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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Lost Highway

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Lost Highway

Lost Highway
1997 – Focus Features/Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Every so often, and probably more frequently than any normal person should, I find myself in the mood to watch a David Lynch film. If you're a fellow fan, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a very specific kind of movie mood that cannot be taken care of by any other filmmaker. Frequently over the past decade, I've thought to myself, “Boy, what I'd really like to watch is Lost Highway. Oh, wait… I can't.”

For whatever reason, it's taken ages for Lynch's 1997 dark ride to arrive on disc here in the states. Prior to Universal/Focus' new “Spotlight Series” release, if you wanted to watch Lost Highway in the good old U S and A, you had few options.

The only Region 1 version was released in Canada as a pan-and-scan disc that might be useful for setting drinks on but not much good if you wanted to actually watch the film. Or you could import a two-disc Region 2 edition if you were lucky enough to have a player capable of spinning discs on the global frequency. I do but I always feel like a bit of a schmuck paying a premium for DVDs that, with a little patience, should be released over here eventually. Now that I have Universal's release in my hot little mitts, I think I probably should have ponied up the dough for the import.

Since it has been so difficult to track down since the dawn of the DVD era, Lost Highway is unfortunately now one of Lynch's most obscure films, not that a plot synopsis will help make it either more comprehendible or appealing to non-Lynch-fans. Bill Pullman stars as Fred Madison, a sax player seemingly trapped in an emotionless marriage (his wife, Renee, is played by Patricia Arquette). One morning, he receives a cryptic message on his house intercom: “Dick Laurent is dead.” Strange anonymous videotapes then begin to appear on his front steps, tapes of his house and of himself and his wife asleep in bed. At a party, Fred meets a strange, chalk-faced man (the sublimely creepy Robert Blake) who tells Fred he's at his house and has him call home to prove it. Bad things happen from there (I don't want to spoil anything but let's just say, about as bad as things can get) and right about then, things get really weird. Fred disappears/turns into Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young auto mechanic with no memory of the past few days. He goes back to work and falls for a gangster's moll played by… you guessed it, Patricia Arquette.

Trying to give a scene-by-scene summation of Lost Highway is kind of like trying to tell someone about a dream you had the night before. You might get all the details right but it won't begin to convey what the dream made you feel or what it all meant. As with many other Lynch films, I can't tell you exactly what Lost Highway is about. I just know that it makes perfect sense to me. You might be utterly confused by it or walk away with a completely different interpretation than mine. For me, this is a movie about feeling trapped and feeling that even if you try to get out of that trap, it's futile. Whatever is waiting for you on the outside is probably much, much worse. Pullman is perfectly cast, exposing the dark undercurrent that runs just beneath his all-American everyman exterior. Lost Highway is co-written by Lynch and Barry Gifford, whose novel provided the basis for Wild at Heart. I've always found it interesting that for such an individualistic director, Lynch's best works always seem to be in collaboration with someone else (Twin Peaks was co-created with Mark Frost, for example). Lynch's most recent work, Inland Empire, is wholly and obviously his own. At three hours and with Lynch serving as his own screenwriter, producer, editor and cinematographer, I found it maddeningly self-indulgent. Lost Highway finds him at his best, weaving his singular vision seamlessly into the work of others working at the top of their game.

Sadly, Universal's DVD is a colossal disappointment. First, the good news. The film is finally available in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it has been enhanced for widescreen displays. Unfortunately, I don't think Lynch was involved in this release at all. The first clue is the inclusion of chapter stops. Lynch is famously anti-chapters on DVD releases of his films. This annoys a lot of people but I understand his point and if that's the way he wants it, fine by me. The fact that this disc includes chapter selections makes me call everything else about the DVD into question. The image looks OK but it feels off, as though the color levels have been artificially boosted for no good reason. It's been a long time since I've seen Lost Highway theatrically but the picture definitely seemed different here. I can live with it but I'd feel a whole lot better if I thought that David Lynch had signed off on this transfer. The audio quality isn't bad, which is a relief considering how vitally important sound design is to Lynch's films. It could have been better, though. A proper DTS mix could have given this the immediacy that I remember it having in the theatre. As for extras… zilch. Nada. The big goose egg. I recently gave the movie High School a pass for having no extras because that's the way director Frederick Wiseman wanted it. In this case, I'm not as forgiving. Lynch has proven that he's more than happy to contribute to DVDs of everything from Eraserhead to Twin Peaks. Indeed, that Region 2 release I mentioned had a few interviews with Lynch, Pullman, Arquette, and others. This disc offers subtitles. Yay.

Lost Highway ranks high amongst my favorite David Lynch films and the simple fact that I can now watch the damn thing whenever I want fills me with glee. Even so, this is one of the most disappointing DVDs I've ever picked up. As a movie, I recommend Lost Highway whole-heartedly and without reservation. As a DVD… well, let's just say I'm planning a trip to Amoeba Music in the near future to see if it's not too late for me to grab that R2 disc.

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B+/F


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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