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MULHOLLAND DRIVE – Angelo Badalamenti

October 12, 2001 Leave a comment Go to comments

mulhollanddriveOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Angelo Badalamenti: what a turn around. After knocking my socks off with The Beach and The Straight Story, and converting me into a fan of the New Yorker’s unique style of film music, he goes and pulls a score like this on me. Badalamenti’s scores for David Lynch have always been somewhat unconventional, as works like Wild at Heart and Lost Highway attest, but Mulholland Drive could almost be taken as an exercise in sound design than anything resembling conventional music. As someone who has been around scoring sessions enough to recognize that ALL film music takes talent to create, I would not be rude enough to suggest that Badalamenti did not know what he was doing with this score… but that doesn’t mean I have to like it in any way shape or form.

Originally, Mulholland Drive was intended to be the pilot episode of an ABC TV series which never got off the ground, and for which Lynch wrote and filmed a new ending when it became apparent that the network executives didn’t like it as much as Twin Peaks. As one might expect, Mulholland Drive is a typical Lynchian piece of skewed perceptions and hyper-reality, this time transposed to Hollywood’s golden era. It stars Laura Elena Harring as Ruth, a young woman who, suffering from amnesia, finds herself staggering into the home of aspiring actress Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) after a murder attempt on the eponymous street goes chaotically wrong, and the two gradually become friends resolve to find Rita’s true identity. Meanwhile, aspiring film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) finds that the mafia are attempting to coerce him into casting a young starlet named Camilla Rhodes (also Harring) in his new movie. To reveal more plot than this would do the film a disservice, except to say that, as in all Lynch movies, not everything is it seems. There are dream sequences, dreams within dreams, character transformations, and the like… it’s a Lynch film. What more can I say?

Milan’s generous album opens with a track entitled ‘Jitterbug’, which is actually quite superb, capturing the decadent spirit of the 1950s jazz scene with a rollicking big band piece that swings along to throaty trombones and pulsating drumbeat – but the score quickly descends into nothingness. Badalamenti has a very identifiable “sound” when he writes for synthesizers, and the central theme heard in ‘Mulholland Drive’ is more than a close kissing cousin to the music he wrote for Twin Peaks, arguably his most famous work. The problem with this theme, however, is that is isn’t really a theme – it’s more of a series of extended shifting tones which is atmospheric, but completely un-engaging on every level. There’s no core, no soul, no emotion: just the darkness of Badalamenti’s eerie synths and the barely audible strings of the City of Prague Philharmonic. ‘Betty’s Theme’, which kicks in a minute and a half into track 5, and the ‘Love Theme’ which appears towards the end of the interminably long ninth cue, are nothing more than Twin Peaks clones with variations in melody and are nice enough, but hardly earth-shattering. The score’s one high spot appears in Track 14, the admittedly rather soothing ‘Diane and Camilla’, in which the full string section of the orchestra finally comes into play, albeit for five minutes of a 74-minute album.

As far as the rest of the score is concerned… well, it just rumbles, basically. It’s more like sound design than score, more a low-end hum on the CD than any kind of definable music. Its almost as though Badalamenti and Lynch left the recorder running in the studio and let it pick up whatever kind of atmospheric noise it could. It’s actually very, very difficult to describe just what cues like ‘Diner’ and ‘Dwarfland’ sound like, but a term I came up with was “naturally occurring dissonance”. You’ll hear what I mean. The only other cues of any note are ‘Silencio’, which features a sleazy muted trumpet playing in distant, film-noir style behind the familiar bed of groaning electronics, ‘Pretty 50s’, a slow beach-bum guitar instrumental, and ‘Go Get Some’ and ‘Mountains Falling’, a couple psychedelic rock track performed by co-composers David Lynch and John Neff, and taken from their own album “Blue Bob”.

When the Milt Buckner instrumental piece “The Beast” starts, it’s almost a jolt to hear live instruments, a Hammond organ, and an actual melody in amongst all the morose nothingness that preceded it. Other songs, including the down and dirty “Bring It On Home”, Linda Scott’s kitsch pop rendition of the Kern and Hammerstein ballad “Every Little Star”, and an intriguing acapella Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s Crying entitled “Llorendo” break the monotony, but its something of a bad deal for a score fan when you can’t wait for the next song to kick in because the score is so boring.

Although the film has been (quite rightly) gathering plaudits and award nominations left right and center, I find it quite baffling that Badalamenti’s music has been receiving similar critical acclaim. I am truly at a loss to see just exactly what the voters are listening too, and where they are hearing the musical excellence, because I sure as hell ain’t getting it. If Badalamenti had received recognition for his work on any of the aforementioned scores, or for something like The Comfort of Strangers or Cousins, I would understand. Here, though, I find myself scratching my head and wondering whether I am listening to the same score as the rest of the world.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Jitterbug (1:27)
  • Mulholland Drive (4:16)
  • Rita Walks/Sunset Boulevard/Aunt Ruth (1:55)
  • Diner (4:16)
  • Mr. Roque/Betty’s Theme (4:06)
  • The Beast (written by Dave Cavanaugh, performed by Milt Buckner) (2:29)
  • Bring It On Home (written by Willie Dixon, performed by Sonny Boy Williamson) (2:39)
  • I’ve Told Every Little Star (written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, performed by Linda Scott) (2:17)
  • Dwarfland/Love Theme (12:14)
  • Silencio (4:27)
  • Llorando (Crying) (written by Roy Orbison, Joe Melson and Thania Sanz, performed by Rebekah Del Rio) (3:32)
  • Pretty 50s (3:02)
  • Go Get Some (7:08)
  • Diane and Camilla (4:48)
  • Dinner Party Pool Music (1:26)
  • Mountains Falling (8:15)
  • Mulholland Drive/Love Theme (5:40)

Running Time: 73 minutes 58 seconds

Milan 74321-89823-2 (2001)

Music composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Conducted by Stepán Konicek. Orchestrations by Angelo Badalamenti. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic. Additional music by David Lynch and John Neff. Recorded and mixed by Jirí Zobac. Edited by John Neff. Mastered by Tom Baker. Album produced by Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch and John Neff.

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