Lost Highway

Lost Highway ★★★½

The first time I saw Lost Highway was 2006 at BAM in downtown Brooklyn. I left the auditorium and everything seemed wrong: there was no one outside on an eerily deserted street on a Saturday afternoon. I walked to the subway to visit my friend in Manhattan and there was no one on the platform, just a loud, previously unnoticed hum from the lights. The train arrived and it was empty except for the blatantly mentally ill. Not until I got out and emerged on 2nd Ave. did things start to seem normal; for 25 minutes, I was living in David Lynch's world and it was predictably unnerving. (The rest of the day was better: I talked my friend into going to NYFF for Syndromes and a Century, which made me feel better, and then we went for a 3-movie day — not my favorite, but I was feeling punchy — with The Black Dahlia, which quickly deflated the mood.)

Lynch has a genius for deranging your perception of the world around, seeing it in the same way he does for temporary, disturbing spells. My reaction to Lost Highway 11 years later was basically the same, but with more severity regarding its shortfalls: the Bill Pullman section is dark and compelling but slightly monotonous as it attenuatedly proceeds, the Balthazar Getty build-up is fascinating and unexpectedly comic, the ending is a trip. And yet — and I thought this when I was 20 and profoundly messed-up but with no tools to introspect on this — the way it pathologizes sex is incredibly adolescent and unsophisticated. The key instigating/triggering incident is Bill Pullman suffering from erectile dysfunction, filmed with the gravity of, say, a genocide flashback, which coincides with the basically unfounded suspicion that his wife is cheating on him, and possibly filming hardcore pornography as well. (I have a story about this [not about me!] that I can't share on the internet, ask me IRL.) All of which turns out to be true! "You'll never have me," Patricia Arquette malevolently whispers after having perfect-long-hair tousled sex in the desert, like an outtake from the Lynch-directed "Wicked Thing" video, and wanders off into the darkness. In the visual language Lynch overtly appropriates, she's the atomic bomb in Kiss Me Deadly. At home in one of her two identities, her morning heels/robe getup is '40s domesticity with a festish-y update; even in a normative state, after just getting up, women are giving off danger signals. This is not a sophisticated movie in many ways, but it's nothing if not honest about Lynch's fears, and there's an embarrassing, unashamed honor in that.

With greater distance from the '90s, it's clear how much of that decade this is: Marilyn Manson! Balthazar Getty and his baggy khaki, near-cargo pants! All his trashy friends and their terrible music, rejected refugees from an extras open call from Scream. It is possibly the most Lynch has allowed himself to be Of The Moment. Watching it after Twin Peaks: The Return, it's impossible not to see how much of this was revisited. Robert Blake's desert cabin is the convenience store; Bill Pullman's epileptically-lighted sax solo is Nine Inch Nails performing "She's Gone Away"; the two doofy, Laurel-and-Hardy sized cops become three when Janey goes to the police. The "apartment" Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette live in is plunged into darkness even when it's radiant morning, with an artificial gasp of "sunlight" on the media cabinet more conspicuous given how blinds-drawn-down dark everything else; this is a subjective, constructed environment rather than any pretense to the real thing, and The Return is part-installation amplifying this massively. (Lynch's interest in construction and woodwork, in creating physical realities, is eternally germane.) The Night of a Thousand Stars casting? 11 years ago I didn't even know who Gary Busey was; someone needs to interview Johanna Ray about her bizarre and fascinating meta-casting, which clearly meets the rarely-acknowledged-vidiot side of Lynch somehwere special. (No way Richard Pryor wasn't cast in part for his abusive past, which people didn't know about as much back then but which was a mitigated part of his act.)

Twin Peaks: The Return is the refinement and Rosetta Stone of Lynch's filmography; it will cast a decoder ring spell over all his work going forward. This is, in many ways, Lynch's least puzzling work; once you know it's inspired by the idea of O.J. Simpson going into a disassociative fugue, it all crunches, and it's pretty intuitive in general. It is even siller than I realized when I was 20. But the insane blacks in the apartment are so gorgeous on 35mm (we have to wait for laser projectors before we can see real black again), the Getty half is one of the most compellingly unstable (and funny!) segments of Lynch's career, this is definitely fun to watch, and there's at least three iconic bits (opening credits, "call me," tailgating). Remember when it came out to terrible reviews? My local arthouse displayed the poster with the "Two Thumbs Down" blurb and roped off part of the lobby with orange tape and construction blinkers. I'm glad nine years after that I finally caught up, I'm glad to have seen it again, and I would like to see it one more time before I die. A lot of things we like as kids and teens don't hold up at all; it's reassuring to know Lynch is an exception. He introduced me to Slow Cinema at 13 with The Straight Story, and he will never leave my head.

If you are in the mood for me getting punchy on the internet, here are some bonus Thoughts on the Is It TV Or Memorex debate re: Twin Peaks: The Return.