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  • Writer's pictureJohn Parker

‘Lost Highway’ Criterion Collection Blu-ray review

“It’s like another universe he takes you to. Like an alternate reality, but it’s close enough to our own to be really disturbing.” This is spoken by Patricia Arquette in one of the special features, and I don’t think anyone has ever more eloquently articulated what it is that makes a David Lynch film “a David Lynch film.” And ‘Lost Highway’ is most definitely a David Lynch film. A murder mystery, a pulpy film-noir, and a twisted and lurid erotic thriller all in one. Gorgeously restored by the Criterion Collection, this new release is an essential purchase (with a caveat that I will come to later).

Bill Pullman is Fred Madison, a jazz musician living in LA with his glamorous wife Renee (Patricia Arquette in a striking brunette wig). They are going through a difficult period in their marriage, and Fred is suspicious of her. Then someone starts leaving anonymous videotapes on their porch. The videos are scratchy footage from outside their house, but then one of them is taken from inside the house, filming Fred and Renee whilst they sleep.

An encounter with an extremely creepy mystery man at a party—whilst Renee flirts with other men—does little to calm Fred’s nerves. The next morning another videotape arrives which he watches alone. It shows him hovering over Renee’s gruesomely murdered body. Fred is arrested for her murder and sentenced to death. This is where shit gets really weird. Whilst on death row, Fred disappears. A young man named Pete (Balthazar Getty) is found in his cell instead, with no memory of how he ended up there.

The narrative fractures and the film morphs into a surreal film-noir, with Arquette returning as Alice Wakefield (now a platinum blonde femme-fatale), the girlfriend of gangster Mr Eddy (Robert Loggia). She begins an affair with Pete, and coerces him into a scam to rob someone, so they can run away together. Small details from Fred’s story start to bleed into this one, and the plot begins to lead us on a nightmarish circular odyssey to god know’s where.

Over the years, ‘Lost Highway’ hasn’t been one of Lynch’s more celebrated pieces of work, but it is an astonishing film, operating on multiple levels. He has called the film a “psychogenic fugue”, suggesting some sort of dissociative state might be the reason for what is happening. Whatever it is, Lynch isn’t concerned with it, and neither should the viewer. The core of ‘Lost Highway’ is really an exploration of male anxieties, and the darker aspects of a relationship. Whether it be infidelity (real or imagined), feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and rage. The violating sense of another man being in your home. In your bedroom. Filming you as you sleep. It’s not subtle what he’s getting at here.

Then there are the repeated visual motifs of people walking into darkness and re-emerging as something (or someone) else. He is asking us: what do we invite into ourselves as we stare into the darkness? Then from a technical standpoint, he does things with lighting, sound, composition, and camera movement that no other director does. A cinematic language all his own. Woozy and terrifying and filled with possibilities.

But he isn’t just about symbolism and brilliantly designed images. There’s a deep emotional thread running through the film, and you feel that in the performances. Pullman and Getty are terrific as the two repressed men at the heart of this mystery. Robert Loggia gives a scene-stealing turn as Mr Eddy, and his ferocious assault of a tailgater on Mulholland Drive is an iconic moment. However, the film belongs to Patricia Arquette. Styled like a 50s bombshell, her fearless, dead-pan performance as Renee/Alice is astonishing, and the beating dark heart of a very dark film.

Having had a somewhat troubled home video history, it is great to finally have a definitive release of this film. However, as noted at the top of the review, there is a caveat. In the US, Criterion have released a Blu-ray edition, and a 4K UHD edition. The UHD comes in a gorgeous digipack release, which is in keeping with all previous David Lynch films on the Criterion label. In the UK however, we have only got the blu-ray edition, and it is in a regular clamshell case. It’s hard not to feel that UK physical media collectors have been slightly short changed yet again.

The supplementary features on the disc kick off with ‘Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch’ which is Toby Keeler’s feature length documentary from 1997. ‘Lost Highway’ is the predominant focus of the film, however there is wider discussion of Lynch’s career, with sections focused on ‘Eraserhead’ ‘Twin Peaks’ ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘The Elephant Man’. The film also features interviews with many of Lynch’s collaborators from throughout his career. One of the highlights sees him in the workshop helping to build the furniture for the expressionist sets in ‘Lost Highway’.

‘Next Door to Dark’ is a 43-minute audio recording of David Lynch and co-author Kristine McKenna reading a chapter from their 2018 book ‘Room to Dream’. This is followed by ‘The Making of Lost Highway’ which is a fairly run of the mill behind-the-scenes featurette from 1997, with interviews with the main cast and crew. There’s also a ten-minute archival interview with Lynch from 1997, and the theatrical release trailer.

The booklet that comes with the release contains an excerpt from Chris Rodley’s essential book ‘Lynch on Lynch’.


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