After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.
A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity.
In 1999 David Lynch was tasked with this TV series pilot that was ultimately rejected by ABC. Once Lynch said in an interview that he is "a sucker for a continuing story". I think the remark is pretty down right. Look for instance at "Twin Peaks" and Lost Highway, both of which I am a big fan of. Also consider Inland Empire as well as all the post-2001 shorts, of which I am not a fan at all.
Be as it may, in this one case the miracle happened. Lynch took the rejected pilot from the drawer and made it in a great full feature film, released in 2001, after re-shooting a few scenes and adding several others. Mulholland Dr. the feature, an apparently elusive but ultimately full sense-making story, is the best of Lynch's so far, in my opinion, and one of the best movies of the last twenty years.
Now looking back at the pilot, I could not be more grateful that things went the way they did. The episode as such is great looking and builds up a lot of atmosphere. It is definitely of a far superior quality than the average TV show, probably even better than the "Twin Peaks" pilot. But precisely because of this, Mulholland Dr. the pilot deserved more than being just the first episode of a series (and of course more than being left in a drawer).
When you consider it, the pilot has so many merits it is hard to believe it was made for TV. The score by Angelo Badalamenti, the cinematography by Peter Deming, the production design and the technical values in general are all top notch. And what's more, the acting is superb. Harring and Watts are mesmerizing and it is no surprise that they (especially Watts) went on to star careers after the full feature was released. Watts delivers according to her standards, i.e those of one of the best actresses of her generation. While the same cannot be said of Harring, she is nonetheless good and brings forth a lot of noir atmosphere, sheer sexiness and emotion. And the supporting cast also do an exceptional work, making all of the characters memorable. Just think of then relatively unknown Theroux playing the utterly unlikable film director or of veterans Hedaya and Forster. And of course, the characters are good because the dialog is so good.
Overall, this is clearly not required viewing if you are not a hardcore fan of David Lynch, in which case go to the 2001 movie instead. However, if you already saw and liked the movie, the pilot becomes interesting as it shows how Lynch, for once, beautifully closed the loop. Something that I have missed him doing in the last ten years.
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