The Look Back: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is Experiential Filmmaking at its Finest

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In The Look Back I will be looking at movies and television series/episodes with fairly recent anniversaries and writing about why I love them so. Basically it’s a desperate attempt to write about things that would normally have very little relevance at all.

The highest praise any given film can receive is that it’s an “experience.” When a film surpasses the ordinary expectations of storytelling what is remembered is not the experience of watching the film, but the actual experience the film becomes.

Thirteen years ago, when it premiered at Cannes, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive exhibited how pure of an experience a film could really be. Everything about the film works towards crafting a wholly unique experience that can only be described as Mulholland Drive.

The two characters who guide us through the film are “Rita,” an amnesiac, and Betty, a Hollywood newcomer who knows nothing about show business. At the film’s core is a mystery. “Rita” isn’t Rita, so Betty decides to help her find out who she really is.

What’s even more of mystery though, is how the film’s narrative develops. The film is a “mystery,” but rather than being a traditionally told one, the film’s plot functions more as a series of surreal events told through fragmented pieces. This adds a dreamlike quality to the film. Hollywood is where dreams come true, but in Mulholland Drive is it really just a dream?

On the outside, Hollywood is a place where up-and-coming actresses like Betty come and give auditions and sing doo-wop songs, but what lies beneath is much more darker than it seems. As Rita and Betty venture deeper into the mystery that encompasses their lives, more layers are peeled back, revealing things like terrifying dumpster monsters, secretive and controlling organizations, contract killers, dead women, deception, betrayal, heartbreak, and suicide. None of this is ever outright explained, and what becomes most mystifying is the unknown.

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Because Lynch ventures so deep into the unknown, the audience doesn’t really ever understand what the “known” is. Our guides through the film’s world are blank slates, and experiencing everything they do is perplexing for even the most prepared viewer. We’re even faced with what Rita and Betty encounter on a literal level, through Lynch’s liberal use of hand-held and P.O.V. camera work. The audience is put in the place of the film’s characters constantly, and we can make as much sense of their incomprehensible world as they can.

Through Lynch’s experiential filmmaking, we become Rita and Betty. And just like Rita and Betty, we are so often confronted with the unknown, and it becomes the most terrifying thing you can think of. What’s scarier than not knowing your name, your world, and yourself?

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But as the unknown becomes known for Rita, but mainly Betty, it still remains unclear for the audience. Was Rita and Betty’s time together (spoiler alert for a 13 year old movie) really a dream? What does Diane’s transformation into Betty say about herself? What does it say about good and evil? What about truth and deception? What really is reality, and what are dreams?

Because this film leaves the audience with so much to think about, there’s no other way to describe Mulholland Drive than as an experience. But, being an experience, was the entirety of Mulholland Drive the audience’s own escape from reality?

Just listen to what the band leader of club Silencio says in the film’s most pivotal scene:

No hay banda. There is no band. Il n’est pas de orchestra. No hay banda. And yet we hear a band. It is an illusion.

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Mulholland Drive is as much as an escape for Diane to become Betty as it is for the audience to become an active participant in the experience. Through David Lynch’s experiential filmmaking, Mulholland Drive is the most fully formed escape cinema has to offer.

No hay película. There is no film. Il n’est pas de film. No hay película. And yet we see a film. Mulholland Drive is an illusion.

The Age of Louie

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It takes a lot to start a new wave of television. You have to be expressive, influential, and most importantly, hold meaning and relevance for those watching. Our most recent wave of great TV has been the “golden age” of cable dramas with antiheroes at their forefront. However, the age of the antihero is over. Or at least is getting there. Instead of clinging to the past, it’s time for TV to move forward. And it already has.

FX’s Louie has sparked the next wave of great television. This might sound like a surprise because based on its description alone (Louis C.K. plays a fictional version of himself in this series that follows the comedian through the lows of being an awkward single dad in New York.), Louie sounds like a “normal” show. And it is! Louis C.K. is an ordinary everyman telling everyday stories in ways that are unusual for television. Because, at its core, Louie isn’t about plot, characters, or even being funny, but is instead about the nature of being human.

Humanity is an incredibly hard thing to explore in any medium, but Louie does it with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Through its transformative ways of storytelling, Louie strips down everything we know about regular storytelling, and offers a revealing look at what it’s like to be human. In Louie you can find the raw truths about life, the bizarre experiences of being human, our fears of rejection, humiliation, and loneliness, what personal victories, fulfillment, and self-discovery feel like, and what human connection really is. All of this in one 21 minute episode of television.

That’s the thing about Louie. One five-minute segment can be the most loving and profound scene you’ve seen all year, and the next as strange as a David Lynch filmLouie has been transcending normal storytelling for years in a very low-key way. The show takes its time to explore the small ideas that really matter, and the end result is unbelievably meaningful television. This is our new wave of great television: Low Key-TV.

The most obvious example of Louie’s influence on TV is HBO’s new era of dramedies. Picking up Girls and having Lena Dunham in a creatively auteur-ish position (she writes most episodes but has a writing staff, also directs occasionally) was an obvious response to Louis C.K.’s creative control over Louie (he writes and directs every episode, has edited most, and sits in with the musicians). Each episode of Enlightened, HBO’s best (albeit cancelled) dramedy was written by creator Mike White. And HBO’s new dramedies, the so-so Getting On and the wonderful Looking, are creator driven shows that have distinct visions. More importantly, each of these shows embody Louie’s low-key type of storytelling. They all tell small stories that end up having big impact emotionally, and are all incredibly resonant.

But low-key TV isn’t just half hour shows. Orange is the New Black takes a step back in every episode to examine how humanity binds each character together in their community. Sundance’s first original series Rectify is a thoughtful examination of how we view our lives and why they matter to us. And Showtime’s Masters of Sex is, ironically, the most intimate show on TV outside of Louie, telling very small stories.

However, the argument can be made that low-key storytelling has been present in television for years. Mad Men has always been a short story show disguised as an anti-hero one. Showtime’s network defining dramedies have always been blurring the lines of genre and storytelling. Even Freaks and Geeks employed a certain type of storytelling that was small, yet emotionally rich.

Still, this type of storytelling has been crystalized by Louie. It’s the main reason Louie’s the most ambitious and distinctive show on TV. You won’t find any other show on television that devotes 21 minutes to a conversation between two friends, with one who says he’s going to kill himself. There will never be a show that has its protagonist unknowingly bring a duckling into Afghanistan. Or any other episode that details a man’s escape from depression which ends with him connecting with a random family in China.

Thanks to Louie’s sheer ambition and expressiveness we have our next great wave of television. And hopefully we’ll be able to feel thankful for years to come.