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Lost Highway

Tue, Mar 3 2015 10:00 pm - 12:30 am


There’s a lot to be said about Lost Highway. For starters, it’s perhaps the most transitional work in David Lynch’s filmography, the point at which his relatively straightforward noir narratives, as seen in Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, began to fracture into the more abstract territory explored in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. It’s also curious for how it fits into the post-grunge, post-Tarantino mainstream alternative boom, with its jarring alt-rock soundtrack and cameos by Henry Rollins and Marilyn Manson. Then there’s the totemic nature of the fact that, in a single scene, we get our final glimpses of both Lynch regular Jack Nance (shortly before his fatal donut shop brawl) and comedy legend Richard Pryor (clearly already in the grip of multiple sclerosis).

As I said, there’s a lot going on in Lost Highway. But when I think about the film, I primarily think of one scene. (Spoilers, I guess, if you don’t want to read about the most famous scene in a twenty-year-old film).

The first portion of Lost Highway concerns free-jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renée (Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette), who begin finding unlabeled VHS tapes on their doorstep of the outside of their house, and, eventually, of themselves sleeping. Maybe half an hour in, the Madisons attend a swanky Hollywood party, where Fred meets a strange man wearing pale white and red make-up (chillingly played by Robert Blake; in the tradition of Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge denizens, the character is credited simply as “Mystery Man”). Grinning like a Cheshire Cat, the Mystery Man approaches Madison: “We’ve met before, haven’t we? At your house. Don’t you remember? As a matter of fact, I’m there right now. At your house. Call me. Dial your number. Go ahead.” Fred obliges, calling his house on his cell phone, and Blake answers the phone.

It’s a hell of a scene – by my estimation, one of Lynch’s all-time best. It encapsulates nearly everything Lynch is famous for: the dreamy surrealism, the uneasy humor, the tour-de-force characterizations, all permeated by a distinct feeling of inexplicability. (That Blake would shortly thereafter go on trial for allegedly murdering his wifeat a swanky Hollywood party – only adds to the eeriness). It also holds a special place in my heart. As a teenager, my first exposure to David Lynch was the excellent 1997 documentary Pretty as a Picture, which centered on the shooting of Lost Highway (this was on Bravo, back when that channel was “The Performing Arts Network” and not “The Awful Rich People Screaming At Each Other Network”). That scene, along with the first glimpse of Bob in Twin Peaks, made it clear to me that this David Lynch character was a director worth checking out – which I did, which led me to other, equally adventurous filmmakers, which led me to film school, which ultimately led to me writing for the film section of Boston Hassle. So, thank you, you Kabuki-faced, wife-murdering Little Rascal, for setting me down the road to truth.


Lost Highway
dir. David Lynch
134 min.

Part of the ongoing series Damn Fine Cinema: The Films of David Lynch


Tue, Mar 3 2015
10:00 pm - 12:30 am
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Brattle Theatre
40 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States
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All Ages
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