Tag Archives: Laura Harring

ALEX MONTY CANAWATI’S RETURN TO BABYLON

In 1999, Alex Monty Canawati and his producer found a factory sealed bag of 16mm black and white Ilford film on Hollywood Boulevard. Using this, Canawati and his team began Birth of Babylon, which won Best Short Film at the Arpa Foundation film festival in 2001. This short silent film depicts the infamous, still officially unsolved murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor (played by Jack Atlantis). The Taylor murder involved a who’s who list of Hollywood celebrities as suspects. Among those were Mary Miles Minter (Devora Lillian) and Mabel Normand (Morganne Picard). Although no one was charged, the highly publicized investigation effectively destroyed the careers of the two actresses connected to the case (in 1964 silent actress Margaret Gibson confessed to the killing of Taylor on her deathbed).  The Taylor murder came a mere five months after the Roscoe Arbuckle rape scandal and was followed by the drug-related deaths of silent stars Olive Thomas and Barbara La Marr (Wendy Caron), prompting Hollywood to write morality clauses into its contracts. This regulation eventually gave birth to the Hayes Code.

Canawati had attended the University of Southern California and discovered a fascination for silent film aesthetics and . Apart from , Canawati was the only filmmaker of note producing silent films a full decade before the populist, Academy Award winning The Artist (2011). However, Canawati was not content with Birth as a short and wanted to expand it into a feature, encompassing far more than a single representative event of silent cinema. Due to financial struggles, Return to Babylon (2013) took over a decade to see fruition. It has been worth the wait.

Far from a mere nostalgia piece, Return to Babylon sports a beautiful ensemble cast, an authentic love of craft, and almost surreal, Catholic reverence for Hollywood’s silent era, which makes this Canawati’s own take, as opposed to Anger’s “dripping with cynicism” version of Hollywood Babylon. Canawati does not judge his subjects, and imbues his film with an all too rare and refreshing aesthetic joy.

Still from RETURN TO BABYLONTrue to the tenets of silent film, Return to Babylon is episodic, opening (and closing) with the notorious vamp Theda Bara (played by Sylvia B. Suarez) gazing into her crystal ball. It almost plays like an “Inner Sanctum” episode, with a real-life silent actress serving as the introductory host. Canawati stamps the flow of his film with idiosyncratic verve, making these episodes feel like jazz miniatures. Like Kurt Weill (a jazzy period composer whose music is utilized in the film), Canawati is prone to moments of seductive dissonance. In the opening, this dissonance takes the form of bursting legendary bubbles, yet one senses Canawati’s sincere embrace of the truth behind (what the sur-titles refer to as) “Hollywood: Metropolis of make believe.”

“It” girl Clara Bow (Jennifer Tilly) is one of the funnest of the silent sex kittens because her short career was replete with jaw-dropping scandals (most of which were true). Tilly, with an astute actor’s instinct, realizes this and makes for a commanding, humorous presence. Although her appearance is brief, it may be one of this underrated actress’ best performances.

The crystal ball often serves as a silent film iris (with surreal imagery, including a ghost fairy) introducing us to the likes of Alla Nazimova (), Louise Brooks (Shiva Rose), Josephine Baker (Rolanda Watts) and the tragic Alma Rubens (Marina Bakica). Canawati uses the music Continue reading ALEX MONTY CANAWATI’S RETURN TO BABYLON

97. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

“Do not demystify.  When you know too much, you can never see the film the same way again. It’s ruined for you for good. All the magic leaks out, and it’s putrefied.”–David Lynch, explaining to Terrence Rafferty why he will not record director’s commentaries

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DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Laura Harring,

PLOT: A woman (Harring) is involved in a nighttime accident on Mulholland Drive and flees into the city of Los Angeles with amnesia; she sneaks into an apartment soon to be occupied by naive young Betty (Watts), who has come to Hollywood hoping to find stardom.  Meanwhile, a film director (Theroux) finds himself pressured by mysterious mobsters to cast an unknown actress in his upcoming project.  Betty helps the amnesiac woman try to recover her identity, but the clues only lead to a strange avant-garde nightclub, a key, a box, and a sudden reality shift that throws everything that came before into confusion.

Still from Mulholland Drive (2001)


BACKGROUND:

  • Lynch originally intended Mulholland Drive as a TV series in the mold of “Twin Peaks.”  When the networks passed on the pilot, the French producer Studio Canal stepped in with additional financing to turn the pilot into a feature film.  In between ABC’s proactive cancellation of the series and the creation of the film version, all of the sets and props were dismantled, forcing Lynch to come up with a different way to complete the story.
  • Monty Montgomery, whose appearance as “The Cowboy” is an uncanny show-stopper, is a Hollywood movie producer (who produced Wild at Heart for Lynch).  Mulholland Drive is his only acting credit (he’s listed as “Lafayette Montgomery” in the credits).
  • Lynch insisted no chapter stops be included on the DVD.
  • The original DVD release included an insert from Lynch containing “10 Keys to Unlocking This Thriller.”
  • Mulholland Drive received significant critical acclaim, nabbing Lynch a Best Director award at Cannes (shared with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn’t There) and a Best Director Oscar nomination.  It was voted best picture of the Year by the Boston Film Critics Society, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the new York Film Critics Circle, and the Online Film Critics Society (where it tied with Memento in the voting).  It was also voted best foreign picture by the Academy Award equivalents of Brazil, France, Spain, and Australia.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Silencio nightclub, decorated in Lynch’s trademark red velvet drapes and staffed by his trademark subconscious monsters.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If the massive reality shifts and actresses unexpectedly playing


Original trailer for Mulholland Drive

multiple roles is not enough for you, then the monster behind the Winkie’s, a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” delivered by a woman who collapses onstage, and a mafia-style media syndicate run by a deformed dwarf who uses an eyebrowless cowboy as his right-hand man will convince you that we are deep in that subconscious pit of eroticism, kitsch and weirdness that can only go by the name Lynchland.

COMMENTS:  Oddly enough, what may be the most important scene in Mulholland Drive Continue reading 97. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)