Lost Highway (1997)


*. Let’s start off with some first impressions. They are not favourable.
*. The credits look terrible. What’s going on, Dave?
*. The road dissolves, a cigarette is lit and . . . I can’t see anything. There’s a voice on the intercom, and the man is talking to a woman, and . . . I can’t hear anything. I love you, Dave. But . . . damn.
*. Don’t bother adjusting your settings. This movie is muddy and dark, the dialogue whispered and mumbled. The texture out-Altmans Altman. Though in aid of very different ends.
*. Blue Velvet was a work of genius. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was horrific crap. Put them together and you get Lost Highway.
*. Does this mean I split the difference? I wish. Unfortunately, the bad Lynch outscores the good Lynch pretty thoroughly here. There are signs of recovery from the catastrophic total-systems-failure of Fire Walk With Me, but we don’t get far enough away from its suck.
*. Has any movie outside of a porn flick spent so much time leering over people kissing and fucking? How tedious it gets. I started wondering how bored Lynch must have been setting these scenes up and spending all day filming them. Day after day after day.
*. At least, I hope he found it boring.
*. Lynch does swing between these highs and lows. The first season of Twin Peaks was an incredible achievement, the second a spectacular failure. And the drop off was not because Lynch was less involved as time went by. The second-season episodes he directed were weak, and the finale was a disaster.
*. I have a hunch he was upset that he had to give away the whole “Bob” mystery in Twin Peaks. In Lost Highway he would take his secrets with him to the grave. Will we ever know what the Mystery Man whispers to Fred at the end? No. Not that it would be important or explain anything anyway.
*. Roger Ebert was not impressed: “This movie is about design, not cinema.” I have a feeling Lynch would agree. More pointedly, Ebert takes Lynch to task for offering up a handful of air, a movie that makes no sense and has no point. The auteur cannot make it cohere.
*. These are the eternal questions we ask of dreams. Do they make sense? Do they mean anything? Do they have a point? Freud spoke of a “dream logic” that allowed for analysis and interpretation, but I’m not sure the majority opinion agrees with Freud today. In any event, the bottom line is that dreams are never as significant or interesting to anyone other than the dreamer him- or herself. Telling people about your dreams is usually considered the height of self-indulgence. And that’s not a charge this movie escapes.
*. Take, for example, the mysterious line “Dick Laurent is dead.” This comes from an incident that happened to Lynch, when someone buzzed his apartment with that message. In the movie it doesn’t make sense because there is no Dick Laurent. It’s only in the credits that we find out that this is a name for Mr. Eddy in Universe B.
*. From Eraserhead on Lynch has been fascinated with dreams and how or what they communicate to us. His characters are often unsure of whether they’re awake or asleep. Or sleepwalking. Pullman and Getty seem to be sleepwalking.
*. Lots of close-ups, but the faces seem as blank and posed as album covers. Where do you see people in this movie emote? Even Fred’s anguish has to be presented via flashing lights and herky-jerky editing.


*. I’ve mentioned how I find all the lovemaking tedious. Actually, the whole film is pretty tedious. Even the dialogue seems to be paced with the halting mid-steps of a funeral march. Throwaway lines are left hanging for seconds before being either ignored (and the question asked again) or given an obvious answer. Exchanges of dialogue play out as slow and inane.
*. Example: First Detective: This is the bedroom? Second Detective: You sleep here in this room? Both of you? Long pause. Fred: This is our bedroom. First Detective: There’s no other bedroom? Long pause. Fred: No. Long pause. I mean I use it as a practice room. It’s soundproof.
*. At times there are pauses that go on so long one feels they must be mistakes. Pete asks his mom who it is who is calling him. Beat. Beat. Beat. Answer: “He won’t give his name.” Why the delay? It’s both unnatural and insignficant. This time-delay manner of speech is just one of the very annoying things the movie does.
*. Different directors like to drag a shot or a particular sequence out for different reasons. I think of the almost loving loss of momentum you get in Herzog and Tarkovsky, especially when they turn their gaze toward nature. Lynch, however, seems to be doing it just to piss you off.
*. Re-watching this film in order to do this commentary I confess I sometimes walked away for a minute or two and let it keep playing in the background while I was doing other things. I almost never do that, on principle. But here I couldn’t resist.
*. Robert Blake’s Mystery Man is fun, and apparently the kabuki-style make-up was his own idea. But be honest: don’t you spend most of the movie waiting for him to reappear and liven things up a bit? Alas, he’s never as good as in the initial phone-call scene.
*. This was Richard Pryor’s last movie. And he does nothing. I’m not sure why he even has a speaking part.
*. The mailed videotape idea was stolen by Michael Haneke in Hidden, and why not? It’s a wonderfully creepy idea, and frankly Haneke does a lot more with it. Why the Mystery Man is taping things is not only never explained, but impossible to even speculate about.
*. The plot of the second half is noir formula, which makes you wonder if something else is going on. Perhaps Fred/Pete has just been staying up late watching old movies.
*. Is the mystery solveable? Probably not. My assumption is that Fred’s story is the “real” story and that he just imagines Pete Dayton as an alter ego. The Mystery Man I see as a quasi-supernatural being sort of like Delbert Grady in The Shining. There are loose ends to this interpretation, but it probably fits what we have the best.
*. Whatever explanation is or isn’t used, the actual story seems to me a rather simple one, only stretched to inordinate length.


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