As the story goes, David Lynch was approached by ABC television to develop an adventurous TV series a la Twin Peaks. But when he presented the 2 1/2 hour pilot for Mulholland Drive (the title refers to a fancy LA address), ABC executives were angry and appalled. What was this crazy nightmare stuff? Compromises failed, the series was dropped, and Lynch reclaimed the footage, obviously added in some non-prime time material (several hot-and-panting lesbian scenes), mixing it all his way, and carrying it to Cannes for its World Premiere.
It's the tale of a Nice Girl, blonde and smiley, named Betty (Naomi Watts), who arrives in LA from rural Canada to become an actress. At the boarding house where she is staying, she runs into a dark-haired woman who calls herself Rita (Laura Elena Harring), though Rita suffers total amnesia. As Betty seeks Hollywood fame and fortune, she helps her new pal, Rita, search for the lost identity. Along the way, they fall deeply in love, and thus the same-sex scenes described above. Among the other characters: a movie director losing wife and job (Adam Kesher), a heavily made-up landlady (ex-MGM music star Ann Miller), a Chandleresque detective (Robert Forster).
So far, despite some enigmatic scenes, Mulholland Drive can be followed by anyone, even, I suppose, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? tube watchers. Then Lynch takes a mighty plunge into dream-terror, Jungian other-worlds, shifting identities. Nobody is whom she or he seems. Everyone is somebody else, or maybe several somebody elses. The interchange of identities in Ingmar Bergman's Persona seems a starting point for the high-dive plunge into non-linearity. A night at a incantatory magic show, perhaps inspired by Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, also takes Lynch's movie into the rabbit hole.
The long and short: Mulholland Drive will live forever on DVD, where slackers and stoners can struggle to unravel it for eternity. But box office prospects are suspect: 2 1/2 hours of surrealism is trying time for most people, who want an old-fashioned, well-plotted story.