- The myth of the cowboy
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His face says it all: is everything about the past now? Answer: Yes, we are. The upswing in his fortunes continue when his acceptance speech — in which he spontaneously gives the award to an adoring fan — goes viral, and his new heat secures him an offer to audition for a hot YA franchise movie. That Elliott handles it all as well as possible is no shock, but it leaves you wanting more from a movie written expressly for him.
Vincent Millay. Park City, Utah, is about to be flush with cash -- and we're not talking about buying apres-ski gear. Here are the most promising sales titles of the Sundance Film Festival. The movie stars Harris Dickinson as a Brooklyn teen with a grim home life, a budding romance with a female friend and a predilection for meeting up with older men he connects with online. This all leaves a number of questions. Let's take them in order. Feel free to send us suggestions, quarrels or further thoughts on the film.
Well, it seems that Diane had her girlfriend murdered. Then, in a masturbatory fantasy cum fever dream in the moments before she commits suicide, she reimagines her ruined career and failed relationship with the woman she loves. From there, Diane, a product of Hollywood, imagines the story in cinematic fashion: She sees herself as the naive wannabe starlet Betty, who succeeds on sheer talent and solves whatever problems are thrown her way. She even gets the girl! Thematically, Lynch seems to be working out a number of things: the enticing but empty imagery of the movie screen; the accompanying imagery that is used as stardust to cover up the unpleasantries of the movie-making process; the imagery that the ambitious use to reimagine and remake themselves; and the imagery and imagination actors put to work to create their characters.
Some viewers see that it's the same person right away; others are flummoxed because they just seem different. If you look closely, you see they're the same actress.
The myth of the cowboy
The actress, Naomi Watts, delivers a technically dazzling performance. It's difficult to believe that chipper Betty and the ground-down Diane are the same woman, but they are. As a reader points out in a letter to the editor , Lynch even slips in a wry joke. Fine: "So it was all just a dream. Well, it's a little more complex than that. It certainly does explain the exaggerated gestures, heightened emotions and odd plot turns in the first part of the movie.
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Seen as dream motions, Betty's hokey "I'm goink to be a stah, darlink" schtick makes more sense. Diane's fantasy is a number of things. It's obviously a dream of a world in which her relationship with Camilla was different -- a place where Camilla loves her and is dependent on her. But it's also a requiem for her lost career, and arguably an elegy to a lost Hollywood as well.
But Lynch seems rather ambivalent about the lost Hollywood, which by analogy undermines Diane's dream vision, too. Lynch may be telling us that this is the dream we all share when we watch Hollywood movies, and reminding us at the same time that it is a dream -- that it is wishful, and says a lot about the dreamer. The movie's most problematic conceit is Diane's hallucination of the mad powers behind the scenes in Hollywood. Are those imaginings the incoherent ones of a cockeyed youngster turned sour by failure?
Or the unvarnished truth of someone who'd seen it happen, up close and personal? Indeed, Diane herself is someone who deals with personal rejection by hiring an assassin. Lynch does a great job intertwining the dicier sides of Diane's character with a wider critique of Hollywood as a business and the complex relationship between Hollywood as dream factory and its audience. It's possible Lynch sees consumers of popular Hollywood fare as unable to work out their grievances in their real lives, so they resort to fantasies of revenge.
It's apparently the present, but the dream part of the film is an eras-spanning romanticized netherworld of ivied Hollywood apartment buildings, aging stars and picture-perfect period re-creations on busy sound stages. In "Blue Velvet," too, Lynch pulled off the trick of creating a modern setting that seemed somehow to have previous decades still hanging heavily in the air. The women ride around in cabs a lot, an anachronistic touch. But the thuggish hit men and crack-addled hookers wandering around are up to the minute. Overall it's typical of the fine line Lynch walks between the fantastic and the real, all set against a malevolently filmed skyline, harsh parking lots and the endless expanse of light that is L.
'The Hero' Review: Sam Elliott Vehicle Doesn't Do Its Star Justice
Speaking of which, despite a few night scenes, this is one of those odd noirs in which terror lives in broad daylight. The monster, who hides behind the diner where Diane contracted the killing, seems to be the demon Diane metaphorically begins dealing with when she decides to have her girlfriend knocked off. In the end we see he's just a homeless man, a reminder of the grimy Hollywood Diane came to know after her jitterbug-queen optimism got beaten out of her.
And, OK -- he's also the keeper of the box, the symbol of Camilla's death and perhaps reality contained sort of like a movie. Once it's unlocked, Diane has to return to the physical world and accept that she's done an inhuman thing. Readers see a lot more in the box: Several found an amusing -- and hard to argue with -- sexual connotation. Maybe that's why the hitman laughs when Diane asks what the key opens. Others make a case that it's a television. The multiplicity of meanings fits in well with the film's texture.
After the fairly straightforward narrative of the film's first two-thirds, the last part of the movie is a staccato sequence of flashbacks. Diane sees the key, and understands that the deed is done.
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She probably understands that she's going to pay a price for it, too; her neighbor even tells her that "Those detectives were here again. Diane sees that she's been reduced to an object of pity and contempt by even someone like Coco. That takes her into the downward spiral that produces the hallucinogenic first part of the movie and then her decision to shoot herself.
This is a good example of Lynch's dream logic. Diane fetishizes it, and it turns up in an odd place in the dream. Same with the mysterious blue key. The hit man says he'll leave a normal blue key in her apartment when the deed is done. This transmogrifies in her fantasy into that futuristic one.
Watch the movie carefully and you see that many characters and props in the last third of the film are picked up in Diane's mind and repurposed for the dream: The hit man's black book; her grouchy neighbor; the waitress at the diner; the director's mom; the director who didn't give her the movie part; the woman Camilla kisses at the party; the cowboy; even her aunt.
Diane seems to have imbued herself with the worlds of film, TV, even pop-culture camp, in her time in L. Much of what she and Rita attempt are procedures right out of a Sam Spade noir handbook by way of Nancy Drew -- peeking into windows, talking to neighbors, making anonymous phone calls and so forth. When the two are in their bed together, there's a double-profile shot that's an homage to Bergman's "Persona. There are also vague echoes of TV soap operas, pornography and a lot of other things, not to mention the presence of Chad Everett the guy Diane does the audition with , '40s hoofer Ann Miller Coco , Lee Grant the aunt's weird neighbor , Billy Ray Cyrus the pool guy , Robert Forster a cop , and others.
The references all seem to be what the theorists call "blank," just memories ricocheting around in poor Diane's head at a really bad time. Fine, fine. Isn't the cowboy just sort of a twist on the menacing Robert Blake character in "Lost Highway," the reindeer man in "Wild at Heart" etc. It certainly seems like it. The goofy Roy Rogers getup is also another echo of a prelapsarian Hollywood when the studio system ruled and studio heads of virtually limitless power really did pull the strings.
Well, the cowboy appears once to Diane as a transition from her dream back to reality, apparently part of her fantasies before she kills herself. In the "real" last third of the film, we see the cowboy passing out of the party at the director's house. To us, caught up in the backward dream logic of Diane's fantasy, this would have been the one last time the director would see him, since he agreed to put Camilla in the movie. But in reality he was just someone she once saw out of the corner of her eye who was then incorporated into the paranoid fantasy of her dream.
What about that hooker the hit man questions and then ushers into his van? And what about those diner waitresses? They seem to be Lynch's nods to the milieu he's filming in and the diverse women Hollywood chews up in various ways. Diane imagines herself as Betty in the dream after seeing a waitress named Betty when she's talking to the hit man.
In the dream, Betty meets a waitress named Diane.
Along Came a Cowboy
Beats us. But note that the director of that movie is Paul Bruckner -- the milquetoasty guy at her audition. They appear in the opening jitterbug sequence as well. They may be the judges of the contest she won, or her parents. In the end, they seem to be signs of her innocent past come back to terrorize her. Syme was an actress who appeared in "Lost Highway. The tragic death was noted in the tabloids because she used to date Keanu Reeves. In the dream logic of Diane's imaginings, it's part of the glamour of Hollywood, and the out-of-body existence of many actors, and perhaps the ultimate emptiness of the reality that films purport to give us.
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The unexpected focus on sound, as opposed to image, which is what the rest of the film seems to be about, is typical for Lynch as well: His soundscapes, here as in his other difficult films, are extraordinary, and he regularly conflates sound and image. Remember that in "Blue Velvet," which also dealt with the reality beneath the surface image, young Jeffrey, the Kyle MacLachlan character, is introduced to that netherworld via a severed ear.
Lynch's longtime composer, Angelo Badalamenti, plays the espresso-drinking movie exec at the beginning of the film, incidentally. Betty is from Deep River, Ontario. This strikes us as possibly the heart of the movie. It's the linchpin of Diane's idealized image of herself. Yet beyond that, the care with which the sequence is set up and the scene's immense punch seems to suggest that Lynch believes, perhaps passionately, that there is such a thing as acting, even great acting.
It may be his tribute specifically to the miracle of character imaginings like Diane's and, by extension, to the creation of self in our subconscious and the many selves we don't know. Actors make it up out of nothing more than sheer imagination and persuade the audience to believe it. Lynch has been doing the same thing explicitly over his entire career. Again, Naomi Watts, the actress, should be given credit for balancing the many levels of control needed to convincingly act the part of a ground-down starlet imagining herself as a chipper and idealistic young thing who then can convincingly deliver a unexpectedly searing audition performance -- and then have the levels of the conceptions make emotional sense to viewers at the end of the film.
The hit man thing is confusing. Who is the long-haired guy he murders? And what about the prostitute he ushers into the van? Is that Diane, too? The guy he shot so perfunctorily made some remark about a car accident. The implication seems to be that he was in one of the joyriding cars that hit the limo, and that he ended up with some sort of black book that the guys who were about to kill Rita possessed.
In the logic of Diane's dream, the hit man needed that as a lead to where she was. We know that it's not going to help him find Rita, but he doesn't know that. The scene is also another movie nod, this time to the absurdist modern black noir; here it allows Lynch, at his bleakest, to film a senseless carnage that out-Tarantinos Tarantino. It's also part of the confusing background noise Lynch likes to put into his movies. It is a deeply felt contention of his that not everything makes sense. Less charitably, you can say it's a loose end from the TV series that never got made.
Fat chance. The network approved the script, but balked when execs saw the two-hour-plus result. Lynch apparently tried to slice off the last 40 minutes, but the network didn't like that either.
He eventually found a French film company, Studio Canal, to put up some money. He reassembled the cast, filmed some more and created the feature version out now. You can't help noticing that no one comes off very well in this fetid world. In interviews Lynch has been putting the screws to ABC. While he points out that the network had approved the script before he filmed it, it's hard to believe any sane person would expect broadcast television to air a movie anything remotely like this.
And we're somewhat suspicious when a director like Lynch -- who's been given tens of millions of dollars to make extraordinarily dark, sometimes positively inhuman "Wild at Heart," for example movies for more than 20 years -- whines about Hollywood. He's been nominated for a best director Oscar twice. What does he have to complain about? All that said, the movie is certainly no polemic. Lynch seems pretty detached from this. The character of Adam the director seems a mocking version of himself.
Lynch's nuances and implicit respect for the magic of the art make the film a complex portrait of the industry. He's playing explicitly with how Hollywood uses women predominantly as sex objects -- except he's turning the formula on its head, making the women's world a closed one, at least in Diane's fantasy of it. But of course, in the end she's doing the same thing a Hollywood movie normally does to a Camilla -- imagining that she's an empty object that she can possess. In the end, "Mulholland Drive" is Lynch's most sympathetic film, particularly to women.
Even if Betty's dream is an extended apologia for a terrible crime, the density of her character, the expansiveness of her dreams and desires, and the catch-all giddiness of her imagination all make her something close the one the thing she always wanted to be: the ultimate movie heroine. And she's just part of the film's dense milieu. The network of aging actresses and incoming starlets ineffably captures the implacable Hollywood mill.
Lynch seems to accept the manifold processes by which women come in to self-invent themselves: by sheer talent, the way Betty does; desperately, as Diane does; by hook or by crook, as Rita does, plucking a new identity off a movie poster; or sexually, the way Camilla does.