Traveling Back Down David Lynch's 'Lost Highway'
By Hillary Weston, Black Book
One morning, David Lynch awoke to hear his intercom buzzing. A man's voice on the other end spoke, referring to him as "Dave." Lynch answered, "Yeah?" and the man said, "Dick Laurent is dead." Lynch said, "What?" but there was no one at the door. And he'd never heard of a Dick Laurent. He looked out to the large window on the other side of his house by the door, but again, no one there.
A typical morning for the man who has provided us with some of the most powerfully psychological fright and pleasure? Maybe. An inspiration for one of his greatest films? Definitely. If a Lynchian universe all exists within the mind, somewhere between waking and consciousness, Lost Highway is that moment in a nightmare where your body begins to panic, knowing this is not quite reality but you're stuck, you cannot wake yourself up and in dreams you must visualize physically prying your eyes open and screaming aloud in order to escape.
Beginning with the inky black night, speeding down the highway with nothing around save the absolute black, we're immediately given a sense of severe anxiety, which only unravels into complete mental collapse as the film progresses. Very loosely, Lost Highway tells the story of a bizarre encounter at party sparks a jazz saxophonist being framed for the murder of his wife and is sent to prison where he morphs into a young mechanic and begins a new life.
In an article that continues to be my favorite piece of journalistic film writing, David Foster Wallace visited the set of Lost Highway in 1996, and after giving his famous academic definition of just what "Lynchian" is, he discusses what different members of the crew and production staff—"some of whom have been to film school"—have to say about the Lost Highway:
DAVID'S IDEA is to do this, like, dystopian vision of L.A. You could do a dystopic vision of New York, but who'd care? New York's been done before."
"If s about deformity. Remember Eraserhead? This guy's going to be the ultimate Penishead."
"I'm sure not going to go see it, I know that."
"This is a movie that explores psychosis subjectively."
"It's some reflection on society as he sees it."
"This is his territory. This is him taking us deeper into a space he's already carved out in previous work-subjectivity and psychosis."
"He's doing a Diane Arbus number on L.A., showing the, like, slimy undersection of a dream city. Chinatown did it, but it did it in a historical way, as a type of noir history. David's film's about madness; it's subjective, not historical." " It , s like, if you're a doctor or a nurse, are you going to go buy tickets to see an operation for fun in your spare time, when you're done working?"
"This film represents schizophrenia performatively, not just representationally. This is done in terms of loosening of identity, ontology, and continuity in time."
"Let me just say I have utmost respect-for David, for the industry, for what David means to this industry. Let me say I'm excited. That I'm thrilled and have the utmost respect."
"It's a specialty film. Like 7he Piano, say. It's not going to open in a thousand theaters."
"Utmost is one word. There is no hyphen in utmost."
"It's about L.A. as hell. This is not unrealistic, if you want my opinion."
"It's a product like any other in a business like any other."
"David is the Id of the Now. If you quote me, say I quipped it. Say ' "David is the Id of the Now," quipped______, who is the film's_____.
David, as an artist, makes his own choices about what he wants. He makes a film when he feels he has something to say. Some are perceived as better
than others. David does not look at this as his area of concern."
"He's a genius; you have to understand that. He's not like you and me."
"The head-changes are being done with makeup and lights. No CGIs." (21 'Computer-generated images,' as in Jumanii).
"Read City of Quartz. That's what this film's about right there in a nutshell."
"Some of them were talking about Hegel, whatever the hell that means."
"Let me just say I hope you're not planning to compromise him or us or the film in any way."
He then goes on to describe what Lynch seems to want from his audience:
David Lynch's movies are often described as occupying a kind of middle ground between art film and commercial film. But what they really occupy is a whole third kind of territory. Most of Lynch's best films don't really have much of a point, and in lots of ways they seem to resist the film-interpretative process by which movies' (certainly avant-garde movies') central points are understood. This is something the British critic Paul Taylor seems to get at when he says that Lynch's movies are "to be experienced rather than explained." Lynch's movies are indeed susceptible to a variety of sophisticated interpretations, but it would be a serious mistake to conclude from this that his movies point at the too-facile summation that "film interpretation is necessarily multivalent" or something-they're just not that kind of movie. Nor are they seductive, though, at least in the commercial sense of being comfortable or linear or High Concept or "feel-good." You almost never from a Lynch movie get the sense that the point is to "entertain" you, and never that the point is to get you to fork over money to see it. This is one of the unsettling things about a Lynch movie: You don't feel like you're entering into any of the standard unspoken and/or unconscious contracts you normally enter into with other kinds of movies. This is unsettling because in the absence of such an unconscious contract we lose some of the psychic protections we normally (and necessarily) bring to bear on a medium as powerful as film. That is, if we know on some level what a movie wants from us, we can erect certain internal defenses that let us choose how much of ourselves we give away to it. The absence of point or recognizable agenda in Lynch's films, though, strips these subliminal defenses and lets Lynch get inside your head in a way movies normally don't. This is why his best films' effects are often so emotional and nightmarish. (We're defenseless in our dreams too.)
This may in fact be Lynch's true and only agenda-just to get inside your head. He seems to care more about penetrating your head than about what he does once he's in there. Is this good art? It's hard to say. It seems-once again-either ingenuous or psychopathic. It sure is different, anyway.
And today, fantastic film blog Cinephilia and Beyond posted about Lost Highway, sighting Wallace's first encounter with Lynch—and naturally he was of course peeing on a tree:
This is on 8 January in L.A.’s Griffith Park, where some of Lost Highway’s exteriors and driving scenes are being shot. He is standing in the bristly underbrush off the dirt road between the base camp’s trailers and the set, peeing on a stunted pine. Mr. David Lynch, a prodigious coffee drinker, apparently pees hard and often, and neither he nor the production can afford the time it’d take to run down the base camp’s long line of trailers to the trailer where the bathrooms are every time he needs to pee. So my first (and generally representative) sight of Lynch is from the back, and (understandably) from a distance. Lost Highway’s cast and crew pretty much ignore Lynch’s urinating in public, (though I never did see anybody else relieving themselves on the set again, Lynch really was exponentially busier than everybody else.) and they ignore it in a relaxed rather than a tense or uncomfortable way, sort of the way you’d ignore a child’s alfresco peeing.
And for more on the one film that has managed to frighten me more than quite possibly anything else, check out Lynch's interview with Rolling Stone in 1997, thanks to C&B. Also, let's just listen to some of the killer soundtrack for the film, featuring everyone from Angelo Badalamenti to Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson and Lou Reed.