PSA: Lost Highway (1997), or Yes, I’m One of THOSE Types of People…

4 02 2009
This movie makes me uncomfortable. In a good way, but still...

This movie makes me uncomfortable. In a good way, but still...

Well, today is another PSA, and I have a confession to make to you fine people. It is a shameful thing to admit, but in this day and age honesty is truly the best policy. Brace yourself, folks, here it comes: I LIKE DAVID LYNCH. You happy now? You basically dragged it out of me. Not cool, man. But I admit it. I think his films are edgy, interesting, and full of difficult, if highly unanswerable, questions. He challenges people with his work, and challenging people is always preferred to lying static on the floor and spelling out the meaning of a movie with semaphore flags. Does it always make sense? No. But it was never meant to, and that is what drives me nuts about his films. It’s highly invigorating to watch movies, which are normally made in a linear fashion, that become so disjointed. And isn’t that the point of poetry, to use the language in such a way to have you think about the structure and the meanings of words to determine a different meaning to them?

The plot is open to interpretation. Fred Madison is a saxophone player for what sounds like an acid-jazz outfit. His marriage to his wife Renee is uncomfortable and seemingly miserable. Nothing seems all right with this fellow. One day, he goes out to his front doorstep to find a manila envelope. Inside is an unmarked video tape. On the tape is footage of Fred’s home that Fred did not tape. It shows someone going inside and slowly walking around. Then it abruptly ends. More tapes come, with more and more footage, eventually getting closer and closer to the bedroom. The police get involved, and things become more complicated. Nothing is as it seems. Fred is acting strange, the police are acting strange, and at a party in the middle of all this, he meets a mysterious man who may be the single strangest thing in the world. And as things begin to fall apart for Fred, the mysterious man may have all of the answers he needs.

There is no easy way to talk about this movie. It is a trip into a very palpable madness. This might be Lynch’s most cerebral movie yet. Fred is not well, to be sure, but neither is anyone else. This entire world of Lost Highway is diseased, its inhabitants confused and drunken with their own unease with themselves. Every single character is seemingly on the verge of snapping or committing suicide, with the exception of the mysterious man, who I’ll get to later.

The cast is brilliant. Bill Pullman is Fred, and in his first David Lynch movie he pulls out all the stops. He is at once phoning it in and hyper-acting all at once to produce a performance which has no depth to speak of but plenty of mood and characterizations. Patricia Arquette is Renee, Fred’s wife, and she is about as useless as a knife for a bowl of soup. But she is nude on occasion, and it is not very tasteful, so if you are a thirteen year-old and you cannot get your hands on real pornography yet this is the performance for you. Oh, and Robert Loggia is a loud-mouth guy (NO WAY!) who has connections and he performs admirably. Balthazar Getty plays in interesting role in this and is worth keeping an eye out for in later films. He is a talent that has not been fully discovered I think.

David Lynch is the star here, of course. He can’t help it. No matter what movie he makes, he will take every big-name star or actor out of focus and bring in something that will make the movie strange and indelible. It is almost as if Lynch enjoys knocking actors down a peg and showing them that he doesn’t care about their craft. If he has Anthony Hopkins, he’s gonna bring in the Elephant Man. If he has Naomi Watts, he’s gonna bring in a demon who lives behind a dumpster. And if he has Bill Pullman…

I have to say something about the mystery man. I don’t know what he is, what he represents, or what he wants, but he is one of the scariest characters I have ever seen in a movie before. He is played by Robert Blake, and he is terrifying. He shaves his eyebrows and his head, and he wears red lipstick, but he is really quite frightening. In one of the film’s early scenes, Fred meets the mystery man at a party, and the mystery man asks if they have met before. Fred says no, but the mystery man says that they have met. He says they have met in his house. In fact, he says, that he is in his house as they are talking! Fred thinks that this is crazy, but the mystery man pulls out his cell phone and tells him to call his own house. Incredulous, he does, and guess who picks up…

The bottom line is that this is a great David Lynch movie that has been buried with time. It needs to be revisited and discussed with others. If you have a friend (if not, I’ll be your friend), ask them to sit with you on this one. It’s a movie that challenges, which is why I like this director so much. I give Lost Highway 8 1/2 disturbing Robert Blakes out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where we travel to the unknown again for the space-capade Outland!




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