Lost Highway (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Lynch|
|Music by||Angelo Badalamenti|
|Edited by||Mary Sweeney|
|Distributed by||October Films|
|Box office||$3.8 million|
Lost Highway is a 1997 French-American neo-noir film directed by David Lynch and co-written by Lynch and Barry Gifford. It stars Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, and Robert Blake. The film follows a Los Angeles musician who begins receiving mysterious VHS tapes of him and his wife in their home, and who is suddenly convicted of murder, after which he inexplicably disappears and is replaced by a young mechanic leading a different life.
Despite initially receiving mixed reviews, Lost Highway has developed a cult following and has been retrospectively championed by some prominent film critics. Lost Highway's surreal narrative structure has been likened to a Möbius strip by critics. Lynch has described the film as a psychogenic fugue rather than a conventionally logical story. In 2003, the film was adapted as an opera by the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, with a libretto by Elfriede Jelinek.
One day, Fred Madison, a Los Angeles saxophonist, receives a message on the intercom of his house: "Dick Laurent is dead." The next morning, his wife Renee finds a VHS tape on their porch containing a video of their house. After having sex, Fred sees Renee's face as that of a pale old man, then tells her he had a dream about someone resembling her being attacked. As the days pass, more tapes arrive, showing shots of them asleep in their bed. Fred and Renee call the police but the detectives offer no assistance. Fred and Renee attend a party being thrown by her friend Andy. The Mystery Man Fred dreamed about approaches Fred, claiming to have met him before. The man then says he is at Fred's house at that very moment and answers the house phone when Fred calls him. Fred learns from Andy that the man is a friend of Dick Laurent's. Terrified, Fred leaves the party with Renee.
The next morning, another tape arrives and Fred watches it alone. To his horror, it shows him hovering over Renee's dismembered body. He is sentenced to death for her murder. While on death row, Fred is plagued by headaches and visions of The Mystery Man and a burning cabin in the desert. During a cell check, the prison guard finds that the man in Fred's cell is now Pete Dayton, a young auto mechanic. Although Pete is released into the care of his parents, he is followed by two detectives who are trying to find out more about him. The next day, Pete returns to work at the garage where gangster Mr. Eddy asks him to fix his car. Mr. Eddy takes Pete for a drive, during which Pete witnesses Mr. Eddy beat down a tailgater.
The next day, Mr. Eddy returns to the garage with his mistress, Alice Wakefield, and his Cadillac for Pete to repair. Later, Alice returns to the garage alone and invites Pete out for dinner. When Pete and Alice begin an affair, she fears that Mr. Eddy suspects them, and concocts a scheme to rob her friend Andy and leave town. Alice also reveals to Pete that Mr. Eddy is actually an amateur porn producer named Dick Laurent. Pete gets a phone call from Mr. Eddy and The Mystery Man, which frightens Pete so much that he decides to go along with Alice's plan. Pete ambushes Andy and accidentally kills him, before he notices a photograph showing Alice and Renee together. Later, when the police is at the house investigating Andy's death, Alice is inexplicably missing from the photo.
Pete and Alice arrive at an empty cabin in the desert and start having sex, which ends with Alice getting up and disappearing into the cabin. Pete transforms back into Fred. Upon searching the cabin, he meets The Mystery Man, who begins filming and chasing Fred with a video camera. Fred escapes and drives to the Lost Highway Hotel, where he finds Mr. Eddy and Renee having sex. After Renee leaves, Fred kidnaps Mr. Eddy and slits his throat. The Mystery Man shoots Mr. Eddy dead and then whispers something to Fred before he disappears. Fred drives to his old house, buzzes the intercom and says: "Dick Laurent is dead." When the two detectives drive up to the house, Fred runs back to his car and drives off, with the detectives in pursuit. Fred suddenly begins convulsing and screaming as his car speeds down the darkened highway.
Lost Highway was directed by David Lynch as his first feature film since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which was released in 1992 as a prequel to the television series Twin Peaks. He came across the phrase "lost highway" in the book Night People by Barry Gifford. Because Lynch knew Gifford very well and had previously adapted his novel Wild at Heart into a film by the same name, he told the writer that he loved it as a title and the two agreed to write a screenplay together. Originally, both men had their own different ideas of what Lost Highway should be and ended up rejecting each other's and also their own. Lynch then told him that, during the last night of shooting Fire Walk with Me, he had a thought about videotapes and a couple in crisis. This idea would develop into the first part of the film until Fred Madison is put on death row. Lynch and Gifford then realized that a transformation had to occur and another story, which would have several links to the first one but also differ, developed. Within a month they had the script.
Lost Highway was partially inspired by the O. J. Simpson murder case, which involved the arrest of a man who committed, and then denied, murder, even to himself. The film's opening scene, where Fred Madison hears the words "Dick Laurent is dead" over his intercom, was inspired by an analogous incident that happened to Lynch at his own house. Because his house was next to actor David Lander's house and both men have the same first name, Lynch thought the stranger must have been wrong about the address. The idea of The Mystery Man "came out of a feeling of a man who, whether real or not, gave the impression that he was supernatural", Lynch explained. The film was financed by the French production company Ciby 2000. Lynch's Asymmetrical Productions, whose offices are near his house in the Hollywood Hills, was also involved in the film's production.
Lynch cast Bill Pullman, a friend and neighbour of his, as the film's central character. Actress Patricia Arquette agreed to be cast as Renee and Alice because she was interested in portraying a sexually desirable and dangerous woman, a role she had never done before. She had also been a fan of Lynch for a long time and felt that it would be an honor to work with him. Actor Balthazar Getty was chosen for the role of Pete Dayton after Lynch saw a picture of him in a magazine and said that he was "the guy for the job." Because the script was so open to interpretation, Getty and Arquette did not know what kind of film Lost Highway was supposed to be. According to Getty, "Part of David's technique is to keep his actors guessing, because it creates a certain atmosphere on set."
Actor Robert Blake was cast as The Mystery Man because Lynch liked his previous work and was always interested in working with him. Although Blake did not understand the script at all, he was responsible for the look and style of his character. When Lynch told him to use his imagination, Blake decided to cut his hair short, part it in the middle, and apply white Kabuki make-up on his face. He then put on a black outfit and approached Lynch, who loved what he had done. Actor Robert Loggia, who had previously expressed interest in playing the role of Frank Booth in Lynch's 1986 mystery film Blue Velvet, was cast as Mr. Eddy and Dick Laurent. Lynch recalled that, upon learning of Hopper's casting, Loggia launched a profanity-laden rant at him, which would eventually become Mr. Eddy's road rage scene.
Filming and editing
Lost Highway was shot in Los Angeles, California in approximately 54 days, from November 29, 1995 to February 22, 1996. Some of the film's exterior and driving scenes were shot in Griffith Park, while the scenes of the Lost Highway Hotel were filmed at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Death Valley. Lynch owns the property that was used for Fred and Renee's mansion, which is located on the same street as his own house in the Hollywood Hills. The house was configured in a particular way to meet the requirements of the film. A corridor that leads to the bedroom was added and the façade was remodeled with slot windows to make Fred's point of view very limited. The paintings that are on the wall above the couch were done by Lynch's ex-wife and producer Mary Sweeney.
The scenes that involved nudity and sexual contact proved to be very difficult for Arquette because she considers herself a very modest and shy person. Nevertheless, she felt very protected by Lynch and the film crew, who would always give her robes at any time. The love scene between her and Getty in the desert, which was shot on a dry lake bed 20 miles outside Baker, was a closed set and only key crew were allowed on it. The sequence where Fred transforms into Pete was not computer-generated, but rather accomplished with in-camera techniques: a makeup expert constructed a fake head that was covered with artificial brain matter, which was then intercut with shots of Pullman. The final car chase was shot with two different cameras running at different frame rates. The footage was then sped up to make the scene more aggressive.
Lynch worked with cinematographer Peter Deming to give the film a surreal look. Because the script did not include many descriptions, the film's visual approach evolved as filming progressed. Deming would occasionally pull out the lenses of his camera to defocus a particular scene, while Lynch would often listen to music in his headset and to a scene at the same time to visualize the screenplay. According to him, "Sound and picture working together is what films are [...] So every single sound has to be supporting that scene and enlarging it. A room is, say, nine by twelve, but when you're introducing sound to it, you can create a space that's giant". The notion of a psychogenic fugue was incorporated into the film after the unit publicist read it up on a book about mental illnesses. Lynch felt it was a musical term, stating that "a fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original, so it [relates] to the form of the film."
Originally, Lynch wanted to shoot Lost Highway in black and white, but the idea was discarded due to the financial risks it could cause. Nevertheless, the film was shot in varying levels of darkness and features few daylight scenes. Some sequences became so dark that it was difficult for viewers to see what was happening. According to Deming, "The thing I wanted to achieve was giving the feeling that anything could come out of the background, and to leave a certain question about what you're looking at. The film is working under the surface while you're watching it." The film's darkness was intentionally not adjusted during post-production. The first cut of the film ran two and a half hours, and a test audience of 50 people was given a preview to give Lynch an idea of what needed to be cut. The film was ultimately cut down to two hours and ten minutes. Most of the deleted scenes were about Pete's life, including a scene where Pete would go out with his friends to a drive-in before going to the bowling alley.
The film's original score was composed by Angelo Badalamenti and Barry Adamson. Badalamenti had previously worked with Lynch on Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Although most of the score was recorded in Prague, additional compositions were done in London. In New Orleans, Lynch collaborated with musician Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to provide additional music. Together, they created music that accompanied the scenes in which Fred and Renee watch the mysterious VHS tapes. Two songs by Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, "The Perfect Drug" and "Driver Down", were specifically composed for the film. Reznor then produced a soundtrack album that includes the film's score and songs by artists such as David Bowie, Lou Reed, Marilyn Manson, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Rammstein.
Manson's contributions include his Screamin' Jay Hawkins cover of "I Put a Spell on You", which was previously released in his 1995 EP Smells Like Children, and "Apple of Sodom", which he specifically wrote for the film. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan wrote "Eye" after Lynch rejected an early version of "Tear" from the band's 1997 album Adore. Two songs by Rammstein—"Rammstein" and "Heirate Mich"—were included after Lynch listened to their 1995 debut album Herzeleid while exploring locations for the film. The track "Insensatez", an instrumental version of the bossa nova song "How Insensitive" by Antônio Carlos Jobim, was also included as part of the film's soundtrack. The album, which was released on November 26, 1996, reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified Gold status in the US.
Although Lost Highway is generally classified as a neo-noir film, the film borrows elements from other genres, including German Expressionism and French New Wave. The terms psychological thriller and horror film have also been used to describe its narrative elements. Writing for the Australian Metro Magazine, Thomas Caldwell described Fred Madison as "a typical film noir hero, inhabiting a doomed and desolate world characterised by an excess of sexuality, darkness and violence." Another film noir feature that is present in the film is the femme fatale (Alice Wakefield), who misleads Pete Dayton into dangerous situations. The film was also noted for its graphic violence and sexual themes. Lynch defended these images, stating that he was simply being honest with his own ideas for the film.
Some of the film's themes and ideas had previously been explored before. Like the 1954 film Detour, Lost Highway focuses on a disturbed male nightclub musician, while the film's setting and mysterious recorded messages were seen as a reference to the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly. The film's nightmarish atmosphere has been compared to Maya Deren's 1943 short film Meshes of the Afternoon. Similar to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo, the film examines male obsessions with women, who merely represent emotions that relate to them. Lynch insisted that, while Lost Highway is about "identity", the film is very abstract and can be interpreted in different ways. He does not favor advancing a specific interpretation and said that the film leaves viewers to interpret events as they choose. Gifford, however, thinks that the film offers a rational explanation to its surreal events. According to him, Fred Madison is experiencing a psychological fugue, which is manifested in the film when he transforms into Pete.
The film's circular narrative has been likened to a Möbius strip. Cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, who works on subjects like psychoanalysis, felt that this circularity is analogous to a psychoanalytic process. According to him, "there is a symptomatic key phrase (as in all of Lynch's films) that always returns as an insistent, traumatic, and indecipherable message (the Real), and there is a temporal loop, as with analysis, where the protagonist at first fails to encounter the self, but in the end is able to pronounce the symptom consciously as his own." This implies that Fred's madness is so powerful that even the fantasy where he sees himself as Pete ultimately dissolves and ends in a nightmare. He also interprets the film's bipartite structure as exploiting "the opposition of two horrors: the phantasmatic horror of the nightmarish noir universe of perverse sex, betrayal, and murder, and the (perhaps much more unsettling) despair of our drab, alienated daily life of impotence and distrust."
Lost Highway premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January 1997. It was then given a limited release on February 21, 1997 in 12 theaters, grossing nearly $213,000 at the US box office weekend. The film expanded a week later in 212 theaters and, after a modest three-week run, it went on to make $3.7 million in North America. On May 19, 2017, Lost Highway was released in Russia and grossed $28,347. Overall, the film grossed nearly $3.8 million worldwide.
Lost Highway received mostly lukewarm reviews, with many criticizing the film as obscure in plot or meaningless entirely, but it received praise for its visual aesthetic and the cast's performances. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 60% based on reviews from 42 critics, with an average rating of 6.1 out of 10. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 52 based on 21 reviews.
Andy Klein of the Dallas Observer considered it superior to Lynch's two previous films: "His most thoroughly surreal work since Eraserhead, this two-hour-plus fever dream is more of one piece than Fire Walk with Me and less desperate and jokey than Wild at Heart." In the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum praised it as "an audacious move away from conventional narrative and back toward the formal beauty of Eraserhead". Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote that "although uneven and too deliberately obscure in meaning to be entirely satisfying, the result remains sufficiently intriguing and startling to bring many of Lynch's old fans back on board for this careening ride."
Kenneth Turan, on the other hand, wrote, "Beautifully made but emotionally empty, this 1997 release exists only for the sensation of its provocative moments." Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs down" – though Lynch used this to his advantage by claiming it was "two more great reasons to see Lost Highway", with the 'two thumbs down' used in newspaper ads. Ebert argued, "Lynch is such a talented director. Why does he pull the rug out from under his own films? […] He knows how to put effective images on the screen, and how to use a soundtrack to create mood, but at the end of the film, our hand closes on empty air."
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In 2003, the film was released on DVD in Canada, through Seville Pictures, in a pan & scan format used for an earlier VHS release. On March 25, 2008, it was released on DVD in the United States, through Universal Studios' Focus Features label, and presented in anamorphic widescreen in the 2.35:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio; it was also released on laserdisc in the same aspect ratio (letterboxed). The film has been released on DVD in Australia numerous times: first by Shock Records in 2001, followed by mk2 in 2007, and again by Madman Entertainment on February 8, 2012.
Retrospectively, Jeremiah Kipp of Slant declared that the work "is not an artistic failure; in many ways, it's Lynch at his most daring, emotional, and personal." Kipp also suggested that "there’s a very specific anxiety in [the film] that turns some people off [...]. It’s pensive male anxiety, and for some cultural reason it’s easier for audiences to accept female hysteria than the insecurities of men." In 2010, Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club inducted it into the website's "The New Cult Canon" section, viewing it as "more cohesive than it might appear at first blush" and arguing that Lynch "goes digging for truths that people don't know or won't acknowledge about themselves—within dreams, within the subconscious, within those impossibly dark hallways where we fear to tread." Lucia Bozzola of AllMovie described the film as "the ultimate noir fever dream of sexual terror, yearning, and violence," concluding that "Lost Highway remains a sound/image tour de force, particularly in the ultra-moody first half before the cacophony explodes in the second half."
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