Track 29 is the film that signals the decline of Nicolas Roeg’s career into ’90s television movie obscurity. Despite its excellent cast, it’s a complete failure in almost every regard, although its unhinged bizarreness gives it a curiosity factor. It’s based on a 1970s television play from The Singing Detective scribe Dennis Potter, and it should’ve probably stayed that way.
It opens with Gary Oldman’s utterly insane Martin trying to hitchhike, with John Lennon’s Mother playing over the opening credits (George Harrison’s Handmade films produced this), and you know you are in for some serious Oedipal shit. It all plays out as if the worst instincts of David Lynch were mixed with a campy Southern gothic play from Tennessee Williams, with some Freudian crap thrown in for good measure. Theresa Russell plays the wife of Christopher Lloyd’s insane doctor, who plays too much with his…. model trains (you can’t make this shit up). She thinks Oldman’s drifter may be the long-lost son she was forced to give up for adoption, but is it real or is it fantasy? And does he have malicious intent towards the husband, and does she want to fuck his mom? Who knows, and who really gives a shit—and even though it’s only 90 minutes, for Christ’s sake, it’s still a trainwreck.
Oldman was nearly at his peak as a young actor here, and he tries everything in the book. It’s an utterly wild performance, but in worst way humanly possible. It’s a perfect example of an actor trying too much to be quirky, and becoming almost instantly irksome. Theresa Russell is fine, but she is Roeg’s wife, so of course he cast her as the lead. Christopher Lloyd has red hair (God knows why), and Sandra Bernhard and Seymour Cassell also show up.
Nicolas Roeg was a god of cinema, but by the mid-80s, having given the Hollywood thing a shot, his career went down the toilet pretty quickly. He did somewhat redeem himself with his next film, the excellent adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, but would soon be making an erotic thriller with Theresa Russell as well as TV movies. The latter vary in quality, and include a direct adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Track 29 is the kind of failure that only a great filmmaker can make. It attempts to merge reality and fantasy, as Roeg had so brilliantly done in Performance, but maybe, just maybe, Donald Cammell was the real genius behind that film.
The disc includes a commentary from historian Jim Hemphill and an audio recording of 1994 NFT interview with Roeg, which serves as a partial alternative commentary track. The actress Colleen Camp gives a newly filmed interview, and the rest of the interviews were recently shot, featuring various crew members. None of the main cast are interviewed… I wonder why? The trailer, an image gallery, and a booklet with new and old writing on the film finish off the package.