David Lynch Criticism - Essay

Charles Champlin (review date 28 September 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Champlin, Charles. “Portrait of the Monster as a Human Being.” Los Angeles Times (28 September 1980): 34.

[In the following review, Champlin argues that The Elephant Man presents a story of human compassion and avoids the subject's potential for exploitation.]

“There stood revealed,” Sir Frederick Treves wrote later, “the most disgusting specimen of humanity that I have, ever seen … From the brow there projected a huge bony mass like a loaf, while from the back of the head hung a bag of spongy, fungous-looking skin. …”

Another bony mass protruded from his mouth like a half-swallowed stake, making speech almost...

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David Sterritt (review date 9 October 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sterritt, David. “Undaunted Moral Strength—The Elephant Man's Story.” Christian Science Monitor 72, no. 223 (9 October 1980): 18.

[In the following review, Sterritt praises Lynch for his bold cinematic style in The Elephant Man, observing that the film expresses faith in “the ultimate goodness of mankind.”]

The story of The Elephant Man has become a modern myth. Books have been written about him, he is the subject of a long-running Broadway hit, and now a new movie [The Elephant Man] tells his history.

Does all this interest amount to a positive sign of the times? I think so. Despite the sad underpinnings of the tale,...

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John Coleman (review date 10 October 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Coleman, John. “Monstrous.” New Statesman 100, no. 2586 (10 October 1980): 25-6.

[In the following review, Coleman characterizes The Elephant Man as a sensational film that exploits the “horror film potential” of its subject matter.]

It was David Lynch who made the squalid and diseased fantasy Eraserhead in 1976 and the first difficulty in dealing candidly with his The Elephant Man is exactly that knowledge. Had I seen the new film unascribed would I have felt the same initial unease, verging on queasiness, during its portentous opening sequences, which offer trumpeting pachyderms on the move, a woman's face, a form of mushroom...

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Henry Baker (review date spring 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Baker, Henry. Review of The Elephant Man, by David Lynch. Cineaste 11, no. 2 (spring 1981): 28-9.

[In the following review, Baker praises The Elephant Man as “a grim fairy tale,” applauding the film's black-and-white cinematography and the visual depth of its subject matter.]

David Lynch's extraordinary film, The Elephant Man, begins with a dream vision of a beautiful woman, and then plunges us into a nightmare—the loud, steady beats of elephant feet, the approach of the herd, and the woman, struck down by one of them, writhing in pain. The sequence ends with a rising cloud of vapor and the sound of a baby crying. Lynch conjures up a...

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Michael Wilmington (review date 14 December 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wilmington, Michael. “Dune Is Slow Going but Apt to Stick in the Mind.” Los Angeles Times (14 December 1984): section 6, p. 8.

[In the following review, Wilmington assesses Lynch's use of dark, obsessive, and bizarre visual imagery in Dune, noting that the film as a whole is not necessarily successful.]

The multimillion-dollar adaptation of Frank Herbert's best-selling science-fiction novel, Dune with its evocative and densely detailed vision of a desert planet where mammoth worms capable of swallowing whole express trains burrow through the sand, is one of the year's most peculiar films. It's cold, strange and remote. It's lit in such...

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Tom O'Brien (review date 11 January 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: O'Brien, Tom. Review of Dune, by David Lynch. Commonweal 112, no. 1 (11 January 1985): 18.

[In the following excerpt, O'Brien criticizes Dune, describing the film as unoriginal and meaningless.]

Dune and Starman—two … big budget sci-fi films—provide major disappointments. Dune is pseudo-inventive; despite all its arcana it is basically nothing more than an old shoot-'em-up-plus-adolescent-rite-of-passage in outer space. Of course I must confess a prejudice: Dune is faithful to its source, Frank Herbert's 1965 “classic” novel that became a big hit in some quarters, a book I detested for its freakish gobbledygook and spurious spirituality. Basically, Herbert's strategy, imitated by Dune's director David Lynch, is to hide a paucity of real invention behind a multiplicity of mumbo jumbo. Lynch formerly made Elephant Man and Eraserhead; in Dune he pursues the monstrous with a ghoulish revamping of Star Wars. The shoot-'em-up, for example, pits a hero named Paul Atreides (for epic's sake), in the “Luke Skywalker” role, against some boil-covered villains and their punk rock henchman. The two sides contest ownership of a desert planet whose arid soil contains “mélange,” a super potent spice containing the secrets of life and that sort of thing. Mining the spice provokes the appearance of Dune's only intriguing novelty: giant worms the size and appearance of Moby Dick.

On one level, there's just too much in Dune; but on a deeper level, not enough. The villains live in the city of Harakonnen, a seamy futuristic Pittsburgh; in other locales we get Moorish architecture, Venetian interiors, Victorian wood paneling, officials in Czarist Russian uniforms, punk sadists in gold plated briefs, some outer space guerrillas like rubberized Michelin men. The ads for Dune tell us it presents “a world beyond experience, beyond imagination”: what Dune really gives us are bad dreams blended in a cuisinart. No wonder the secret spice was called mélange. Unfortunately the conglomeration of effects is created simply to tell us that pure-hearted young men and damsels will save the universe from evil meanies. The disproportion between machinery and moral content is cosmic.

Lynda K. Bundtzen (essay date autumn 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bundtzen, Lynda K. “‘Don't Look at Me!’: Woman's Body, Woman's Voice in Blue Velvet.Western Humanities Review 42, no. 3 (autumn 1988): 187-203.

[In the following essay, Bundtzen examines Blue Velvet from a feminist and psychoanalytic perspective, challenging some of the methodologies’ assumptions.]

… woman as representation signifies castration, inducing voyeuristic or fetishistic mechanisms to circumvent her threat. None of these interacting layers is intrinsic to film, but it is only in the film form that they can reach a perfect and beautiful contradiction, thanks to the possibility in the cinema of shifting the...

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Devin McKinney (essay date winter 1991-1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McKinney, Devin. Review of Wild at Heart, by David Lynch. Film Quarterly 45, no. 2 (winter 1991-1992): 41-6.

[In the following essay, McKinney discusses the excesses and graphic violence of Wild at Heart, contending that Lynch intentionally subordinated conventional narrative expectations to the power of recurring visual motifs.]

Apparently, no one ever instructed David Lynch in the rules that govern what a work of art should be—the forms it should take, the boundaries it should honor—let alone the accepted truisms on what a modern audience expects in return for its admission. But through a serendipitous (and fairly mystifying) configuration...

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Jonathan Romney (review date 20 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Romney, Jonathan. “Nothing to Declare.” New Statesman & Society 5, no. 229 (20 November 1992): 33-4.

[In the following excerpt, Romney criticizes Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as having nothing new or original to offer its audience.]

David Lynch's long-awaited Twin Peaks film would have provided the ideal opportunity to mull over, for one last time, cinema's obsession with America's dark underbelly. The Twin Peaks TV series was the last word in the suburban surreal, which had already received its definitive expression in Blue Velvet. But that once-disturbing genre has become so thoroughly domesticated that it now provides the...

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Martha Nochimson (essay date winter 1992-1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Nochimson, Martha. “Desire under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks.Film Quarterly 46, no. 2 (winter 1992-1993): 22-34.

[In the following essay, Nochimson discusses the character of Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks, asserting that Cooper represents a new kind of movie and television detective.]

The dazzled affection that Dale Cooper, hero of Twin Peaks, inspired in a large television spectatorship can only partly be explained by the appeal of actor Kyle MacLachlan. Nor can it be ascribed merely to the time-tested popularity of the detective figure; on the contrary, Cooper lays waste to a multitude of film and...

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Greg Olson (essay date May-June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Heaven Knows, Mr. Lynch: Beatitudes from the Deacon of Distress.” Film Comment 29, no. 3 (May-June 1993): 43-6.

[In the following essay, Olson discusses Lynch's spiritual vision in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.]

A few minutes into David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, loud-talking, dual hearing aid-wearing FBI chief Gordon Cole, played by the director himself, gives Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and his assistant Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) a briefing on their new case. Cole doesn't verbalize information to Desmond—he has him stare at Lil, a gawky, pinch-faced woman in a red dress who makes odd, dancelike motions. Without explanation,...

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Randi Davenport (essay date October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Davenport, Randi. “The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence.” Literature Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (October 1993): 255-59.

[In the following essay, Davenport discusses the representations of sexual abuse and violence against women in the television series Twin Peaks, arguing that Lynch's portrayal of family violence reflects a feminist bias.]

Twin Peaks is unusual in that it participates in recent public conversations about the effects of child sexual abuse, the victimization of the daughter, and the culpability of the adult male aggressor. I would like to suggest that in its exploration of the behavior...

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Lenora Ledwon (essay date October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ledwon, Lenora. “Twin Peaks and the Television Gothic.” Literature Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (October 1993): 260-70.

[In the following essay, Ledwon examines Lynch's use of and innovations on conventional Gothic themes and motifs in Twin Peaks.]

I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

Sylvia Plath, “Elm”

The twentieth century has proven congenial to the Gothic. Gothic literature and film attest to the continuing vitality of the genre. Examples of today's popular Gothic include such works as Stephen King's The Shining with its Gothicized haunted hotel,...

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Nicholas Birns (essay date October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Birns, Nicholas. “Telling Inside from Outside, or, Who Really Killed Laura Palmer.” Literature Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (October 1993): 277-86.

[In the following essay, Birns asserts that the television series Twin Peaks combines postmodern elements of self-referentiality with Romantic elements of heightened emotional affect.]

The question of “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” received its determinate answer on November 10, 1990. But this does not mean that the question has been fully decided. Indeed, much of the force and interest of the mystery in the first place proceeded from the inherently undecidable fashion in which the series posed the...

(The entire section is 6277 words.)

Kenneth C. Kaleta (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaleta, Kenneth C. “Early Lynch—Eraserhead.” In David Lynch, pp. 1-30. New York: Twayne, 1993.

[In the following essay, Kaleta discusses the themes, style, and main metaphors of Lynch's early short films that culminate with his first feature-length film Eraserhead.]

Suppose yourself in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving up … until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars' faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions … it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality.

—Salman Rushdie


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Cyndy Hendershot (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hendershot, Cyndy. “Postmodern Allegory and David Lynch's Wild at Heart.Critical Arts 9, no. 1 (1995): 5-20.

[In the following essay, Hendershot defines postmodern allegory within the context of Wild at Heart.]

In Postmodernist Fiction Brian McHale discusses the resurgence of the allegorical mode in the postmodern era, a resurgence in both critical analysis of the mode and artistic practice of it1. Maureen Quilligan sees the postmodern and allegorical linked so closely as to assert that “we seem in the last quarter of the twentieth century to have reentered an allegorical age”2. Many critics see postmodern allegory...

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Diana Hume George (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: George, Diana Hume. “Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks.” In Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, edited by David Lavery, pp. 109-19. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, George provides a feminist analysis of the representation of violence against women in the television series Twin Peaks.]

Should I call this a double-breasted approach? Laura Palmer had a double, so that's at least four breasts, but the show fairly crawled with creepy sex and grand tetons. They didn't eat with forks—the brothers with the yuppie ice cream names were devotees of primary process. Everything longer than it...

(The entire section is 5168 words.)

David Lynch and Psychology Today (interview date March-April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lynch, David, and Psychology Today. “Naked Lynch.” Psychology Today 30, no. 2 (March-April 1997): 29-33, 74.

[In the following interview, Lynch discusses Lost Highway and his creative process.]

Famous for evoking the eerie undertow of everyday life, David Lynch—the director whose films include Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and who created the television show Twin Peaks—fearlessly projects his own psyche onto the screen. But the man with the eccentric sensibility says we shouldn't read anything into the fact that in his latest effort, Lost Highway, he takes on the meaning of identity.


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Marina Warner (review date August 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Warner, Marina. “Voodoo Road.” Sight and Sound 7, no. 8 (August 1997): 6, 8, 10.

[In the following review, Warner examines the doppelgänger motif of Lost Highway as a metaphor for identity crisis in the modern world, but concludes that Lynch's treatment of this theme is ultimately lacking in substance.]

The plot of Lost Highway binds time's arrow into time's loop, forcing Euclidian space into Einsteinian curves where events lapse and pulse at different rates and everything might return eternally. Its first and last shots are the same—the yellow markings of a straight desert road familiar from a thousand movies scrolling down as the camera...

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Kim Newman (review date September 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Newman, Kim. Review of Lost Highway, by David Lynch. Sight and Sound 7, no. 9 (September 1997): 48-9.

[In the following review, Newman assesses Lost Highway as a “noir horror film.”]

Los Angeles. Saxophonist Fred Madison discovers on his doorstep a videocassette of his house, shot from the outside. The next day, another videocassette includes footage of a track through his home, showing Fred asleep with his brunette wife Renee. The Madisons call the police, who have no explanation. Renee takes Fred to a party thrown by Andy, a shady character, and Fred is accosted by a mystery man, whose face he has glimpsed in the shadows. The mystery man...

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Eric Bryant Rhodes (review date spring 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rhodes, Eric Bryant. Review of Lost Highway, by David Lynch. Film Quarterly 51, no. 3 (spring 1998): 57-61.

[In the following review, Rhodes asserts that Lost Highway's narrative is based on a theme-and-variation structure in which recurrent visual and thematic motifs take precedence over conventional narrative coherence.]

The ever quotable pop artist and underground filmmaker Andy Warhol reportedly stated that films are “better talked about than seen.” With his latest film adventure, Lost Highway, David Lynch has given audiences a complex and perplexing story to ponder and some astonishingly brilliant images to enjoy. Yet the majority...

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David Sterritt (review date 15 October 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sterritt, David. “David Lynch Plays It Straight.Christian Science Monitor (15 October 1999): 15.

[In the following review, Sterritt comments on the dark undertones beneath the superficial sweetness of The Straight Story.]

Starting today, the biggest surprise of this year's Cannes film festival will be stirring up talk in theaters. David Lynch, known for ultraviolent movies like Blue Velvet and surreal TV fare like Twin Peaks, has found still another way to give audiences a jolt of astonishment: He's made a G-rated picture for the Walt Disney Company, spinning a tale so kind and gentle that it makes his previous career seem like a...

(The entire section is 731 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann (review date 15 November 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Character as Destiny.” New Republic (15 November 1999): 28.

[In the following review, Kauffmann praises The Straight Story as “a small epic” that embodies the American ideal of rugged individualism.]

The viewer need not know David Lynch's reputation before seeing The Straight Story, but it helps. Here is a writer-director celebrated for his eccentricities, his disregard for convention, in such works as Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, who has done a picture released by Disney, a picture based on the true story of an old man making a sentimental journey. Anyone ignorant of Lynch who sees The Straight...

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Kevin Jackson (review date December 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jackson, Kevin. Review of Straight Story, by David Lynch. Sight and Sound 9, no. 12 (December 1999): 57-8.

[In the following review, Jackson characterizes The Straight Story as blandly sweet.]

Laurens, Iowa, 1994. [In The Straight Story,] Alvin Straight, a stubborn 73-year-old widower who lives with his adult daughter Rose, suffers a bad fall and is sent to the local clinic. The doctor warns him he is in dangerously poor health and needs to take better care of himself, but Alvin shows little sign of mending his ways. Rose takes a phone call and learns Alvin's estranged older brother Lyle has had a stroke. Despite Rose's warnings and the...

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Chris Tayler (review date 17 December 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tayler, Chris. “Life in the Slow Lane.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5046 (17 December 1999): 17.

[In the following review, Tayler praises Lynch's restrained cinematic style in The Straight Story.]

David Lynch's new film, The Straight Story, is about a stubborn, laconic old widower who chooses to drive 300 miles on a lawnmower to visit his estranged and ailing brother. Sometimes charming and sometimes sentimental, it is an uncharacteristically restrained piece of filmmaking: quiet, autumnal and, above all, slow. Not that it is unclear whose work we are watching; during The Straight Story, we are shown such Lynch-film staples as wood being...

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John Simon (review date 21 February 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Simon, John. “Life in the Slow Lane.” National Review 52, no. 3 (21 February 2000): 59.

[In the following review, Simon praises The Straight Story for its gentle tone and refreshing simplicity, noting that despite its sentimentality, the film avoids becoming sappy.]

Alvin Straight is a nice old man living—we don't quite know off what—in Laurens, Iowa, with his daughter Rose, who talks haltingly and whose four children have been taken away from her because she is slightly retarded and because one of them was badly burned in a fire. Alvin says, “She is a little bit slow, but her mind is like a bear trap.” Laurens is a small town, and on the...

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Bert Cardullo (essay date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cardullo, Bert. “Getting Straight.” Hudson Review 53, no. 2 (summer 2000): 299-307.

[In the following essay, Cardullo praises The Straight Story for its restraint and serenity, asserting that it is one of the greatest films ever made.]

David Lynch, best known for exploring the darker recesses of the human psyche as well as the darker corners of the American landscape in such cult films as Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), and Twin Peaks (1992), has created an eloquently simple, representatively American, straightforwardly emotional, and extraordinarily moving picture titled The Straight Story (G-rated and released by...

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Tim Kreider (review date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kreider, Tim. Review of The Straight Story, by David Lynch. Film Quarterly 54, no. 1 (fall 2000): 26-33.

[In the following review, Kreider asserts that, despite its superficial sweetness and light tone, The Straight Story reveals a dark undercurrent of alcoholism and family abuse.]

The Straight Story begins a lot like a David Lynch film, specifically like Blue Velvet: first we see a dreamy montage of slow-motion scenes from a small-town, middle-American Eden (cinematographer Freddie Francis filling in for Norman Rockwell and composer Angelo Badalamenti for Aaron Copland), and then the camera drifts down to a neatly mown suburban...

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Kent Jones (review date October 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, Kent. “Trading Faces.” Artforum International 40, no. 2 (October 2001): 36.

[In the following review, Jones praises Mulholland Drive for thematic focus on sexual abuse.]

That David Lynch is a genuine visionary may be indisputable, but he has often seemed like an artist with a set of primal obsessions in lieu of a subject. Compelled to plunge headlong into his darkest fears, Lynch has conjured up some of the most mesmerizing passages in American cinema. But the imbalance between the hallucinatory and the desultory has been a constant in Lynch's work—and a nagging source of frustration. It's easy to understand his artistic dilemma, though:...

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Wendy Lesser (review date 19 November 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lesser, Wendy. “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” American Prospect 12, no. 20 (19 November 2001): 36-7.

[In the following review, Lesser argues that the lack of narrative closure in Mulholland Drive leaves the viewer disappointed.]

Many people will love Mulholland Drive, I am sure; and the fact that my admiration is mingled with profound annoyance perhaps says more about me than about the movie. It is David Lynch's best film since The Elephant Man (which remains, for me, the pinnacle of his achievement). It is better than the goofy Eraserhead and the creepy Blue Velvet, and far, far better than Lynch's terminally...

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Graham Fuller (review date December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fuller, Graham. “Babes in Babylon.” Sight and Sound 11, no. 12 (December 2001): 14, 16-17.

[In the following review, Fuller asserts that the narrative structure of Mulholland Drive follows “dream logic,” rather than the Hollywood narrative conventions.]

Mulholland Dr. unwinds in a benighted LA dream-scape where two girl detectives fall into lipstick-lesbian embraces, a Mafia power play is sublimated in a menacing Pinteresque discussion of an espresso's drinkability, smug studio types commingle with doo-wop-singing starlets, Sunset Boulevard riff-raff and the ghosts of Hollywood past, and shattered identities are mosaicked back together in...

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Philip Kerr (review date 14 January 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kerr, Philip. “LA Confident.” New Statesman 131, no. 4570 (14 January 2002): 44-5.

[In the following review, Kerr recommends Mulholland Drive as Lynch's “best and most erotic film since Blue Velvet.]

Mulholland Drive is a road in Los Angeles that twists and turns for ten miles along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, and connects the Encino Reservoir, made famous in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, with the Hollywood Hills, made famous by that eponymous, cliched and ultimately irrelevant hillside sign. Mulholland is quite a drive, especially at night, and between Coldwater and Laurel Canyon there are lots of places to pull over,...

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