Lost Highway (Polygram 1996 with Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette and Robert Blake)

USA / Polygram – City 2000 – Asymmetrical / 134 minutes / 1996

Writers: David Lynch, Barry Gifford / Director: David Lynch

Cast: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Gary Busey, Robert Loggia

One of director David Lynch’s best films, as well as one of his most baffling. Lynch lets floating symbols plucked from pop-culture-Americana drift into vaguely recognisable motifs, only to sink apart just before their meaning can be grasped, leaving nothing but a nagging aftertaste.

Lost Highway was the director’s first film for four years after the disappointment that surrounded Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me . Tantalising, sensual and deeply unnerving, it is, according to the Guardian , “the most radical, dreamlike and complicated movie he’s ever made… (but) a nightmare worth suffering.”

Conventional implementation of time, space and identity fly into the ether in the film’s narrative. At a party, paranoid saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is troubled by the idea of his wife’s infidelity – and that’s before he begins to receive videotapes showing him murdering her – and a meeting with Beelzebub in the shape of painted freak Robert Blake is a taste of things to come. Before he can say his prayers, Fred’s been convicted of butchering his (possibly) unfaithful brunette wife Renee (Patricia Arquette), and sentenced to the electric chair. On Death Row he metamorphoses into Peter (Balthazar Getty), a hunky young mechanic with no recollection of how he got there. With no sign of Fred, the authorities must let Peter go, and he goes back to live with his dad (Gary Busey) and work at a garage run by Arnee (Richard Pryor).

Arnee’s top client is Mr Eddy (Robert Loggia), a gangster-cum-porn-emperor with a volcanic temper and a tasty broad called Alice. Alice (also played by Arquette) is a classic blonde femme-fatale, a siren who lures Peter into a horrific noir plot of sex, theft and murder that segues back to the start of Fred’s story.

Confused? You will be. But then, as Anne Billson noted in the Sunday Telegraph , “the plot is hardly the point, and doesn’t begin to suggest what makes this film such a mesmerising and unsettling experience… a unique blend of film noir, psychological horror and the sort of dreamlike logic in which one character can be in two places at the same time.”

Extra aural terrorism comes from songs by Lou Reed, David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson.

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