Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kissing Betty/Diane

When you think of Mulholland Dr. (2001) what comes immediately to mind? I can’t hear you through the web din but I’m betting you’re calling out "Betty’s audition" (the scene that put Naomi Watts on the map) or "Club Silencio" (in which one of the nation’s most beloved eccentric auteurs delivered on all possible Lynchian expectations). I think of those scenes too but today I find myself between them, both narratively and figuratively speaking, on a bed shared by Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla (Laura Harring). They’re going to kiss.

Even if you didn’t see it coming, you saw it coming.

That is to say that the whole movie is leading to it. It's an inevitably --even if one suspects that Lynch didn't always know it was going there (it being a longform proposal, a TV series, in origin). The greatest thing about Mulholland Dr remains its flexibility: so many things to so many people; so many readings seem correct. Today I’ve decided that the entire movie is about the kiss between Betty and Rita. The great audition sequence is mere foreplay.

Consider “Bob”’s instructions to Betty in the audition.
It’s not a contest. The two of them...with themselves. So don’t play it for real until it gets real.
In the literal sense this advice is about the scene Betty is about to play with a lecherous older actor. But wouldn’t that speech, superimposed over Betty & Rita’s upcoming consummation make just as much sense? Or more. "The two of them... with themselves" is strange phrasing. More suitable in the context of mutable cris-crossing actress identities? Anyway, Betty shifts into a new mode of expression in the audition: Watts has gone from stylized wide eyed innocent to carnal being. The audition kiss, which preceeds the sapphic kiss is like a funhouse mirror warm-up.

In both sequences Watts' lips graze over her scene partners as she fills up with desire. In the first, she follows the kiss with threats and hateful rhetoric "Get out before I kill you" and "I hate you... I hate us both". Once with Rita she bookends the kiss with incantations of love. "I want to with you. I'm in love with you. I'm in love with youuuuuu"

Because it's a David Lynch film it's never as simple as that (not that that mirrored construction wasn't complicated) so we have to work in humor, actual eroticism, and fear. The Betty/Rita pre-sex exchange is justifiably famous
Naive Betty: Have you ever done this before?
Amnesiac Rita: I don't know.

Have you?
She doesn't wait for an answer and the scene doesn't fade out with that smart sexy joke but instead dives straight into the erotic. Things in Mulholland Dr are about to get even stranger (Club Silencio coming right up) but isn't there something vaguely threatening about that declaration of love, as well? It's too emphatic, too early, too trancelike to be romantic or healthy. I adore this sequence and it's not just because it's hot to see two beauties in a naked liplock. It also seems to be Mulholland Dr. in a nutshell: a complex fusion of dream, nightmare, feminine mystique, Hollywood glamour, and unstable identities.

Quoth Louise, the crazy neighbor:

Something bad is happening. Someone is in danger.
She might be talking about Betty/Diane. But when watching this film (or any Lynch effort for that matter) its easy to suppose that that 'someone' is actually the audience. When his mysterious movies envelop you in their dark magics, how exactly do you escape?

previously on "kissing" Jake Gyllenhaal


Anonymous said...

We're studying this film right now in my class on cinematic postmodernism.

Ironic that the film did for Naomi Watts what Diane imagined for herself as Betty--i.e. it made her a star.

On an unrelated note, which film are you dreading more, The Birds remake or Angels and Demons? I hope for her sake that Watts doesn't go down the route of her best friend and follow up an amazing 2001 breakthrough with attempts at mainstream superstardom. Honestly, I can think of no better new Melanie Daniels than Watts, but you really should just not fuck with Hitchcock. Why anyone still works with Ron Howard is beyond me. I still hate that he stole Lynch/Altman's oscar. I mean really, Gosford Park's direction...well, whatever, digression too long.

Anonymous said...

Im always having dreams about Naomi Watts having the same relationship with her best pal Nicole Kidman... I'm sure Lynch knew that casting Watts would make people think about that. The struggling actress who becomes the lover of the already very famous one.. it's only a fantasy, I know !
Seriously, i love this movie and the love scene is so tastefully done, nothing exploitative. if only they could make a scene like that between two males, as opposed to let's-get-on-with-it kind of sex scenes (brokeback, le temps qui reste, velvet goldmine)

Anonymous said...

You know, I really need to watch this movie again. Cause I simply didn't get it. I don't understand the hype behind it. What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

I've never seen this movie.

Does Slant Magazine ( Ed Gonzalez) like ANY films at all? He gave Atonement a bad review. Sheesh.

adam k. said...

Well, men do tend to want to "just get on with it" more than women do. But I also wouldn't mind seeing some hot, prolongued, naked kissing.

I once held it against Watts that this performance seemed more Lynch's achievement than hers (remember her anecdote about the famous masturbation sequence?), but I could never deny her the 2001 Gold for this, Kidman be damned. Maybe still the best performance of the new century. And the actress/role parallels are delectable. And Nicole's thin voice and inability to keep up with Ewan keeps me from anointing her gold in Moulin Rouge!

I say you were totally right in your 2001 judgment, Nat.

Anonymous said...

Kidman should have won the Oscar for Sparkling Diamonds alone. Possibly my favorite scene from a movie ever.

Glenn Dunks said...

I completely agree with you Nat. I personally love that people really do have sex dreams so Lynch putting sex into the dream part of the movie makes so much sense.

I've made my peace with the 2001 Oscar race so I shall leave it alone.

- said...

Gosh I love Naomi. Mmm mmm mmm.

- said...

Forgot to mention, I love the Madonna picture on the banner!

WickedScorp said...

Do you watch the whole movie? or kill it at the 90-or-so minute mark where it justly deserves a painful, hideous death for becoming so miserably undeserving of what preceded? It's one of those I look at on my shelf and do a double take every time I look at it.

is that so wrong? said...

I find it so devastating when Betty tells Rita "I'm in love with you".... it's a direct reflection of Diane's real life warped into Betty's impulsive desire. By the second time she says it, it's so vulnerable and swollen with bittersweet pain and flat-out truth that it tugs my heart out. Probably equally devastating is when Camilla leads Diane up the hill through the "short cut", and Diane feels all the true love she has in that single moment.


This movie is a masterwork.

Lily said...

I feel so out of the loop, but this movie confused me. I've heard of all of the theories, but none ring true to me...alas. What can you do, right?

Sam said...

Actually, the first thing I think of is Ann Miller wondering what's going on in that apartment. but I'm a big queen that way.

Maynard and or Lando and or Bada said...

The first thing that always pops into my mind is the whole bum outside the diner part. That scared the shit out of me the first time.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

Thanks, NR.

Ed Howard said...

Man I love this film. For those who don't get it, I'd say watch it again and don't try to get it -- treat it like each scene is related to the others not in narrative terms, but just with a kind of loose symbolic, metaphorical connection between the film's images. Honestly, although there is a definite narrative here, and the famous Salon analysis pretty much tells you what it is, the film is best appreciated not for its story but for its powerful, emotionally charged visuals. Think of it as not just Betty/Diane's dream, but your own as well. The first time I saw this, when I walked outside afterwards into a sunny afternoon, I felt like I was just waking up, and everything looked strange to me.


see i dont even like to think of it as a dream (though it is clearly suggested to be that) but just as a treatise on actressing in Hollywood with dream logic. I think the dream thing is too easy to shrug off.

i understand that's what it is but it's also so much larger --dreams can be so easily disposed of by waking but this film keeps playing once the lights come up

Unknown said...

For me, this scene is the crux of the movie -- it's contains the pivotal shift from Betty to Rita.

By declaring her love, Betty makes herself vulnerable. She gives control to Rita to do what she will with that love. And in doing so, Betty loses control both of her own life, but also of the movie. Up until that point, she has been the one driving the action, making the choices. But in the next scene, Rita insists they go to Silencio, and from that point on in the movie, Betty merely reacts, she doesn't act. And she falls apart. All because she admitted her love.


i hadn't thought of that exactly ... not only do we have mirrored constructions but we're also going through the looking glass from betty to rita --i love it