My Favourite Film – Mulholland Drive

David Lynch, Favourite Film, Mulholland Drive

There are certain questions that some deem unanswerable. They are often to do with “favourites”, particularly for those who digest vast numbers of cultural works. Favourite book, favourite album, favourite band, favourite TV show etc. I am someone who has a geekish approach to lists. I have, in my younger years, been known to physically construct them, ranking items with a sort of arbitrary precision, meticulously ordering prospective favourites based largely on nothing, separating the inseparable for reasons unknown even to me. This has left me with a rather definite, yet simultaneously uncertain, answer to most of these questions. Favourite book? Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Favourite TV show? The Wire. Favourite album? That one’s tougher – take your pick between Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Radiohead’s Kid A.

These are auto-pilot answers that I have held since I was, on the whole, 16/17. They are my go to responses, my comfort loves. On reflection, I know that they are not distinct. The Brothers Karamazov? A masterpiece, and certainly the most thought-provoking, ambitious, almost ‘soul-changing’ (vomit) book I have read. But is it noticeably more enjoyable than others? I have read it once; I have read others (Lolita, To the Lighthouse, The Stranger) numerous times. I have not contemplated re-reading Dostoevsky’s final since I first tackled it 6 or 7 years ago. The Wire? Again, one of the most life-changing, phenomenal works of art (yes, art) ever created, but would it make my Desert Island? Would I take it over, say, the original incarnation of The Office, or Six Feet Under? Astral Weeks and Kid A would certainly make my Desert Island, but can I really put them on a level above all others? Above OK Computer, Blood on the Tracks, Pink Moon, Forever Changes, Marquee Moon? It all starts to seem rather random. That is until we reach ‘favourite film’. This is the one about which I hold no doubt. There is no other contender, nothing that can touch one creation, one tour de force, one work of genius. That work of genius is Mulholland Drive. Many will disagree – it is a film that polarises audiences – but in my mind, there is no doubt. Bold as it is, for me, Mulholland Drive is cinema’s greatest ever achievement. It is David Lynch’s magnum opus, standing above his other wonderful films – above all other films. It is a dreamy, woozy, surrealist piece, but a piece that DOES make sense. Those who watch it once often dismiss it as nonsensical, but when you have watched it as much as I have, it has a perfectly formed story that makes absolute sense, just through a typically Lynchian kaleidoscopic lens.

Without spoiling it for those who have not yet seen it (and boy do I envy you), the film starts with a car accident, and a chance encounter between the victim and Betty, a young woman with aspirations of making it in Hollywood. To say that that is what the film is about would be akin to saying that Citizen Kane is just about what ‘Rosebud’ means, or that Ulysses is all about a normal day in a man’s life. Mulholland Drive spirals into a captivating neo-noir world, a heady, mind-warping, trance-like experience like no other. I first watched the film at 16/17, finishing it at 2am, before re-watching it instantly, and then again the next day. I think I watched it 5 times in the first week, each time more astounded than the next. There is no other film that has had that impact on me, no other work in any medium that has left me so stunned, so enchanted, so certain that I had just witnessed genius. I did not understand it on first viewing, but I was still completely absorbed. It is a film shot like no other, the contrast of the bright colours and caricatures (in the most intentional, best possible way) with the constant sense of foreboding, the murky dread that everything is not as it seems. Every time I watch it, I am still astonished; it honestly improves with every viewing.

I have watched many great, great films. Others have similar mind-warping, layered textures – Bergman’s Persona, Polanski’s Chinatown, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, the work of Buñuel and Fellini, but none have had either the lasting impact or initial sheer excitement of Mulholland Drive. It pops into my head regularly – as it did today, it still blows my mind, there is so much to it that I could not even begin to scratch the surface of it in a blog. I even wrote my final University essay on just one aspect of the film – a comparison in the Noir module of my English degree on ideas of entrapment in Mulholland Drive and its spiritual partner Sunset Boulevard. It is a film that inspired my love for film, the work that made me see just what is possible through the medium, yet that damaged all future cinematic experiences. Every build-up to watching a film is tinged with that desperate hope that maybe, just maybe, it could be the one to surpass Mulholland Drive. As of yet, the search has been fruitless. No other film has that punch, no scene comparing to Club Silencio, or Winkies, or the Cowboy scene. No film leaves you so breathless, so gobsmacked.

Just watch it. You may find it pretentious gibberish – some people do. Those people, however, are wrong. I know it’s all opinion, but screw subjectivity; it’s the greatest film ever made.

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The Wonderful Disaster

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There are some films that are good because, well, they are good. There are some films that are great because they are great. There are some films that are mediocre because they are mediocre, some that are bad because they are bad, and a few that are good because they are bad. None of these categories apply to The Room. The Room is so extraordinarily bad that it is one of the greatest film experiences imaginable.

For those who have not seen it (and you should do so immediately), The Room is ostensibly a film about a man, Johnny, and his “future wife” and “best friend” (we are told this approximately every 15 seconds in the film)  who engage in an affair. Tommy Wiseau, the film’s creator, writer, lead actor, director, and everything else, intended this to be a tragic work in the tradition of Shakespeare, Orson Welles, James Dean et al. We are meant to sympathise with Johnny, be distraught at his plight, and leave the film with a huge emotional outpouring. We do, but it is an outpouring of bafflement and laughter. The characters have no depth, they are walking contradictions, the dialogue is incomprehensible (Wiseau forbade anyone from making the script more intelligible as it was his “vision”), storylines are created and then instantly dropped, such as a character having breast cancer, which is never mentioned again.

Wiseau is an awful writer, filmmaker and actor. He takes awful to a whole new level; it is impressive just how bad he is. The Room warrants multiple viewings, just to grasp the incompetence of it. I have seen it around 20 times, and every time I notice something new that just adds to the atrociousness of it all. It is impossible to describe how bad it is, it needs to be watched.

The film experience is not about Johnny and the betrayal, it is about how this film ever happened. Who is Tommy Wiseau? How did he ever think this film was good? (Wiseau still believes it to be a masterpiece). What was the process like? Who are these other actors? Finally, some of those questions have been answered in ‘The Disaster Artist’, written by Greg Sestero, who plays Johnny’s best friend Mark. The book, an exposé of the making of The Room, and the life and mind-set of Wiseau, is wonderful. It is hysterical, fascinating, and elicits genuine wonderment. The tales of the film’s creation is, if possible, even more astonishing and funny than the work itself. It asks questions of friendship, the American Dream, delusion, obsession, youth, and the nature of pursuing a goal that is clearly beyond one’s capabilities and, arguably, succeeding.

Wiseau has no talent in the area he dreams about, but he has created a famous, beloved piece inspiring obsessively devoted fans, who flock to screenings for a chance to meet the man himself. The Disaster Artist makes us contemplate whether Wiseau has failed miserably in his attempt to be a great auteur, or whether he has succeeded with his ambitions of fame and fortune. It goes beyond being a behind-the-scenes look at The Room, it becomes a character study of the captivating Wiseau. He is an unintentional comic genius, but he is desperately lonely, fame hungry, deluded, obsessive, wounded, and at times downright nasty and scary. His talent in no way matches his ego, but he is a juxtaposition of astonishing arrogance and naivety, a brash exterior concealing a fragility and inferiority within. Sestero could have gone down the route of providing solely hilarious anecdotes, but he pairs them with an insight into the deeper characters of both himself and Wiseau. Sestero is affable, funny, and smart. He clearly possesses the charm, intelligence and disposition that Wiseau craves, leading to an intense jealousy and obsession that Sestero compares to The Talented Mr Ripley. One of the highlights of the book is the Mr Ripley section, with the wonderful revelation that Wiseau erroneously named Sestero’s character, Mark, after the actor “Mark Damon”.

Sestero reveals his own insecurity and struggles to become an actor, and the book acts as a warning and depiction of trying to make it in LA, in a comparable way to Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. He provides an insight into the mind-set of those involved in The Room, all in stark contrast to Wiseau’s belief in its brilliance and totalitarian approach to its creation. Some, Sestero included, see the film as their big chance to make it in LA, a quiet desperation imbuing the tales of the initial production. This makes way for increasing frustration and anger at Wiseau’s methods, including his refusal to pay crew members, his lack of filmmaking knowledge coupled with his overwhelming arrogance, and his nonsensical, impossible ideas for the script, such as his idea for his car to fly off the roof because of a sudden subplot that “maybe Johnny is a vampire”.

I urge everyone to watch The Room, and read The Disaster Artist. They are both masterpieces in their own right, each aiding the other yet standing up by themselves. Neither can fully reveal the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau; the layers are never-ending, the fascination insatiable. Unlike The Room, The Disaster Artist is great for all the right reasons. And The Room? Well, The Room is a tour de force of ineptitude. In this instance, that can be more insightful, and have more depth, than an intentional work of genius.