Movie review: `Lost Highway'

March 12, 1997|By Jason Myers

The world of independent filmmaking has slowly but surely made its way into the cinematic consciousness over the last 20 years.

As mainstream Hollywood barrels down a never-ending path of bathos and bang, audiences sometimes look for more edifying movies - four of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award this year were independently financed.

Though none of his films in particular has met with anything greater than cult status, David Lynch is arguably the pioneer of independent filmmaking. Twenty years ago he crashed into pop culture with his hallucinatory "Eraserhead." Ever since, he has tried to deliver unique, honest artistic expressions.

The results have been divergent. "The Elephant Man" is perhaps the most eloquent movie ever about tolerance and acceptance.

"Blue Velvet" cheekily subverted our naive perceptions of what goes on in small-town America. Just about every other thing he did, however, reeked of pretentious audacity and perversion. Now he leads the adventurous filmgoer down "Lost Highway," a spooky and often brilliant cinematic experience.


Like "Blue Velvet," "Lost Highway" seems to take place in that unknown nexus between dream and reality.

In many ways, "Highway" is a better film. It is much more fluid and hypnotic.

Lynch never has been one for photographic craftsmanship - his movies truly look like they were made on a shoestring budget.

With "Highway," however, he has created a dense, feverish visual poetry. The cinemato-graphy of Peter Deming has a soulful intensity. He suffuses certain scenes with rich hews of red and green, and captures others with a potent pallor.

"Lost Highway" is a movie about angles - narrative angles, angles of a character's spiel and visual angles.

The house of Fred and Renee Madison (Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette) is a series of contrasting lines and angles - a triangular table here, a curving staircase there. The home is perhaps the most haunting character in the film - Lynch and Deming have drenched it with brooding, creepy persona.

It seems that somebody has been breaking into the house and filming Fred and Renee as they sleep. Every morning a manilla envelope containing a videotape is placed on the staircase ascending to their front door. Lynch once again taps deeply into our voyeuristic neuroses - we watch with lip-smacking intrigue as Fred and Renee see the camera edge closer to their bed. Lynch unfolds the relationship of Fred and Renee - whom Fred suspects of having an affair - with nail-biting tension and tease.

There's a terrifically unnerving scene where Fred encounters Mystery Man (Robert Blake) at a party and makes the most surrealistic and scary phone call in movie history.

The first hour of "Lost Highway" is a neo-Gothic noir masterpiece, even if its central storyline isn't all that original. Then it gets its Lynchian treatment. In another grainy videotape scene, with Trent Reznor's lush soundscape creeping ominously in, we see that Renee has been brutally murdered. Fred does not recall a thing, but he goes to death row for the crime. One morning when a guard checks in his cell, Fred has vanished - replaced by a young hood, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). At this point, "Lost Highway" loses its steam and becomes purely conceptual. Lynch fails to capitalize on his thesis that identity is transitory and ambiguous by making the second half of his movie a sluggish, typical bore.

The love triangle between Pete, Alice (also played by Arquette), and Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) is the warmed-over stuff of any film noir. The saucy subplot involving Alice and porno movies helps little. There are a few genuinely ingenious moments, most of them again involving Mystery Man, but Lynch succumbs to his own ostentatious - and mostly inscrutable - indulgences.

He does succeed in drawing tremendous performances. Pullman never has been better, conveying the despair, lost lusts and utter confusion of Fred. Arquette exudes mystery and sexiness in both her roles, even though Lynch makes her bare a considerable amount of flesh. Robert Blake is ghoulishly good, even if his character is only slight variation of the dwarf from "Twin Peaks."

Lynch has yet to bind his schism between genius and glamour - he has the prior, yet he is insistent on relying on the latter. His film is therefore divided, the first half representing the artistic purity of independence, the second half the sell-out sensationalism of Hollywood. B

- Jason Myers, North Hagerstown High School junior

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