Lost Highway is a David Lynch film made in 1997, which at the time arrived to a very poor reception—so much that when Siskel & Ebert gave the film “two thumbs down,” Lynch put it on the poster as “two more great reasons to see Lost Highway”! It was considered incoherent by most critics at the time but is now considered one of Lynch’s definitive films. But taken at face value, it makes way more sense.
At this point, Lynch was kind of old news as a filmmaker. In 1992 he had come out with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which was hated. None of his films have been very successful financially, but Lost Highway was financed by the French company CIBY 2000, who it seems were only around for nine years, during which they produced a lot of auteur-led films, including The Piano, some Kusturica and Almodovar films. Although they produced four Palm d’Or winners, CIBY 2000 went fell apart fairly quickly. That’s probably why the rights for Lost Highway have been all over the place in recent years, and have now been sorted by Criterion at last.
Like most of Lynch’s stuff, it’s a neo-noir movie, in this case one that came out of the O.J. Simpson trial. The whole idea was to make a film about O.J.’s ability to live his life after everything he had done, and get away with it—that was the jumping-off point, anyway. Bill Pullman plays saxophonist Fred Madison, who is accused of murdering his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). Halfway through the film he’s on Death Row, but he magically becomes a young mechanic called Pete Dayton and leads a completely different life. As you can imagine, things then get increasingly surreal.
The film owes a debt to Kiss Me Deadly, Detour, and many other noirs. In some ways it is the Lynch films that hews closest to that genre, helped somewhat by the fact that it was co-written by Barry Gifford. Gifford is an author who bridges the gap between Beat literature and noir—he has written a lot of biographies of Beat writers, as well as the book that Wild At Heart was based on, and more recently a book about film noir.
Lost Highway is a film that people have analysed to death over the years, but I think it’s a fairly straightforward narrative. You just have to take the story as what it is and go with it, as dream logic. It came a turning point in Lynch’s career, where he decided to stop even trying to make Hollywood films. They like him at their parties, but they don’t want to finance his work. It’s his first L.A. movie, and definitely points the way towards Mulholland Drive. His look at Los Angeles has become a recurring them throughout his later films.
It is beautifully filmed, shot by Peter Deming, who has been one of Lynch’s main collaborators ever since. The soundtrack was put together by Trent Reznor, and is famous in its own right—Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails would go on to appear in the greatest piece of television ever made the 8th episode of Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. One of the funny things about Lost Highway is that Lynch was able to finally use the song he wanted to include in Blue Velvet, This Mortal Coil’s cover of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren.
The performances are all good – Pullman is always great when he’s in noir mode, he has the face for it as well. It was Richard Pryor’s last film, not someone you would expect in a Lynch film. He plays a mechanic. It was Jack Nance’s final performance as well. Robert Blake plays the terrifying “mystery man”—and given the plot, there’s a certain irony that he appears in the film. Apparently he went after the role actively. Blake rather obviously killed his wife a few years later, but managed to get off.
The transfer is Lynch-approved, which has been an issue with previous versions. The first main extra is Pretty As a Picture, The Art of David Lynch, a feature-length documentary that includes a lot of making-of footage It’s been out of print for several years, making it a welcome addition to the release (14 minutes of outtakes are also included). There is a reading by Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna of his memoir, Room to Dream, a 1997 making-of featurette, a 1997 interview with Lynch, and a re-released trailer made by Lynch as well. The booklet includes excerpts from a Lynch interview with Filmmaker magazine and excerpts from the Lynch on Lynch book.