glasses so we can see his eyes. As many times as the interviewer makes the request, the arty man says, “No, I can’t do that,” clearly reflecting Lynch’s own guarded attitude about self-revelation.
Two months after Lynch shared Mulholland Drive with us at the Director’s Guild screening and then vanished from the room, Julee Cruise appeared in Seattle, where she performed and talked to me about some troubling truths that have been hidden behind the public perception of her and Lynch’s heavenly collaboration.
Cruise, the child of alcoholic parents who’s suffered physical illness and feels she’s “led a tragic life,” has a habit of “latching onto men who are brilliant and who inspire me,”4 and who give her the extra measure of approval she needs. Lynch certainly seemed capable of meeting all these qualifications. But as they began to work together, in the mid-1980s, he treated her “as though I was a nobody, naïve and moldable,” even though she had “many awards and accolades” to her name and a substantial professional track record. Characteristically, Lynch knew what he wanted, and single-mindedly strove to transform Cruise, who considered herself “a Broadway belter,” into a thirty-something teen angel whose ethereal voice could channel the music of the spheres. Before meeting Lynch, Cruise, who feels she’s “incredibly angry and aggressive,” had been rewarded for letting those harsh emotions power her work (she had done a knockout portrayal of 1960s rock queen Janis Joplin). Just as Lynch sensed that Mulholland Drive’s Naomi Watts was capable of playing Diane’s darkness as well as Betty’s sunshine, he felt that Cruise had a “soft, sad side” that could rain down in songs of tender yearning and aching loss. “He’s intuitive; he understood that I was damaged.” Cruise says Lynch knew she was the perfect “musical actress” to be the tear-stained song-voice of his films, TV shows, and records.
Cruise had known Angelo Badalamenti before she met Lynch, and feels the composer, who had been a Nashville tunesmith before settling in the Northeast, “has the best ear in the music business.” When the three began to collaborate (Lynch writing lyrics; Badalamenti, music), Cruise says Badalamenti was “seeking technical perfection, while David was after more abstract qualities: beauty and emotion.” The song “Falling,” the trio’s most gorgeous and resonant song (as the theme of Twin Peaks), hides a secret that even David Lynch doesn’t suspect. “David wanted me to sing about love, but I didn’t love people. He never knew what my internal process was—he didn’t want to know. I sing ‘Falling’ to my cocker spaniel, Rudy, who died. He was my true love. People would wonder where the tears, the emotion of that song came from. They came from my dog.” Rudy may have been in Cruise’s heart when she sang “Falling,” but she feels Isabella Rossellini was in Lynch’s. “He adored her, he used to call her ‘Bellini’; I think all those songs were about her.”
Harmonious, tender feelings may have inspired Lynch’s lyrics, but sometimes, while trying to record his songs, more discordant emotions flared. “Once he made me sing a phrase eighty fuckin’ times, and I lost it and blew up at him.” Lynch’s gift for humorous understatement came to the fore as he strolled over to Cruise and calmly said, “Julee, I don’t like your energy.”
Lynch had shaped Cruise’s talent as a singer and actor into a persona that was like a work of art he had created: the musical soul of Twin Peaks, the romantic woman singer whose, pure, fragile, high-as-heaven voice sang the ecstasies and tragedies of love and loss. She was like something he had dreamed into being, so he had a hard time dealing with Cruise’s real-world assertions of her own creative needs and desires. She told Lynch that the rock-pop singing group The B-52s had asked her to go on tour with them, and said she wanted to accept their offer. “He said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Bye.’ I just wasn’t part of his loyal corps of people. I love Catherine Coulson dearly, but I was not going to be shut in a box with the Log Lady.”
Cruise broke out of Lynch’s box, hopping around the country with The B-52s, belting out loud, fast, up-tempo rock songs that were the antithesis of the muted, slow, mournful laments that Lynch and Badalamenti had carefully groomed her to sing.
I came off the road with The B-52s and I’d been making $5,000 per show for eight months. David and Angelo did not help me financially at the beginning, and I question that. I was waiting tables when I got the call to go on Saturday Night Live and sing “Falling.” I told David that with The B-52s I’d been living a different life—with respect. I said, “You and Angelo did not respect me,” and he said, “You have to earn respect.” He was right about that, but I sure thought I’d paid my dues with him by then.
Despite the tension simmering between them, Cruise and Lynch (with Badalamenti) started to work on a new record project (Julee Cruise: The Voice of Love). “On the second album, unlike the first, they didn’t include me in the creative process; they had me come in and read sheet music— that’s why we split. They mixed the record without me and then played me the mix, and I said, ‘This is crap.’ The project had my name on it, but it wasn’t my record. David got so mad he had to go out in the hall to collect himself. He is just as insecure as I am, his ego is just as big as mine. I hurt his feelings by saying I didn’t want to work with him anymore. That would hurt, coming from someone he’d given so much to. He said, ‘I gave you a gift,’ and that’s true: It’s this voice I never knew I had before he and I discovered it together, and the way that voice expressed parts of myself that I’d never tapped into in a creative way. And he got me a record deal and taught me so much, about recoding and how to approach my songs like an actress. But still, it was over. I couldn’t go on. He had no idea I could get out of my contract, but I did, I fucked the shark.” After they split, Cruise sent Lynch a card, from one dog lover to another. “I had said some awful, horrible things to David. The card showed a snarling German shepherd wearing a tiara—he’d understand that this was me—and inside I wrote, ‘I’m sorry I was such an asshole."
Today, Cruise still has strong, complex feelings about Lynch and Badalamenti. “They treated me like shit”22; “They really loved me, and I loved them.” As closely as she worked with Lynch in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she feels that “he’s a mystery; he’s not going to show you who he is.” But one time, “I saw a glimpse inside, just a glimpse. He told me about back when he was in grade school. There was a girl who was the least pretty girl in class, and a lot of the kids would make fun of her. One day the girl came to class wearing a beautiful string of pearls around her neck. David said that this just broke his heart.”
Cruise felt broken herself after her creative divorce from Lynch. “I don’t have children. Music and performing are my whole life, and my life stopped. My agency, William Morris, dropped me. The phone didn’t ring. No one wanted to hire the ethereal voice that David Lynch made famous all around the world. I get real depressed and angry when I don’t work. This went on for four years, and I had a nervous breakdown; I didn’t realize that show business could do that to you.”26 Rather than drowning in fear, rage, and self-pity, Cruise, whose father was a doctor, began to integrate her fascination with medical science and criminology into the process of songwriting. Now she would be the one dreaming up and crafting the songs, as well as singing them. “I discovered the joyful feeling you get when you create something, and to perform what you’ve created is really fun.”
Today Cruise calls herself a “Techno-jazz-diva,” and collaborates, makes records, and performs with the musician Khan. In demand from the United States to Paris to Moscow, and sharing the stage with the likes of Bobby McFerrin and John Cale, she says with a throaty laugh, “I want to hit my peak when I’m sixty-five!” Cruise has discovered that she can create her own good music, not just sing other artists’ compositions, and she knows that her hellish, and heavenly, time with Lynch was a vital part of her journey. “I’d be doing bad dinner theater somewhere if I hadn’t had my experience with David and Angelo. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t change fate. I don’t regret it one bit.” Speaking of their first album, Floating Into the Night, she says, “I’m so grateful we made a goddamn masterpiece. David molded my voice into a masterpiece. I think ultimately we were meant to work on one project. It was worth everything for that.”
When Cruise performs today she sings her and Kahn’s music, but she closes with “Falling,” the anthem of Twin Peaks and her time with Lynch, the song that best shows off the angelic, high voice he found within her. “People cry over ‘Falling.’ They come up to me and weep. One guy got down on he knees the other day when he saw me going into St. Vincent’s. It’s because of that record.”
Cruise has found her personal and creative balance in recent years and has reached the point where “I finally wanted to tell the truth about everything.” Still, the beautiful range of deep emotion in her songs and voice flows from the woman’s own essence, and when I thanked her for talking with me and asked if I might follow up with a couple of questions some time, she said no. “This has been really hard for me to go back over all this. It still hurts.”
Like everyone in Lynch’s orbit, she knew that he’d quit smoking in the early 1970s, but since she hadn’t seen him in years, she was “sad to hear he’s smoking again. When he got me the record deal to do our first album, he helped me get off cigarettes, so my voice wouldn’t sound gravely.”
As Cruise and I said goodbye, I asked her if there was anything she might like to have me say to Lynch for her. “Tell him I’m grateful for everything. And that I’m smoking again too.”
In Lynch’s art, smoky dark clouds are abstractions of evil, and a few days after Julee Cruise’s Seattle appearance, black clouds over New York shattered America. On September 11, 2001, Islamic-fundamentalist terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jet flights and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center and Washington, D.C.’s Pentagon, destroying the Twin Towers and killing more than 3,000 people.
For the first time in history, the “friendly skies” above the United States became an ominously silent zone in which no commercial or private planes flew. Panicked by the probability of more attacks, Americans feared that every ordinary activity and place was now threatened. All shopping malls closed; Disneyland shut down; for the first time since World War II, organized baseball cancelled all games; for the first time since World War I, American financial markets closed. Churches were full of weeping people. The mournful sound of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which Lynch graced The Elephant Man’s sad story, emanated from radios and televisions. On the TV screen we saw, as though in a nightmare loop, the networks repeating the images of the planes exploding into the towers again and again, as horrified onlookers in the streets below raised their hands in the air as though they might stop the tallest buildings in the United States from falling. A well-dressed businessman, his face contorted with rage, yelled, “We should be bombing somebody now—I want to kill somebody now!” A man and a woman, standing tall in the Manhattan sky as the tower burned beneath them, held hands and jumped to their deaths.
Like all Americans, Lynch reacted with shock, terror, anger, and sadness to the literal and symbolic devastation that the United States suffered on September 11. Naomi Watts told me that she, Lynch, Laura Elena Harring, and the Mulholland Drive team were doing press interviews for the Toronto Film Festival when the south tower of the World Trade Center was struck by a jet plane. “We were each in separate rooms doing our interviews. The TV was on, and it seemed like a horrible accident. How could this happen? We all passed each other in the hall going to our next interviews, and when the second plane struck the second tower we realized this was something far worse than an accident. The interviews stopped. We all gathered in one room in front of the TV. There was a lot of crying.”
Before the tragedy struck, Lynch had agreed to meet more press in New York, but all arrangements were forgotten. Scared and grief-stricken, Lynch and his friends just wanted to get home to Los Angeles. David is queasy about flying even in the best of times, so even when planes started flying again, taking a bus back across the country seemed the best way to go. Lynch consumes massive amounts of nicotine even when feeling hunkydory, so we can only imagine the depth of his need to smoke in the wake of September 11. In this day and age, bus riding and smoking are mutually exclusive, so Lynch rented a car, drove as far as Colorado, then caught a flight to L.A. in what felt like the safer skies of the western half of American.
In the 1980s, Lynch supported President Ronald Reagan, the man who called the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire,” and at the time Jennifer Lynch said her father “has strong feelings about the enemies of America.” In his fictions, Lynch often deals harshly with perpetrators of evil, and he no doubt will continue to do so, but in recent years his attitude about how to address real-world international mayhem has evolved. Back home in the Hollywood Hills, Lynch told his ex-wife, Peggy Reavey, that “it’s a changed world, Peg.” His recurrent fictional dynamic of a zone of domestic safety being invaded and harmed by dark forces had just been enacted with unprecedented horror and destruction within the sacrosanct boundaries of his beloved homeland. America’s post–World War II sense of national-borders security and economic optimism, which had been Lynch’s baby-boomer birthright, had vaporized in the dust of granite, steel, and human beings that was the only remnant of the World Trade Center. I thought Lynch might be ready to pilot a retaliatory B-52 bomber over terrorist-harboring Afghanistan single-handedly, but the program of spiritual growth and purification that has motivated him to give up his cherished red wine and adhere to a strict Ayurvedic eating regimen has erased any vengeful feelings toward America’s attackers. More than ever, his philosophy was accentuate the positive. “Don’t throw fuel on the fire: wrong actions bring more suffering. We get caught in a vicious cycle like Fred Madison at the end of Lost Highway. Don’t worry about analyzing how we got to the point where September 11 happened. It’s so complicated to figure out, and we need simplicity. Negativity is so wrapped around this planet. We’ve got to stop this thing of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Don’t worry about the darkness, don’t try to figure it out—just simply turn on the light, and darkness automatically flees.”
The idea of the microcosm affecting the macrocosm, of the individual’s consciousness influencing the global consciousness, has been part of Lynch’s mindset for decades. In the late 1970s, he said that “we all have our own little thoughts, and those thoughts go out into the air. If you could see a picture of all the little thoughts, you’d have a picture of the world. And the only way you can change the world is to change each person’s thoughts.” This concept fits perfectly with the Maharishi’s idea that the individual’s spiritual practice can “influence the whole world consciousness towards positivity, towards harmony, towards higher intelligence.
Spiritual beliefs, from Christianity to Hinduism to Voodoo, rely on the practitioner’s faith that a certain philosophy is true. The Transcendental Meditation movement bolsters its philosophy with scientific, statistical studies, which show that rates of crime and violence decline in communities where people meditate. Since practicing TM is such a positive experience, we assume that a relatively unvarying number of people practice it daily worldwide, sending a constant quantity of healing vibrations into the atmosphere. How then do we explain the monumental difference between the comparatively placid weeks in Manhattan preceding September 11, and the horrific day itself?
Lynch, a believer in reincarnation and karma, has told me that “there’s a perfect justice in the world,” since the wrongs you commit “will visit you in exactly the same form in this life or future lives.” Victims are victims because, due to their “karmic debt,” they’ve got it coming. As the Maharishi says, “Everyone has to go sometime or another, and the basic principle about going or surviving is that no one—now listen to me!—no one is responsible for giving any difficulty or any pleasure to anyone. Problems or successes, they are all the result of our own actions, our karma.” So does this mean that 3,000 people, each who had killed someone in this or a previous life, were fated to gather in the World Trade Center on September 11 to pay their karmic debts by violently losing their lives?
When CNN TV interviewer Larry King asked the Maharishi about September 11 in May 2002, he said, “I have no time to look back. I have always looked forward, forward, forward.” When I asked Lynch about the karma of those who died when the towers came down, he immediately answered, “No, there’s no way. . . . They say it’s so complicated that you don’t even want to go there. It’s a terrible thing. It happened, and it puts all of us who are here into another whole mode, and that mode can continue the problem or accelerate it, or it can once and for all make a good, lasting result. It’s always the same. It’s always the same throughout history that people react by wanting revenge, but now we should take a look at the correct step.” I tried again: “What I meant was, was it an accident, a horrible happenstance that those particular people were in the towers that day, or were they fated to be there?” Lynch tersely replied, “I’m telling you, you know, you can’t even talk about it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re where we are right now this minute, and what are we going to do?” Even the horrors of September 11 couldn’t stop the forward momentum of Mulholland Drive, for on the evening of September 24, 2001, Betty Elmes/Diane Selwyn and Club Silencio’s Magician stepped out of the fog and entered my place of business.
As film curator for the Seattle Art Museum, I sometimes have the privilege of hosting the premiere Seattle screenings of new films in advance of their commercial release (everything from Moulin Rouge to Girl With a Pearl Earring). I don’t put in requests to try to get certain films; they just come to me via an unexpected phone call. So, thanks to what David Lynch would call fate, I was offered Mulholland Drive, accompanied by Naomi Watts. I instantly agreed, and made a call of my own to the film’s Magician, Richard Green, who’d become a friend since I presented the U.S. premiere of Chris Leavens’ beautifully sad, funny, touching Jack Nance documentary I Don’t Know Jack, which Richard co-produced with Donna Dubain. As soon as I knew Naomi was coming to the museum, I envisioned Richard, with his Magician’s cane in hand, introducing her on our stage before the film. With his warm, mellow, melting-butter voice in top form, Richard said, “I’ll be there.”
Plans for the screening were finalized in mid-August while the museum was presenting the annual Twin Peaks/David Lynch Festival’s film night, so I was able to tell Lynchophiles from all across the country about the Mulholland Drive screening. The showing would be free, but tickets were issued to assure that seats would be waiting for attendees.
Unlike in late September 1991, when Lynch and his cinematographer Ron Garcia were surprised by sunny, warm Seattle weather and had to adjust the look of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me accordingly, September 24, 2001, was perfectly Twin Peaksy with its pale oyster-shell light and clinging, chill mist.
Richard and Naomi had been doing publicity interviews for Mulholland Drive from the early morning on, and an afternoon phone call from the Seattle publicity woman representing the film emphasized to me that Naomi was “shy and not comfortable” with the idea of doing a formal questionand-answer session in front of a large group of people at the museum. I said that Naomi could size up the situation when she arrived and do whatever she did feel comfortable with. Thirteen days after September 11, a fear of flying paralyzed the North American continent, but intrepid Lynch fans from Canada, the American East Coast and Midwest, California, and Oregon joined Northwest devotees to form an overflow crowd that jammed into the museum auditorium.
Richard arrived first—warm, outgoing, and good-humored as ever, his arched eyebrows and Van Dyke beard perfect for his Magician persona. On his gray suit, he sported a dark blue enameled Mulholland Drive road-sign lapel pin that the film’s team wore at the Cannes Film Festival in May. He told me he’d be with Naomi for the question-and-answer session after the film, which would put her at ease.
Naomi, surrounded by her L.A. publicists, arrived after the audience had filed into the auditorium, and approached Richard and me, who were standing with a few others in the lobby. From my 6'2" height she was a truly diminutive woman, with long blond hair (darker than Betty’s), wearing a black cocktail party dress with a demure neck and hemline and black high-heeled shoes with vine-like tendrils that twined up toward her calves. She broke away from her escorts and stepped forward to me. Her salmonpink lips parted reveling two perfect white front teeth as she smiled, shook my hand, and said, “David said to be sure to say hello to Greg.” To which I replied, “And after that he probably said, ‘Tell him to play the movie loud.’” She laughed and said, “Yeah, he does have rather strong feelings about that.” She struck me as being very bright, down-to-earth, and modest about her beauty and talent.
Earlier in the evening, Richard told me that when he introduced Naomi he was going to say something that probably was going to embarrass her. When he took the stage (without his Magician’s cane), he declared to the crowd that “You’re about to see what I think is one of the best female performances in the history of the cinema.” Then, in his mellowest vocal tones, he asked her to join him. At the back of the auditorium, Naomi straightened her dress, took a swig from her Arrowhead water bottle, cleared her throat, and walked up to the stage. Thanking Richard for his effusive words and the crowd for their warm welcome, she hoped we would all enjoy the film and promised she’d have more to say after the screening.
Richard, Naomi, and her handlers went out for dinner while the movie played, and returned just after Diane blasted her life away and we saw the sad, fading images of her and Camilla, the lost lovers, smiling together in happier times. In the dim light, as the end credits rolled, Naomi came up to me and asked, “What did you think of the film?” Wanting to both be funny and compliment her on her deeply stirring performance, I said, “I’m still drying my eyes,” to which she responded, “Awww.”
Richard stepped onto the stage, pulled his black cane out of thin air, gestured with it portentously, and introduced Naomi again, this time to an ovation that went on and on. The two of them sat on the edge of the stage and asked if there were any questions. Due to the stunning effect the film had on the audience, only a few people raised their hands.
They both spoke of how easy it had been to tune into Lynch’s creative wavelength, and how they’d each done their best-ever work for and with him, how they had a strong sense of collaborating with a true artist. They stressed that David had never told them a single word about his own interpretation of the film, either in terms of its overall meaning or the significance of individual scenes, and how the director didn’t want anyone to know which parts were shot for the ABC TV pilot, and which were new footage.
Naomi offered her Mulholland Drive interpretation, feeling that the earlier parts with Betty are Diane’s fantasy of how she wished things were—a sunny view, whereas actually her world is dark and crumbling around her—the whole film is what’s flashing through her mind as she reached for the gun. Richard chuckled and said, “That’s exactly how I see it.” They both hoped this film would help them get better parts in the future, and knocked on the wooden stage for luck. They said they’d had a great time and thanked everyone for coming.
The pair had been talking about the film since early this morning, and it was now after midnight, but in the museum lobby they signed autographs and graciously stayed for as long as fans wanted to chat. Feeling like Santa Claus, I handed out the Mulholland Drive posters, key chains, and match-boxes that Universal Studios had sent. Naomi got to see the Film Comment magazine featuring Mulholland Drive for the first time and, sounding like an excited child on Christmas morning, was thrilled by the photos and glowing coverage of the film.
The genial Richard disappeared into the night, promising me a dinner “anywhere you want in L.A.” Naomi was interested in my book project and agreed to talk with me in the future about working with Lynch. She was about to give me her L.A. phone number when her publicity representative stepped between us and said all contact with Naomi would have to go through her business office. As we parted Naomi, sounding full of secrets, said, “I’ve got a lot to say about David Lynch.”
Over the next months, first in a formal interview and then (thanks to the phone numbers Naomi did give me) in casual conversations (once while she was doing her Sunday afternoon laundry), she was forthright, thoughtful, and humorous about her involvement in Lynch’s world.
She said Mulholland Drive was the most fun she’d ever had in her fifteen-year career. “David’s spirit, charm, and humor infect all of us who work with him: he’s a great energy. He chooses like-minded people to work
with, intuitively knowing that we can be a conduit for his art and properly express his messages, story, and emotions.”
Although it’s not directly stated, a number of people who watch Mulholland Drive get the feeling that Naomi’s Diane and the Woman in #12 (Joanna Stein) had had a lesbian relationship. Naomi said she was so focused on Diane’s truth and perspective that she didn’t extrapolate about that possible backstory, and Lynch didn’t give her any hints about a woman-woman sexual experience for Diane prior to her involvement with Camilla.
David never divulges what’s going on in his head, but I think he intended to emphasize the uniqueness of Diane embracing Camilla: “I want to do this with you.” Diane is in a precarious emotional situation. Camilla is the one person who lifts Diane’s spirits. So much of what Camilla has in her life Diane lacks, so she becomes totally dependent on her. Diane is so broken and vulnerable that she falls into a bad and dark place. In Diane, David created the most incredible character an actor could hope for. You could spend a whole career looking for a role like this, which gave me a chance to express the spectrum of emotions from Betty to Diane. What David said to me about this was, “These are two extreme people juxtaposed.” He loves to explore all sorts of contrasts. He was brave enough to address the way we all have light and darkness within us, inner battles, forces inside that we both fight and yield to. When we’re too good or too bad we don’t like ourselves. Sometimes it feels good to be bad and bad to be good. There’s always a striving for balance. It’s not interesting enough or creative enough when we’re too pure. We don’t want to admit this about ourselves. I love this about David’s work, that it is courageous and confronting. I think that sometimes artists need to offend people, especially in these conservative times when much of society feels it’s ugly to explore deep truths like Lynch does.
Lynch the intuitive seer realized that there were some deep truths hidden within Watts. As she says,
I think he sees things other people don’t see. I was at a very low point when I met David. I’d been in some films, but I was spending my time auditioning for shit parts I didn’t care about or believe one word of—and not getting hired. I’m shy, and I felt I had to pretend to be happy and perky with everyone in the industry. I was afraid of offending people, that they would think I’m strange. There were things in me that I spend a lot of energy trying to hide, and this affected my confidence, my career, my life, my sense of myself. You dilute your personality so much that there’s nothing left.
As much of her post–Mulholland Drive career (21 Grams, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, The Painted Veil, Funny Games) has shown, she has a supreme gift for expressing every wrenching nuance of human pain, anger, grief, and existential darkness. A talent that Lynch realized was begging to be released, and which contributed a golden dividend to his and her art, and gave sweet relief to her psyche. Betty and Diane showed the world a full portrait of Naomi Watts, and the world embraced it. “David loves women, and not just in the obvious way. He creates some of the best, fully complex female characters: They’re three-dimensional and true to life, and reality is sometimes violent and ugly. He was like my horse whisperer. He really got something out of me, in a subtle way. It felt like we were in this created world together and he was speaking a language with his hands; we were having an unspoken dialogue.
Lynch’s way of not spelling out plot details for his audience, and his artistic collaborators, stimulated Naomi to come up with some interesting Mulholland Drive interpretations. She feels that the two men in Winkie’s diner, the fellow listening to his friend telling of his scary dream, are a psychiatrist and his patient. And for her the blue box “is Diane’s mind. The box is opened, and out comes all the horrible darkness of her psychosis. She can’t face this part of herself, so that’s why her dream self, pure sweet Betty with everything wonderful, disappears from the room before the box opens.” Naomi says, “Sometimes I wonder if Diane is the Bum at the end. To me the Bum represents darkness, the depths to which you can sink.” Naomi was very much in tune with Lynch’s narrative-aesthetic method of having people, things, and event express a character’s state of mind and emotions. “They say that in your dreams you are everything and every person, the leg of every table, the textures of the fabrics that people wear. All the energy that goes into your dream comes from your subconscious, and Mulholland Drive is composed of Diane’s outer and inner stories.” Lynch and Watts may have communicated with almost telepathic ease, but when it came to one of the film’s major scenes, there was confusion in the air. It was time to film the climax, when Diane, wracked with guilt and fear, is chased by the old couple and, as Naomi says,
You hear a gun shot. I said to David, “Wait a minute. Is this me shooting them or am I shooting myself? Or is the couple shooting Diane? I’m not sure what it means.” There was a long pause. He scratched his head. I’d posed a question he really had to think about. Usually when you question him he has everything already worked out, and he smiles cause he knows what he’s doing and he’s not going to give it away. This time it struck him that perhaps he was creating more mystery for the viewer than even he was comfortable with, throwing things off-balance. We shot the scene various ways. Once I just scrambled for the gun. Then I said, “How about if I do this?” I picked up the gun and put it in my mouth. He saw that image, and I think he liked it. It’s such an image of self-loathing, as raw as you can get. So we filmed it that way too. When you see the finished film, there’s so much smoke in the room that it makes you wonder what’s happening. But I feel it’s definitely Diane shooting herself. That is the end of the story of Diane’s life.
And the Blue-Haired Lady—does she exist beyond/outside of Diane’s story? Naomi feels that’s “a really good question. I saw the Blue-Haired Lady and ‘Silencio’ as something metaphysical, symbolic, representational. Everything’s silent now. Diane can be quiet now. All the shit going around her no longer exists. She kills herself because she couldn’t cope, couldn’t function in her life. She needed that silence.”
Regarding the idea that Mulholland Drive is Lynch’s most L.A.-centric film, Naomi said, “I’ve always been shocked and surprised by how much David loves Los Angeles. Most people have mixed feelings about the place. Though he doesn’t leave his house much, so he’s not exposed to the everyday goings on in the city. He holds on to how Hollywood was, how he remembers it from movies and things he’s read: He taps into the old mythology he loves.” Despite Lynch’s reputation for being a stay-at-home type, Naomi invited him to her birthday party. “Everyone said he wouldn’t come, but he did.” Aside from being forever grateful to him on a professional level (“I’m spoiled for working with other directors now; he’s a hard act to follow” 61), Naomi enjoys a friendship with him and treasures the advice he gives her. Though he doesn’t like to be thought of as a father-figure to her: “he’d prefer ‘uncle.’”62 Sometimes she gives him helpful hints. Lynch has had a lot of back trouble, and one day when he was hurting she said, “You should wear a magnet. They say it changes the electro-magnetic balance in your system. I knew someone with chronic back pain who got better with magnets. He got excited: ‘Oh, really, really?’ Then he paused, his eyes narrowed, and he said, ‘I don’t know about that, Naomi. It might take away my ideas.’
In addition to living inside Diane’s emotional torment, Naomi suffered some physical pain of her own while making Mulholland Drive. Lynch set up the scene where Betty and Rita return from Club Silencio and are in the bedroom together. “David said to me as Betty, ‘You have to disappear, to suddenly not be here.’ I said to myself, ‘Why?’ I didn’t know, and David didn’t say.”64 In order to maximize the mystery of Betty’s departure, he wanted to film this occurrence in a single unbroken take, with no camera tricks or edits. Given the small space in which they were filming, Naomi had only one escape route that the camera wouldn’t see. “I had to do a backwards somersault over the bed. I tried it three times and everything was fine. But the fourth time I put my neck out of whack, and had to wear a brace for awhile.”
Despite all her travails, Naomi says,
I burn to play this complex a role again. David is a sensitive artist. He feels everything in an extreme way and that’s why he’s so good at what he does, why his work produces a visceral response in the viewer. His outlook on life is that of a creative person, so he hates to be controlled or stifled. He wants to get ideas, to build and grow, search, and explore. He delves into darkness to find humor, sexuality, and the seat of creativity. And he knows that some of the best things in life are things that can’t be explained. There’s nothing literal and linear about many of his films, including Mulholland Drive. It’s an expression of the whole human psyche. We who work with him are conduits sending out messages from David’s mind, his truth. Diane is like a symbol of the absolutely darkest place.
Like all of us, David likes praise. If there’s a positive reaction at a screening, he lights up. He’s like the little kid who gets the ice cream he wanted. But I think what gratifies him most is that his films are alive, first for him, then for others. People interpret them, argue about them, think about them. They live on. That’s his whole endeavor.
I stayed in touch with Naomi, chatting with her when she was up in the Northwest shooting The Ring and being buffeted by some of the worst November-December weather we’d ever had (none of the film’s gloomy skies and downpours were created by computers). One late afternoon I caught her as she bobbed around in a small boat on thrashing Puget Sound waters, being lashed with rain and wind. With a plucky laugh she said, “I can take it. I’m English.” Then her other, Australian, homeland came to mind and she added, “But I can’t wait to immerse myself in the ocean”: The warm Tasman Sea of Sydney was her Christmas destination. And she’d get to be with her family and best pal, Nicole Kidman. Kidman has known Naomi since they were teenagers and has given her stalwart support and encouragement through the worst of personal and professional times, always recognizing her talent and telling her “all you need is one big break.”69 Naomi is modest, and it embarrasses her to talk about how good an actress she is. But once she said that, “Nicole visited the Mulholland Drive set one day and watched us shoot some scenes. After we were done, she came up to me and said, ‘You are so Betty. You take my breath away.’”
Mulholland Drive brought Lynch some of the best reviews of his career; the film and Watts’ acting, placed high on many critics’ best-of-the-year lists. In January 2002, Naomi called me, nervous about the fact that she’d been tapped by the National Society of Film Critics to present David with their Best Film award at an exclusive dinner ceremony in New York. Her task involved making a short introductory speech, and she wondered what I thought would be some good points to touch on. I told her to think of the speech as some work she was doing for David, just like being in the film. To see it as a part of her journey, like portraying the arc of a character she was playing. I faxed her some thoughts about Lynch’s career, and off she flew to the east. Later, on TV, I saw a shot of her and Lynch emerging from the award soiree in New York. They were both smiling and carrying prizes (Naomi was voted Best Actress). When I asked Lynch how Naomi’s speech had gone, his words seemed to sum up everything she meant to him as a collaborator and friend: “She did a beautiful job.”
Naomi Watts’ performance as Betty and Diane was universally celebrated, garnering much Oscar buzz, but she ended up not being nominated (her pal Nicole Kidman was nominated for Moulin Rouge). Among the accolades she did win was the Sappho Award for Best Actress from the lesbian-culture magazine Girlfriends. Though Watts had been acting for years, she seemed newly minted, her complex performance unprecedented in revealing depths and nuances of female psychology. Once again, Lynch heard professional commentators and average moviegoers summing up his work with the same words they’d used for thirty years: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Lynch is indeed a trailblazer, an auteur with a unique vision, but like any artist curious about, and enthralled by, the world around him, he processes the work of other painters, writers, musicians, and filmmakers through his brain, if only subconsciously. Lynchian folklore incorrectly maintains that he doesn’t read books or see other directors’ films: He may not consume massive quantities of cinema and reading matter like Quentin Tarantino, but he’s no stranger to DVD players and printed pages. Lynch’s first wife, Peggy, has told me that when her husband was an early 1970s American Film Institute student he would come home after film screenings and tell her about the movies in great detail, thus sharpening his sensitivity to story structure, dramatic balance, imagery, and visual narrative. (Ironically, a film that Lynch loved to talk about in the period when he was unfaithful to Peggy was Claude Chabrol’s 1969 La Femme Infidele.)
Early in his career, everyone said Lynch must have been influenced by the great Spanish surrealist director Luis Buñuel (1900–1983), but at that time he hadn’t seen any of the master’s films. And I’ve often wondered if Lynch viewed the films of pioneering American avant-gardist Maya Deren (1917–1961), whose lyrically subjective, consciousness-manifesting pictures alter time and space and intermix dream and reality as hypnotically as Lynch’s do. When I asked him in 2004 if he had experienced Deren’s work, or even heard of her, he said, “No.”72 Of course, it’s possible for two artists to independently explore similar territory fifty years apart from each other. Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), like Mulholland Drive, is the inner emotional journey of a dead Hollywood woman, and features a metal key as a signifier of violent death.
Lynch’s reverence for artistic independence and integrity prompts him to say that consciously taking another person’s ideas would be “like eating somebody else’s food.” Lynch prides himself on being able to generate his own thematic and aesthetic concepts, but he understands that sometimes his preoccupations parallel or echo those of another artist, and he speaks of “identifying with someone else’s ideas”74 and how “thoughts and ideas come during the filmmaking process, and it doesn’t matter where they originated.”Lynch loves the feverish spontaneity of art-making, and when a sudden inspiration grips him, he doesn’t analyze it and comb through the Internet and a list of footnotes to find out where it came from. Because “ninety percent of the time while I’m making a film I don’t know what I’m doing,”76 Lynch feels that, subconsciously, he thinks he’s been influenced by other artists. The vagaries of human memory are also a factor in maintaining Lynch’s foggy view of his creative process, for I’ve discovered in conversations that he doesn’t always recall the details of films he’s seen and liked in the past. When Lynch was in production on the DVD for Blue Velvet, he viewed slides of scenes that had been deleted from the release version of the film, and he realized that he’d forgotten having shot some of them.
Director Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape; Kafka; Out of Sight; Ocean’s 11) says he suffers from anxiety about being influenced by other directors. This is one fear that does not plague Lynch. The great Warner Brothers cartoon animator-director Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner) consciously knew that he based some of his characters and their actions on Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Animator Matt Groening realizes that Chuck Jones’ The Three Bears was a thematic source for Groening’s The Simpsons. But Lynch, with absolute sincerity, does not remember most of the likely influences on his films.
The way Lynch presented Renee Madison’s corpse in Lost Highway seems to be inspired by the photographs of nude, segmented murder victim Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) in Kenneth Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon II. The darker aspects of Mulholland Drive echo Anger’s Hollywood-dream-gone-sour tone in Hollywood Babylon II and Hollywood Babylon. Anger quotes early horror-film actor Lionel Atwill speaking words that encapsulate Lynch’s fascination with the duality of human nature. “See—one side of my face is gentle and kind, incapable of anything but love. The other side, the other profile, is cruel and predatory and evil, incapable of anything but lusts and dark passions. It all depends on which side of my face is turned toward you—or the camera.”77 (Atwill was voicing his personal beliefs, not talking as one of the characters he played.) Anger’s chapter title “Two Faces of Tinseltown”78 could be Mulholland Drive’s subtitle. Anger chronicles various Hollywood lesbian relationships and names another chapter “The Magic of Self Murder.”79 Anger devoted a two-page spread to the Black Dahlia’s body parts, and he gives similar large-scale coverage to an image that could have inspired the second shot of Mulholland Drive. Anger’s photograph of the bed Marilyn Monroe committed suicide in, with its lumpy pillow and lonely, disheveled sheets, could easily be the archetype for Lynch’s shot of future suicide Diane Selwyn’s empty bed, which was accompanied by the mournful sound of her depressed, sighing breathing.
Anger quotes some dialogue from the 1934 musical Moulin Rouge that sounds like a blueprint for the bubbly-Betty-to-anguished-Diane arc of Mulholland Drive. A young woman laments: “Oh, I guess it’s an old story. . . . There was a beauty contest in Little Rock. I won it.” (As Betty won her dance contest.) “Came to Hollywood to win fame. Instead—I’m on Hollywood Boulevard at two in the morning. And no place to go (sob). I thought Hollywood was a boulevard of beautiful dazzling dreams.” Dick Powell responds, “But I’m afraid you’re dead wrong!,” and then sings: “I walk along the street of sorrow/The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Elsewhere Anger characterizes the double reality of Hollywood: “It was Dreamland” (we recall Betty’s “I’m in this dream place”), and also a place of “ever present thrilling-erotic fear that the bottom could drop out of the gilded dream at any time.”
The final resonant correspondence between Anger’s books and Lynch’s film is a photo of a dead woman lying on rumpled sheets and pillow. This is Marie Prevost, a fading silent screen star who drank herself to death and was found stone cold in “her seedy apartment,”84 as was Diane Selwyn. Also like Lynch’s fictional Diane, Marie hailed from Ontario, Canada. Lynch may have first become aware of both the Black Dahlia and Marie Prevost when these victims of Hollywood were mentioned in Sunset Boulevard, and later incorporated them into his work, just as Billy Wilder may have chosen to have Sunset Boulevard’s Joe Gillis reside in the Aldo Nido Apartments before moving to the site of his murder, after hearing that Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, lived there a few years before Wilder shot his film.
The archetypal fiction chronicling the absurd gulf between Hollywood’s soaring dreams and sordid actualities is Nathaniel West’s (1903–1940) The Day of the Locust (1939). When a French journalist told Lynch that Mulholland Drive reminded him of West’s legendary novel, the director accepted the compliment with pride and said he loved West’s book. West’s portrayal of Hollywood as a town dedicated to gossamer make-believe and cold, hard cash, a soul-killing place that disregards the high human cost of frantically chasing success, is certainly in the spirit of Lynch’s film.
Lynch, who is galvanized by synchronicity, felt The Day of the Locust speaking to him beginning with page one, for the book’s protagonist (Tod Hackett), like Lynch, is a painter. And both Tod and Lynch are drawn to subject matter festering on the fringes of polite society: lonely figures with thwarted dreams, people nurtured on bitterness and suppressed fury, victims and perpetrators of crimes of the heart, those who can’t control sudden spasms of sex and violence.
Tod incorporates the vacant-eyed, resentful, silently raging people he sees on the margins of Hollywood society into an apocalyptic painting called The Burning of Los Angeles. Like Lynch, he cathartically transforms his fears and dark thoughts into art “to escape tormenting myself.”85 West’s vision of Hollywood is unrelentingly corrosive and despairing, whereas Lynch expresses his love for “the city of dreams” in Mulholland Drive, as well as his skepticism and animus.
A major parallel between The Day of the Locust and Mulholland Drive is the focus on an actress character who’s positioning herself for a fast climb to the top. At one point The Day of the Locust’s Faye Greener seems to sum up the trajectory of Mulholland Drive’s Diane Selwyn in two sentences: “I’m going to be a star some day”; “If I’m not, I’ll commit suicide.” Like Camilla Rhodes, Faye both enthralls people with her beauty, sensuality, and charm, and plans to give her love to someone who can advance her career. If you’re not Mr. Big (as Adam Kesher is for Camilla), watch out, because falling for Faye can be dangerous: “Her invitation wasn’t to pleasure, but to struggle, hard and sharp, closer to murder than to love.”88 This sentence certainly characterized the dynamic of Camilla and Diane’s souring relationship. And as Faye becomes bored and wants to move onward and upward beyond someone who loves her but can’t hold onto her, she, as Camilla does to Diane, sadistically flaunts her attraction to someone new right in the loser’s face. When Faye has trouble making ends meet, she falls back on her back, prostituting herself to help her get what she ultimately wants, as do (Lynch implies) Diane and Camilla.
Like Mulholland Drive, The Day of the Locust presents a cowpoke of the canyons above Hollywood Boulevard who behaves in a formal manner, though he’s not a supernatural oracle like Lynch’s Cowboy. Mulholland Drive’s Cowboy has the power, the potential, to dish out trouble, whereas Nathaniel West’s Earle Shoop serves it up raw, lashing out at a man who’s been teasing him. Tod Hackett finds “the seriousness of his violence” funny, just as Lynch couldn’t stop himself from laughing when a grave and intensely fervent Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) sexually assaulted Isabella Rossellini. In Lynch’s world all-consuming love easily becomes dangerously obsessive (as it does for Lost Highway’s Fred Madison), and in The Day of the Locust West speaks of passion’s power to destroy. Fred is bedeviled by his possessive desire for his wife: his head is hot with jealousy and rage, which Lynch visualizes as a house burning down. While in The Day of the Locust West compares a man being swept away by out-of-control feelings for a woman to “dropping a spark into a barn full of hay.”
Aside from correspondences with Mulholland Drive, The Day of the Locust displays other similarities to Lynch’s world. There are red curtains, a railroad hotel (Hotel Room), a person has “a whole set of personalities, one inside the other,”91 two young women become prostitutes for a madam (like Laura Palmer and Ronette Polaski at Twin Peaks’ One-Eyed Jack’s), a backstage world of props, scenery, and costumed people is a surrealistic jumble of mismatched landscapes, time periods, and cultures, as is On the Air’s TV-production realm. A man wants to tear another man’s ear off (Blue Velvet), people possessed by a “demonic” force are likened to animals, a man feeling confused and emotionally “washed out” sits on the edge of his bed staring into space like Henry in Eraserhead.
Lynch was clearly dwelling within a Sunset Boulevard/Hollywood Babylon/L.A. noir mindset when he was creating his Mulholland Drive TV pilot and film. It isn’t likely that he happened to see a low-budget 1975 picture called Gemini Affair, but if he did, it could have had a subconscious influence on Mulholland Drive twenty-six years later. Both films begin with an aspiring blonde actress from the Midwest coming to Hollywood hoping to realize her dreams. Both have two blonde women living in the same abode, which is available because its owner is traveling. In each film the actress seems to be warmly appreciated by film industry authority figures, then rejected. In Mulholland Drive the actress performs in a steamy audition scene with a silver-haired man named Woody; in Gemini Affair the actress, trying the lifestyle of her call-girl housemate, turns a trick with a silverhaired man named Woody. Both films’ actress characters have sex with their female bedmates, though this doesn’t begin a love affair in Gemini Affair, as it does in Lynch’s film. Gemini Affair’s actress character is disturbed by this tryst and confused about her sexuality. After an emotional outburst on the subject, she apologizes for “acting like Camille,” referring to author Alexandre Dumas’ tragic heroine who was famously portrayed by Greta Garbo in a 1937 film. (It’s a short drive from “Camille” to Mulholland Drive’s “Camilla”). The survival sense of Gemini Affair’s actress is stronger than that of Mulholland Drive’s Diane Selwyn: she sours on the Hollywood life and heads back to her small-town home.
Mulholland Drive also shows the possible influence of Herk Harvey’s intriguing low-budget 1962-horror film Carnival of Souls. Lynch’s film, like Harvey’s begins with a car full of teenagers practicing dangerous driving and crashing. Carnival of Souls’ vehicle falls into a river, and three hours later a young woman who’d been in the car emerges from the water, to the amazement of the assembled townsfolk and police who’ve been searching for bodies. The woman’s name is Mary Henry, a conflation of Eraserhead’s lead characters’ names that Lynch would have seen as an enticing synchronicity. Like Mulholland Drive’s Rita, Mary “doesn’t remember” what happened. Like Mulholland Drive’s Betty, Mary is a gifted artist (a master organ player) who travels west to perform her art professionally.
In the last seconds of Carnival of Souls we realize that Mary, like Mulholland Drive’s Diane, has been dead all along, and that her trip to Salt Lake City and activity there have been a mental construct of her dying or after-death consciousness. Screenwriter John Clifford has Mary speak some double-meaning dialogue that refers to her dual alive/dead status before the viewer learns of it. Confronting a wooden gate, Mary says, “It would be easy to step around this barrier,” just as, unbeknownst to us, she has stepped around the barrier of a fatal car to enact the narrative we’re seeing. And Mary’s “I want to satisfy myself that this place is nothing more than it seems to be” hints at the multiplicity of reality and the hidden nature of truth that’s at the core of Carnival of Souls, and is the heart of Lynch’s view of life and art.
In Salt Lake City, Mary stays in an apartment with a friendly landlady, like Betty does in Mulholland Drive. And, just as Betty thrills her potential employers with a knockout audition, Mary’s organ playing greatly impresses the church minister. Mary’s doings, like Betty’s, are the psychic scenario of a dead person, and as both women experience “life,” they get disquieting, scary reminders that something’s not right, that there’s some hidden, threatening reality behind their situations that they’re not fully conscious of. A grandparently couple friendly to Betty begins to cackle with sinister intent, Betty trembles with fear when a performer appears to die onstage, and a supernatural Dark One, the Bum, infests the city with evil and makes young people drop dead. Mary has disturbing episodes in which she talks to people and they don’t answer, and look right through her as though she’s not there. (In Lynch’s Lost Highway script, when Fred is living his fantasy life as Pete, there are moments when other characters can’t see him.) When Mary is practicing a devotional organ piece at the church her hands seem possessed, and play eerie tones that the minister calls “blasphemous.” And like Betty, Mary’s psychodrama is haunted by a Dark One, a pasty-white-faced man whose presence terrifies her (this figure seems to be kin of Lost Highway’s white-faced Mystery Man). And, just as Mulholland Drive’s Bum and grandparently couple eventually push Diane through death’s door, so does Mary’s Carnival of Souls cadaverous phantom “prevent me from living,”.
Experiencing the world we all live in with an artist’s sensibility, Lynch lets his intuition (“that’s thinking and feeling combined”94) focus on the elements “that feel correct, that talk to me,”95 and then links and shapes them into works of art that no one’s ever seen before. Throughout his career Lynch has not calculatingly pored over other director’s films. Thinking, “Let’s see, I’ll throw in a dollop of Persona, sprinkle in a bit of La Strada, and warm with some Lolita heat.” When Lynch is actively creating, he likes to be in a mode of spontaneous discovery. “My reasoning mind doesn’t say, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ Making films is a subconscious thing. Words get in the way. Rational thinking gets in the way. It can stop you cold. Film has a great way of giving shape to the subconscious, when it comes out in a clear stream, from some other place.”It does not diminish Lynch’s unique artistry to note some correspondences between his images and themes and those of films, and a book, we know he’s seen and appreciated.
excerpt from the book by Greg Olson 'Beautiful Dark'/Chapter 12: Man of the World
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