“Club Silencio” and the Construction of Identities in Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA, 2001)

The reality within and about cinema is frequently blurred. Movie-going audiences are often led into a narrative, naively believing every moment of the images flickering before their eyes. While some films allow the audience to indulge in this comfort, David Lynch’s bizarre 2001 masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, calls attention to the construction of identities in cinema and the illusion of realities. Mulholland Drive’s “Club Silencio” segment (1:45:31 to 1:53:15) demonstrates how formal and stylistic elements in film, such as narrative structure and editing, can tease the audience by creating false realities and identities, all the while warning the viewers of this construct.

(Sequence discussed is from 01:14 to 08:58.)

During the “Club Silencio” segment, the dreamt characters of Betty (in reality known as Diane) and Rita (Camilla) have recently become lovers. Due to Rita’s persistence, they take a taxi to the mysterious Club Silencio in the middle of the night only to be thrust into a magician’s show in which the illusions of life are presented and abruptly shattered. Betty and Rita sit in the theatre, wide-eyed, as they are warned that “there is no band” and “this is all a tape recording”. Despite the magician’s words, Betty and Rita, like Lynch’s audience, fall for his manipulations. When the magician exits the stage, it appears that his show is done as Rebekah Del Rio enters with a moving performance of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”. Betty and Rita begin to sob as the illusion of Club Silencio, Hollywood, and non-dream-state Diane’s actual reality is acknowledged through the parallel lyrics of “Llorando”. As Rebekah Del Rio nears the end of her song she drops to the floor, presumed dead to mimic Diane’s suicide, while her voice continues to project throughout the theatre. The magician’s show is falsely believed to be over by Betty, Rita, and Lynch’s viewers; the performance continues even as Betty reaches into her purse and finds the blue box.

The “Club Silencio” segment begins with an extreme long shot of the theatre, tilting down to the stage, and ends with a tightly framed close-up of Betty and Rita staring at the blue box. After the opening extreme long shot, the following shots of the segment rapidly launch into a rhythmic pattern, mostly comprised of shorter length medium shots and close-ups while juxtaposing Betty and Rita with the magician and Rebekah Del Rio. The distance of the opening extreme long shot is followed immediately by contrasting shots of Betty and Rita versus the magician. As Betty and Rita walk to their seats, the framing becomes tighter, from a long shot to an eventual medium close-up. These shots of Betty and Rita are intertwined with increasingly close shots of the magician on stage, working from extreme long shots to medium shots as he announces that “no hay banda”. The demonstrated alternating pattern in shots 1 through 16, alternating meaning that with each shot the subject is switched between either Betty and Rita or the performers on stage, is repeated throughout the entire “Club Silencio” segment. When the magician is on stage he is shown in repeated medium shots of similar framing to Betty and Rita in in their seats. The medium shot repetition is only broken when another subject appears on stage, such as when the trumpeter joins the magician.  Although the alternating pattern does not change, the two-subject stage shots provoke a long shot framing style. This continues for shots 17 through 22, until the trumpeter exits the stage and the medium shot alternating pattern picks up again. In shots 23 through 25, the magician proclaims, “It is all an illusion,” as Betty and Rita are mesmerized in their seats. Once the magician exits the stage and Rebekah Del Rio begins to sing, the repeated medium shots become repeated close-ups of both Rita and Betty, as well as Rebekah Del Rio. The alternating pattern of shots remains for shots 37 through 59. The repetition of the alternating pattern presents a reliable platform to a not-so-reliable performance at Club Silencio. The contrast between the discontinuous narrative structure and the steady editing encourages the question of what reality is within cinema. The occurs throughout Lynch’s entire film. As the repetition of alternating shots becomes predictable and comfortable to the audience, they are led to believe the magician’s manipulations more deeply. The reoccurring editing helps to exaggerate the drama when the characters, and audience, are woken up from the dream state, or cinema, as Rebekah Del Rio falls to the floor in the middle of her performance. Through greater analyzation of the formal structure, it can be interpreted that the familiar and comfortable shot structure is Diane’s doing, in a sense. Just as Diane has created the fantasy dream world of Betty, Rita, and Club Silencio, Lynch has created the fantasy that everything is safe through repeated framing and alternating editing of shots. The evolution of Mulholland Drive is not linear, yet the “Club Silencio” segment fools the audience that reality is, despite the warnings that nothing is to be believed. This parallels Diane’s construction and eventual shattering of her identities and the truth.

Although the alternating pattern is consistent for the majority of the “Club Silencio” segment, there are shots within the film that question the cinematic pleasures of reality, just as Betty and Rita question the reality of their identities in Club Silencio. At the end of shot 25, an unusual framing of the magician is presented. While the medium shots of the magician have thus far featured a front view from the waist up, shot 25 is a low angle shot. This gives the magician an air of dominance as he says, “listen,” urging the viewer to pay attention to the illusions before them. The transition from shot 31 to shot 32 is unlike any other in the segment. While most of the transitions are clean cuts, this transition is a dissolve, perhaps to mimic the magic of dreams. Like most people, Diane’s dream of Club Silencio begins normal, then quickly deteriorates with Rebekah Del Rio’s haunting voice and the appearance of the blue box in Betty’s purse. During Rebekah’s performance, two shots stand out for their singularity. In this segment, every shot of Betty and Rita have featured both of them in the same frame. Shots 43 through 49 break this mold by having only one character in each shot, while still following the alternating pattern. This suggests that Diane’s subconscious is realizing that Diane and Camilla are not together in reality, despite Betty and Rita’s attachment to each other in Club Silencio.

Diane’s illusion of reality and the construction of identities with Betty and Rita can be compared to the illusion of cinema for the viewer. The ideology of reality is quite consistent and often accepted. Viewers of cinema are encouraged to partake in this ideology by believing what they see on film and having no reason to deeply question the roots of the narrative’s progression. Lynch’s Mulholland Drive departs from the naïve illusion of reality by breaking Diane’s “safe” identities of Betty and Rita. The realization that Betty, Rita, Club Silencio, and Hollywood are Diane’s illusions of happiness relates to the formal and stylistic organization of the segment. Identities are obscured as Betty and Rita both wear blonde wigs, which function to blend Diane, Betty, and Rita into the same person. The standard alternating pattern of shots established in the “Club Silencio” segment is uneasily broken with odd angles, transitions, and the use of single subjects within the frame. This is echoed through the film’s overarching narrative structure being uncomfortably questioned with the characters’ construction and understanding of reality, including the audience’s interpretation of Mulholland Drive as a whole.

Just as Diane’s subconscious characters begin to question the reality of their lives, movie-going audiences must question the reality of cinema. As demonstrated in the magician’s show, “No hay banda. And yet, we hear a band”. Mulholland Drive emphasizes the construction of identities in cinema and illusion of realities. The film also stresses how easy it is for one to get lost in the romance of cinema or, as in Diane’s case, the lust of dreams. Mulholland Drive’s “Club Silencio” segment (1:45:31 to 1:53:15) demonstrates this ideology through formal elements, such as a discontinuous narrative, and stylistic details, such as alternating shots. Regardless of the magician’s warning, audiences tend to become comfortable in a reality that may end up being false from the real world. While the realization of false identities can feel like a rude awakening, it forces the audience to analyze cinema on a much deeper and rewarding level.