Thursday, June 09, 2011

Lost Highway

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/11/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Following a career backlash, the cancellation of his TV show Twin Peaks, and the barrage of bad reviews from fans and critics for its prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. David Lynch went into hiding as from 1992 through 1995, he spent his days working on experimental projects and short-lived TV projects. Finally in 1996, David Lynch decided to return to the world of feature films with a dark, film noir-inspired film that would not only return him to the twisted, surrealism of his previous film work. It also marked a new transition into his film career with the 1997 film Lost Highway.

Directed by Lynch with a script he co-wrote with Wild at Heart novelist Barry Gifford, Lost Highway tells the story of a jazz musician who suspects his wife is having an affair while delving into an underworld that included voyeuristic videos and a mysterious man. After being suspected for murder, the musician suddenly turns himself into a young mechanic who falls for a gangster's mistress. Inspired by noir films of the past including Edgar G. Ulmer's 1945 cult-film Detour, Lynch enters into a mysterious world as he re-shapes the film noir genre for a new generation. Starring Bull Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Robert Blake, and in their final film appearances, Richard Pryor and Jack Nance. Lost Highway is a haunting, surreal, and enchanting take on film noir by David Lynch.

In his posh, Los Angeles home on the Hollywood Hills, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) hears his doorbell ringing for intercom as he hears a man's voice saying "Dick Laurent is dead". Later that night, Fred goes out to play at a club while his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) is at home. When he calls her after his performance, she doesn't answer as he finds her sleeping when he returned home. The next morning, Renee wakes up to find a manila envelope on her front doorsteps. She and Fred learn it's a videotape of their house being filmed. Things get stranger the next day when another videotape surface that showed the couple sleeping in their bedroom. After calling a couple of detectives named Al (John Roselius) and Ed (Louis Eppolito), things don't get better when Fred tells Renee of a nightmare he has that involved a mysterious man (Robert Blake).

Going to a party of Renee's friend Andy (Michael Massee), Fred's suspicions about Renee having extramarital affairs make him uneasy. Things get stranger when the mysterious man he saw in his dream appeared at the party. The two talk briefly as the man claimed he's at his house. Fred doesn't believe him until he called at his own house to see that the man is at his home. Spooked by what happened, he and Renee return home as he asked Renee about Andy. The night gets darker as the things Fred sees haunt him and the next morning gets even stranger. Another videotape surfaces in which he sees the same images and a new one, Fred kneeling down covered in blood as he finds Renee dead. Guilty of murder and sent to be electrocuted, Fred suddenly has awful headaches. The visions Fred sees in his head starts to unravel as a blue light starts to blink as the headaches become awfully worse.

The next day, a guard finds a different man in Fred's cell that turned out to be a 24-year old mechanic named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). Immediately released back to his parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler), Pete has no recollections of how he got into a jail cell while he decided to rest at home. After joining a couple of his friends (Giovanni Ribisi and Scott Coffey), he also rekindles his relationship with girlfriend Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner). Returning to work as a mechanic for Arnie (Richard Pryor), he is also greeted with delight by a gangster named Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). Unbeknownst to Pete, two detectives named Hank (Carl Sundstrom) and Lou (John Solari) are watching out for him as Pete rides with Mr. Eddy, who is also known as Dick Laurent. The next day, Pete meets Mr. Eddy's mistress Alice Wakefield (Patricia Arquette) who comes to his garage the day later to seduce Pete.

The two begin an affair only to cause more trouble as Mr. Eddy suspects something. Meanwhile, his relationship with Sheila falls apart as Pete seems to have no memory of what happened the night he was sent into Fred's jail cell. After another meeting with Alice, she tells him about a guy named Andy and her first meeting with Mr. Eddy as she hopes to steal money from Andy in order to escape. The robbery was a success except that Pete starts to have increasingly bad headaches as reality and fiction begin to blur even further. Hoping to meet a man who could help them, Fred makes his return to unravel the mystery of the mysterious man as well as Laurent, Alice, and Renee.

While a lot of the imagery, style, and caricatures are definitely inspired by film noir, David Lynch and co-writer Barry Gifford chose to play with the cliches of the genre adding new twists as well. The result is a mind-bending film that still brings more questions than answers when the mystery is unraveled. Yet, this is part of what is expected from Lynch who is a storyteller that never reveals a lot of details or what the film is about. Instead, he leaves it up to the viewer to make their own guess or interpretation about what the film is about. If one was to make an idea of what it's about, it's about a man trying to figure out about his wife's affairs, her murder, and then turns into a young mechanic who falls for a doppleganger as he delves into a world of pornography, crime, and voyeurism.

The stylized dialogue is very true to the tradition of noir while remaining modern that includes information that relates to the film plot. Both Renee and Alice have similar dialogue in their meeting that relates to Andy that eventually, revealed a darker story. The characters of Pete and Fred are similar though it's Pete that has to deal with the fact that he might be a different person. Fred has a more interesting development where he starts off as a paranoid, suspicious man until he returns late in the film as he becomes a darker character. Then there's the mysterious man. Who he is? His name is never revealed and his motives aren't clear either. Yet, he's there but is he real? All of this is part of Lynch's approach to surrealism.

The direction of Lynch is definitely top notch as he aims for a more intimate look that is reminiscent of film noir. Yet, he also goes for that Lynchian style of strange characters, symbolic images, and dreamy compositions. The film's low-key look works to convey the suspense as well as the paranoia inside Fred's head. The look of the film also has that sense of being from the perspective of Fred Madison and Pete Dayton. They're both having very surreal images where the look of the film almost has a horror-like feel while the use of a video camera also creates a sense of horror in conveying that dark feel of voyeurism. While audiences might feel confused by its complex plot and Lynch's eerie direction, even in the end, the film still proves that Lynch still has some tricks up his sleeve.

Cinematographer Peter Deming brings a wonderfully stylish look to the film that is very intimate with a grainy-like look to add the film-noir look. The use of colored lights also adds to the film's mood to show where the characters are while some wonderful, dreamy images are made to convey the style of Lynch. Lynch's then-partner and editor Mary Sweeney adds style that emphasize the film's unique tone and duality theme as if the film is told in an almost, non-linear style. Production designer/costume designer Patricia Norris and set decorator Leslie Morales help create the film's dark look with posh-like designs on some of the film's mansion scenes to the motel that is pure noir with its intimate look. Norris' work on the costumes also have film noir with the evening dresses that Renee wears to the old-school 40s clothing that Alice wears while the men wear a range of suits to street clothing.

Sound editor Frank Gaeta along with Lynch on sound design create an array of sounds to add a horror-like tone to the film where it brings suspense that also includes ominous sound overtones courtesy of Nine Inch Nails' leader Trent Reznor and Coil's Peter Christopherson. The film's soundtrack includes music from Lynch's longtime collaborator Angelo Badalamenti brings a diverse film score that includes dark, ominous classical cuts with the Prague Philharmonic that is in the noir style. Other tracks by Badalamenti range from ambient-like electronic music to a wide array of jazz from freestyle to sultry with contributions from David Lynch. Another composer added to the mix is Barry Adamson, formerly of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, who brings some wonderful theme music to the character of Mr. Eddy along with mixes of jazz and electronic music.

The rest of the soundtrack is helmed and supervised by NIN leader Trent Reznor. Along with his own sound work and an industrial score piece, he also contributes the hit song The Perfect Drug while former protegee` Marilyn Manson brings in a couple of cuts. The film open and closes with two variations of I'm Deranged by David Bowie from his 1995 album Outside while Bowie's art-rock cohort Lou Reed brings a cover of This Magic Moment. The Smashing Pumpkins brings an eerie electronic track called Eye while the German industrial band Rammstein brings in a couple of rocking tracks. Adding to the film's dark, dreamy soundtrack though not on the actual soundtrack album is a cover of Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren by the 4AD label outfit This Mortal Coil as it's sung hauntingly and beautifully by Elisabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins accompanied by its guitarist Robin Guthrie. Overall, the film's soundtrack is a real highlight of the film.

The casting is wonderfully assembled with cameos and appearances from Henry Rollins as a prison guard, Marilyn Manson and then-Manson bassist Jeordie White as porn stars, Lisa Boyle as a porn star, Giovanni Ribisi and Lynch regular Scott Coffey as Pete's buddies, and in his final film role just before his death in December of 1996 is Lynch regular Jack Nance as crazed-eye mechanic named Phil. Richard Pryor, in his final film appearance before his death in 2005, is excellent as head mechanic Arnie, where despite his illness from Parkinson's disease, Pryor lights up any scene he's in. Lucy Butler and Gary Busey make great appearances as Pete Dayton's parents with Busey showing restraint and care as a father who is haunted by the moment his son had disappeared. John Roselius, Louis Eppolito, Carl Sundstrom, and John Solari are great as the detectives who investigate the different crimes while Sundstrom and Solari get to have hilarious one-liners.

Michael Massee is excellent as the sleazy Andy, a guy who seems to love a lot of porn and women while not have a clue to the associates of Mr. Eddy. Natasha Gregson Wagner is good as Pete's girlfriend Sheila, a girl who noticed that he's changed since his disappearance while trying to keep him grounded. In what is possibly his last film role before his notorious murder trial a few years ago, Robert Blake gives a chilling performance as the Mysterious Man who is a troubling voyeur that always carry a video camera or a telephone. Blake, wearing lipstick and no eyebrows with a painted white face, is a very scary man in this film and his presence remains haunting. Robert Loggia is in great form as a gangster who has a lot of charm and wit despite his dangerous persona. Loggia has a great scene that involves a tailgate driver who did something stupid that proves that tailgating is bad.

Balthazar Getty is in solid form as Pete Dayton, a confused, troubled young mechanic who is unaware of what has happened to him. Getty's performance serves as a wonderful plot device in relation to the theme of duality. Getty has to be this young man who is torn between two different women while trying to figure out is he really himself or is he possessed all of a sudden as Getty does some fantastic work. Bill Pullman is also in amazing form as Fred Madison, a man whose suspicions lead him to a possible murder and then returning to discovery about his wife. Pullman's performance is also strangely subtle as he doesn't do anything very dramatic but rather observe what's going on around him. It's definitely one of his more underrated performances, aside from Spaceballs.

The film's best performance truly goes to Patricia Arquette in her double-duty role in playing both Renee and Alice. In the role of Renee, Arquette dons a brunette hair style that is reminiscent of noir-style female characters while being very secretive and worrisome as that character is revealed whether she's having an affair. Then as Alice, Arquette shows more of her sex appeal in this femme fatale role as she is a bit more humorous, charismatic, and engaging. Arquette has that dream-like quality that makes her perfect for both roles as this reveals to be one of her more overlooked performances in her diverse career in working with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese.

While it's not a perfect film, especially for general audiences, Lost Highway is still an amazing, complex, provocative noir film from David Lynch and company. Fans of Lynch will no doubt enjoy the film's layered story as well as surrealistic directing style. Those new to the director will enjoy the images and style that Lynch has taken into a genre. With a great cast and an amazing film soundtrack (that is unfortunately out of print), it's a film that will test the mind as well as expectations for the genre. For a film that takes an old genre with unique twists and turns, Lost Highway is the film to go see and who better from the always provocative David Lynch.

© thevoid99 2011

No comments: