Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lost Highway: Journey into the mind of a killer

Lost Highway (drama, mystery, thriller)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty and Robert Loggia

Concorde Video | 1997 | 135 min | Rated FSK-16 | Released May 05, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

English, German: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

German (optional)

Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 4.5/5

The DVD release from Universal Studios claims a 2 hour 25 minute running time, but that's actually a printing error. Both that and this Blu-ray version clock in at 2 hours 15 minutes. All of the original DVD scenes are intact.

David Lynch is my favorite director, although Quentin Tarantino isn’t far behind. Lynch appeals so much because his films create worlds with a distinct feel. He’s very precise and chooses the exact sound or image needed to complete his vision. When I watch Mulholland Dr. or Blue Velvet, my normal world ceases to exist; it’s pure escapism. For that reason, I chose to import Lost Highway from Germany. Who knows when we’ll see a North American release?

All of Lynch’s films are challenging. He rarely uses a linear plot structure and the line between what is real and what is imagined is usually blurred. Lost Highway is one of the most difficult films to interpret, but it can still be enjoyed even if you don’t fully understand everything on the screen.

The film opens with the image of a road. We’re traveling down it at night to the sound of David Bowie’s I’m Deranged. This was not a frivolous choice and is a major hint at what you can expect to follow. This is a film about madness. In fact, I believe it is a look inside the mind of a killer. Think about how difficult that is to achieve.

There are thousands of films about killers, but how many of them show the true motivation for murder? Lost Highway hints at motivation and gives an idea of how such a person might think. That’s one reason why the plot is such a mess. Insane thoughts wouldn’t always follow a logical pattern.

We see a glimpse of how Fred (Pullman) and Renee (Arquette) Madison live. He’s a musician and fears that his wife is being unfaithful. He wants to go out, but she prefers to stay home. When he calls, she doesn’t answer and his suspicion grows. The next morning, she discovers a yellow envelope outside the front door. There’s no address or note, but it contains a video showing the outside of the house. Another envelope shows up the following day and this time it shows Fred and Renee asleep in bed. The police are called in, but don’t discover anything out of the ordinary.

Fred tells the police that they don’t own a video camera. In fact, he hates them because he likes to remember things his own way rather than how they happened. That’s another clue that we can’t rely on anything shown from Fred’s viewpoint.

One of my favorite scenes happens early in the story. Fred and Renee go to a party and Fred talks to a weird looking man. The man informs him that they previously met at Fred’s house and that he’s there right now. That sounds crazy, but the man gives Fred a phone and tells him to call him at the house. The man appears to answer. He says that Fred invited him and he never goes where he’s not wanted. As it’s impossible to be in two places at once, this clearly represents something else. I think the man represents Fred’s emotions. He’s suspicious, jealous and angry.

A third tape shows Fred standing over Renee’s corpse. Remember that he hates video cameras because they show what happened? I think Lynch is saying that what happens on video is Fred’s reality and everything else is unreliable. There’s further proof of this when Fred is arrested for the murder of his wife.

All of these events occur in the first 40 minutes of the film. From that point on, things start to get really weird. If I were to analyze every scene it would ruin the film if you haven’t seen it, so I’ll stop there. All I can say is that events take a dramatic turn and initially seem impossible. But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. 

Mulholland Dr. also deals with identity and blurred reality. The two films are similar in feel in many ways. We see actors playing dual roles and we are not always sure whether any events are real. The film works as a collection of interesting scenes, but it’s even more effective when you realize what is being portrayed. I won’t pretend to understand everything and I am not sure I am supposed to.

The choice of music perfectly matches the mood. We hear from Rammstein, Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, Lou Reed, This Mortal Coil, and many others. The whole thing is held together by Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score.

The acting is very good. Pullman pulls off Fred’s nervous demeanor perfectly and Arquette is suitably mysterious. I particularly liked Robert Loggia’s performance and he oozed menace every time he was on the screen. Robert Blake as the Mystery Man sent shivers down my spine and he didn’t always seem human. As well as a cameo from Marilyn Manson, watch out for a glimpse of Henry Rollins as a prison guard.

I enjoy all of Lynch’s films. While Lost Highway doesn’t quite hit the heights of Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet, it’s still among my Top 25 from any genre. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy experiencing unsettling worlds, this might work for you too.

Video Quality 4.5/5
The DVD looks soft and I wasn’t expecting Lost Highway to look very good on Blu-ray, but I was in for a surprise. Concorde Video has produced a wonderful transfer. Detail is exceptional for most of the film and I didn’t detect any print damage or dirt. There were a few very infrequent white speckles, but I’m thrilled with the look of the Blu-ray. I can’t imagine any future releases looking any better. The film is region free, but the special features are PAL. So you can watch the film in all its glory, but you won’t have an image during the special features unless you use a region B or region free player. For the record, the Blu-ray includes chapters.

Audio Quality 4.5
The Blu-ray defaults to German: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 so you’ll need to use the pop up menu to change to English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It’s a great track and displays the atmospheric scenes very well. This is a lively soundtrack, but the quieter scenes also benefit. The overall presentation is excellent. German subtitles are optional rather than forced.

Special Features 1/5

The PAL special features appear in standard definition. German subtitles are optional.

Making Of (9:28) – This isn’t a typical making of feature. We’re shown snapshots of Lynch directing a few scenes, but he doesn’t talk to the camera. You’ll see how he works, but don’t expect him to explain his decisions.

Interview with David Lynch (4:53) – Lynch talks about Pullman and Arquette and how their acting ability helped the film.

Trailer (1:46)

The region free Blu-ray version of Lost Highway from Concorde Video is well worth your money and it’s unlikely that future releases will produce anything better. It’s available from Amazon Germany, but I acquired mine from Grooves Inc. for around $17 delivered. Give them a try if you’re interested in importing the film. It won’t appeal to everyone, but hopefully my review will help you decide whether it’s for you. It’s one of the best titles I have added in 2011.

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