I was eighteen I suppose, because I remember where I was and it was where I was when I was eighteen: my small white bedroom at the Sydney Uni Village, posters tacked to its walls to stave off the terror of blankness. It was my first year of university and I had moved out of my parents’ house in Canberra to Sydney. That first year was punctuated by an acute awareness of my smallness, coupled with an acute awareness of the beauty and texture of the world that I was impatient to eat, but could not quite touch, for it seemed to exist in a secret special other place, a prism inside this prism, and I could not find the doorway in.
On days in which I craved vividness and brilliance to the extent that it required relief, I walked for half an hour to Enmore Blockbuster Video (which probably doesn’t exist anymore). I took to renting out as many films as I could from the Arthouse section (which seemed the most risqué and adult), and to watching them between lectures. I began to crave these afternoon and nighttime trips into rich and strange worlds – Being John Malkovich, Taxi Driver, The Shining, Vertigo, The Piano, Repulsion, the entirety of Twin Peaks – rapturously devoured instead of writing essays.
And then I found Mulholland Drive, directed by David Lynch. The cover was inky dark. Two beautiful, troubled women were pictured against a darkening Los Angeles skyline – palm trees and headlights illuminating a Mulholland Drive road sign. They clung to each other and gazed upwards over my head at something that seemed to be frightening them terribly. I was so drawn to it from its opening shot – to its strangeness, beauty, mystery and darkness. And I still am. Mulholland Drive is a mysterious, heady, horny, dangerous and tilting, shape-shifting world, where things are at times so weirdly lovely and pure as to be sinister; where the desired body is supple and responsive as in a dream; where the worst monster that (I think) has ever been depicted on film is waiting for you in a terrible place where you must inevitably go; where you get completely lost and rarely have you been so afraid. Mulholland Drive is a troubled internal world flipped out, interpreted by the filmmaker who is so comfortable inside the subconscious landscape that he feels no need to explain himself in a traditional, linear way. Thus, we read the film as a dream sequence – and like a certain kind of wish-fulfillment dream or nightmare, it makes as a whole a grave and obscure kind of sense.
When people ask me when I knew I wanted to direct film, I think of watching Mulholland Drive in my white room, curtains drawn against the afternoon sun, terrified in the middle of a bright day. By now, I have watched, re-watched, re-watched it more times than I can say, and each time I get the same strange, unsettled, nightmare feeling – as if I’ve just woken from a dream that is still overlapping with the real. And with each new viewing I admire David Lynch anew for the power of his ability in this film (and others too, but for me, particularly this one) to speak directly to some dark, tender, skittish thing at my core, (and specifically mine, it feels, though of course it is something universal he has tapped into) bypassing language, logic and intellect and going straight for the soul. It is as if Lynch had ransacked my nightmares and is holding them up to me – not as a horror film, but as something profoundly more terrifying, because somehow I feel as if the horror is originating from inside me.
In Mulholland Drive, Lynch demonstrated to me at the age of eighteen that cinema can, in the hands of a certain kind of filmmaker, operate in strange and special space which sinks below the rational into the abstracted, symbolic, turbulent world of the subconscious. He revealed to me the stunning ability that cinema has to interface directly with a viewer’s unruly mind, beating heart, prickling skin. I had not known that art could do this with such visceral power – not even the best of books (and I love books).
Some things are, in the words of Roland Barthes, ‘eternally, superbly outside the sentence’. Lynch showed me in Mulholland Drive that cinema can be the purest and most honest interpreter of what is unspeakable in the human condition. It remains a lesson for me in what I, as a filmmaker, might hope to do too. To reach an audience member in a profound way. To whisper your story into her ear like a secret.
Mulholland Drive rated MA15+
Vanessa Gazy is an award-winning Australian writer/director. In 2014 she completed her Master of Screen Arts (Directing) at the AustralianFilm, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), and was awarded the School’s prestigious Kenneth B Myer Award for Exceptional Talent upon graduating. Her graduating short film FOAL is a suspenseful period piece that takes a bold approach to exploring female sexuality. FOAL was nominated for both Australian Director’s Guild and Australian Writer’s Guild Awards, and has screened at multiple festivals in Australia and Internationally, including Poitiers International Film Festival (2015), St Kilda Film Festival (2016), Flickerfest (2016), and Newport Beach International Film Festival (2016) – where it received the Festival Honours Award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking – Best Foreign Short. Her second short film HIGHWAY will premiere soon at a prestigious international festival (to be announced).
Vanessa is currently developing a feature film and a high-concept television series with funding from Screen ACT, with Luke Davies (LION, CANDY) as writing mentor and script consultant. Her short story Adam’s Window won her the Shoalhaven Literary Award in 2013 and anartist’s residency at Arthur Boyd’s Bundanon. She is also a Sundance 2014 award-winning producer, for Matthew Lessner’s short film CHAPEL PERILOUS.