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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2002

It is happening . . . again: Lynch's Obsessions

David Lynch's motifs and stylistic flourishes border on obsessions, as they recur in film after film. "Mulholland Drive" is no exception. Here are a few of his favorite things . . .

Sirens: From Julee Cruise to Isabella Rossellini and -- most overtly -- Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins with "Song of the Siren," hauntingly beautiful female vocals have long been among Lynch's fixations. The idea of the siren -- feminine allure as an irresistible and destructive force -- is never far from the surface of Lynch's works, and Rita embodies it here. "Mulholland's" siren song comes in the mysterious Club Silencio, sung by a Spanish singer called La Llorona. Actually, she lip-syncs it, and the song is Roy Orbison's "Crying" (echoing Dean Stockwell's performance of "In Dreams" from "Blue Velvet"). Here, karaoke is used as a metaphor for possession to suggest how easily one personality can be ousted by another.

Blonde/brunette: This is Lynch's No. 1 stylistic fetish, used repeatedly since "Blue Velvet," but the effect differs vastly from film to film. While Laura Dern and Isabella Rossellini embodied opposites (virgin/whore) in "Blue Velvet," Patricia Arquette represented the inevitability of bad karma in "Lost Highway," playing two versions of the same succubus. Here, Betty and Rita meet in a collision of Hollywood archetypes, virtue vs. vice, the success story vs. the film noir, Doris Day vs. Ava Gardner.

Spooks: The Cowboy follows in the footsteps of Killer Bob in "Twin Peaks" and The Mystery Man from "Lost Highway." These characters can be read literally, as supernatural forces of evil, or as abstractions, the voices of paranoid schizophrenia or other manifestations of dark impulses. Lynch himself avoids analysis, going simply with what scares him. Joining The Cowboy is Mr. Roque, played by Michael Anderson, best known as the backward-talking dwarf from The Black Lodge in "Twin Peaks." He's got a different look, but the sealed-off room from which he issues monosyllabic orders looks eerily familiar with its red-curtained walls and tiled floor.

Nightclubs: The Silencio Club seems to exist only in Rita's dream. With its lush red curtains, it evokes the dreamlike space of The Slow Club, where Isabella Rossellini crooned "Blue Velvet." Dale Cooper goes into a trance at The Road House, while Bill Pullman spills his madness into a sax solo at a jazz club, convinced of his wife's infidelity. Lynch's clubs resemble nothing in the real world; rather, they serve as strange mirrors, absorbing the characters' emotions and reflecting them in song. The reaction is usually tears: Betty sobs, as does Frank in "Blue Velvet," and almost everyone at The Road House.

Coffee: Need I say more? The fuel for Lynch's creative fire. This film's big coffee moment comes when composer Angelo Badalamenti, in a cameo, shows how not to drink an espresso.

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