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04.02.08

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Phaedra

Lost Highway

One disc; Universal; $19.98

By Michael S. Gant


Having come to grief on the incomprehensible shoals of Inland Empire, I was relieved to learn that David Lynch's 1997 feature Lost Highway had finally made its way onto a Region 1 DVD that my player could handle. Although the themes of personality migration get a better treatment in Mulholland Dr. a few years later, Lost Highway still looks like a major watering hole on Lynch's increasingly obscure forays into the far country of dreams and visions. A haggard Bill Pullman makes an unlikely avant-garde jazz saxophonist named Fred Madison (is he supposed to be John Zorn?) with a sulky wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette in a Bettie Page wig). Mysterious videotapes start appearing in envelopes on their doorstep (Netflix the early years?); the tapes show creepy hidden-camera footage of Fred and Renee in bed—and worse. Half-way through, as if a worm hole in psychic space had opened, Fred's place in the world is taken by a baffled young man (Balthazar Getty) named Pete. The skeins of their lives start to ravel like live wires seeking a power source when Pete encounters Alice (Arquette in a blonde wig), the straying girlfriend of a hood named Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). Alice vamps Pete into a dangerous, noirish scheme to rob a porno dealer and run away from Mr. Eddy. Eventually, with some urging from the demon zone by Robert Blake in white-face makeup (looking like Joel Grey's MC in Cabaret), Fred reappears to complete a circle of crime. Several of the actors/characters exist as twinned forces in the seemingly different universes inhabited by Fred and Pete. It's as if human lives were like quantum particles that can make sudden jumps to different energy levels—or, as the film sums itself up, "There is no such thing as a bad coincidence." The action unfolds at a druggy pace in the gap between nightmare and wakefulness; Angelo Badalamenti's score includes "Various Ominous Drones" by Trent Reznor interspersed with ironic hipster tunes sung by Marilyn Manson (who shows up briefly in a faux porno clip), David Bowie and Lou Reed. The film's mood of dread is broken only by Loggia's great freak-out scene when a driver pushes him too hard on a mountain road: After savagely beating up the man and demanding that he study the driving-safety manual, Mr. Eddy explains, "Tailgating is one thing I cannot tolerate." There are no extras, which is OK, because Lynch refuses to explain his films anyway.


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