A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997)

David Lynch's Lost Highway is a kind of fantasia on film noir themes: shady ladies, ruthless gangsters, morally compromised protagonists, and so on. Its story (by Lynch and Barry Gifford) doesn't play out against a background of supposed "normality," the way Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks or his films Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Dr. (2001) do. In the first two, Lynch plumbs the dark depths that lie below the cheerful surface of small towns, and he opens Mulholland Dr. with the sunny, naive optimism of Naomi Watts's character as she arrives in Los Angeles, ready to make it in the movies. Lost Highway is dark from the start, though not without moments of humor: When Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), receive the first mysterious videotape, which shows only the exterior of their house, they assume it came from a real estate agent. Things get darker from then on, until finally a tape arrives that shows Fred standing over Renee's body. He is quickly tried and sentenced to death, and just as quickly somehow morphs, while in his jail cell, into someone else: an auto mechanic, some years younger than Fred, named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). Released from prison, since he's clearly not Fred Madison and the police have nothing to hold Pete on, he returns home to his parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) and to his job at a garage, where he works on the cars owned by a Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). He gets involved with Mr. Eddy's mistress, Alice (played by a blond Arquette -- Renee was a redhead), and eventually winds up having sex with Alice in the desert and morphing back into Fred, who ends the film on the run from the police after killing Mr. Eddy. Oh, there's also a mysterious figure played by a heavily made-up Robert Blake, and some other bits of Lynchian enigma. In short, Lost Highway starts weird and gets weirder, like a nightmare from which there's no hope of waking. Unfortunately, as played by Pullman, Fred is a bland protagonist who barely registers before his transformation into Pete, a character to which Getty gives a bit more substance. The best work in the movie is done by the ever-reliable Loggia, who has a wonderful scene in which Mr. Eddy takes his revenge on a driver who was tailgating him. But the film has the perversity of Blue Velvet and the narrative disjunctions of Mulholland Dr. without the wit and cinematic finesse of either. I think it suffers from its lack of roots in an identifiable reality, even the caricature of reality in those films.      

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