Lost Highway (1997)

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Lost Highway is a fever dream of a film that concerns a jazz musician named Fred Madison (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, Spaceballs) who’s life spirals downhill after receiving a strange message telling him “Dick Laurent is dead”. Shortly thereafter he’s convicted for the murder of his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette, A Nightmare on Elm St. 3, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure). Somehow, while in prison, he transforms into a young man named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty, Natural Born Killers, Ladder 49) and is released. Pete falls in love with a mafioso’s dame (also played by Patricia Arquette) and the downward spiral begins a new.

Lost Highway, or as I like to call it “That 90’s Lynch Film” would be the first of a “trilogy” Lynch created which focused on the nature of dual identities. Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire would continue. However, unlike the other two, Lost Highway has a soundtrack featuring some heavy hitters of 90’s alternative music, including Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Rammstein, Marylin Manson. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it does date the movie as many of these tracks feature prominently into the film.

I think the soundtrack also worked against the film, or perhaps I’m speaking from my own experience. NIN’s “The Perfect Drug” was a heavy staple on MTV and on alternative radio in 1997. The video itself, which has Nine Inch Nail’s front man Trent Reznor marauding around an abandoned castle and lamenting his lost love, was visually striking and one of the best videos of the 90’s. It also had nothing to do with the film it was supposed to be promoting. I rented Lost Highway when it came out on VHS, and did not understand it at all, and didn’t really care for it.

superthumbFlash forward twenty years, I’m well versed in Lynch’s films and immersed in Twin Peaks: The Return, and so I decided to give Lost Highway another watch. I enjoyed it much better this time around, and feel I actually understood it (as much as such a thing could be understood — I don’t think I’ll ever feel this way about Inland Empire). However, the soundtrack complied by Trent Reznor (which was a big part of my teen years) makes the film feel like something stuck in the 90s, instead of something timeless, like the majority of Lynch’s work. It also doesn’t help that Marylin Manson features as a porn star in the film, complete with fake breasts. This was something that was never cool even during it’s time, and looking back on seems embarrassing.

That said, there is also a lot of things to like in  Lost Highway. As always, Lynch fills the film with a lot of awesome character actors, including Gary Busey (Lethal Weapon, Comedy Central’s “I’m With Busey“), the late Robert Loggia (The Ninth Configuration, Scarface, and also starred alongside Pullman in Independence Day) as Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent. Robert Blake (In Cold Blood) stars as the “Mystery Man” who works behind the scenes guiding the fate of the characters.

lhmmThis would be Blake’s last film before his retirement, and later murdering his wife. His role in Lost Highway is absolutely terrifying, and it’s sad to see his life go down the drain the way it has. According to a March 2016 interview with Blake, he currently has a private nurse and is suffering incontinence. Lost Highway would also be the last film for two other actors, Richard Pryor (Superman III, See No Evil Hear No Evil) and Lynch regular Jack Nance (Ghoulies, Twin Peaks). Pryor retired from acting due to health reasons (he had multiple sclerosis), and passed away of a heart attack in 2005. Jack Nance would die of a subdural hematoma a day after being punched in the face outside of a doughnut shop at the end of 1996. He did not live to see the release of Lost Highway. The stacked cast, as always, deliver great performances for Lynch that the material doesn’t really deserve. And that is the key to David Lynch films. The material is not the best, but he and his cast fully commit to it, even if their tongues are planted so hard in their cheeks that it threatens to burst a hole through them.

losthighway3For my faults with Lost Highway being stuck in the 90’s, it also seems to be the point. There is a reading of the film that says Lost Highway is an angry parody of Oliver Stone’s output during this time, including the Twin Peaks-esque show Wild Palms. Lynch reportedly also wasn’t happy with the way Stone borrowed from Lynch’s film Wild at Heart during some scenes in Natural Born Killers. This is why Balthazar Getty was cast in a similar role to the one he played in the before mentioned film as a gas station attendant in Lost Highway. The following YouTube video goes into more depth about the issues between the two directors and how Lost Highway is a commentary on these issues.

losthighwayAs far as Lost Highway itself, it is what it is. Lynch made the film in part to troll people (many of his projects often do, the current season of Twin Peaks being a prime example), but he also imbues Lost Highway with a sense of kinetic energy that builds as the film goes on, which works in it’s favor as Pullman’s character busts through the nature of reality itself through pure psychic fury. The entire film’s surrealism mirrors the main character’s mindset and puts you in the head space of his fever dream. Lynch really goes all out to make this vision complete. Part of this film was shot in a home Lynch owned and remodeled to have a tunnel like hallway for Pullman’s character to travel down. Lost Highway contains some of Lynch’s most lurid and nightmarish imagery that will stick with the viewer long after viewing.

At the end of the day, David Lynch makes David Lynch films for David Lynch fans, and so Lost Highway is something that never existed for the masses. As previously mentioned, Lynch is a troll of epic proportions and used a Siskel and Ebert “two thumbs down” review of Lost Highway in order to help promote the film. Lynch’s work inherently defies criticism as it does any sense of coherent narrative construct; if you can take it for what it is, and just enjoy the ride, Lost Highway is worth driving down.

 

 

 

 

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