This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Observer Review 6 January 2002
Pimps, assassins, derelicts and hitmen – welcome to the noir Hollywood of David Lynch FILM OF THE WEEK
in notoriety to the Hellfire Club. The drive is named for William Mulholland, the ruthless Irish-born engineer who participated in the conspiracy to rob whole inland communities of their water that inspired Chinatown. The dam on nearby Lake Hollywood is named after him and alongside that is the vast Hollywood sign, from which the 24-yearold British actress Peg Entwistle hanged herself in 1932 when a studio declined to offer her a contract. This, then, is the brooding setting of a picture that is as nightmarish and blackly comic as anything Lynch has made. It takes place over what appears to be 48 hours and centres on two women, an experienced brunette (Laura Elena Harring) and an ingenuous blonde (Naomi Watts), as in Blue Velvet. The brunette narrowly escapes death at the hands of hitmen taking her for a ride on Mulholland Drive; the blonde arrives hopefully from Canada to seek an acting career in what she calls ‘the dreamplace’. They meet in an apartment near Mulholland belonging to the ingénue’s absent aunt where the brunette has sought refuge when suffering amnesia after the accident in which her would-be killers perished. Time and identity fracture; people seem and, in some cases, are interchangeable. Thus, the flat looks unaltered since the Thirties or Forties, and the amnesiac brunette decides to call herself Rita after seeing a framed poster for Gilda on the wall. Eagerly, the blonde sets out doing auditions and volunteers to help Rita find her true self, using evidence from her handbag. The women’s investigative quest takes them to an apartment block where they discover a decomposing body, to a bizarre Hispanic nightclub called Silencio where everyone mimes to tapes, and into an erotic lesbian affair. Meanwhile,
Lynch’s law and disorder
Can Footballers’ Wives save ITV?, page 8
Mulholland Drive (146 mins, 15) Directed by David Lynch;starring Naomi Watts,Laura Elena Harring,Ann Miller
DAVID Lynch’s compelling Mulholland Drive is that Hollywood-on-Hollywood movie lurking within every director, but its origins were inauspicious. It began three years ago when ABC-TV eagerly commissioned an open-ended, free-flowing television series along the lines of Twin Peaks, hated the pilot and shelved the project. A while later, the French company Canal Plus offered $2 million additional financing if Lynch would turn it into a cinematic movie and provide a satisfactory ending. The title inevitably evokes Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, also in the noir mode but far less sinister. Sunset Boulevard stretches across Los Angeles from the Pacific to the old downtown area, passing through Bel Air and Beverly Hills as well as brasher commercial districts. The altogether darker Mulholland Drive zigzags along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains that divide North and South Hollywood. If you study Ken Schessler’s perennial bestseller This Is Hollywood, you get the impression that Mulholland is redolent with evil, haunted by the sad and bad spirits of the stars and starlets who have been murdered, committed suicide or participated in orgies this past century. Mulholland Drive Mansions, Errol Flynn’s old place, has a reputation equal
Rita (Laura Elena Harring) exchanges a kiss with Camilla (Melissa George).
The sinuous camera leads around menacing corners, and drags us down into lakes of satanic darkness. Death beckons as an end and an escape
around them swirls a corrupt world of blackmailers, pimps, assassins, agents, directors, disfigured derelicts and hangers-on, who keep crossing each other’s paths. A director is forced to give a leading role to an actress chosen by the Mob. In a brilliantly sustained sequence, an inept hitman kills his brother, the brother’s secretary and a janitor at a seedy office block. The sinuous camera constantly leads around menacing corners, and drags us down into lakes of satanic darkness. Death beckons as an end and an escape, and while everything is sharp, super-real, we know that this is a phantasmagoria. We’re experiencing the horrors and excitements of somebody’s dream, possibly a collective nightmare based on personal anxieties and the gurgling
mulch of a community’s knowledge of itself. Curiously, the film that Mulholland Drive most readily brings to mind is the Coens’ surreal Barton Fink, another story packed with echoes of scrofulous Tinseltown folklore and rumour in which an innocent in Hollywood becomes involved with someone who may be a projection of his anxieties and ends up disillusioned, suicidal, alone. The Coens remained tight-lipped and Lynch is giving nothing away. His own synopsis reads in toto: ‘Part One: she found herself inside the perfect mystery; Part Two: a sad illusion; Part three: love.’ How do you judge performances in this context? The two central women – Watts and Harring – bring a certain vulnerable charm to their roles. Some – the 82-year-old Ann Miller, for instance – rely on their familiar faces. Others, keeping a straight face, go with the Lynchian flow.
PHILIP FRENCH’S TOP FIVE FILMS ON CURRENT RELEASE
1. Mulholland Drive (15) David Lynch’s surreal Day of the Locust-style take on the ugly underside of Hollywood middle-class New Delhi is performed by a flawless ensemble 4. Lord of the Rings (PG) New Zealand director Peter Jackson lovingly creates Tolkien’s Middle Earth down under
2. The Day I Became a Woman (U) Outstanding three-part Iranian movie on the struggles of women 5. The Hired Hand (12) from childhood to old age Peter Fonda’s gritty in a patriarchal society Western about cowboys in 3. Monsoon Wedding (15) the 1880s, badly Mira Nair’s funny, moving distributed in 1971 and study of the conflict long unavailable, emerges between tradition and in this restored print as a rapid social change in classic of the genre
Gung ho,gung ho,it’s off to war we go
Pro-military movies are back. And the plots are as preposterous as ever
When Kurosawa came to Dunsinane
REISSUE OF THE WEEK
Throne of Blood (110 mins, PG) Directed by Akira Kurosawa; starring Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada AKIRA KUROSAWA, who died three years ago at 88, is having his prodigious 50-year career celebrated these next two months by a complete retrospective at the National Film Theatre. He was a great humanist and moralist whose work was both peculiar to Japan and universal. Whether set in the past or present, his films make us look again at society and history and, above all, to look into ourselves. Rashomon won the Golden Lion at Venice in 1951 and was the first Japanese picture to be shown widely abroad. The title entered the language as a term for the uncertainty of facts, the impossibility of arriving at absolute truth. But to those taught during the Second World War that the Japanese were subhuman, undifferentiated monsters, Rashomon and the films that followed constituted an unforgettably transformative experience. I recall seeing it in 1952 at the seedy Futurist Cinema in Lime Street, Liverpool, where it was being exploited as an erotic Oriental movie about rape. It affected me as no film has before or since, and I emerged with my ideas about Japan, its people and culture completely changed. The Fifties and Sixties were Kurosawa’s greatest decades and Throne of Blood: Macbeth, Noh style.
Behind Enemy Lines (105 mins, 12) Directed by John Moore; starring Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman The Last Castle (131 mins, 15) Directed by Rod Lurie; starring Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Delroy Lindo Va Savoir (156 mins, PG) Directed by Jacques Rivette; starring Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellito Nobody Someday (15, 99 mins) Directed by Brian Hill; starring Robbie Williams Gene Hackman in Behind Enemy Lines. Nato superior (a surly French officer), exploits media interest (Sky TV, this being a Murdoch production) and even leaves his carrier to lead the rescue operation, before he’s relieved of his command and retires. There are incidental excitements as Burnett dodges his pursuers, but it’s a ridiculous film with a high body count of foes and minimal American losses. Hackman’s counterpart in The Last Castle is three-star General Irwin (Robert Redford), gallant hero of Nam, the Gulf and Bosnia, who arrives in a stark military jail dripping with medals like a Christmas tree. The author of The Burden of Command, Irwin has pleaded guilty to disobeying orders in some incident in Burundi and been sentenced to 10 years by a reluctant High Command. Immediately, Irwin shows his contempt for the prison commandant, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), whose eyes are as untrustworthily porcine as Irwin’s are sincerely pellucid. Winter is a corrupt sadist who has never heard a shot fired in anger, and gradually Irwin restores the depressed convicts’ miliRobert Redford in The Last Castle. tary pride. He turns them into a cohesive force that in a climactic storm of rain and flag-waving triumphalism takes over the jail. In the process, he becomes a Christ-like figure along the lines of Paul Newman’s convict Cool Hand Luke. Amazingly, the director of this portentous movie is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, though the chief influence would appear to be his subsequent years as a movie critic. Jacques Rivette is one of the original Cahiers du Cinéma critics who constituted the French New Wave and is to be respected for sticking to his last for more than 40 years. However, his long, ludic, self-indulgent movies, mostly about well-heeled folk involved in the arts, have divided the relatively few people who’ve seen them as they’ve appeared spasmodically since his impressive, somewhat irritating debut with Paris Nous Appartient in 1960. That first film centres on a group of Parisians staging Shakespeare’s Pericles, and his latest – Va Savoir – turns on a production of another rarely performed play, Piran-
PRO-MILITARY movies have been making a steady comeback in Hollywood since the cycle of anti-war movies that followed America’s withdrawal from Saigon. The new year promises a barrage of them, starting with Behind Enemy Lines and The Last Castle, preposterously plotted pictures about dedicated senior officers defying their superiors. Behind Enemy Lines stars the tall, tousle-haired Owen Wilson who looks the way Robert Redford would do had he taken a couple of straight lefts to the nose from Mike Tyson. Wilson plays Lieutenant Burnett, a cocky naval flyer, and the plot (vaguely based on a true story) turns on his transformation from cynical gung ha! to patriotic gung ho! He starts out determined to quit the navy and ends up signing on for life after being pursued for several days in the snowbound Balkans by genocidal Serbs. Burnett has been shot down over forbidden territory and has photographic evidence that could bring enemy leaders into the dock at the Hague. The agent of his conversion is long-serving Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), who’s so determined to bring Burnett home that he defies his
dello’s As You Desire Me, a piece about illusion and the re-creation of identity best known today through the 1932 Garbo movie which reverses the ending. The film’s wilful heroine, Camille (Jeanne Balibar), returns to Paris after three years in Rome in an Italian production by her actor-manager husband. Immediately, she renews her relationship with her former lover, a philosopher specialising in Heidegger, and the pair become involved with a dancer, and a sister and brother, the former an ex-jewel thief, the latter a practising one. The result is like a formation dance performed at the speed of a chess game. There’s lots of vapid, high-flown dialogue about love and art conducted by cool, confident French narcissists, and some clever patterning in the plot with two major discoveries made in different kitchens. The moral is summed up in the Italian actor’s search for a lost Goldoni play, Il Destino Veneziano, which he eventually finds under the real title Il Festivo Veneziano. The film’s title, Va Savoir, roughly ‘Who knows?’, derives from the final line of a Rimbaud poem. Nobody Someday is an unexciting documentary of a 15-city European tour by Robbie Williams, the biggest, though not the most interesting, thing to come out of Stoke-on-Trent since Arnold Bennett and Stanley Matthews. The black-and-white concert footage is interspersed by backstage interviews with membersof the travelling crew of 65 and the obsessively self-critical Williams, who began the journey hating touring but comes to love it. Robbie Williams has a striking resemblance to Hugh Laurie and would make a splendidly gormless Willie Mossop in Hobson’s Choice. The chief highlight comes when a deranged continental fan pushes him off the stage.
The interior scenes are sharp, precise, hypnotic. The exteriors of galloping horses have an exhilarating dynamism
the movie with the most screenings in the season (more than 30) is Throne of Blood (1957), first of his three Shakespeare adaptations, the others being The Bad Sleep Well, a social melodrama transposing Hamlet to corporate Japan (1960) and Ran (1985), his King Lear. Following Macbeth closely and made in the heightened Noh style, Throne of Blood stars his most frequent collaborator, the commanding Toshiro Mifune, as General Washizu, a warrior in a raindrenched, windswept, fog-shrouded medieval Japan. The interior scenes are sharp, precise, hypnotic. The exteriors, of horses galloping through the forest, or of cavalry men charging up hills of volcanic ash to Cobweb Castle, the film’s Dunsinane, have an exhilarating dynamism. The images are unforgettable – the meeting with the witch, a wraithlike figure spinning in the forest, for instance, or the death of Washizu in a storm of arrows that turns him into a human pincushion. The death of Boromir in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings is the latest homage to the death of Kurosawa’s Macbeth.