David Thomson

Written by David Thomson

Beneath Mulholland, 1997

That’s why it was named after William Mulholland (1855-1935), the superintendent of the L.A Water Department, who designed and presided over the scheme that sucked water from the Owens Valley, 250 miles away, to make Los Angeles fertile, flush-friendly and be-pooled. No water tanks need more pumping than those on Mulholland, and the well-watered thighs still bloom in William’s honor. Mulholland is regarded now as a robber baron and an ecological rapist: this is the "Bless me for I have sinned" the Angeleno murmurs whenever he enters the shower or drops into the copper sulphate pools that fill every navel and armpit along Mulholland. In other words, no one is sending the water back to the parched and desolate Owens Valley. They’re keeping it, along with the casual guilt.

"There it is — take it" is what Mulholland is supposed to have said, of the water and the brutal advantage of clout. Mulholland Drive still lives on that advice, just as Hollywood taught us to cherish scoundrels. The road is like a location in a film, chosen and dressed for its magnificent vantage and for the juxtaposition of inane civilization and a dangerous wilderness. This is where the desert touches Gucci and Mercedes, where pet chihuahuas can be eaten by coyotes. Mulholland has buildings that could topple into the canyons: the John Lautner Chemosphere stands on one concrete stem, and there is a tennis court on stilts. It has rich homes that might be descended on at night by anarchists, murderers or nightmare Apaches. There is even a Manson Avenue that runs off Mulholland: you have to wonder whether it is scripted tribute or magical impromptu.


© 1997 David Thomson; New York: Alfred A. Knopf

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