21st Century Soundtracks #1: Mulholland Drive

21st Century Soundtracks is about music in Film, Television, and Video Games released from 2000 onwards that have had a lasting effect on me. It started out as one long post that eventually became too long to be manageable, so I’ve decided to make it a semi-regular series. Open to recommendations and reminders.


Thank the heavens filmmaker David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti came together for Blue Velvet in 1986. Ever since then, Lynch’s images have been complimented by rich, beautiful and strange scores that enhance the experience, often taking it to another place entirely.

Jitterbug kicks the album and the film off with fast swing music, set to the opening dance sequence. It starts what will be an ongoing motif of the film, and something Lynch has been doing since Blue Velvet – playing music, whether it’s original to the movie or not, through his own particular lens. In this case sweet and innocent memories are turned into something else, Lynch and Badalamenti craft a scene of anxiety and stress out of what is typically pure and happy. The director has always been hands-on with the music in his films, from the soundscapes of sound designer Alan Splet earlier in his career to Badalamenti’s gorgeous scores; so that each song weaves into the scene’s own thematic and emotional concerns.

The album defiantly refuses to sound like it was made in 2001. The title track, and several others, instead borrow the synth of early 80s cinema, while echoing the more traditional classical instrumental music that was prevalent in early Hollywood pictures. These epic and often triumphant notes are slowed down to a lethargic and unnerving pace, as if pulling us into a dream-like state. The midway segue in Mr. Roque/Betty’s Theme, as the name suggests to those who have seen the intensely dark film, transitions from the ominous powers at work to the pure optimism of Betty as she arrives in Los Angeles. The contrast is brought to our attention again towards its close, as it creeps back into a reprise of the main theme, twisting in and out of fear and hope, an auditory expression of this inward battle.

The inclusion of tracks from Milt Buckner and Sonny Boy Williamson are welcome breaks from the intensity, but are still grounded in the offbeat 50s nostalgia that is present in most of Lynch’s work. And again, they are filtered and re-contextualised through the director’s use of them. Linda Scott‘s version of I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star becomes saccharine, fake, and desperately sad through its use in what is likely my favourite scene in the filmPretty 50s is pretty on-the-nose with its influences, written by David Lynch & John Neff, with the reverb-soaked guitar sounds that came to dominate Lynch’s solo albums in more recent years. It’s one of the most straight-faced tracks on the album, with no hint of impending doom or pessimism. On the other hand are the less memorable tracks such as Diner, that are nevertheless compelling, patchwork compositions of ambience.

Silencio blends jazz into this ethereal world once again, at the moment where reality is starting to fall apart. This is followed by Rebekah Del Rio‘s performance of Llorando, a Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison‘s “Crying”, is used in the movie to make such a particular point about the power of art and performance. It’s really worth checking out the scene itself. Dinner Party Pool Music is a more familiar return to the strange space of Twin Peaks; while Diane and Camilla is old-fashioned, string-based, return to the tragedy of the main theme – and yet surprisingly the one track not used in the actual film.

The final track is Mulholland Drive / Love Theme is the most effective and definitive of the record, full of fear and sadness. It doesn’t return to the innocence of Betty’s Theme, instead dwelling in the dark world that crushes these dreams, personal tragedies lost to the fog on Mulholland Drive.

Standout Tracks:
Jitterbug
Mulholland Drive
I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star
Silencio
Llorando
Diane and Camilla
Mulholland Drive/Love Theme

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