ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

JER'S TURN: THE CINEMA TAKEDOWN- WHICH IS THE BETTER DAVID LYNCH FILM? "BLUE VELVET" OR "MULHOLLAND DRIVE"

JER:  Back in May 10, 2011’s blog entry, I introduced a new topic segment titled THE CINEMA TAKE-DOWN! The object is to pick a category and pit one item against the other. This is a UFC No-Holds-Barred fight to the finish…who or what will rein supreme? We will soon find out…The card this week: WHICH IS THE BETTER DAVID LYNCH FILM- BLUE VELVET or MULHOLLAND DRIVE?

In my corner, weighing in from 1991, born and raised in Hollywood, CA: MULHOLLAND DRIVE

In Johnny Chazz’ corner, weighing in from 1986, born and raised in Lumberton, USA: BLUE VELVET

“Let the Take-Dooooooown….begin!”


There is a huge undertaking involved when examining a fraction of any artist’s work… much less, someone like director David Lynch who is greatly admired by many for his “art-house” approach to cinema… thus breaking the mold in obligatory storytelling. There are die- hard fans, occasional viewers of Lynch’s films and then there is the group categorized as the “I just don’t get it” crowd. Die- hard fans may always go to the 1977 cult classic ERASERHEAD or the highly successful 1980 eight- time Academy Award nominated THE ELEPHANT MAN. When it comes down to it, David Lynch and his repertoire of films are not for everyone. It could only be understood that we will have fans of some, but not of all of his films collectively.

I decided to go with a film that I felt more familiar with, MUHOLLAND DRIVE. Why? Simply because it takes place in Los AngelesHollywood, to be exact. I go to Hollywood as often as I can and I know the flavor and intent that Lynch had in mind when making this film. The location can be relatable to a typical Lynch film…the comparisons being that they both dive into the world of fantasy and the feel of reality left on an indefinite pause, the blurring of lines of what is to be considered right and wrong and the euphoric sense of self-being when caught in the eye of the storm…an overwhelming sensation of being someplace where dreams can come true! OK, it’s time to talk about my film…

The film opens with a midnight limousine ride through one of L.A.’s more popular and secluded streets, Mulholland Drive, overlooking the twinkling lights of the Los Angeles nightlife. We meet up with who we can only conclude is a wealthy brunette woman (Laura Elena Harring) riding in the back of the limo along with the chauffeur and another man in the passenger seat…possibly a bodyguard. In one of its never-ending stretch of twists and nerving turns, the limo driver pulls over by a ditch on the side of the highway and pulls a gun on the woman in the backseat. Occurring at the same time with a direct collision course towards the limo, two speeding cars filled with joyriding teens are racing towards the top of the winding road… only to find that one of the vehicles fatally crashing head-on with the limo…concluding the woman is the only survivor.

Walking away amnesic, she makes her way down the hill into the posh neighborhoods along Sunset Boulevard…all the while trying to keep her composure together from surviving both the accident and attempted homicide. The next morning, she sneaks into a high-end apartment as a female tenant loads her luggage into a taxi parked in front of the complex.

We cut to (what we can only assume is) LAX as blonde Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives from Ontario with dreams and aspirations to becoming a Hollywood starlet. The plot thickens when we find out that Betty is the niece of the apartment tenant who allows Betty to stay at her apartment while she is away filming a movie of her own out of town. As Betty arrives, she is startled to find the amnesic brunette in the complex. The brunette introduces herself as “Rita”, taking the name from a Rita Hayworth poster hanging in the bedroom wall and realizes she doesn’t remember who she is. With a kind and sympathetic heart, Betty tries to assist and reaches into a purse belonging to “Rita”, only to find thousands of one-hundred dollar bills banded together in several stacks along with a strange blue key. Rita doesn’t know how she got the money. With no identification to be found, Betty offers to assist Rita in solving the mysteries of who she is together.

The story takes odd twists and turns with other subplots to add to the mix…somehow stringing everything together to create a conclusion. Far too many other story lines and characters involved that I would rather not divulge. It has to be seen than to be read about here.

The film is haunted by an eerie, synth-heavy soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti, who had previously scored Lynch’s BLUE VELVET and his television- produced “TWIN PEAKS”. A constant churning of low-keyed chords carries the film and helps create the dark and emotionally disturbing feel of the film and its characters’ fateful plights. The soundtrack never overpowers the film, yet, it knows when to slightly move into a scene. It is a voyeur who watches from behind a curtain and knows when to strike… but cautiously and cat-like in its introductions. The music slightly finds a more melodic and happier tone when we are introduced to Betty. A change of pace to help create a sense of innocence and optimism we are led to believe is the basis of the character’s introduction.

Director of Photography, Peter Deming, uses a variety of different color palettes to paint on his canvas. Colors are bright and sharp, when they need to be. These are most noticeable during the daytime exterior shots: Betty arriving at LAX, her walkthrough at the apartment’s courtyard, the meal at Winkies…however, things grow dark when the lights go down. Dark blues and blacks become the focus in darkness, both in exterior and interior sequences. A special recognition must be made when the story takes us to Club Silencio…foreboding! Another focus must be placed whenever we see Mr. Roque. Lynch fans will, no doubt, recognize him as the haunting “Man From Another Place” and his rewinding backward dance in “TWIN PEAKS.” The sequences have Mr. Roque sitting in the middle of a bare room… A spotlight illuminating above his seating area and another cascading across a curtain behind him. Much ‘eye-candy’ can be taken away from this film, as do most Lynch films provide.

Lynch knows how to use Los Angeles as its own living, breathing character as well. He could show you a glimpse of the more touristy side of the great city but, instead, focuses a great deal of the film exposing the audience to the seedier side… the side never shown to visitors. It becomes an uncomfortable sight for some: dark, mysterious and slightly dangerous to come across. Los Angeles, like the film, has two sides to it. It reveals a lighter side with hopes and good intentions and it then finds itself decaying with an underlining of deceit and sinful pleasures.

MULHOLLAND DRIVE is not intended to be a film that would have opened in 2,500 theaters on its first weekend. It is not intended to be inundated with advertising and trailers every direction you turn. It would not have its name plastered on t-shirts, mugs or posters through clever marketing teams, nor, would it make a killing on DVD sales after its run in theaters. It is not BLUE VELVET, which proved to be a more commercial film for Lynch… far more than even he could have predicted and more than word of mouth carried the film through with its controversial content and that “ear thing” wrapped around it!

In short, it is a movie that knows how to intrigue you into watching it innocently and it knows how to hold your attention if you don’t know how to pull away from it. Like a horrible car accident, you pass by it; slowly to view, yet, find the scene of the crime revolting and stomach churning… at the same time, your eyes cannot tear away from what it has already taken in. The film should not be taken seriously and you shouldn’t try to figure it out. It is a play on dreams and alternate realities. Stories are revealed to us with our perception and acceptance as ‘real’, when the reality might be that we are experiencing someone else’s ‘dream’ instead. Lynch might be deceiving us, but it is what he does best. He leaves us questioning characters and stories, right from wrong and the ying from the yang. Maybe films should leave us guessing and leaving us to our own devices to walk away with our own individual point of view!



JOHNNY CHAZZ: Considering for a moment the vast, colorful, cinematic and ultra-bizarre directorial career of David Lynch, I am so pleased with the topic selected this week by Jer. Now for the task. So now is my chance to defend what I feel may well be the best film from David Lynch.

My first viewing of BLUE VELVET came in 1988 during a class at film school. If I am not mistaken, it was one of the last films of the course in American Film since the movies we studied were basically in chronological order. My only previous David Lynch experience had been DUNE a few years prior and that, in no way, prepared me for what was to be unveiled during the showing of BLUE VELVET. What is really interesting is the fact that in the same year (1986) Woody Allen stated that BLUE VELVET was by far and away his favorite film of the year.

To be able to appreciate high-quality films as what we have seen throughout the career of director David Lynch, one must have a combination of maturity, a willingness to pay careful and mindful attention, open-mindedness, patience and a raw appreciation for the little things that go into movie-making.. Character, sound, anything bizarre and color – that probably describes Lynch to a “T”. His background as a painter undoubtedly shows up in his films and gives the stylistic and artistic look that is second to none. It takes time, really – and becoming a die-hard fan of David Lynch often times requires paying a visit to all of his movies (and television work: i.e. “Twin Peaks series) to understand the basic idea that he is trying to convey.

BLUE VELVET is unique when compared to most of Lynch’s other works throughout his career. Other than the likes of THE STRAIGHT STORY, BLUE VELVET is a linear narrative that basically maintains a coherent and orderly nature. This is not to say, however, that the plot or the storyline are simple – they remain complex making it a film so intriguing. When compared to more recent films such as INLAND EMPIRE or MULHOLLAND DRIVE (even LOST HIGHWAY is well represented here), BLUE VELVET is really quite simple to follow, but the subject material remains complex.

We are treated to a wonderful opening that will forever remain imprinted in my mind. Bobby Vinton sings “Blue Velvet” in the small-town setting of "Lumberton, U.S.A.". Lumberton really does not exist, but the generic idea is there and Lynch’s homage to his love of small towns becomes immediately apparent. Kyle MacLachlan is our main character, other than Laura Dern, who is home from college on a Spring Break. As he meanders through the yard / fields near his home one afternoon, he discovers a human ear which has been severed and is lying on the ground. Upon discover of the ear, “Jeffrey” (Kyle M.) is immediately in a state of shock and decides to take the evidence of a possible homicide to the local police station. This then leads to a relationship that escalates between Jeffrey and the beautiful Laura Dern who team together to set-out on their own investigation of what was really happening and who the ear belonged to. Eventually, their dinner date at the diner sparks a plan to visit the dingy apartment of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens who is played by the majestic and captivating Isabella Rossellini. Dennis Hopper soon makes his appearance in the film revealing himself as a sort of psychopath (Frank Booth) and the story progresses in a riveting, yet disturbing fashion from there. Hopper plays the role to perfection like nobody else really can and causes a real fear-factor for other actors and the audience alike.

What keeps BLUE VELVET so interesting and yet so frightening is the idea that the American “Dream” that is portrayed in the opening scene is not only a mockery of, but stand in stark contrast to what we see on the screen for the rest of the film. The only real break that the audience is given is the mild romance that builds between Kyle and Laura which almost signifies a form of puppy love.

The “ear” scene as you alluded to, Jer, is certainly a disturbing one… but pales in comparison to the abusive scenes in Dorothy’s apartment with Frank Booth (the masochistic behavior and the fact that she actually likes it in a sick way). Additionally, the nude scene involving Isabella Rossellini roaming aimlessly outside at night in almost a zombie and hypnotic state is so completely disturbing, but really quite sad and pathetic with the same token. Her addiction to a life serving Frank Booth and a life of broken dreams and surreal nightclub performances (perhaps a career that once was and never came to fruition) finally hits rock-bottom and this is what, often times, takes people and the characters of David Lynch to really “wake up” out of the dream-world he places them into.

The film makes a political statement in so many ways – with one in particular. The “American dream” is one that Lynch has always loved and appreciated, but it is constantly rotted underneath and destroyed by people who are either sick, greedy or both. The dreams of the clean cut grass, the birds singing and the white picket fence are wonderful aspirations, but the world today is going in different directions and ‘the forces that be’ are keeping America from realizing its potential and re-living the golden-age of America seen in the 1950’s and early to mid-1960’s.

The bare fact that this was the first film where Lynch (other than his student short films years prior which few people saw then or even now) portrayed a stark contrast to the way ‘American life could be and the way it really was’ launched his career. BLUE VELVET allowed Lynch to tap into a world that had a nightmarish quality while weaving in bright colors, deep reds, violence that was only seen in the aftermath (the still-body in the apartment; the ear; etc.) and that innocent quality seen in all of his protagonists – something we would see in the main characters of LOST HIGHWAY (Bill Pullman being taken on a nightmarish ride into an alter-world), MULHOLLAND DRIVE (Naomi Watts arriving in Hollywood only to have her dreams of becoming a star actress crushed), and INLAND EMPIRE (Laura Dern travels a road of despair as an actress suffering from her own delusions.)

BLUE VELVET remains in my top-20 best films of all-time and sometimes creeps into that top-10 list. The story is not overly difficult to follow and not exactly engaging either, but a theme which blends the 1980’s with the 1950’s that takes us from the American dream in the opening sequence through the dark underworld of Frank Booth and Rossellini just to bring us full-circle back to the American dream… allows the audience to think about which world we are really living in today. One thing to remember about Lynch, however, is that he never wants his films to be “easy to watch” and BLUE VELVET is the film that gave Lynch his beginnings into developing such a powerful trend.

JER: After reading your entry,JC, I am still a little perplexed by your argument as to why you would think BLUE VELVET is a better film than MUHOLLAND DRIVE. Let me start from my end... to begin, I think that BLUE VELVET is a wonderful film with well- written characters and a driving need for the weird and bizarre. My only argument is that it is probably the most commercially- recognized film from David Lynch. He is not a ‘commercial’ director. I believe studios have tried in the past (case in point, THE ELEPHANT MAN and DUNE) but it doesn’t seem to fit him…like a pair of pants that are three sizes too big. They try to stay on, but it keeps slipping off because it just doesn’t fit! ‘Commercial’ success does not fit David Lynch. I don’t think that Lynch purposely sought- out to make a ‘commercial’ film… but he may have accidentally created one! As you had mentioned, it has all of the classic and key ingredients for a Lynch film. I just think that this batch of cookies came out too perfect. It doesn’t taste as homemade as some of the other baked goods he has in his pantry.

MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a decedent dessert: far too rich for the palates of most but a special treat for those willing to consume what it has to offer. It might even be avoided by most because of lack of general- audience appeal. I think that it is one of the main reasons I thoroughly enjoy this film. I have seen it many times and I still have a hard time grasping all of the many subplots and the final conclusion. It is open to interpretation and I enjoy that option. No two people can walk away with the same thoughts and understandings after viewing this film.

Could it be that maybe we have it all wrong? Maybe, as an audience, we have demanded that plots, stories and characters need to be fully fleshed- out for own selfish ‘understanding’ and not allow interpretation or imagination to be a part of our final deduction of films? Have we created a ‘lazy’ trend in not developing the brain or imagination glands to fully grow because we have dulled them with worthless dribble? If that is the case, then I welcome you to take MULHOLLAND DRIVE as a work-out regiment and request that you start putting those imagination glands to the test!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: The performances in both films are, without a doubt - first rate. To add, the subject material in both films is also extremely unique and creative. Both examine what lies beneath the idealistic ideas and perceptions of what small-town America is (BLUE VELVET) and what Hollywood - or the big city is really about (MULHOLLAND DRIVE). Perhaps the primary difference that we see between BLUE VELVET and MULHOLLAND DRIVE is the idea of fantasy and dreams weaving their way into a picture. MULHOLLAND DRIVE is completely imaginistic from start to finish where BLUE VELVET maintains not only a true essence of realism, but the straight narrative is something rarely seen from Lynch, but certainly refreshing. BLUE VELVET was also much more shocking in terms of subject material for its time than MULHOLLAND DRIVE- and the shock factor is integral to the way directors like to play with their audience. Lynch described BLUE VELVET as ''A film about things that are hidden - within a small city and within people". Now, Lynch is certainly the king of surreal films and has mastered his technique over the years leading up to the extremely surreal, somewhat horrific and dreamlike, such as INLAND EMPIRE. We must acknowledge that Lynch is one of the few directors who have ever been able to take something horrific and disturbing and turn into an object or a moment of beauty through sound, color and imagery. What I will leave you with as a final thought is this, Jer: MULHOLLAND DRIVE may well have been the climax of Lynch's film career, but BLUE VELVET was the breakthrough film that builds that bridge to get him there.

JER: It might have been a tougher task to pit these films against each other than I could have imagined from the beginning. I think the issue at hand is that the two films are both very similar and yet, distinctive at the same time. Both bare the very recognizable markings of a standard David Lynch film, there is no denying that point. The other is that Lynch never followed a conventional nor traditional approach to anything he ever did. As JC mentioned earlier, Lynch began as a painter. How does one go to an artist and ask him or her to describe an abstract piece of work? Artists work on an impulse, sometimes based on emotions, to try to capture those reflexes onto to canvas or their own particular tools of art. Lynch says that images come to him in dream-like visions, to which he tries to reenact them onto to screen. This isn’t any different than a visionary artist trying desperately to recreate those images into a painting, or sculpture or any form used by the creator.

With that said, I believe he might have a “draw” as an outcome to this CINEMA TAKEDOWN. The conclusion has to be rendered based on asking Michelangelo which work of arts does he love best; his sculptures or his paintings? That would also be like asking a parent which child do they love more? The fair and only foreseeable conclusion here is to agree that both films offer a distinctive flavor or representation of this ‘artist’ and marks a point in his life that was expressed and notably captured onto the canvas Lynch prefers… the canvas of cinema!

What are you thoughts? Is there a ‘counterpoint’ you would like to express or offer an opinion on? Please do so, we always invite them. Comment those feelings and let us know if you feel stronger about one or the other. On that note, JOHNNY CHAZZ will draw from his expansive bag of tricks for an interesting take on cinema…so, here’s hoping to continue having you stop by weekly and we will await your visit when we SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Enjoy this facinating video entitled "The Art of David Lynch". Click the link and enjoy the ride!
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4 comments:

  1. Blue Velvet was a really well made film with some (as you both say) 'shocking' moments and strange ones also. The excellent performance particularly by Dennis Hopper acting as Frank Booth was most memorable. I have not seen Mulholland Drive but I intend to, so thanks for the suggestion this week. TOM, WESTMINSTER, CA.

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  2. Thanks Tom! Yes, it would seem and understood that too many people would have seen MULHOLLAND DRIVE as they would gave seen BLUE VELVET. I think that as long as you suspend the thought of reality and prepare yourself for a David Lynch ride... you should be OK! Let us know what you think of it!

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  3. David Lynnch has made som many bizarre and mid-blowing movies that it is almost impossible for me to choose a favorite. Blue velvet was amazing when it came out in the eighties, but MUulholland drive and the modern Inland Empire were also really good for there time. (EVAN, Stockton CA)

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  4. Good points made. Evan...Lynch has had "stages" of film presentations. I enjoyed your take on eras...one being BLUE VELVET and then mentioning the latter INLAND EMPIRE and MULHOLLAND DRIVE. This was a tough one to choose from. Thank you for sharing!

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