Tuesday, 9 May 2023

David Lynch on Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland Dr. (Directed by David Lynch)
In terms of style, theme and structure, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is less a story about dreams than it is about the corrupt, twisted fantasy of Tinseltown. Laid out as a convoluted network of interwoven plots, the film is told through the ruptured fantasies of Diane Selwyn (played by Naomi Watts in a superb breakout performance) who is experiencing a mental breakdown and has resorted to self-delusion in order to cope.

We are initially introduced to her as an aspiring young actress named Betty Elms, newly arrived in Los Angeles, who meets a beautiful amnesic woman, Rita (Laura Elena Harring), who takes refuge in Betty’s aunt’s apartment after a car accident. Assuming Rita must be a friend of her aunt, she allows her to stay. Before long, an intimate friendship starts to blossom, and the eternally optimistic Betty attempts to piece together Rita’s misplaced identity.

A captivating subplot, which is mysteriously and inextricably linked to both characters, then takes over the film, involving film director Adam (Justin Theroux), who is railroaded into casting a certain actress in his new production. Toying with notions of appearance, artificiality and deception, the film’s narrative becomes increasingly skewed and distorted as both women’s personalities begin to fracture and merge.

Part paranoid nightmare, part wish-fulfilling dream, Mulholland Dr. embraces the dark heart of film noir in its outstanding portrayal of Diane Selwyn/Betty Elms’ rapid slide into mania and suicidal despair. (Amy Simmons).

The following interview was originally published in the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch. The interviews included in the book were conducted by Rodley between 1993 and 2005. For Criterion’s release of Mulholland Dr., they republished Rodley's chapter on the film as a selection of excerpts from Rodley’s conversation with Lynch about his masterpiece Hollywood love story.

So how did you first pitch the idea to ABC as a potential TV series?

I just had two pages that were read to them, and then more pitch stuff to give them a mood and more of a thing. And at that point, they were all saying, “Sounds great. Let’s do it.”

But what was on those two pages?

A couple of things: a woman trying to become a star in Hollywood, and at the same time finding herself becoming a detective and possibly going into a dangerous world.

As the idea developed in your mind, what was it about ‘Mulholland Dr.’ that made you fall in love with it?

If someone said to you, “What was it about that girl that really made you fall in love with her?” you couldn’t say just one thing. It’s so many things. It’s everything. Same with this. You get an idea. A moment before, it wasn’t there. And it comes SO FAST! And when you get the idea, it sometimes comes with an inspiration, an energy, that fires you up. Maybe the love is in the idea, and it just comes into you. I don’t know. But the idea is really small, and then it expands and shows itself to you so you see it completely. And then it goes to the memory bank so that you can examine it some more. It’s very complete. It’s like a seed. The tree is really there, but it’s not a tree yet. It wants to be a tree, but it’s just a seed.

Sometimes an idea presents itself to you and you’re just as surprised as anyone else. I remember when I was writing Mulholland Dr., the character of the Cowboy just came walking in one night. I just started talking about this cowboy. That’s what happens—something starts occurring, but it wasn’t there a moment ago.

Do you then get anxious about how this idea is going to fit in with everything else?

No, because you’re just in that world yourself. You’re just going. There is no movie yet. Until the process completes itself, you’re just going to carry on. Somewhere along the way, when it looks like it’s taking some sort of shape, the rest of the ideas all gather around to see if they can fit into that shape. Maybe you’ll find out that that thing isn’t going to work, so you save it in a box for later.

You’ve got to be the audience for most of this trip. You can’t second-guess them. If you did, you’d be removing yourself from yourself. Then you’d be out there in really dangerous territory, trying to build something for some abstract group that’s always changing. I think you’d fail. You’ve got to do it from the inside first and hope for the best.

Tell me about the character of Diane—or Betty—as there are two differently named characters, both played by Naomi Watts. What do we call her?

This particular girl—Diane—sees things she wants, but she just can’t get them. It’s all there—the party—but she’s not invited. And it gets to her. You could call it fate—if it doesn’t smile on you, there’s nothing you can do. You can have the greatest talent and the greatest ideas, but if that door doesn’t open, you’re fresh out of luck. It takes so many ingredients and the door opening to finally make it.

There are jokes about how in L.A. everyone is writing a script and everyone has got a résumé and a photo. So there’s a yearning to get the chance to express yourself—a sort of creativity in the air. Everyone is willing to go for broke and take a chance. It’s a modern town in that way. It’s like you want to go to Las Vegas and turn that one dollar into a million dollars. Sunset Boulevard says so much about that Hollywood dream thing to me.

Did you ever feel that way about this town yourself—that it was the place to make your career as a filmmaker?

No. I came in through a weird door, and I didn’t really know about it. I arrived here in August 1970, at night, and I woke up in the morning, and I’d never seen the light so bright. A feeling comes with this light—a feeling of creative freedom. So for me it was almost an immediate full-tilt love affair from then on. Hopefully, everybody finds a place where they feel good about being where they are—a place that does something to them. That’s L.A. to me.

I’m always intrigued by the exact time frame in a lot of your films. […] ‘Mulholland Dr.’ is defiantly contemporary, and yet it has a feeling that it’s happening in the past—the fifties or even the thirties and forties.

But that’s so much like our actual lives. Many times during the day, we plan for the future, and many times in the day we think of the past. We’re listening to retro radio and watching retro TV. There are all kinds of opportunities to relive the past, and there are new things coming up every second. There is some kind of present, but the present is the most elusive, because it’s going real fast.

There are still many places you could go in L.A. to catch the drift of the old golden age, but they’re getting fewer. It’s like the old oil well that used to be where the Beverly Center is now. That was one of the locations we used for Eraserhead, and it was one of my favorite places in the whole world. You’d go over this doughnut of earth and down inside this place, and you’d be in a completely different world. There were these oil tanks and this working oil well just standing there. It was just incredible. There was a pony ride from the twenties or the thirties. And there was this little key shop that was like four feet by four feet, with a roof. And then there was the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand, which has moved to another place now. And there was Hull Bros. Lumber, which was a working sawmill, I think, with a hundred-foot-tall mound of sawdust next to it. There was also a nursery. It was all, like, from the thirties—mostly dirt, with this stuff scattered around. The buildings were ancient, and guys wore those green-colored visors and armbands. They were old-timers who knew about wood and Hollywood and everything.

Why are you attracted to all of that?

For me, it’s a thing that I felt as a kid in Our Gang comedies—The Little Rascals. It was feeling the thirties—a feeling of a place back in time, because it hadn’t changed. It was like a set. This place just existed there. And then it was gone. It became the Beverly Center. Now it’s just, like, a congestion of shops and parking and lights and signs. It’s just a huge change.

In its transition from TV pilot to feature film, did ‘Mulholland Dr.’ become more complicated?

No, it got much simpler. It became obvious what it was. It was like the day I was in the food room at the stable in AFI when we were shooting Eraserhead. We’d been shooting for almost a year by then, and I was drawing the Lady in the Radiator. I tried to picture the radiator in Henry’s room—which was twenty feet away—and I couldn’t. So I went running into Henry’s room, and I looked at the radiator, and I almost started weeping for joy. It was perfect. It was unique because it had a place built in it—for her. But she didn’t exist when that radiator had been handpicked. So the Lady in the Radiator married with what had gone before. I knew it already, of course. It was the same kind of thing with Mulholland Dr.

But there were many more elements to mesh and narrative threads to tie up in ‘Mulholland Dr.’

Sure, but when you’re working on something, you have strings that go out here and there, and they end. But one of those strings is going to continue, while others atrophy and fall away. You sometimes go in different directions to find your main path. And maybe one of those strings that were started comes back by surprise at the very end, in a different form, and you say, “That’s how that thing fits in.” All the threads in Mulholland Dr. are tied up.

The movie is full of obvious clues, but there are many other things that are important visual and audio indicators that are not obvious. So at times it does seem as if you’re delighting in teasing or mystifying the viewer.

No, you never do that to an audience. An idea comes, and you make it the way the idea says it wants to be, and you just stay true to that. Clues are beautiful because I believe we’re all detectives. We mull things over, and we figure things out. We’re always working this way. People’s minds hold things and form conclusions with indications. It’s like music. Music starts, a theme comes in, it goes away, and when it comes back, it’s so much greater because of what’s gone before.

But audiences have struggled with trying to work the movie out and, at a certain point, they just want you to tell them what it all means—to you.

Yeah, and I always say the same thing: I think they really know for themselves what it’s about. I think that intuition—the detective in us—puts things together in a way that makes sense for us. They say intuition gives you an inner knowing, but the weird thing about inner knowing is that it’s really hard to communicate that to someone else. As soon as you try, you realize that you don’t have the words, or the ability to say that inner knowing to your friend. But you still know it! It’s really frustrating. I think you can’t communicate it because the knowing is too beautifully abstract. And yet poets can catch an abstraction in words and give you a feeling that you can’t get any other way.

I think people know what Mulholland Dr. is to them, but they don’t trust it. They want to have someone else tell them. I love people analyzing it, but they don’t need me to help them out. That’s the beautiful thing, to figure things out as a detective. Telling them robs them of the joy of thinking it through and feeling it through and coming to a conclusion.

And it doesn’t matter if that conclusion isn’t the same as yours?

Right, because even if you get the whole thing, there would still be some abstract elements in it that you’d have to kind of feel-think. You’d have to say, “I kind of understand that, but I don’t know exactly what it is.” Sort of. The frames are always the same on the film—it’s always the same length, and the same soundtrack is always running along it. But the experience in the room changes depending on the audience. That’s another reason why people shouldn’t be told too much, because “knowing” putrefies that experience.

What is it about women crying that fascinates you?

I don’t know! What IS it? It’s a lot of things swimming together, I guess. I’ve done that kind of scene a few times. Maybe I’ll do it a bunch more. I don’t want to say exactly what it is, because it won’t be enough.

In ‘Mulholland Dr.’, both Diane and Rita sob uncontrollably while watching Rebekah Del Rio mime to her own performance of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” at Club Silencio. How did the latter come about?

That was an accident. My friend and former music agent at CAA, Brian Loucks, calls from time to time and says, “I want you to meet so-and-so, can we come over for a coffee?” One day he calls me and says, “I want you to meet Rebekah Del Rio.” So Rebekah comes over with Brian at ten o’clock in the morning, and because I’d said to John Neff, “I think she’s gonna sing,” he’d set up the microphone—a very beautiful microphone—in one of the booths in my recording studio. Rebekah just wanted to come over for a coffee and sing in front of us. She didn’t want to record anything, but she came in and four minutes later—I think before she’d had her coffee—she’s in the booth. And the one take that she sang, four minutes off the street, is the vocal that’s in the film. THE ACTUAL RECORDING!

The weird thing is that she chose to sing that particular Roy Orbison song. I was about to start shooting Blue Velvet, and “Crying” came on the radio. I said, “Jeez! I’ve got to get that song to see if it would work in the film.” In the end, it wasn’t quite right, but I started listening to other cuts, and “In Dreams” came up. It was destined to change things in the most beautiful ways after that. Rebekah knows Barbara Orbison, Roy’s second wife, and she’s the one who translated “Crying” into Spanish, but it’s just so strange that that was the song that was almost in Blue Velvet.

Rebekah’s got one of the most beautiful voices in the world, so I said, “Damn, this is unbelievable!” And I start thinking about it. We listened to it after she left, and I said, “She’s gonna be in the film.” I’d had this other idea that I’d written down one night, so that jumped in and provided the slot for Rebekah.

The lip sync that she did when we actually shot that scene much later was, like, the best I’ve ever seen. She’s the original singer, of course, but even so, there are singers who can’t do that—the lips and the tongue and the breaths don’t work. But this was perfect in every way.

There seems to be a lot of miming in ‘Mulholland Dr.’, to music—at the auditions for Adam Kesher’s movie—but also people “miming” entire lives. Is the character of Betty in some respects Diane’s “mime”?

[Long pause]

Someone who only becomes “real” when she plays someone else for that brilliant audition at Paramount Pictures?

[Pause continues]

Doing exactly the same scene we’ve already watched her rehearse rather badly with Rita? What was that all about?

It’s like doing something twice—the same piece of material two different ways. It’s always interesting. In Blue Velvet, the song “In Dreams” is played twice, and it’s got a completely different feeling each time, and a different meaning. Or maybe it’s the same meaning but you see it a different way. All the characters are dealing somewhat with a question of identity. Like everyone.

– David Lynch on Mulholland Dr. By Chris Rodley. Article here 

Monday, 10 April 2023

Charlie Kaufman: On Screenwriting

Being John Malkovich (Directed by Spike Jonze)
One of modern cinema’s most celebrated screenwriters, Charlie Kaufman’s work includes surreal fantasy Being John Malkovich, cerebral sci-fi Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and comedy dramas Human Nature and Adaptation. The following extract is taken from an interview with Creative Screenwriting in 2001 in which Kaufman discusses his work with David and Jeff Goldsmith.

CS: When you write, do you take into consideration commercial potential or how an audience might respond to the writing?

CK: I think it’s my responsibility to write about the things that interest me. I feel that I’d be doing a disservice to anybody and everybody to not do what I thought was good. Because other than that, you should be in advertising or something.

CS: Unfortunately, too many screenwriters approach the job like they were in advertising.

CK: I think that’s what you’re trained to do. I think that’s what the studios do to a certain extent. But I think you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this interesting to me?’ ‘Is this funny to me?’ ‘Is this something I’d want to see?’ That’s something I always ask myself: ‘Is this a movie that I would go to see?’ And if the answer is yes, then it’s something to pursue. Otherwise you’re being cynical.

CS: It seems to me that your stories resonate with audiences because they’re as honest as they are imaginative.

CK: I’m fortunate to be able to do that. I guess at some point I may not be able to write that way, and I’ll have to make a living. Then I’ll have to write what other people want me to write. But right now I’m going to grab the bull by the horns and do what I want.

CS: How do you go about deciding on subject matter?

CK: I don’t conceive of things from a very conscious place. I just write about things that interest me – that I find moving – and then I trust it. I don’t think it serves me to do it any other way because that’s where I get the most passion and intimacy in my work. So I don’t know the answer; I like an idea, and then I tend to have three or four ideas that I might combine – which I did in Human Nature. Then I try to force myself to figure out how these things might fit together. I did the same thing in [Being John] Malkovich, and with Adaptation. It’s taking disparate ideas and then working out how and why they should fit together. How the story should be told.

CS: You began in TV and years ago wrote some TV pilots that remain produced. One was called Ramblin’ Pants, the other Depressed Roomies. Are there any plans to get these off the ground?

CK: I actually wrote four or five and nothing happened with them. They already made the rounds years ago.

CS: But you’re a different person now, those could be greenlit overnight.

CK: I am, but I think that I’d rather come up with something new than just go back to those.

CS: There are some fairly successful screenwriters who view their work as a grind. I get the feeling you’re someone who really loves writing.

CK: It’s important to me to do the best I can; I don’t think I’d want to approach it in any kind of weary way. I’d be ashamed to do that. Human Nature was a spec script. I wasn’t even working as a screenwriter professionally when I wrote it; I was working as a television writer. The same with  Malkovich. They were written during my television years; I just did them during hiatus.

CS: That was a while ago. How did Human Nature come to be made now?

CK: Both of those scripts had been kicking around for several years. I think I wrote them in the mid-nineties. Malkovich got made and it got positive attention; then people were interested in this one. Michel Gondry wanted to direct it. There had been others interested in directing it – at one point I was going to direct it – but Michel wanted to do it. I figured that would be good, so I came on as a producer, along with Good Machine and Spike Jonze.

CS: What was your involvement as a producer?

CK: I was involved throughout the production in every stage: pre-production, production, casting, and post. I was very involved in the editing along with Michel and Russell Icke, the editor; and the other producers, Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope, and Spike.

CS: Was that a new situation for you?

CK: This is my second film as producer. The first one was Malkovich, which I was involved in unofficially because I had a relationship with Spike, and he respects my opinion...

My involvement as producer is creative; I’m obviously not scheduling and doing that sort of stuff. It’s important for me to be there because it’s a way of having my voice heard and protecting my intentions... I’m engaged and involved because the people who direct these movies realize, correctly I think, that it’s important to have the person who wrote the material there to talk to. It doesn’t happen a lot, but I think it’s stupid, very stupid, not to utilize your resources, and the person who invented something is a very valuable resource. We’re doing post-production rewrites as things get moved around. There’s a lot of stuff to finesse or fix.

CS: Do you mean moving scenes around? Or rewriting and re-shooting?

CK: We didn’t do any re-shooting for Human Nature. We did some for Malkovich and we’re going to do some for Adaptation. But when you’re cutting a movie down and moving scenes around there’s stuff that doesn’t work anymore. You have to cheat in dialogue, to smooth it, so there’s that kind of writing to do.

CS: Being involved in the editing process must give you a new perspective on screenwriting.

CK: It really does. I think editing is most akin to writing the movie, more than any other aspect of production. It really is writing, you know? You’re doing a lot more than I would have imagined: finding connections that weren’t intended, but that work in this new form. It’s very interesting, and it requires you to really let go of what you’ve gone in with. You’re not really in service of the script anymore. Now it’s, ‘This is what you have,’ and, ‘This is what it is; now how do you make this work?’ As opposed to keep going back and saying, ‘Well this isn’t what I wrote.’ Or, ‘this isn’t how I wrote it.’ I’m fortunate because all writers should be in this situation. But it’s good for me that I’m a partner in this because I know a lot of stuff gets taken away from writers and it doesn’t resemble what their intentions were anymore.

Human Nature (Directed by Michel Gondry) 
CS: Has producing changed the way you write?

CK: One of the things I’ve realized is that in all three of the movies I’ve been involved in is if we see a softness or a problem in the script, it should be corrected at that point. The idea of ‘you’ll fix it later’ or ‘nobody will notice’ is insane. Maybe nobody does notice, but we notice and it becomes a major issue in post, like, ‘How do we solve this problem,’ etc. And then it’s glaring, and we have to do all this extra work to fix it. It happened again and again, and the thing that struck me in all cases, without going into detail, is that in almost every case we saw [the problem] before and didn’t think it would be as big a deal as it ended up being for us. So, I think motivation, character intention to the most miniscule degree, needs to be attended to.

CS: Thanks, Mr. McKee. [screenwriting guru Robert McKee]

CK: [Laughs] Right, I guess he would say something like that, but he’d be right.

CS: What’s it like for you to enter the editing room as both a writer and producer and be creatively involved with those important decisions?

CK: It’s hard, but it’s great. I definitely wouldn’t trade it in. It’s exhausting, and it’s frustrating, and it’s an enormously long process. You lose track gradually over all the different versions of the movie. You lose perspective; you don’t know what you’re watching anymore, and that’s where test screenings become very, very important.

CS: You actually like test screenings?

CK: Yes, for that reason. I don’t mean the test screenings with the numbers or whatever those things, the official ones, are. For us, I mean you can cut out a whole scene in a movie that you’ve been working on for three years, and your brain makes the connection between this moment and that moment because you have the information from the previous draft. But you can’t really know if an audience will make that same connection. So you get people saying, ‘I don’t understand the ending. I don’t understand what happened here,’ and to me that’s the most valuable thing about screenings. ‘Do we like this character?’ or ‘Is the character redeeming?’– that kind of shit I don’t care about, but I do care about if the movie makes the sense that we wanted it to make. What’s most interesting is when someone interprets something differently than you had expected them to, like the reason a character does this is because of something you wouldn’t have even considered, but it makes sense now and you understand where they’re coming from.

– Extracted From: ‘Charlie Kaufman Interviewed By David F. Goldsmith & Jeff Goldsmith. Creative Screenwriting, Volume 9, #2 (March/April 2002) & Volume 9, #6 (November/December 2002)’.