Universal // 1997 // 145 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 25th, 2008
Dick Laurent is dead.
In 1997, after half a decade of silence, director David Lynch released Lost Highway. Upon its release, those who thought Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was deliberately obtuse had seen nothing yet. Critics and audiences were equally mixed. Some hailed the film as a work of expressive genius, while others derided it as a chaotic mess (famously, the film's marketing team used the "Two Thumbs Down" from Siskel & Ebert in their promotion campaign), but very few had any insights as to what the film meant. Unfortunately, anybody who wanted to watch it again to try to figure the riddles out would have to wait...a long time. Eventually, a Region Free DVD of the film was released out of Canada, and it was a slap in the face to anybody who purchased it. The disc was full frame, with a transfer that looked like it was made from a badly deteriorated VHS bootleg. Finally, more than 10 years after its theatrical release, Focus Features gives us a proper version of this insane gem.
Life unravels for Fred Madison (Bill Pullman, The Last Seduction) once these videos start arriving on his doorstep. Suddenly, he suspects his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette, True Romance), is cheating on him, and the tapes show him chopping her to bits, although she's very much alive. Soon a crazy pale-faced man (Robert Black, In Cold Blood) approaches him with cryptic words and weird phone calls. Suddenly, Fred has been charged with Renee's murder, and though he doesn't remember doing it, he's convicted and awaits execution. One night, Fred disappears from his cell and is replaced by Pete (Balthazar Getty, Lord of the Flies), a simple mechanic who had nothing to do with the crime. As soon as he's released, Pete's life starts going wrong as well when a woman who looks exactly like Renee shows up with the pale-faced man. Weird as all of that sounds, things get a whole lot crazier in Lost Highway.
After the second videotape arrives, Fred and Renee call the police. In their brief investigation, the police ask them if they have a video camera. They don't, because Fred hates them; he likes to remember things his own way, not how things actually happened. This is one of few lines in the film that sheds light on this mystery and one of the most important to remember. People recall the same event differently, each to suit one's own end. When the event is so traumatic or so vile that the individual cannot cope with the memory, the brain can destroy the memory or change it into something less horrible, even into sweet nostalgia. Reality is often hard to determine in Lost Highway. In coping with acts they cannot fathom, characters alter their memories, create other lives for themselves, and drastically change their present realities. Nearly all the events are suspect, but the film works on insane dream logic. In the end, Lost Highway leaves itself open for broad interpretation with a labyrinthine structure where stories intersect without warning and suddenly diverge into bizarre territory.
Inside this labyrinth is an explosion of sight and sound, a sensory assault that means as much as any of the dialogue. The stark contrast of bright lights and black shadowy corners that threaten to envelope the light and the juxtaposition of Angelo Badalamenti's often brilliant score with heavy industrial and metal songs reveals the light and the dark in each of these characters. For all the seeming beauty and happiness in them, each has a dark place deep inside where a monster waits to pounce. These corners of the mind are beautifully represented onscreen by cinematographer Peter Deming. The physical corners of the houses are deeply dark; they appear to go on forever. Characters disappear into this blackness and, like Agent Dale Cooper exiting the Black Lodge, change dramatically on their return. None of this would be worth very much, however, without the superb performances all around. Bill Pullman, especially, gets inside his character, alternating between a whisper and a scream in his lines and saying nearly everything with his expressions. Patricia Arquette looks ravishing as both a blonde and brunette, and Lynch films her, as with all his lead actresses, like she comes from a '50s cheesecake calendar, all curves and temptation. Yet, as with all his lead actresses, she holds power over the men in her life; they will gladly kill each other for her attentions. Robert Loggia is hilarious as the diabolical Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent and offers an extremely important lesson in why not to tailgate. Robert Blake, in what would prove to be his final appearance outside a courtroom, is one of the creepiest characters I've ever seen in film. The crazed look in his eyes and his discussions about shooting people in the head take on a horrific irony given the unfortunate events soon after the film came out.
Focus Features' long-awaited release of Lost Highway delivers everything you could want in picture and sound. While there is still the occasional grain on the anamorphic transfer, the colors and black levels are very deep and clean. The 5.1 surround is bombastic, using every speaker to its fullest extent. The dialogue is often in nearly inaudible whispers, but is quite clear and doesn't blow your ears out when these whispers turn into brutally loud screams. The only downside to this release is the complete lack of extras, unfortunate considering the Region 2 release that came out in 2006 had a number of interviews and featurettes that would, undoubtedly, be just as interesting to American and Canadian fans of the film. At this point, I've given up hope for DVD commentaries from Lynch himself, but I'm certain that some of the others involved could have been put together to give some insight into this great production.
Lost Highway is a fantastic film stuffed with sex, violence, beautiful imagery, and great performances. Its mystery is a difficult one to decipher, but the true meaning of the film is not very important. David Lynch has the unique ability to display the inner workings of the mind in a visual way and, while the film is often confounding, the emotional resonance he evokes is powerful. This film was the start of a change in Lynch's films that continued with the award-winning Mullholland Dr. and into the masterful but under appreciated Inland Empire. He's a unique filmmaker, and Lost Highway is a unique film. This is a must-have release for all fans of David Lynch.
Not guilty, and the court apologizes for holding Lost Highway in the
vaults for so long.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R