October 20, 2008

Theater Seens: Mulholland Drive

It's probably pretty obvious by now that 95% of the movies I see are new releases. I might rent one movie a year (I've never had a Blockbuster or Netflix account), or I might borrow a DVD from a friend or from the library, or I might see an older movie on the new Encore channel lineup I just got. But the vast majority of the time, if I'm seeing a movie, I'm sitting in a theater. What this means is there are virtually no newly released DVDs I would watch (since I saw what I wanted to see in the theater), and there are many hundreds of older films I'd like to see. I just can't find the time, and until Hollywood adopts my soon-to-be-trademarked Movie Offseason, I'll probably continue my habit.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I see lot of movies in movie theaters. As such, I have many great memories of movies that I experienced for the first time in the theater. With "Theater Seens", I'll simply recall a scene from a particular movie that was memorably gripping, hilarious, moving, or frightening when I saw it in the theater. If I can find a YouTube clip of it, so much the better. There's no way my experience could ever be recreated, of course, because I'll never see a particular scene or a particular movie again in the theater for the first time, and that makes all the difference.

Movie: Mulholland Drive
Scene: Winkie's Diner/Dan's Dream
Where: Copley Place Cinemas, Boston, MA
When: October, 2001

Seven years ago this week, I believe it was, I saw Mulholland Drive at the Copley Place Cinemas in the Prudential Building in Boston (the theater has apparently since closed and been refashioned as a Barney's New York clothing store...rage...). I believe it was opening day, Friday afternoon. I can't even remember why I went, considering I'd never seen a David Lynch film before (why start then?). So I went alone, naively expecting...who knows?

This was at a time when the use of time-shifting in movies was really popular (Memento had been released that spring), and it was a trend that I kind of liked - and still do, actually. It keeps you guessing. Or in the case of Mulholland Drive, it keeps you guessing, and guessing, and guessing, and guessing. And then you realize time has nothing to do with it because it's just straight up madness with no beginning, middle, or end. I don't think I've ever been more relieved after seeing a movie as I was when I got home and read Roger Ebert's review, in which he explained that, in fact, there was nothing to explain. It's still one of my favorite reviews of Ebert's - maybe my favorite of any that he's ever written.

Although I can't remember the exact moment during Mulholland Drive that I realized I was essentially dreaming, I know there was one scene that definitely made me want to wake up: Dan meets his friend for breakfast at Winkie's Diner on Sunset Blvd., which happens to be the location of his bizarre recurring dream. In it, he and his friend sit in the diner, terrified of a mysterious man hiding behind the dumpster behind the building. "That's it," Dan tells his annoyed friend, who immediately gets up to lead Dan out behind the building to prove his silly bogey-man dream is just that.

What's so memorable for me about this scene was how insanely scared I was. And by what?! This is broad daylight, there's no creepy music, and there's no murderer lurking in the corner. It's just a guy telling his friend about a weird dream! The only explanation, other than the fact that I'm a big baby, is that by this point I had already learned that nothing was predictable in this movie, and if a character was hinting at a foreboding future, it was probably going to turn out ugly.

Indeed, my reaction in my seat exactly mirrored Dan's as the face appears from behind the corner. I don't think the handful of people in the theater with me noticed (speaking of them, never before or since have I actually heard half-hypnotized people unconsciously mutter aloud, "What the...?," so many times during a movie), or they just may have fainted themselves as well.

If you've seen Mulholland Drive you know this is one of many bizarre scenes, and you might wonder why this one in particular sticks with me. Well, I guess this was just the first time David Lynch really "got" me. Maybe it's just that simple. Because of this scene and many others (and my ignorance going into it), Mulholland Drive remains the most surreal, bewildering theater experience I've ever had. I was in such a daze as I walked out that I almost forgot how to get back to the T stop. It's almost a wonder no one asked me if I needed assistance.

I doubt it, but I have to ask: Did anyone else get rocked by this scene in the theater?


  1. Wonderful relation of this personal story, Daniel. Lynch summons dread from some of the most unlikely places. You are correct, of course; this is in broad daylight, and there is no ominous music. It is not like Lynch's own Eraserhead, for instance, in its obviously surreal, nightmarish and noirish setting of a dark industrial milieu.

    This, and a few of the Naomi Watts scenes, are probably my favorites from Mulholland Drive.

    The story of what happened to the cinema in Boston is as haunting and awful as anything Lynch could create, though. Ugh!

  2. That scene never fails to make me jump out of my seat.

  3. Yup, I agree with those two kids who commented above me ;) Love it, and the film.

  4. Thanks, guys. The suspense just builds and builds, and I love this actor here. Did any of you see this in the theater? I feel like it would make a difference, but maybe not.

    "Lynch summons dread from some of the most unlikely places." Ain't that the truth, Alexander.

    For all the reasons I've explained here, I seriously regret my decision to skip Inland Empire in the theater a couple of years ago. I don't know what I was thinking. I still haven't seen it.

  5. I didn’t see it in theatres, I was 10, and perhaps it is more effective when seen in theatres, I will probably never find out. I find most things more effective on the big screen, generally.

  6. You've keyed into exactly what I like about Lynch. He taps into a dream state.

    Have you ever had a nightmare that scared the bejebus out of you and you wake up and at first you kind of gasp, but then as you realize it was just a dream, it's kind of fun? That's David Lynch.

    Not always with shocks like in this scene, but sometimes with just a creeping dread that something is horribly wrong.

    Great feature. keep it up!

  7. Absolutely agreed, Nick. It's never the same outside of the theater. Doesn't mean it's always worse or anything, but just not the same, and when it comes to scenes like this, not NEARLY as effective. But still, you can get completely lost in this movie even on DVD.

    Haha, yes I know exactly, Craig. In general I wish I could remember more of my dreams, especially some of the crazier ones. There's one I've had a couple times that is somewhat Lynchian...

    I'm suspended in outer space. Instead of stars, there are an infinite number of those costumed characters from the old Fruit of the Loom commercials. Those are the stars. Each of them is connected by some kind of string, and there I am, intertwined in a massive galactic web of Fruit of the Loom characters. I'm not necessarily stuck, but I'm not moving either. I'm just hanging out there.

    So I haven't had that dream for at least 15 years, but I've had it more than once.

    Alright so maybe it's not Lynchian. Maybe it's just psychotically weird.

  8. I'm not much of a David Lynch fan, but I LOVE "Mulholland Drive." I'd be hard pressed to tell you why, but I just do. This scene is great, but my favorite one is where Naomi Watts and her girlfriend (don't remember that actresses' name) go to that old thater and the woman lip-synchs to Roy Orbison's "Crying" in Spanish. And again, I could never explain why I love that scene, but I do.

  9. Another good - and creepy - scene, Pat. Thanks for sharing. I'm also at a loss to explain why I liked this film other than what we've already mentioned - it's like a weird dream.

    I suppose the acting was good and yada yada, but it always just comes back to the craziness of the whole thing.

  10. Yep, that scene is indeed unerving as are others in this rightly tabbed "dream state" film. Perhaps even more drastic is his INLAND EMPIRE which raises teh bar for plotless, dreamy and disturbing meanderings. I am a big Lynch fan and rate BLUE VELVET as one of the greatest films of the 80's and his best, even ahead of MULLHOLLAND DRIVE.
    This is a gret piece though, about remembering specific movie trips to theatres, making the whole experience so much more than watching a movie. I have similar anecdotes and memories as well. Infectiously-written.

  11. Thank you, Sam. Makes me even more interested in Inland Empire. But outside of the theater? I fear I missed the best chance when I skipped it the first time.

    I have a few more movies in mind for this feature. The more I think about it the more I'll remember, of course.

  12. I just love this movie and I love how you brought out the feelings of terror, even though this really wasn't a "scary" movie. Two scenes that I clearly remember are the theater scene with the woman with the tear on her face lip synching the Roy Orbison tune "crying" and the scene with the "cowboy" in the hills. I remember a few years after I first saw it, this movie was on TV, with the sound off, in the corner of O'Gara's in St Paul. I was there with some friends, but I couldn't take my eyes of the screen. The film gave me the chills even with the sound off.

  13. Thanks for dusting off this thread in light of all of the Best of the Decade talk. To me this was still probably the most absorbing cinematic experience I had this decade, and I had fun thinking back on it with this post. I haven't seen MD from start to finish in one sitting since that day, but bits and pieces and clips here and there over the years. The first time is all that matters, though I'm sure it has the potential to be just as creepy the second and third time around, as you describe. How funny is it that it was playing on TV in a bar, too?

    Actually, the funnier thing is that even if people hadn't seen it before and they were just seeing the images on screen with the sound off, they'd still know just as much about what's going on as the rest of us.


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