Friday, 21 June 2013

Film Review | Lost Highway (1997)

There are, in general, two ways to watch a David Lynch film. The first is to see it as a puzzle: something to be worked out, picked apart, theorised about and ultimately solved. This is a dangerous route to take, because if Lynch's films are puzzles then there is almost certainly more than one way to "solve" most of them, and it's almost never clear which (if any) is the way Lynch intended them to be pieced together. The second way to watch Lynch's work is to see them as pure art - leave the intricacies, the conundrums and the enigmas, and just let a surrealist tsunami engulf you.

Reviewing a David Lynch film therefore needs to take in both perspectives, and with Lost Highway there's a lot you can say about both. As a cinematic riddle, this is one of Lynch's most accomplished head-scratchers. The key is to be found in a line Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) says near the start of the film: "I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened". Much of Lost Highway is undoubtedly seen from Fred's point of view, which begs the question of exactly how much of what we're seeing is "what actually happened" and how much is purely Fred's perspective. Things get even more complex when Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) enters the story; how he's linked to Madison is never fully explained by Lynch, allowing each viewer to come to their own conclusions.

As an artistic work, this is up there with Lynch's very best. The director gets the best out of his whole cast; particularly noteworthy are Patricia Arquette in a femmes fatale dual role, and Robert Blake as one of the most genuinely unsettling and chilling characters you're likely to ever encounter on screen. Lynch's bizarre genius is on show throughout the film, with the first truly mind-bending meeting between Pullman and Blake's characters likely to stay with you for a long time to come. As you'd expect from Lynch, his choice of camera angles and cinematography is consistently individual and expertly constructed lending Lost Highway an ethereal and irresistable nightmarish quality.

Lost Highway feels like the natural predecessor to 2001's Mulholland Drive. It's almost like the director was refining here the methods and tone presented in the later work. Despite its many strengths, Lost Highway isn't perfect largely because, despite the clear craft and artistry that has gone into its creation, it is quite regularly almost too obtuse and indecipherable to truly enjoy. There'll undoubtedly be several moments throughout where you'll have to be honest with yourself and admit that, even if you're captivated by Lynch's film, you have very little idea of what's actually going on. But in many ways, that's the beauty of the work of David Lynch: it can leave you completely bewildered and at the same time entirely certain that what you're watching is utterly brilliant.


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