If there is a simple linear narrative concealed within David Lynch’s 1997 comeback film, LOST HIGHWAY, it might go something like this. Jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) suspects his lovely but mousy wife, Renee, (Patrica Arquette) is having an affair with her creepy friend, Andy (Michael Massee—the actor who killed Brandon Lee on the set of THE CROW with an “improperly prepared” prop handgun.) This leads to his discovery that she is a former porno queen, still very much involved with several unsavory and dangerous characters of that world. Fred looses it completely, develops a deathly alter ego (Robert Blake in Kabuki makeup four years before he supposedly orchestrated the murder of his own wife) and goes on a rampage, both physically and psychologically. This process warps reality beyond repair, to the point that 40-something year old Fred not only becomes twenty-four year old Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty,) but sucks everyone and everything else into the vortex of his delusional reality.
Or then again, maybe the second half of the film is just his psychosis taking full reign over his persona. But there are scenes without him that confirm the often altered reality, so maybe…
“Dick Laurent is dead,” announces the disembodied voice on the intercom near the onset of the film. What the f---? This is vintage David Lynch, utterly at home in a dream, making the dream more real than waking reality. Both Pullman and Getty often maintain far away stares as they ponder their separate predicaments—clearly the same character in two different bodies, different times, different circumstances on a collision course with one another—both are usually unsure what is happening. They both are drawn to and make love with Arquette’s character(s,) who play(s) the men differently. Hers is also dual role—she is classy Renee Madison as well as brassy Alice Wakefield. There is a photograph we see twice, once with both women posing with the porno producers when Pete sees it, and then with only Renee when the detectives find it.
The film begins as a riddle concerning three videos delivered anonymously to the Madison home over the course of three days, each one a deeper invasion of their privacy. Enter the Robert Blake character, first in Fred’s nightmare where Renee becomes Blake for an instant, then at a party given by Andy, where the nameless Blake character convinces Fred that he is in two places at once. Then things get really nuts. Did Fred butcher Renee or has he been set up, or is the question immaterial in a Lynch film? While on death row, Fred cracks up completely, becomes Pete. Pete has committed no crime, so he is released, but is followed by the police. Enter the odious Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent (Robert Loggia as one character with two names) who loves having his car serviced by Pete. Enter Alice, Mr. Eddy’s main squeeze. Sparks fly to Lou Reed’s version of “This Magic Moment” when she and Pete see one another across the garage. Suddenly it’s a new reality, with a new cast, new problems, new climaxes, and then it’s the old story come back to haunt us again…
The soundtrack album—which reached gold status—features, among others, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins and two cuts by uber hard driving Rammstein. LOST HIGHWAY includes the final film appearances of (wheelchair bound) Richard Pryor, Jack Nance (ERASERHEAD,) and Robert Blake; blink-and-you’ll-miss-them roles for Marilyn Manson and Giovanni Ribisi; and a throw-away role for Gary Busey (who later played a based-on-Robert-Blake character who orchestrates the murder of his wife on Law & Order Criminal Intent) as the ex-biker father of Pete Dayton. The always lovely Natasha Gregson Wagner plays Pete’s other girlfriend.
There is a good deal of sex, much of it tender; some graphic violence, often seen only in brief flashes that make one wonder what exactly one has seen; and enough twists of plot and logic to warrant several viewings, if you have an appetite for the surreal.
Available here: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Highway-Bill-Pullman/dp/B001152TL6/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1382671491&sr=1-1&keywords=the+lost+highway or at your local library.
© Paul L. Bates, 2013