Friday, June 1, 2018

The Lynch Meditations 19: Lost Highway (1997)

WARNING: Spoilers . . . I guess? I'm not sure Lost Highway is spoil-a-ble, in the usual sense. The structure of the film is a kind of crazy loop . . .  and telling you that is the biggest spoiler of all, so, like, there you have it. I actually think the movie becomes more interesting once you've seen it once, because then you're aware of its circular, cyclical nature, and that's when the movie starts to become structurally and thematically meaningful. The characters aren't that complex or deep, consisting mostly of stock types derived from old crime novels and classic film noir and slightly tweaked to conform to the post-Tarantino late 1990s regime of edginess that many filmmakers were chasing once upon a time. Overall, Lost Highway is a film I admire for its thematic, visual, sonic,  and structural qualities, but it is not a film I can truly love. It's much too cruel for the softer, sadder 2018 version of myself.

"I don't need anything. I want."
-Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

In Lost Highway, Patricia Arquette plays a dual role as both the dark-haired victim of a jealous, psychopathic husband (played by Bill Pullman) and as a vengeful blonde femme fatale who manipulates a young and horny auto mechanic (Balthazar Getty) into seeking vengeance against a vicious Los Angeles gangster-pornographer (Robert Loggia). The Loggia character raped the future femme fatale at gunpoint when she was an aspiring actress and forced her into a career of sexual slavery which involved the production of pornographic films.

Back in '97, I perceived much of this as trashy neo-noir hyperbole emanating from the fevered imaginations of Lynch and co-screenwriter Barry Gifford-both known aficionados of classic film noir.

Now, with all the revelations about systemic oppression of women in Hollywood through means involving enforced inequality of pay and opportunity, intimidation, organized surveillance campaigns, sexual harassment, and rape several scenes in Lost Highway play like stylized historical docudrama, as opposed to the hard-boiled surrealism I previously saw this film as embodying. Lost Highway now seems-in 2018-at least as far as the vengeance plot elements in which the second Patricia Arquette character plays a significant role-to have much more to do with reality than I would have guessed. Robert Loggia's character even seems closer to the role of a jealous, violent, and controlling movie studio head than the throwback 1940s gangster I used to see him as, with his entire porno empire acting as the expression of his overwhelming sense of misogynist entitlement to total control over women's minds, bodies, and images. The idea of Hollywood as a machine that chews up and spits out women aspiring to be on the silver screen would later resurface in Lynch's Mulholland Dr. albeit in a more dramatically coherent form.

Lost Highway doesn't do much with the femme fatale plot thread, basically reducing the dual Arquette roles to secondary status since the point of view is mainly from the Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty characters, who seem to be doppelgangers of each other, or maybe protagonists from different noirish psycho-thrillers whose fates have been spliced together to serve the twisted desires of the Dracula-looking Mystery Man (played by a bug-eyed and cackling mad Robert Blake). The Mystery Man seems to be purposefully interdicting the reality of the film in order to trap the characters in an eternal, nightmarish loop of recurring psychosis and misery. The Mystery Man may also be a demon from the Black Lodge of the Twin Peaks Universe, and, therefore, his motivation in creating the eternal loop of the Lost Highway might be to use that loop as a kind of mystical superconducting super collider to produce quantities of garmonbozia ("pain and sorrow") to feed his own endless hunger by crashing the characters against each other over and over again until the end of time.

The Mystery Man is often seen with a camcorder in his hand, and videotape is a format associated in this film with pornography, exploitation, and bondage. The Mystery Man seems to be recording this hellscape of trapped souls for at home, masturbatory use thereby suggesting how ensnared this all-powerful demon is in his own appetites. Unlike the rest of the characters, though, the Mystery Man seems to relish his prison of eternal recurrence.

So, have a care, viewers: watch Lost Highway, if you're curious, if you're a Lynch completist. Just don't get caught in the loop of garmonbozia . . .

NEXT: 8/10/18: The Straight Story (1999)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Lynch Meditations -19

Lost Highway on pan-and-scan VHS in the late 1990s . . . it almost felt like an elaborate, deeply sick prank on the home viewing audience. The widescreen compositions totally obliterated. The already dark cinematography downgraded into absolute murk. Whispered dialogue overpowered by a burst of violently blaring buddy-cop flick saxophone. A circular structure that renders the movie either utterly pointless or filled to overflowing with metaphysical significance-you decide! I honestly couldn't decide at the time if this movie was incomprehensible garbage, or if it was brilliant big-screen art ruined by a shitass VHS release. In fact, watching this movie on tape pretty much turned me against the VHS format. VHS tapes within the plot of this film seem to be symbols of evil, sinister distortions of reality, and murderous madness. Anyone who professes a hipsterish affinity for the rightly bygone format should be made to watch the pan-and-scan Lost Highway on tape-that'll straighten their pretentious ass out!

So motherfuck VHS into a molten puddle of plastic with a thousand blowtorches.

Some years after I first watched the movie, I bought the soundtrack on used CD, and Lost Highway became one of those movies-like Conan the Barbarian and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-where I listened to the soundtrack many more times than I actually watched the movie. It was the kind of CD I could just put on and listen to straight through without having to skip any boring or grating tracks. The soundtrack became a kind of condensation of a version of the original movie that somewhat existed in my memory-a highlights reel of the parts that made the strongest impression: Robert Blake's bug-eyed vampire mystery man; Robert Loggia's comically macho gangster; a man impaled through the forehead on the corner of a coffee table; David Bowie's sepulchral voice singing over a first person camera POV racing down the road in the middle of the night; the usually bland and non-threatening Bill Pullman transforming through flashing lights and Jacob's Ladder-style head vibrations into . . . Balthazar Getty of all things.

Lost Highway never worked on my mind as a complete movie. It hit me as a kind of fragmented, postmodern multimedia experience. Here's some images, here's some bursts of spoken word performance, there's the curated soundtrack, it's all kind of connected, but not so much for me. Overall, Lost Highway seemed like it was either much smarter than me as an audience, or that an hour of footage had been left out that might have made it work better as a narrative. I always assumed-wrongly-that there was a more expansive director's cut lurking within some unauthorized dub no doubt recorded in Extended Play Mode-maybe it would turn up in a Luminous Film Works catalog someday . . .

So what will I make of Lost Highway now that I'm older, wiser, more experienced?
Yes, this is the question that must be answered . . .

Once the post-desire economy picked up, my sibling was able to afford to move into a new body.