Irish Film Institute -Lost Highway

Lost Highway

Director: David Lynch

David Lynch’s first film in nearly five years, Lost Highway is the director’s darkest, most dream-like and mysterious work since Eraserhead. As a painter who moved into feature film-making (‘to make my paintings move,’ he once said), Lynch has never been comfortable with the kind of straightforward storytelling techniques that are the mainstay of commercial American cinema. His best films are fuelled less by ‘story’ than by mood, tone, ideas and a highly subjective vision. Lynch uses familiar elements from popular cinema and pulp fiction, but in a wholly original way and for his own peculiar purposes. He has described Lost Highway as a ’21st century noir horror film,’ and the movie does indeed draw on classic film noir stables such as desperate heroes and femmes fatales. But as far as the narrative is concerned, Lynch the surrealist introduces not one but two stories, whose relationship is anything but clear. ‘To my mind,’ says Lynch, ‘it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious, something that is understood intuitively rather than just been spoon-fed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most film are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working.’

The first story is about Fred (Bill Pullman), a tortured jazz musician who suspects that his wife (Patricia Arquette) is having an affair and who suddenly finds himself accused of her murder. The other story concerns a young garage mechanic, Pete (Balthazar Getty), who mysteriously replaces Fred in his prison cell and who, on his release, is drawn into a web of corruption by a temptress who cheats on her gangster boyfriend. These two tales are linked by the fact that the two women are played by the same actress and may, in fact, be the same woman. The men in each story are connected by an extraordinary turn of events involving weird crimes, bizarre sex and feverish characters that call into question their very identities.

However one cares to interpret this startling and intriguing movie, there is no mistaking its sheer stylistic brilliance. Working with a relatively large budget provided by the enterprising French company Ciby 2000, Lynch here has the resources to match his talent for coming up with memorable images and sounds. The director’s own sound design has been intricately devised, with the sound-track combining long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti’s score with contributions by David Bowie and Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and many others. As usual in Lynch’s carefully crafted pictures, the wide-screen cinematography (by Peter Deming) and the production design (by Patricia Norris) are outstanding. At a time when Hollywood is turning out mindless blockbusters for kids, it’s good to see Lynch driving headlong down the crazy American highway with the radio on.

France/U.S.A., 1996.
135 mins.

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