It's funny how the passing of time can reveal as much as it obscures. David Lynch has said that he didn't realize until years after co-writing, directing, and releasing his 1997 film Lost Highway that it stemmed from his reaction to the O.J. Simpson trial. In that context, its story of a man so convinced he's innocent of murdering his wife that he bends reality to fit his belief makes perfect sense.
The years have shed light on Lost Highway in other ways, too. It debuted to commercial indifference and generally hostile response from critics (including, um, this one). But since that dismissal, Lost Highway has built a cult following and a reputation as the Great Lost Lynch Movie. That reputation has no doubt been enhanced by the film's long unavailability on DVD, but its overdue return seems more likely to burnish its reputation than diminish it.
Bill Pullman stars as a jazz saxophonist whose fiery solos grant him a passion and eloquence he seems incapable of anywhere else. At home, he and wife Patricia Arquette share awkward silences, fumbling sex, and mutual distrust, the latter enhanced by the mysterious arrival of some grainy videotapes seemingly taken from inside their home. Shortly after meeting a creepy, white-faced man (Robert Blake), Pullman is arrested for murdering Arquette, an accusation that baffles him in spite of overwhelming evidence of his guilt.
Blake's subsequent real-life drama increases the creep factor, but Lynch does the hard work, building the tension by degrees through unsettling compositions and a score by longtime collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. Then he lets that tension explode into… Well, this is where the movie tends to lose people. After experiencing intense headaches, Pullman disappears, replaced in his prison cell by Balthazar Getty, a young mechanic and small-time criminal whom the authorities have no choice but to release. Getty returns home to friends, family, a passionate girlfriend, and an existence as a virile, desirable man with his whole life in front of him. It's the sort of fantasy a man on death row might create to escape from his cell, but Getty finds the possibilities narrowing once he resumes doing favors for local underworld figure (an unrestrained Robert Loggia) and sneaking around with his oddly familiar girlfriend (Arquette again). As their affair intensifies and the film doubles back to where it began, Getty's life starts to rip at the seams in ways that suggests it was never his life at all.
Lynch later pulled a similar trick even more successfully with Mulholland Dr., but here, the Lynch themes of voyeurism, obsession, unsettling sexuality, and the modern echoes of film noir flow without a filter. Lost Highway is a disquieting, disorienting film that doesn't just improve with repeat viewings, it practically requires them. Typical of Lynch, it commands attention while stirring the impossible desire to look away.
Key features: A dead-end street.