What is Mulholland Drive? Does Transcendental Meditation help us access unconditional love? Those were some of the questions addressed by David Lynch and Justin Theroux in front of the hundreds who had lined up by 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, 2019, outside Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for a screening of Mulholland Drive and a moderated discussion with the film’s director and lead actor.
This presentation was the only event to survive the cancellation of the rest of the weekend’s Festival of Disruption. In a statement released on May 10, the David Lynch Foundation and The Bowery Presents announced, “We’re sorry to report that the two concerts on May 17 and 18 at Brooklyn Steel […] have been canceled due to circumstances beyond our control. The previously announced screening of ‘Mulholland Drive’ […] is sold out and will go on as planned.” Those who had bought tickets to all three events were promised refunds for the canceled performances plus fees within seven to ten business days.
Ticket-holders had to undergo a bag check before descending from the sun-baked sidewalk to Music Hall’s shadowy basement bar, where they could purchase cans of Mikkeller NYC’s “This Is the Girl” beer and drop slips of paper into a green plastic bucket labelled “Questions for David.” From there, the crowd proceeded upstairs to the main foyer and browsed a table of items being given away for free, which included DVD copies of the 2009 Change Begins Within concert at Radio City Music Hall and prints of the front cover art for the albums Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Original Soundtrack as well as Twin Peaks: Music from the Limited Event Series. Finally, the audience was allowed into the main performance space, where rows of folding chairs had been set up.
After a short promotional video for the Foundation and an excerpt from the 2012 documentary Meditation, Creativity, Peace, Mulholland Drive began. Hardcore cineastes may have been disappointed that the screening used the Criterion Collection release instead of an actual film print, but the audience was rapt for the duration of the movie and enthusiastically applauded the appearance of Lynch (on the screen via Skype, drinking coffee), Theroux and moderator Jonathan Cohen, an executive producer and talent booker for the Foundation.
The first topic covered was not the film, but its namesake. “Mulholland Drive is a famous road here in Los Angeles,” Lynch explained. “It’s a winding road at the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. A long, long, winding road. Like the Beatles song.”
From there, they segued into the first iteration of Mulholland Drive, which was originally intended as a television series pilot for ABC. Unfortunately, the executive who rejected the show saw it under less than ideal conditions, or so Lynch was told. “I heard he watched the pilot at six o’clock in the morning, standing up, drinking coffee, on a little screen at the other end of the room.”
A year later, Lynch had reached an agreement with StudioCanal to turn the open-ended pilot into a feature film, only to realize that the wardrobe, props, and sets had all been dispersed, destroyed, or otherwise become unavailable. What could he do? He meditated on it, “And ideas came like a string of pearls.”
Lynch also knew he could rely on his cast, including his leading man. “Justin is a great, great actor. Absolutely solid gold.”
Theroux remembers the actual filming of Mulholland Drive as a pleasure. “David has incredibly joyful sets. They’re like … creativity camps.” It made his first time watching the completed film, a private screening with co-star Naomi Watts at Lynch’s home, even more powerful. “The final product is very different from the experience of making it.”
That said, Theroux took some literal knocks when they shot the sequence where his character, beleaguered film director Adam Kesher, finds his wife in bed with pool man Gene Clean, played by Miley Cyrus’s father. “Billy Ray Cyrus really beat me up. What you hear in the movie is the real sound of my achy breaky head.”
Lynch and Theroux also had vivid memories of the enigmatic Cowboy embodied by Monty Montgomery, a non-actor who had produced Wild at Heart and the Twin Peaks pilot. According to Lynch, “The Cowboy walked into my mind and started speaking.” He knew Montgomery, “a rare character,” would be perfect for the part, and talked him into it. Montgomery even supplied his own costume, an ensemble that had been worn by the early Western movie star Tom Mix. Unfortunately, he drastically overestimated his powers of memorization. As Theroux recalled, “While we were in makeup I asked him, ‘Do you want to run lines?’ And he said, ‘I’ve got it, I looked at them this morning.’” After fighting “hammer and tongs” to get through the scene, Theroux ultimately wrote Montgomery’s lines on slips of paper and stuck them to his chin and forehead.
Cohen inquired how important it was to Lynch that he cast “old Hollywood” actors like Ann Miller in the movie, to which Lynch replied, “It wasn’t important except that they were right for the part.” He took a moment to praise the late Chad Everett, who played Naomi Watts’ audition partner: “His curse was that he looked like … you know, Gone with the Wind, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ … Clark Gable. This is a fantastic human being and a great actor.”
From there, the conversation turned to Rebekah del Rio and her iconic performance in the Club Silencio sequence. She was brought to Lynch’s attention by CAA agent Bryan Loucks, who has made a habit of introducing musicians to the director. He arranged for del Rio to visit Lynch at his house, telling him that it was uncertain if she’d sing or just have coffee. Well, “Five minutes off the street, before she even had her coffee,” de Rio was in the sound booth and recording the version of “Llorando” that she lip syncs in Mulholland Drive.
When Cohen brought up Lynch and Theroux’s other collaboration, Inland Empire, Theroux said, “It felt more experimental, more intimate,” citing Lynch’s use of digital cameras. Lynch’s experimentation included having roller-skate-wearing camera operators towed around sets, and shooting Theroux’s love scene with Laura Dern at such close quarters that the camera’s built-in microphone hit Theroux in the head.
At this point, Cohen began asking some of the questions submitted by the audience. So, does Transcendental Meditation help us access unconditional love? According to Lynch, as meditation enables a person to shed negativity and become happier, they become more attractive to others. “It could even be a problem. You have too many friends and can’t get any work done.”
What’s David Lynch’s favorite pencil? A regular No. 2.
Asked, “Do you ever go through droughts of inspiration?”; Theroux said that as an actor he had the advantage of drawing on someone else’s inspiration, but admitted that at times he’s been overworked and struggled with writing. When that happens his advice is, “Go into the cave and recharge.” As for Lynch, “I love ideas. I get ideas for a lamp … I don’t work on writing. I always go where the ideas take me.”
The most emotional moment of the talk came when Cohen asked Lynch to share his memories of Peggy Lipton, who passed away on May 11. “Such a gracious, caring, loving person, and she was a perfect Norma in the Double R Diner … Just filled with love and caring, and such a beautiful, beautiful soul and face and being. She was just fantastic to work with, and it’s like, you know, everybody has this experience … suddenly, when someone’s gone, you just wish that you’d gone over to visit them and spend some time with them before this happened, but it’s too late. So, that’s the way I feel about Peggy. I miss her like crazy but there’s nothing we can do. She’s gone. It’s just a beautiful memory.”
The next topic was On the Air, Lynch and Mark Frost’s short-lived 1992 sitcom about the early days of television. “It is such a stupid comedy,” Lynch said fondly. “ABC, bless their hearts, that’s another thing they threw out really quick.” As for whether or not the series will ever be released on DVD or Blu-ray, he said, “I know that’s something some people want. I don’t know what will happen.”
At the end, Jonathan Cohen, reading from a slip, asked, “How do we know this isn’t a recording?”
David Lynch looked out from the screen. “Everything is recorded. Every single thing is recorded.”