Lost Highway

Lost Highway

I don't recall who bought the soundtrack. It was likely my younger brother, who was more of a Marilyn Manson fan than I was, but it might have been me. Back then, we skipped the Angelo Badalamenti and Barry Adamson tracks in favor of pop-industrial and alternative hits. I had some affection even then for Lou Reed's cover of "This Magic Moment," but it would be some years before I realized who and what he was. It would be even longer before I made this connection. It would be even longer (til now, to be precise) before I ever watched the film in whole.

If I had seen it back then, I don't know how I would have taken it. Certainly it would have confused me. Now, 17 years later, it seems almost too straight forward for a David Lynch film. It feels like a run up to Mulholland Drive, a precursory look into Los Angeles' underbelly, an amalgam of noir, thriller, and horror much like its superior sibling, but with a few dated touches and a more certain interpretation. And yet, it's still a fantastic film.

Lynch has always seemed somewhat obsessed with Americana, and because of the dominance of the film industry over American pop culture, Los Angeles has become central to Americana in a lot of ways. Desertscapes and winding roads among massive hills become an inadvertent microcosm of America, evoking Captain Beefheart, Raymond Chandler, Orson Welles, and Pretty Woman all at once. That's what's impressive about Hollywood; it represents without being representative. It fakes it all. And yet David Lynch has taken its byways and shacks and turned them into a metaphor for the neuroses and seediness of every corner of this country.

The film takes place in 1990s L.A., I think, but from the greaser looks of Pete and the hazy neon allure of some of the motels, it's actually in both the 1950s and 1980s as well. It's a pastiche of the 20th century ideals of America, right down to the gangsters, jazz, and pornography. It's pulsating and primal, hallucinatory and mysterious, but it's also quaint (Pete's parents are downright wholesome feeling). It harkens back to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks as it explores the darkside of what otherwise seems normal, cleancut, but it removes the setting to the parties of L.A., which have always felt somewhat sleazy in the collective imagination.

At the same time, this is a prison film. It's about the mental affects of isolation, jealousy, and insecurity. It's the Hank Williams version of a Lost Highway; a wrong turn. It's denial of reality right up until the moment the flesh begins to burn. It's desperation and yearning for freedom, and regret and the demons that haunt us. The Mystery Man is the saxophonist's paranoia made flesh, and Pete's long adultery is the sanctimonious revenge fucking rattling around in the mind of the condemned. It's also more than that, because this is David Lynch, and it's not all just a dream. It's the manifestation of all of the frustration of the old masculine, good and bad, heroes in the modern world unleashed to warp it beyond redemption or understanding.

Seventeen years ago, when I bought the soundtrack, I liked it well enough. "The Perfect Drug" stood out to me, besides the Lou Reed track, but I was still looking for more. I was on the cusp of going punk for a while, and the eerie score pieces never jumped out at me. Now, though, seeing them all in context, the Rammstein (which I wasn't a big fan of even then) seems poorly chosen. The score, though, is what I expect of Lynch, the aural manifestation of that New Age-meets-avant garde feel his work always has. That he also did the sound design makes sense. The film isn't Eraserhead; the wind doesn't slough off your flesh to the soul. But it's still enigmatic and unnerving in its own ways. Combine this with the motifs of the highway at night, the surveillance footage, the flashes of faces and static, the stucco drabbery, and on and on, and you have quintessential Lynchian filmmaking.

October count: 61/31.

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