A love story in the city of dreams . . .
Blonde Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) has only just arrived in Hollywood to become a movie star when she meets an enigmatic brunette with amnesia (Laura Harring). Meanwhile, as the two set off to solve the second woman’s identity, filmmaker Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) runs into ominous trouble while casting his latest project. David Lynch’s seductive and scary vision of Los Angeles’s dream factory is one of the true masterpieces of the new millennium, a tale of love, jealousy, and revenge like no other.
David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. receives a much-needed North American Blu-ray release from Criterion, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new 1080p/24hz presentation is delivered on a dual-layer disc and comes from a new 4K scan of the original negative.
I haven’t seen any other Blu-ray editions for the film, never getting around to the Studio Canal edition available overseas, so my experience with the film on home video is primarily the Canadian DVD (released through Columbia/Tri-Star though more than likely featuring the same transfer found on the U.S. Universal edition). That disc hasn’t aged well at all. Despite a few minor quibbles Criterion’s new presentation vastly improves upon that edition in pretty much every way. Detail is drastically improved upon and every fine nuance comes through crystal clear, from fine patterns on clothing to the little hairs on sweaters, and all of this is best displayed when The Cowboy makes his first appearance. Textures found within the various settings are all cleanly rendered and look very natural. The film’s grain is present and looks decent enough, but similar to other titles from Criterion recently the image can look a little noisy in low-lit scenes.
Black levels are still very strong, as is shadow-detail, and the film’s colours look striking: the neon pink paint that makes an appearance is especially vivid, as is the magenta found in the opening and the blues that make appearances throughout.
Though there are some stylistic choices that cause the image to go out of focus, jump around or fade in and out, the image is still very sharp and other than a few minor marks print damage isn’t an issue. Regardless of some minor grievances I was, in the end, quite pleased with what we get here. It’s a sharp looking image.
The 5.1 surround track is presented in DTS-HD MA. The film has a very active and at times unnerving soundtrack and the presentation is more than up to the task. The opening jitterbug dance sequence gives a nice primer to what you can expect from the track (and film). The sequence’s music sports superb range and volume levels, sounding crisp and clear with excellent fidelity. It fills out the environment nicely with noticeable splits and direction, as well as a nice use of bass that’s not overwhelming. Then subtle little deviations in the music, suggesting something is askew, start popping up in the background without being drowned out by the main portion of the music.
There are a lot of subtleties throughout as Lynch uses sound to throw certain sequences off-kilter, like in the diner where a patron describes his nightmare or during the casting sequence midway. These scenes, along with others, present very understated tones that make their way through the environment and you may not even realize they are there at first. These effects turn some scenes, which may seem normal at first, into something more sinister: that casting scene where Camilla sings “I’ve Told Every Little Star” is one of the creepiest things in the movie thanks not only to the camera work but the audio mix as well. I mention this aspect more because while the DVD’s Dolby Digital and DTS tracks still delivered this aspect fine enough, the effect is just so much cleaner and clearer here, far richer. The sequences come off far more unnerving.
The louder aspects (like the car crash, portions of the score, and Roy Orbinson in Spanish during the Club Silencio section) are also much better. The audio is crisp and clean, dialogue is clear and articulate, and the mix is nice where, again, we can still pick up on all of the subtleties to the track without louder aspects drowning it out. It also makes great use of the surrounds with clear directionality between the speakers. It sounds great and works perfectly for the film.
Though it’s not surprising supplements are pretty limited here (Lynch doesn’t like having his films explained) I must say I’m still pretty impressed with what Criterion has put together here all things considered. Unlike Eraserhead, which was made up primarily of older special features (though did included his shorts), Criterion has recorded a lot of new stuff for this edition. Sadly, though, fans of the film who have read most everything about the it will probably find nothing new here.
Making up a large portion of the supplements are new interviews. The first features David Lynch and Naomi Watts talking about the film, sitting in what I believe is Lynch’s screening room (this room is mentioned by others a few times throughout the supplements). Running 27-minutes the two discuss the inception of the project and how Watts came to be cast in the film (and judging by how she showed up at the interview it sounds as though she’s incredibly lucky she got the part). They get into detail about its beginnings as a television pilot and then its move to a feature film after ABC rejected it. Lynch talks about getting the film’s tone and how certain ideas arrived to him, while Watts focuses on her performance and her concerns. Her main concerns were how over-the-top and bubbly she was, Lynch getting her to amp it up a bit (humorously in another interview director of photography Peter Deming mentions he knew this meant something bad would happen to Watts’ character). She was so concerned about how this would look, probably concerned people would think she couldn’t act, but of course it all worked in the finished product. She also shares how difficult it was to do the masturbation scene, and lets us know that the tears and frustration she was showing on screen were all too real. Though a lot of this material has been covered in other interviews the two have a great working chemistry with each other and it’s an incredibly entertaining and even funny recollection on making the film.
Following this is a segment focusing more on the cast and the casting process, featuring new interviews with actors Justin Theroux, Laura Harring, Naomi Watts, and casting director Johanna Ray. Watts’ contribution was done in the same location as the previous interview, suggesting Criterion just did it all at once and everyone has been interviewed separately. Ray and company talk a little bit about how Lynch casts his films (he simply looks at photos and then interviews them to get a feel) and then the actors recall their experiences in getting their respective parts. From here everyone talks about their experience in making the film, sharing a few humourous anecdotes. Theroux recalls shooting his scene with “Monty” Montgomery, who plays the sinister Cowboy. Montgomery could not remember his lines so Theroux had to have the lines basically stuck to his face and upper body so Montgomery could read them. He also notes how wooden the acting and line reading was on Montgomery’s part and Theroux had deep concerns about how the scene would play out. Ultimately, as he admits, the scene actually works so much better because of Montgomery’s “style.” The cast members also talk about working with Lynch and how accommodating he could be (Harring mentions how Lynch promised her he would protect her nude scene, which is why one sequence is blurred out digitally in all home video releases), while also talking about their reactions to the film (Theroux knew immediately Watts would be a star). It’s a lengthy and engrossing 36-minutes, nicely accompanying the previous Watts/Lynch interview.
Composer Angelo Badalamenti talks about his work on the film, primarily focusing on the film’s score of course. He gives some background on his career in music, from his brother forcing him to keep taking piano lessons when he was younger (and he kept it up once he realized playing the piano got the attention of girls) to a great story about how he got Ossie Davis to use a score he wrote on the side for the film Gordon’s War. His work with Lynch then began with Blue Velvet where he was initially brought in to help Isabella Rossellini sing the title song and then explains how the two have worked together since, Lynch just explaining the film and leaving Badalamenti to write it. He talks about the various themes he wrote for the film, explaining what he was trying to capture. The best part, though, is when he talks about his actual acting role in the film, as one of the studio execs (the one that spits out the espresso). Though Lynch told him to do the espresso bit, Badalamenti actually based the character on a person he once met, and he shares this rather odd story here. Running 19-minutes it’s another wonderful addition.
Closing off the interviews portion of the supplements is an interview with production designer Jack Fisk and director of photography Peter Deming. This 22-minute discussion features the two—recorded separately—talking about their work with Lynch over the years and then the work on Mulholland Dr. specifically. Deming talks about planning the movements of the camera in certain sequences and how he pulled off some of the disorienting effects (some of which he feared would be viewed by others as glaring mistakes) while Fisk talks about designing sets for what was supposed to be a television series (ones you could fold up and store) and then goes over the locations used, touching on how Los Angeles has changed in the years since the film was made. They both cover their respective topics well, but they share the same thoughts on one area: when working with Lynch you just go along with whatever he says, no matter how crazy it sounds.
Criterion then closes off the disc with a few other supplements. We first get a 2-minute deleted scene featuring the two detectives played by Robert Forster and Brent Briscoe at the station going over what they found at the accident scene. This is then followed by roughly 25-minutes of on-set footage, taken during shooting scenes at the diner and the various sets used for the dinner party scene at the end. This material, shot in standard def digital with no narration and little context, is fantastic for a few reasons. Firstly it’s certainly nice to see the atmosphere on set, which was very loose, but what’s also great is you get to see Lynch at work: there’s a sample of the director and Badalamenti talking on location about how the music will work for that particular scene, and then you get to see trial-and-error attempts at use of the steadi-cam for the sequence where Camilla is leading Diane up the hill to the house.
Criterion then includes a 48-page booklet featuring an excerpt from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch, made up of interviews he conducted with the director. This excerpt of course focuses on Mulholland Dr. and its development. Though some of the material here is covered elsewhere on the disc, Lynch reveals a few more details about where certain ideas came from. Since the booklet is so thick the release is packaged in a nice looking digipak, though it’s a little cumbersome to get the disc out (mine is probably packaged a little too tight).
The lack of the original pilot is disappointing though in no way is its absence at all surprising. Also, I do miss that we don’t get any fun analysis of the film or even insights into Lynch’s career and work, but I’m sure Lynch requested there be nothing of the sort here (the closest we get of the former is Watts explaining how she saw the two characters she was playing). Despite these disappointments I still think Criterion has put together a strong collection of material.
(Update (10/26/2015): I realize I forgot to note one thing: like the old DVD edition and Criterion's own release for Eraserhead this edition does not come with any chapter stops. It also doesn't allow the bookmarking feature that is commonplace on just about all of Criterion's releases. This has been done at the request of the director.
On the whole it’s a solid edition. Despite some minor issues with the transfer I found the image to still be sharp and filmic, and the audio presentation to be very enveloping. Closing it off with some excellent interviews this release comes with a very high recommendation.