Mulholland Drive ★★★★★

Right now, in 2020, while all the cinemas are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I think there's something to be said for the cinema experience, that is, the setting itself. At its best, it could feel great to sit in a grand theatre (grand compared with the average living room anyway) with all the procedure and ceremony around the film playing out in front of you. Sitting in the dark, only the immense images lighting up the room, with the sounds loud enough to shake you.

I watched Mulholland Drive at the cinema when it was first released. The conditions were somewhat ideal. I was there by myself, it was daytime and there was hardly anyone else in the screening. I was either 18 or 19 years old by then and the days of limitations of what I could legally watch at the cinema were behind me.

I had seen several of David Lynch's films, as well as Twin Peaks, on the television, but never at the cinema before this. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Lost Highway had been my favourite Lynch films because I felt that they retained the most mystery even after multiple viewings, something helped greatly by access to a VCR. They were films that felt beyond my 18 year-old self to fully comprehend, films that I hoped I would understand some day but was happy to experience again and again even if I didn't. Which was fortunate, because I still wouldn't dare try to explain any of them.

I really don't like missing the start of a film and when I was younger I would have found it unacceptable to miss a second of one. My reasoning is that something in the first five minutes could change the entire meaning of the film. For example, a character could be introduced and immediately go to bed and put their head on a pillow. Well... I was on time, probably quite early, for Mulholland Drive.

I remember cinemas at that time having automated curtains that opened for the trailers, closed and then opened again for the film. I liked how the lights would dim when the trailers came on, but it would really go dark just before the film started. Sometimes the curtains were red, but I remember other colours too. It's not so common to have them at all anymore. In Twin Peaks red curtains signified a gateway to the Black Lodge, the otherworldly and frightening dream space inhabited by doppelgängers and malevolent beings. Red curtains also featured in several of David Lynch's films, their appearances never explained.

I remember where I was seated, it was a few rows away from the front and to the left side of the screen when facing it. It has been said that you can tell when people are lying to you by the direction in which they look just before responding to your question. Right handed people will look up and to their left when being truthful as this apparently indicates that they are accessing the part of their brain that deals with memories. When they look up and to the right, they are accessing their imagination, suggesting that they are making something up. I am right handed and like to believe that looking up and to my right for the duration of the film somehow fired my imagination in a way that enhanced the dreamlike experience of the film on that first viewing. Try it!

The lights went down, the curtains opened.

I remember admiring the look of the film. At the time, digital cinema was not the norm and it would have been a celluloid print that I saw. It may as well of been projected straight into my brain. It was shot on 35mm film and would seemingly be the last time that Lynch would use the medium, subsequently opting for digital video on a number of short films and the feature Inland Empire, right through to the third series of Twin Peaks in 2017. I can certainly enjoy entirely digitally captured cinema or films shot on celluloid and then remastered to a digital medium, but I also appreciate seeing a good print, well projected, as it was when I saw Mulholland Drive.

So what of the film itself? I thought it was incredible. It gave me the feeling of being an amateur sleuth in an ever changing dream. Light and dark. Concrete and ephemeral. Surprisingly, I had a confident reading of the film on my first viewing. I think that after wrestling with the meaning of some of David Lynch's other films, this one seemed quite straightforward in what was happening. I felt I was able to distinguish the difference between an idealised memory, a wish-fulfilment dream, a paranoid fantasy and so on. All this seemed related to, but distinct from, a more tragic reality for our troubled dreamer who is struggling to make sense of it all as much as the audience is. That isn't to say I'd claim to have cracked it. If anything, this film disarmed the overly analytical part of my mind and I went with how things felt instead. I think this film, more than any of David Lynch's others, encourages viewing it in that way. With the characters so often being confused, I felt happy to sit back and enjoy the humour, horror and mystery, whichever fractured psyche they may have originated from and not be concerned with theories or meaning.

For me, that first screening was a perfect cinema experience. Whenever I've gone back to the film, it has always been excellent but different every time, and as it begins I'm reminded of how it felt the first time, as the red curtains opened, the long, winding journey still ahead.