Nephew’s choice: best movies of the decade

My nephew Steven is sometimes a pain in the tuchus, and he’s always squeezing his old uncle for a few bucks, but he has undeniably good taste in movies and writes about them well.  He runs a website, Truth at 24 (“Cinema is truth at 24 frames per second.”—Jean-Luc Goddard), where the posts are sporadic. However, he’s just posted his choice for the best films of the decade, and it’s worth a look.  Every film on the list is worth seeing, although I think he vastly overrates Lost in Translation, and Y Tu Mama Tambien, a true classic, should be ranked higher.

37 Comments

  1. J.J.E.
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Hey Jerry, are you going to post the audio archives for one of the Darwin events you spoke at?

    The Royal Society has the mp3s for the 2009 Discussion meetings. I know you talked there over 2 months ago, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t get the audio up until later.

    Note the broad representation from U of C evolutionary genetics!

    http://royalsociety.org/2009-Genetics-and-the-causes-of-evolution/

  2. Posted January 26, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    What? No Peter Greenaway? No Michael Winterbottom?

    • Steven Mears
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Both are great, but I’m only addressing the last decade, in which neither made a momentous contribution. (Winterbottom’s Tristam Shandy & 24 Hour Party People were fun, but hardly Top 25 material. I thought The Claim was a lumbering misfire. Greenaway’s kept a low profile of late.)

  3. Fritz
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Everything is relative.

  4. Occam
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    …I think he vastly overrates Lost in Translation…

    And The Lives of Others, saved only by Ulrich Mühe’s breathtaking perfect performance, at #5, while no mention of 12 means I Love You?
    Otherwise, the lad shows promise. And chutzpah. The squeeze bit goes with the vocation of a cinema critic, see Truffaut’s letters.

    Speaking of chutzpah, I hadn’t heard or read the word tuchus since I was a kid, when my dad used to pull out his neatly folded display handkerchief and call it a taschentuchus, to the puzzlement of innocent bystanders and to my own deep embarrassment. Invariably I giggled. So now. Thanks for the memories.

    • Steven Mears
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Muhe’s performance is the jewel of the film, but by no means its saving grace. I found it extraordinary in every respect, from the keen-eyed direction to the breathless editing to the eloquent screenplay which makes cogent points (WSJ’s Joe Morgenstern: “both timely and timeless”) about civic entitlement and artistic responsibility in a climate of fear and suspicion.

      I’m not familiar with 12 Means I Love You. This list is of course subject to review – I’m happy to consider that title, but presently can’t locate a copy. Help?

      • Occam
        Posted January 27, 2010 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        Steven: I have to find out whether ‘12 means I Love You’ has been released in the US, or whether it’s available on multi-lingual DVD (I have only the original German version). I’ll post my findings directly to your website.
        ‘12’ is a very modest but gripping film, based on a factual story: a Stasi officer falls in love with the dissident woman (Claudia Michelsen in the part or her life) he is interrogating (Claudia Michelsen in the part or her life). Stockholm syndrome in reverse. The catch: nothing heroic happens, they cannot change circumstances or the course of events. Only the fall of the Communist regime allows them to find out how they have affected each other’s lives. There are amazingly true details: the Stasi officer furtively passes the woman an eskimo pie as a token of love. A moment of truth at 24 frames per second.

        Having spent my childhood in a Communist country, with my family harassed by the secret police, I used to keep a close watch on people and events behind the Iron Curtain.
        Having lived in West Germany and knowing people from East Germany helped keep me close. Let me tell you: The Lives of Others, for all its merits, lacks an essential inner truth. Clearly, the director was well briefed and tapped available sources, including his relatives. He created the realistic trappings. But he couldn’t get inside. Ulrich Mühe and to a large extent Martina Gedeck knew all too well what they were enacting (Mühe from deeply tragic personal experience). But all too often, the atmosphere wasn’t true. Sebastian Koch, the leading actor, clearly had not lived for a second in a totalitarian state, and clearly had no clue. People didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t keep mum like that. The grey cold thumping nauseating fear. The perpetual little compromises which compromised one’s entire existence. That’s what the film tried to delineate but failed, excellent performances notwithstanding, and more’s the pity.

        I have delivered some blunt statements in my comments here, but here’s my bluntest:
        What was required in spirit was Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. What was delivered was Spielberg’s Schindler’s List: an honest and honourable, perhaps inevitable failure, polished, diligent, well-crafted, but a failure nonetheless.

      • Steven Mears
        Posted January 28, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        [This is meant as a response to Occam’s second posting on this thread. Oddly, the site won’t let me reply to it.]

        I’m humbled by your argument, especially your trenchant Shoah/Schindler’s List illustration. I take your meaning, but would add that 1) Shoah is not bound by the conventions of narrative (dramatized) cinema, nor by its temporal constraints; and 2) it is flawed in its own right.

        Film is inherently a medium of manipulation, and every time we watch one we’re negotiating what types of manipulation we’re willing to endure, and how much of each kind. Schindler’s List struck me as disingenuous, with its grandstanding and profusion of saccharine scenes like the one in which Oskar publicly berates himself for not doing more, only to be reassured of his heroism by his Jewish Jiminy Cricket (Ben Kingsley). The Lives of Others is naturally no less of a mechanism, but to me it’s marked by substantially greater integrity. I concede that a Lanzmannesque nine-hour documentary on Stasi oppression would be a more valuable work than von Donnersmarck’s historical drama, but still demur to write off the latter as a failure (if we must use such binary terms).

        According to your criteria, it seems as though any film attempting to depict a significant cultural event or period with limited access to the facts and with some obligation to human interest and dramatic tension is doomed to fail. This covers the gamut from Lawrence of Arabia to Good Night and Good Luck, and even as austere a piece as Hunger, the recent account of the 1981 Irish hunger strike. I’m sure most accounts of the American west or the French Revolution lack an essential inner truth, too, but some still work as movies. I hate gloss and reductionism as much as anyone, but we have to be willing to make certain concessions if we want to be told stories.

        All that said, of course I lack your perspective and do not endeavor to change your mind. I’m also most eager to see ’12 means I Love You.’ (I’m able to play DVDs of all regions, though English subtitles are necessary. Will be very grateful for any leads.)

      • Occam
        Posted January 28, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        Steven: I am lost as to how to properly thread this final reply, so I hope the chronological order will help untangling.
        More to follow at your own website; it seems inappropriate to hijack Jerry’s blog for this dialogue any further.

        Just to dispel a fundamental misunderstanding: I wrote it explicitly, but should have emphasized it: ‘Lanzmannesque in spirit‘. The spirit part matters. Credit me with some very rudimentary understanding of the difference between documentary and fiction.

        As it happens, two of the films you mentioned are among my all-time favourites: Lawrence of Arabia and GoodNight and Good Luck. For all the proper cinematic reasons, but not least because they are also endowed with that essential quality: inner truth. As a life-long John Ford admirer, I have no quarrel with the most stylized kind of fictionalization and mythology. John Wayne gripping his right elbow with his left hand, framed in the doorstep, in the closing shot of The Searchers, was a moment of profound inner truth: true to the character of Ethan Edwards, true to place and moment, true to the pictographic dichotomy between indoors and outdoors championed by John Ford, but also true as a reverberating homage to Harry Carey, that ‘early star of the Western sky’. Pure cinema.
        Give me that quality, and you can set up The Lives of Others in Monument Valley, wearing Stetsons if you like. I’ll buy it.

  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    … and Y Tu Mama Tambien, a true classic, should be ranked higher.

    Imagine that it had been made in English. Would it stand out in any way from the glut of teen male fantasy flicks that glut our screens every late Spring?

    • Steven Mears
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes, as do The Last Picture Show and the slightly overrated but fondly remembered Summer of ’42. They are not male fantasy flicks, but sensitive studies of boys on the brink of maturity and women who shepherd them through the valley of adolescence. Sex may be the characters’ fixation, but the films are not about whether they get it (American Pie, et al) – they’re about how it affects them. The scenes you read as Tambien’s raison d’etre are vivid but subordinate to what’s really taking place: self-discovery.

  6. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    What? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not even on his list? The movie that gave us this classic exchange:

    Joel: Is there any risk of brain damage?
    Howard: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.

    • Steven Mears
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Very good film – just missed the cut. I might’ve liked it better if screenwriter Charlie Kaufman had sacrificed a few ounces of cleverness for a more headlong treatment of the emotions on display… but it remains a work of startling ambition and ingenuity.

  7. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Lost in Translation is one of the worst movies I had ever seen. It was mindless and about nothing. The acting was also poor. I had a better time at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned.

    • Fritz
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Clearly it was lost on you. (I’m with Steven.)

    • Steven Mears
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      About nothing, really? What about loneliness? Alienation both cultural and existential? The role of contingency in determining bonds – someone twice (or half) your age with a different set of anxieties may in fact be your soulmate, but you have to travel halfway around the world and make yourself vulnerable (via jetlag and self-pity) to find that out.

      As to the acting: You confuse poor with unstudied. Hollywood trains us to expect a stylized, overly poised performance style, so when actors dial down we assume they aren’t trying. In film acting, nothing is harder to do than nothing.

      • Occam
        Posted January 27, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        In film acting, nothing is harder to do than nothing.
        How well said.
        There were moments in Lost in Translation which reminded me of an extraordinary portrait by Ansel Adams, of Harry Sumida, a Japanese-American detained at Manzanar Relocation Camp during WWII. Just a still face. But its landscape told everything.
        Words by François Truffaut come to mind (quoting from memory, translating from the French, don’t pin me down): “When humor alternates with melancholy, success is guaranteed, but when the same things are funny and melancholic at the same time, it’s just wonderful.”

  8. Peter
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Agree about Lost in Translation. Very enjoyable film. Having done a lot of business travel on my own it rung a bell.

    I like the banner shot of wells which I believe is from ‘The Third man’. That’s another great film.

    • CTC
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      It is indeed, though I’m going to need a thorough brain-scrubbing to rid myself of Orson’s pairing with Godard. That and no whiff of Amélie at all? No HM for Juno? I think I’ll stick to visiting just this blog.

      • Steven Mears
        Posted January 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough, but the pairing seemed natural. Genre synthesis, consolidation/construction of technique and unorthodox (reinventive) adaptation are just a few commonalities.

        I liked Amelie, though as I note in a previous post, I prefer Happy-Go-Lucky since the heroine’s disposition is more voluntary than whimsically pathological. I fear we’ll never agree on Juno, which exemplifies the most pernicious strain of calculated quirk… personalities supplanted by patter. Reitman’s Up in the Air is a different story.

  9. TJ
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Wow, must have been a pretty shitty decade for movies if Lost in Translation is the best.

    • Steven Mears
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      If the decade offered nothing but Lost in Translation and comic book sequels, I’d still call it a pretty great decade. One man’s opinion, of course.

  10. stvs
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Mulholland Drive is by far the greatest blasphemy against the Christian God ever produced. And certainly one of the decade’s top ten films.

    You should stop bankrolling your nephew for only giving it an honorable mention.

    • stvs
      Posted January 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      No one has challenged my bold assertion, so allow me to back this up, as no almost no one has picked up on the Lynch’s extraordinary allegorical blasphemy in Mulholland Drive—a film that should be in the library of every “New Atheist.”

      The film is ostensibly “about” a man named “Adam” who has made the wrong choice and is thrown out of his “home” (Eden). Several characters step in to guide “Adam” to make the correct choice, including a “godfather” (get it!?) and a “Cowboy” who is subtly but unmistakenly shown to be Christ Resurrected, the horseman of Revelation 19:21.

      Who is it that “Adam” must choose? Camilla Rhodes—whose initials are Chi Rho: Christ. Camilla is introduced to us in the movie after her execution is botched and her missing body is not found in what should be her tomb. Is the allegory not obvious enough for you yet? There is much, much more. Every scene of this film is an allegorical representation of Christianity with a blasphemous conclusion that makes even Dawkins and Hitchens sound like a poodles.

      After she has gone missing from her execution, “Camilla Rhodes” (Christ) goes to “Havenhurst” (heaven) where she meets its manager “Coco Lenoix,” who is shown to be God (i.e., heaven’s manager) by a variety of rather obvious symbols. Many of the characters in Mulholland Drive are different aspects of the triune Christian God: Coco Lenoix, the “godfather” Castigliane brothers, the “Coyboy”, “Camilla Rhodes”/Rita as the incarnate Jesus, the actor Woody Katz, the Jesus-lookalike Ed (also executed for his “history of the world, in numbers”, i.e., the Bible), Mr. Roque, and, most blasphemously, the bum behind Winkies. Humorously, Coco Lenoix’s name comes from the popular French expression à la noix de coco, which means devoid of value (sans valeur)—worthless, a prefigurement of the film’s judgment of God.

      “Adam” catches his wife in bed with a man sporting a serpent tattoo. Lynch uses many symbols to show that Adam’s hilltop garden-like home is, in fact, Eden, and that Adam’s wife is Eve, and that Gene the pool cleaner is the serpent. Adam is thrown out of his home—Eden. His wife calls him a “bastard”—Adam has no father—and says, “damn you Adam!” Later, when a mobster comes looking for him and asks if the house is Adam’s, his wife says, “like hell it is.” Adam drives to “Cooky’s downtown”—hell itself, as we are shown later by a signpost. Just as in Christian theology, “Adam” is thrown out of his home in Eden and condemned to hell, unless Adam makes the right choice. Adam must choose Christ = Chi Rho = Camilla Rhodes. When Adam does make this choice, we see that he is returned to his home in paradise in the presence of the triune God.

      While banished at “Cooky’s”, Adam is advised to see the Cowboy by his caring assistant Cynthia. Simultaneously, a portrait of the Virgin overlooks Adam as Cynthia speaks. Cynthia is the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Her jewelry and upraised finger indicate Her saintliness, as in a painting. When Cynthia’s overture to Adam to spend the night at her place is rebuffed, Cynthia says “you don’t know what you’re missing.” Adam, indeed no man, has slept with the Virgin Mary, and hence all men, represented by Adam, are ignorant of this experience, which explains why Cynthia says that Adam–man– doesn’t “know what [he’s] missing.” The blasphemous implication is that Mary is not a virgin by choice, and reminds us of Voltaire’s blasphemy that that God committed the crime of adultery with the Virgin Mary, who may well have enjoyed her coupling with the Holy Ghost.

      Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn simultaneously represent Judas and all unbelievers. Betty Elms arrives onscreen with the declaration “I can’t believe it!”–damning skepticism that seals her fate from the beginning.

      Even the acting scene, performed twice, is allegorical of the Christian Gospel. Betty practices for a movie audition with Rita/Christ, who plays the role performed later by the actor Woody Katz. During the audition, Woody says “I want to play this one close, Bob. Like it was with that girl, what’s her name, with the black hair. … I was playin’ off ’em. They say, ‘They’ll arrest you’.” Woody is playing his role like the black-haired Rita—Jesus, who was arrested. After Woody summarizes the scene as “Dad’s best friend goes to work,” the action starts:

      BETTY: You’re still here?
      WOODY: I came back.
      BETTY: Nobody wants you here. … My parents are right upstairs! They think you’ve left. …
      BETTY: You’re playing a dangerous game here. If you’re trying to blackmail me … it’s not going to work.
      WOODY: You know what I want … it’s not that difficult.
      BETTY: Get out before I call my dad. He trusts you … you’re his best friend. … This will be the end of everything.
      WOODY: What about you? What’ll your dad think about you? …
      BETTY: It’s like you said from the beginning … if I tell them what happened, they’ll arrest you and put you in jail. Get out of here before …
      Betty and Woody kiss—passionately.
      BETTY: I kill you.

      And just to drive home the point that Woody represents Jesus Christ, Lynch adds this dialog as Sarah James and Nicki take Betty to Adam’s film, that is predestined to star Camilla:
      NICKI: How about that Woody Katz? SARAH: Oh god! …
      SARAH: Now we want to … introduce you to a director who’s a head above the rest.
      He’s got a project that you would kill!

      Sarah and Nicki are Roman soldiers. In the Bible, the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments at His crucifixion. Sarah is a “casting agent.” She leaves the set with the words “I’m sure you all have a lot to talk about.”

      The final reference to the Castigliane brothers is in the “Last Supper” scene when Rita says in Spanish, off camera, “Yo nunca fui a Casablanca con Luigi!”—I’ve never been to the Whitehouse with Luigi. Luigi Castigliane is Lynch’s Godfather-like character. Does Casablanca refer to Casablanca, starring Isabella Rossellini’s mother? Or the Whitehouse, the executive mansion? This line, which does not exist in Lynch’s original 1999 script, appears in the movie released after President George W. Bush declared “I believe God wants me to run for President.” Rita’s statement may be Lynch’s rejoinder to then President Bush: Jesus says he has not been to the Whitehouse with God.

      But Mulholland Drive at its most blasphemous is not its outward story of a love affair gone horribly wrong, but its allegorical portrayal of the Gospel account of God’s love for man, represented ultimately by the bum behind Winkies. In the exchange between Dan and Herb over breakfast at Winkie’s, Dan says he wishes “to get rid of this god-awful feeling,” that we see a short time later is caused by a god-awful man. The entire film is about the source of Dan’s god-awful feeling: an awful God. Dan dies immediately upon seeing this God, causing Herb to exclaim “My God!” The awful man “that’s doing it,” the “bum,” the “beast,” the monster behind Winkie’s, is God. The “bum“ behind Winkie’s is also the wicked witch of the west, as evidenced by their nearly identical appearance, gender, and the numerous Wizard of Oz references used at Winkie’s (especially the broom). Therefore, the Christian God of western civilization is portrayed in a veiled manner as the wicked witch of the west (get it?!).

      In the final sequence we see a living Diane die and putrefy in her bed after the Cowboy enters her room and says “Hey pretty girl, time to wake up.” Diane doesn’t wake up and accept God, and her reward is death. That is why the Cowboy looks upon Diane’s rotting corpse impassively, then closes the door—she didn’t heed his directive, so he killed her, just like he will kill all those who reject Him. As indicated by the calla lilies that Adam passes on his way out of Eden, man’s fate is old age, decrepitude, and death. These are the monsters that God releases from His dumpster behind Winkie’s. Diane’s only two options are to wait for these demons to destroy her, or to destroy herself—the Bum’s design is achieved either way.

      The surrealist filmmaker David Lynch has far surpassed his predecessors Luis Buñuel and all others in making the most blasphemous, anti-Christian film of all time. And the blasphemy is so well concealed that hardly any one caught it. David Lynch is a genius.

      • Steven Mears
        Posted January 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Fascinating. I won’t say he surpassed Bunuel, who made blasphemy his life’s project, but Lynch’s work grows in mystique with each tantalizing deconstruction. (However, I wouldn’t want to cast my lot with just one, not even yours.)

      • KP
        Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        I’m gonna have to see that one again!

      • stvs
        Posted January 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

        Buñuel is certainly one of the greatest directors ever. I argue Lynch’s genius above his predecessors is that Lynch is able to convey multiple stories—both surface and allegorical—all at once. Allow me to illustrate, but first I will offer more support for the claim that Mulholland Drive is, allegorically, the most blasphemous anti-Christian film ever made. Once you have the “key” to this film, every scene and much of the dialogue has a double entendre that strongly supports the Gospel narrative—I only described the major puzzle pieces above.

        Take the dinner party at Adam’s. The dinner party is the Last Supper, at which Jesus announces that one of His disciples, one who is eating with Him, will betray Him. The Last Supper is indicated to us by the long
        table with a white tablecloth, the plain settings and mostly unseen servings, the glasses, and the empty plates with solid dark borders, as represented in paintings of this event. The long, stylized kiss is the Judas Kiss, which is shown to cause a psychological break in Diane and leads to her betrayal and execution of Camilla, just as the same kiss in the Gospels leads to Jesus’ execution. Adam’s mother Coco, Coco Lenoix from the previous dream sequence, is shown in close-up taking a walnut—“noix” means nut in French. Walnuts are known as “a nut fit for the gods” and their Latin name is derived from “Jupiter’s nuts,” another indication that Coco is God.

        Of course, Lynch made use of concealed Christian allegory in Dune with the Christ-like Paul, complete with an Adoration scene attended by giant worms.

        When the “Cowboy” threatens Adam, he tells him, “Now, you will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad.” This prophesy makes no rational sense within the immediate, surrealist narrative, but it makes perfect sense within the concealed Gospel narrative. In Christian theology, a jealous God tells man that he must worship Jesus and have no other gods before Him. If man obeys, he will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven. After He was crucified and rose from the dead, Jesus will return again to earth and take all believers to heaven with him. After that, Revelation 19:11–21 tells us that a “rider on a white horse” will wage war and destroy the remaining unbelievers: “The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh” (Revelation 19:21). The Cowboy is the horse rider of Revelation 19:21. The Cowboy is the Christian God. If Adam chooses correctly, he will see the Cowboy “one more time” when Christ returns, then will be taken to heaven. If Adam does not choose correctly, he will see the Cowboy again, riding on his “white horse,” who will kill him. In the book of Revelation, this rider and His Judgment appear after the seven seals are broken. The seventh seal (Revelation 8:1) is silence in heaven—Silencio.

        The love scene between Betty and Rita is another representation of the Judas kiss. After their sexual encounter, Rita takes Betty to “Club Silencio” downtown, emceed by Cooky, i.e., hell, as indicated by the signpost. Consistent with the Apostles’ Creed, Jesus descended into hell after his crucifixion, itself preceded by Judas’s kiss. Betty and Rita watch a satanic magician who tells them that the performances they witness are unreal illusions, and creates a thunderbolt, lightning, and an earthquake, just as in Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal. In Revelation 16:17–18, the final, seventh “bowl” judgment is released upon earth—thunder, lightning, and a great earthquake, which, according to Millenialists, prepares the way for Christ’s second coming in Revelation 19:1–16 and the battle of Armageddon in Revelation 19:17–20. Rebekah del Rio then sings the Roy Orbison song “Crying” in Spanish, and, like Mary, sheds tears for Christ. After Camilla is murdered but before Diane kills herself, before, like Judas, she “fell headlong” and “burst asunder” (Acts 1:18), she reminisces despairingly by the cross formed by the frame of the third window beneath the shade, and waits for her coffee. It’s time to wake up. A resurrected Camilla appears standing next to a cross formed in another window, and Diane joyfully proclaims “Camilla, you’ve come back,” until her painful realization a moment later that this is an illusion.

        There’s yet much more that supports Lynch’s concealed Gospel narrative, but I’ll stop there to illustrate Lynch’s genius at conveying multiple allegories at once.

        While Lynch has all this going on at the very same time as the surface narrative of the love story gone wrong that everyone knows about (a surface narrative that also dovetails with the blasphemous depiction of the Christian God’s love), another concealed story of revenge and murder is told through the prominent portrait of Beatrice Cenci, who was beheaded for the murder of her father by an iron spike hammered through his head. This painting was made famous by Percy Bysshe Shelley, who saw it hanging in the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, the site of the Trevi Fountain where Anita Ekberg took her famous swim in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita—no doubt an intentional Lynchian film reference. Lynch’s films often feature gruesome head injuries (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway) and Lost Highway has a veiled reference to the Black Dahlia murder case, so his concealed treatment of another grisly Hollywood murder in the next film he wrote should be no surprise. Lynch combines all these threads by using images from the grisly murder of Bob Crane throughout Mulholland Drive. Scenes and dialog from Robert Graysmith’s book The Murder of Bob Crane appear throughout the film (also the basis for the film Autofocus), especially the mysterious blue key of Mulholland Drive. Graysmith quotes Victoria Berry’s (who discovered Crane’s body) description Crane’s blue key:

        “he’d always give me a blue key, the blue key. I think there were two blue keys, but Bob only gave me one each time, and that would unlock the door. That single key.”

        The awful image of Diane Selwyn lying dead on her bed looks just like the actual images of Crane after his murder. Graysmith’s description of the blood at the murder scene evokes the imagery of hair in his book:

        “An ominous, dark pool spilled from the area of the head and filled the well of the pillow, like long, flowing hair. Blood! Matted blood was on the side of the head, had dried on the face in long thin lines that had dripped downward, crossing each other.”

        Exactly as Lynch filmed Diane Selwyn. And again, the surface story matches Bob Crane’s biography exactly: a Hollywood love affair gone terribly wrong and its associated psychological deterioration. The phone, lamp, and ashtray on the small table, as well as the type of wood in the table itself, shown several times during Mulholland Drive are all strikingly suggestive of the phone, lamp, and ashtray on Bob Crane’s bed stand. This phone rings constantly, and ominously, during the film. In real life, Bob Crane’s phone rang constantly during the criminal investigation, including phone calls from the suspected murderer, John Carpenter. Lynch uses numerous other details from Bob Crane’s murder. “Carpenter whacked Crane in the head and then beat off over him” (p. 254)—after contracting Camilla’s murder, Diane is shown masturbating, a scene that is also reminiscent of the surrealist imagery of female masturbation from Luis Buñuel in L’Âge d’Or. “A professional psychic … predicted ‘danger’ for Bob. … ‘Something bad is coming,’ she had cried.” (p. ii)—the mystical Louise Bonner cries “Something bad is happening!” Robert Graysmith’s book determines much of the film’s characters, action, dialog, and sets—Robert Smith (the character in Mulholland Drive) is the studio’s “talent manger.” The detectives of Crane’s murder say, “bring me the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West” (p. 229)—we are shown the broom of the wicked witch of the west behind Winkie’s.

        What police investigator Dean Borkenhagen says of Bob Crane’s murderer applies just as well to its connection to Lynch’s film: “Once the number gets up to fifteen or twenty odd things, it’s no longer just a list of odd things—it becomes circumstantial evidence. There’s just too much of it.”

        Mulholland Drive contains many undisguised allusions to great films from the pantheon. It tells story of a failed actress first through her eyes, then ours, and begins and ends—as does its film-on-film predecessor Sunset Boulevard—with the testimony of the victim’s corpse. And as with Jean-Luc Godard’s film-on-film Contempt, the final word is “Silencio.” Lynch adapts many key ingredients from Contempt: a doomed relationship with a beautiful, contemptuous, bewigged and betoweled Camilla/e, her severe head injury in a spectacular and highly stylized automobile accident, the vivid use of red and blue to indicate the director’s purpose, an actress’s pop singing audition, and most important, Contempt’s principal theme of “the fight against the gods.” Significantly for both Contempt and Mulholland Drive, the director Fritz Lang, played as himself, explains through Hölderlin’s poem “The Poet’s Vocation” (poetry-on-poetry) that Man is saved not through God’s presence, but His absence. Invoking a film expressing nearly open scorn for unseen god-like authority, Lynch makes numerous references to The Wizard of Oz, as well as to The Godfather, whose film-on-film sequence demonstrates the punishment for refusing to accept the Godfather’s authority—a corpse in a bed. Like Contempt, Lynch’s theme is about “the fight against the gods,” or rather, the fight against the Christian God.

        Lynch’s genius is that you do not have to stick to a single “deconstructed” narrative: he offers you many to choose from all at once. Remember the scene in Amadeus where Mozart brags to the Emperor how his Figaro duet turns into a trio, then a quartet, then a “quintet, sextet, septet, octet, and so on!” Mulholland Drive is the same, only with layered, simultaneous allegories. Mulholland Drive is one of the best and most sophisticated films ever made, and hardly any one knows it.

      • talking snake
        Posted January 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        I have always loved Mulholland Drive and any list of films that does not contain it, I consider incomplete. However, I must admit, I have been aware only of the Rita/Camilla – Betty/Diane love story. After your deconstruction I feel like a not very clever kindergarten kid 😦

        You really made my day with your analysis. Thanks for that! Have you written something more on this film somewhere? I’d be interested to read it!
        And how on earth have you discovered all these connections? Now that I read your analysis, I can go and check, but to find out for yourself, you have to have seen the films Lynch refers to (OK,I can imagine that), know your bible well (possible too), but how did you figure out the portrait of that young Italian murderer-girl and the things about the other murders that Lynch refers to? Or did you read about it somewhere? Where?

      • stvs
        Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Have you written something more on this film somewhere? I’d be interested to read it!
        And how on earth have you discovered all these connections?

        After hearing about Bob Crane’s murder and seeing the crime scene photos, I thought, “Lynch obviously used Crane’s murder as a basis for Mulholland Drive‘s plot and imagery—someone must’ve written about this obvious connection.” I looked, but no one had, so I bought Robert Graysmith’s book for $1.98 on Amazon, and the connection to Crane was obvious and immediate. (Interestingly, Justin Theroux’s writer uncle Paul Theroux is prominently quoted in Graysmith’s book.)

        While Googling this connection, I stumbled across a comment by Patrick Trombly, who “discovered” much of the Gospel narrative. I immediately recognized the truth and greater importance of Trombly’s Gospel allegory explanation, and saw that Lynch had successfully constructed multiple, simultaneous allegories. I realized that Trombly’s gospel explanation held for every single scene in the film, e.g., I “discovered” that Cynthia is the Virgin Mary, that Sarah and Nicki are Roman soldiers, and that Mr. Roque is the yet another image of God; he is the silent, incomprehensible God. You can read that Trombly, who was unaware of the Bob Crane allegory, mixes up a few of the different symbols Lynch uses for each.

        I also saw that Trombly made several important mistakes in his analysis and missed the big conclusion: that Mulholland Drive is in fact an enormous blasphemy. Trombly’s short post treats the film as a simple retelling of the gospel narrative, which is true, but he didn’t follow the leads to Lynch’s conclusion about that narrative. You can read his post and decide for yourselves.

        For example, Trombly identifies Ed’s (Jesus’s) executioner with Lucifer. This cannot be correct from either the evidence presented in the film or the Gospel account, in which it is God Himself—not Lucifer—acting through mankind that bears responsibility for Jesus’s execution. (Trombly also mistakenly says the actor who plays the shooter Joe is Dan Hedaya; Hedaya played Vincenzo Castigliane). And this is precisely what Lynch shows in this scene, a scene that appears to be an inexplicable red herring without the Gospel narrative. The hitman Joe murders Ed, who suggestively shares the same popular appearance as Jesus. Joe gazes happily upwards and says that he “is doing some stuff for this guy.” He wears a Union Jack—a cross—on his chest like a crusader. Therefore, “this guy” on whose behalf Joe acts is the Christian God. Joe is a crusading soldier of God, dispensing God’s justice, such as it is. While laughing at “an accident like that,” God’s crusading hitman asks “who could have foreseen that?” God—that’s who. This reinforces the view that Lynch’s intent is to portray God as a murderous tyrant who contracts man to murder of His own Son. The longhaired victim Ed represents Jesus. We find in the 2d part of the film that the hitman is contracted to kill Camilla (Jesus), implying that Ed’s (Jesus’) “funny story” gets Him into “trouble,” just as Joe says. Like the living Jesus, Ed is also simply a man. The hitman takes Ed’s “history of the world in phone numbers”—the Bible is the history of the world in numbers. Moreover, in the book of Numbers, God commands the Israelites to sacrifice lambs “without blemish” for Him on Passover, just as Joe sacrifices Ed—Christ. Later, Joe asks a prostitute the whereabouts of the movie star Camilla, a strange question unless Camilla is actually Jesus, who consorted with prostitutes.

        The inscrutable and reticent Mr. Roque is informed “the director doesn’t want her.” From his nearly silent response, his acolyte concludes that everything must be “shut down.” Roque is the French word for the chess move “castling.” Castigliane, or Castiglioni, in Italian, means people who live at or near a castle. Mr. Rogue and the Castigliane brothers live in the castle of heaven. Mr. Roque, like the Castigliane brothers, is yet another image of God; he is the silent, incomprehensible God. And Lynch is not satisfied with this single, simple connection: the castle in which Beatrice Cenci lived was known as “La Rocca,” and Selwyn is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning friend of the castle—Diane Selwyn is Camilla/Jesus’ lover.

        The Cowboy, who is watching over Adam, tells Adam that he must choose Camilla, and repeats the commandment of the Godfather-like Castigliane brothers. Adam obeys the Cowboy, and is returned to the hilltop residence by a “judge.” After the Cowboy scene, we cut to Betty and Rita rehearsing: Betty says to Rita “If you’re trying to blackmail me … it’s not going to work.” Betty will not be blackmailed by the Cowboy, the Christian God. Lynch even shows us the Trinity as Rita approaches Betty’s bed: Rita/Camilla/Jesus is seen with two cowboy hats of the Cowboy/God hanging in front of the mirror. Also, not only does Diane leave “12,” she moves to “17.” In Revelation 17 we find the Great Whore of Babylon, “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND GREAT ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”—Hollywood.

        Once you have the “key,” or rather “keys” to this film, every scene and symbol that Lynch uses falls into place almost immediately. I didn’t understand Lynch’s prominent use of Beatrice Cenci’s portrait, but one Google search away you’ll find Cenci’s story (Screaming in the Castle: The Case of Beatrice Cenci), which fits perfectly with Lynch’s narratives of unjust murder and gruesome head injuries, with a nod to Fellini (Lynch could have seen this painting on a visit to the Trevi Fountain) to boot.

        I found all this evidence compelling enough to write a paper detailing the analysis and conclusions, but I have not been successful in getting it published in any film journal. A charitable explanation may be that Lynch’s “puzzle films” generate a cottage internet industry of proposed “solutions”, nearly all of them highly dubious, and film journals are understandably not interested in competing solutions, but prefer ambiguity. Nonetheless, I believe that the evidence I’ve provided here is conclusive: the correct “solution” to the puzzle of Mulholland Drive is that it is an enormous blasphemy against the Christian God—the greatest blasphemy ever to appear in film.

        A less charitable explanation of, in some instances, not receiving even a response to the submission of a paper presenting these ideas, is that they are too controversial to attach to a justly famous director.

        You have most of the evidence before you—I’ll leave it to you to judge whether this explanation is valid or not, and welcome any and all criticism. The essential films to know here are the film-on-films Contempt and Sunset Boulevard, as well as the The Wizard of Oz, which everyone knows very well already.

        Perhaps Jerry would be interested in a few guest posts on blasphemy in film. There are many blasphemous films, but none compare to the blasphemy found in Mulholland Drive.

  11. KP
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Well, my opinion isn’t worth much as I’ve only seen 3 of his top 25. HOWEVER… I thought his #25 film, No Country For Old Men, was way better than his #1 film, Lost in Translation. (Y Tu Mama Tambien was also better than LiT, but I have trouble comparing its oranges to NCFOM’s apples) So, I guess I will take his taste in films with a big block of salt.

  12. Sgt Skepper
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    Moon, Let the Right One In, Crash, Pan’s Labyrinth, Man on Wire and Shaun of the Dead all should have been up there. I also think Wall-E should be a contender.

    • Sgt Skepper
      Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:43 am | Permalink

      Come to think of it, This Is England is also amazing.

      • Steven Mears
        Posted January 28, 2010 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        Pan’s Labyrinth is an honorable mention, and I’m right there with you on Let the Right One In (superior to all five of last year’s Best Picture nominees) and This is England. Moon is also good work. I wouldn’t consider the others, but would only challenge Crash. The basic problem is one of space – there are only 25 spots, and allowing for documentary and international titles, that’s not a lot. I’d have no trouble naming 50 others that were “robbed.”

  13. Dave J L
    Posted January 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Just to add my two penn’orth, I think Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE is a film equally as good as Mulholland Drive, and easily one of the most dazzling films of the decade. It understandably divided people, critics included, but for sheer sucking-you-into-another-world for three mind-boggling hours of rich and endlessly thought-provoking (and endlessly unsettling) themes it simply can’t be beaten.

    Additionally No Country for Old Men,
    Zodiac, Capturing the Friedmans, Sideways
    and There Will Be Blood are all overrated to varying degrees, and Far from Heaven, while a superb film – fourth best film of the decade? Really?

    • stvs
      Posted January 30, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE is a film equally as good as Mulholland Drive

      I agree with the plug for INLAND EMPIRE. I am certain that a “solution” in the form of one or more concealed allegories can be found for INLAND EMPIRE, but I have no idea what these might be.

      After I “solved” several key parts of Mulholland Drive, I had the ambition of doing the same for INLAND EMPIRE. I went so far as to bring with me to the screening at the Brattle Theater a photocopy of maps and personal references taken from David Lynch’s father’s PhD thesis “Effects of Stocking on Sight Measurement and Yield of Second-Growth Ponderosa Pine in the Inland Empire” that I borrowed from Duke University on interlibrary loan. Sadly, I saw no matches to the film.

      However, I believe that there is a family reference that Lynch made to his father in Mulholland Drive, with yet another enormous blasphemy!

      Immediately after we are introduced to Coco—God, Lynch shows us that someone has defecated in Havenhurst—heaven: it’s Wilkins’s little “damn dog.” Who is Wilkins? Lynch’s choice of character names are often (always?) significant. In Lynch’s original script, Wilkins, who lives in the apartment above Coco’s, is Adam’s screenwriter—Lynch himself! Lynch shits upon God from above! Within moments after he introduces us to God, the “manager” from above, Lynch hurls insults (God’s name “Coco Lenoix” implies that He is worthless) and excrement down upon this deity. We are reminded again that the blasphemous theme of Mulholland Dr. is a fight against the Christian God. Is David Lynch truly so bold? Perhaps his choice of Wilkins’ name provides a clue. “Wilkins” means “son of Will” or “son of William.” One central biographical factor Lynch cites about his early life is growing up in the American Northwest, where his father was a forestry research scientist; tree names pervade his work (Betty Elms, Sylvia, and so forth), and Lynch even takes the title of his latest film Inland Empire, not only from region east of Los Angeles, from his father’s PhD thesis on the Ponderosa Pine. His father’s first name, Donald, is well known from published Lynch biographies. If Mr. Lynch wished to identify himself as Wilkins, while at the same time obscuring this identification, he might employ his father’s middle name, which is known hardly at all: Walton (it appears in the credits of Eraserhead). Then, ignoring the well-known first name, Lynch would be the son of WL, or the son of Walton, which is very close to the “son of Will,” but also different enough to leave some doubt. Regardless, Mulholland Drive’s concealed presentation of the Christian God leaves little uncertainty that Wilkins is none other than Lynch.

      Given all the rather bold and astonishing claims I’ve made for Mulholland Drive, the relative silence here is somewhat disconcerting. If only for the latitude of subjectivity in these matters, I’d prefer that someone pipe up and say that I’m f.o.s. and tell me why, if they believe so, or say if they find these ideas definitive.

      Humorously, for those of us who work in the hard sciences (like me), one email I received from a film scholar declining to publish a manuscript on these ideas explained to me,

      “Humanities scholarship does not work in relation to an inflexible correct/incorrect framework.”

      So it goes.


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