Week 13: Cinema’s Ever-Present Past

This week we’ll be continuing our discussion of issues of divided or shifting identity, technology, and reality that, looking back over the course, have been hovering continuously over our discussions of American cinema: from the brainwashed soldiers of the Manchurian Candidate to Norman Bates in Psycho, from the waking dream of Walker’s revenge in Point Blank to the media personae of the Monkees in Head, from performative self-mythologizing in The Chelsea Girls, and Hollis Frampton’s (nostalgia); from deception, dream, and confused identities in Blade Runner, Batman, and Body Double, from gendered notions of identity in Boys Don’t Cry, Girl Power, and Point Break, through to last week’s discussion of reality and identity in The Matrix and American Psycho.

In many ways, fictional cinema is the ideal form by which to explore these issues, since cinema requires actors to pretend to be someone they are not, and, in many cases, a star’s onscreen persona is conflated or confused in the media and public consciousness with their onscreen roles.

We looked at two films from 2001 that deal with mysteries of identity and reality, but in very different ways. The first is Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, which expands our examination last week of anxiety over the increasing hold technology seems to have on our “real” and “fantasy” lives—to the point where we may no longer be able to tell which is which. The film also serves as a fascinating star text and meta-narrative on the subject of Tom Cruise’s vanity and celebrity. Vanilla Sky skeptically, pessimistically looks at dreaming, identity, and reality through the lens of new media, while our feature tonight, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr, addresses those themes through a specifically cinematic method, that in some ways serves as a eulogy or farewell to cinema as it once was—though that farewell is bittersweet at best, and nightmarish at many turns.

Some additional reading for those curious about what exactly went on inMulholland Dr:

David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Unlocking Mulholland Drive (From an insert in the 2002 DVD release of David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive):

David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller
1. Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
2. Notice appearances of the red lampshade.
3. Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
4. An accident is a terrible event… notice the location of the accident.
5. Who gives a key, and why?
6. Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
7. What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?
8. Did talent alone help Camilla?
9. Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
10. Where is Aunt Ruth?

Salon.com: “Everything You Were Afraid to Ask About Mulholland Dr”

Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece on the breakdown of the project as an ABC television series.

 

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