The 13th Floor

A Look Back at David Lynch’s HBO Series: HOTEL ROOM

“For a millennium the space for the hotel room existed… undefined. Mankind captured it and gave it shape and passed through. And sometimes when passing through, they found themselves brushing up against the secret names of truth.” This spoken narration is from the opening of David Lynch’s seldom spoken of 1993 HBO mini-series, HOTEL ROOM. The creation of Lynch and WILD AT HEART producer, Monty Montgomery, the show was intended to run as an HBO series.

Each episode would take place in a pre-war New York City hotel room, in room 603 to be exact. Each episode of the series would jump across timelines, featuring new guests and stories from a wide variety of eras. The only characters who would remain consistent would be the Bellboy (played by Clark Brolly) and the Maid (played by Camilla Roos) both of whom would not age during the run of the series.  Despite a favorable reception, HBO shelved the series after only three episodes. To bring the project to life, Lynch turned to WILD AT HEART writer Barry Gifford and composer Angelo Badalamenti, the man who provided the signature soundtrack to such films as WILD AT HEART, LOST HIGHWAY, and MULHOLLAND DR, as well as Lynch’s television classic TWIN PEAKS.

Gifford and Lynch presented three scripts for HBO’s consideration- “Tricks”, “Blackout”, and “Mrs. Kashfi”.

“Tricks”, set in 1969, featured Glenne Headly as Darlene. A young pot smoking NYC prostitute from Iowa, Darlene is brought to room 603 by her client Moe, played by Lynch staple Harry Dean Stanton. Before things get going, they are paid a visit by Lou Boca, portrayed by another Lynch regular Freddie Jones. An apparent old acquaintance of Moe, Lou torments his friend with stories from the past. Moe’s initial befuddlement quickly turns to rage with Darlene caught up in the middle. Gifford’s unique brand of gritty dialogue with hints of humor and strange feelings of nostalgia is immediately identifiable. The exchange between Stanton and Jones is incredible as these two amazing actors share some incredibly acted moments together.  Lynch fans will see the identity confusion twist at the end as the beginning of a familiar theme, emerging first in his 1997 film LOST HIGHWAY, then utilized again in his 2001 film MULHOLLAND DR., and finally seen in his 2006 film INLAND EMPIRE.

When it came time for the second segment, things got a little mixed up. The second segment in the series was supposed to be “Blackout.”  However, once HBO reviewed the scripts they thought that “Mrs. Kashfi”, the story of a young boy and an older woman (intended to be the third installment), would be too controversial.  So “Blackout” was pushed back to being the third segment, while HBO looked for something to film in at the number two slot. HBO turned to BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY author Jay McInerney and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE director James Signorelli for that second segment. The pair put together the segment “Getting Rid of Robby”.

“Getting Rid of Robert” takes place in 1992 and stars Deborah Unger, Chelsea Field, and long-running LAW AND ORDER: SVU star Mariska Hargitay. These three ancient Greek derivatives arrive at the hotel to discuss their friend’s inevitable break-up with her boyfriend Robert.  However, things do not go quite according to plan as the desperation turns to violence, eventually leading into forgiveness. To say “Getting Rid of Robert” is a complete tonal change would be an understatement. The piece is an absolute mess. It begins with some “too on the nose” references to Greek harpies and Homer’s ODYSSEY, and it’s stuffed with failed attempts at intelligent dialogue. Even Angelo Badalamenti’s score, as great as it is, sounds like a bad Badalamenti imitation when presented over top this jumbled mess. It’s immediately clear that “Getting Rid of Robert” is not the direction Lynch, Gifford, or even Badalamenti were intending to go with the series.

“Blackout” is a welcome return to the series original intent. Set in 1936 during a thunderstorm that has knocked out power to the city, it stars Alicia Witt (DUNE, JUSTIFIED) and Crispin Glover (RIVER’S EDGE, BEOWULF, THE DOORS). Witt plays, Diane, a young woman with deep psychological trauma brought to the city to see a doctor by her partner Danny, played by Glover. The episode opens with Danny returning with Chinese takeout which leads Diane down a dark abyss of her own memories. Diane tells Danny about a giant fish who spoke to her about her six children- five girls and one boy named Danny. The couple recall their child who drowned in a lake when he was two. Shot entirely in lantern light, “Blackout” relies solely on the power of Gifford’s words and the performances of Witt and Glover (his best ever performance by far).

Despite being tainted by McInerney and Signorelli’s segment, HOTEL ROOM is a wonderful example of just how amazing Gifford and Lynch’s collaborations were. It’s a shame 1997’s LOST HIGHWAY was their last one. All three episodes are available on VHS, Laser Disc, and DVD. You can also read Barry Gifford’s teleplay which includes the un-produced “Mrs. Kashfi” which was published in 1995.

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