“What’s that so black agin’ the sun?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s Danny fightin’ ‘ard for life”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What’s that that whimpers over’ead?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
— “Danny Deever”, Rudyard Kipling
“It’s no longer your film”
It is the almost graceless, almost graceful mystery of life leaving its body. The Actress kills herself in a flash. And then a hopeless, certain cloud, like you’ve burned some brilliant chemical that gives off a deadly, equally brilliant smoke. Although of sound mind, I have to think of the Lynchian Deep River plot conspiracies surrounding the atom bomb when I watch the Actress’ suicide in Mulholland Drive. There is not a more perfect example of instant beauty leading to endless debris than the atom bomb.
The Actress’ death is almost graceless, almost graceful. Hopeless and brilliant. Not so much the tense lead up; with an esoteric Marge Simpson, or geriatrics crawling out of a death bag, or Smart Alecs. But the firing, the pistol to her head, the scratching in a drawer for a pistol (have you ever reached into a drawer in the dark for a gun, you have to scratch). This is all almost graceless, almost graceful. And then a bayou of those two things, and that thing in between, a bayou of brackish smoke.
“No Hay Banda….and yet….it is all recorded…it is all on a tape”
The Singer falls mid-song, and later we come to understand that she has been put down. Placed down. By something. Laid down like the Actress in death. Both laid down by an animating power that rushes in and out of Lynch’s characters like wind through a lit candle. I do not mean Lynch himself. The demiurge to Lynch’s god. (“There’s a man in the back of this place….he’s the one doing it”).
At my most reductionist, I think Lynch’s entire filmography is exploring that demiurge. That “by something”. Is it a man behind a plate glass window in a wheelchair? Is it a boogeyman behind a diner? Is it a video cassette recorder? Is it the wind in the trees at night? Who or what exactly is animating these characters, and why do they lay them down after a time? And how?
In any case, I believe these questions are expressed best in Mulholland Drive rather than in Lynch’s other films. His characters are shuffled about in this movie in the most god-like, the most mystical fashion. Shuffled and then laid down. They are shuffled under and then over; like cards in an artist’s tarot deck. Mulholland Drive is just my favorite iteration of Lynch’s tarot spreads.
Every artist has a tarot deck that they are forced to create within the confines of. Lynch is unique in that he often shuffles his deck mid-film. Lynch is even more unique in that he can shuffle and shuffle and shuffle and draw the same cards, albeit in different positions, film to film (Jodorowsky is one of the few to bother to attempt this, straight-faced, as well). The terminus of this is Inland Empire (The pit boss, alerted by the dealer that This Guy Is Counting Cards, adds three more decks to the count rather than not Booking His Kind of Action Here). “To copy yourself is style”, Hitchcock said.
“You drive me crazy”
Lynch’s most favored card is that of moths. Characters drawn to the source of animation, and then destroyed by it to the degree that they seek it out. There is no tarot card for the moth, but I think Lynch’s Moth would be something like a Celtic crossing of the Moon, The Fool, the Hanged Man and the Death card. Mulholland Drive is like watching moths dally around their electrocuting lamp (No wonder lamps are thematic symbols in just about all Lynch movies), but the shock transforms them. And we love the shock, and the moment leading up to the shock, and the moment leading up to that moment.
The death of the Actress is that moment. Scratching for the gun. And then the deck shuffles. And then we are beyond the shock, at about ¾ of the way into the film, the drab abject falling of the Actress, the demonic coffee maker, the itchy wools, the pebbles and vases. Five minutes of this wool on the skin and we are begging to see another moth on the outskirts of the light of pending electrocution (No wonder in Inland Empire it is suggested that you hold a cloth to the eyes and you burn it and look through the hole).
Through the hole, everything is demonic. The coffee maker is far more demonic, more thematically charged than even the blue cube (The blue cube is a red herring). David Lynch has made a movie that takes his well confessed pleasures of diners, cigarettes, coffee…and makes them Dantean Punishment, ashen in the mouth. Of course you spit the espresso out.
When the Actress expands into smoke it feels like a lifetime of cigarettes, coffee, coffee machines, coffee filters, diner table gum, gum wrappers, guns are all spit out at once in a horrible, brilliant cloud. Sometimes I think it is Medea’s cloud. A cloud of black smoke taking the witch away from her evil life and her own murdered children. The smoke is the smell and charr of Medea’s burnt children, her offering to herself. Your parish priest will tell you smoke carries prayers to god. Sometimes I think it’s a nebula. Sometimes I think the smoke is the fear of reaching into a drawer for a gun in the dark. Sometimes I think the smoke is when the Actress begins waking up from her dream. In her dreams of revenge and murder and acting her parts, she has to kill herself to wake up
“Don’t act it real…until it gets real”
One time I made a cassette tape but messed it up somehow. I never figured out if it was operator error or a bad deck or a bad blank tape, but what happened was I was making a mixtape(I am old) and I heard both sides at once. Side A playing forward while side B played backward, simultaneously.
I think it would devalue Lynch to call this mere superimposition. Superimposition is a word that robs Lynch of his identity as a filmmaker, so we cannot call this that. We cannot call someone using the medium of motion an artist of superimposition. He does, however, have moments of it, of nodes, of places where the moebius strip kinks and crosses itself. The Women make love, the Director and the Actress lock eyes, the Actress kills the Actress. Then they continue on their way.
What David Lynch has done with Mulholland Drive is this; he has taken the noir genre and ruptured into its marrow of raw human emotions and looped them into a mysterious, ceaseless continuum creating a moebius strip of guilt running into desire, desire running into guilt, pain grading into pleasure, pleasure grading into pain, love into hate, and hate into love. One is rushing forwards into the other rushing backwards, like that damaged cassette tape. Something is laid down while something is picked up.
And the scene where The Actress kills herself is the moment of rupture in Mulholland Drive, the moment of the camera going into the wound to create a stigmata-like mystery, a mystery that does not end when the film does. A mystery that is almost graceful, almost graceless.
— Tom Will is a poet and has a Twitter account