Lost Highway: About The Production

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A mesmerizing meditation on the mysterious nature of identity, LOST HIGHWAY is rhe latest film by David Lynch, creator of such modern masterworks as THE ELEPHANT MAN, BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART Srarring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia and Robert Blake, the film expands the horizons of the medium, taking its audience on a journey through the unknown and the unknowable. Radical, even for a Lynch film, LOST HIGHWAY is not only about the human psyche, it actually seems to take place inside it

An October Films release, LOST HIGHWAY features an ensemble cast that includes Natasha Gregson Wagner, Gary Busey and Richard Pryor. Based on a screenplay by Lynch and Barry Gifford (whose novel Wild at Heart was the source material for Lynch's Palme D'Or-winning film), it was produced by Deepak Nayar, Tom Sternberg and Mary Sweeney. Peter Deming was the cinematographer, Patricia Norris was production and costume designer, and Mary Sweeney was editor. The film was scored by long time Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti (BLUE VELVET), with additional compositions by Barry Adamson. The soundtrack, available on Nothing Records (a division of Interscope) features new songs by Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, as well as music by David Bowie, Trent Reznor, Lou Reed, This Mortal Coil, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Rammstein.

Set in a city that looks suspiciously like Los Angeles but which is actually a place of Lynch's own imagining, LOST HIGHWAY - like LA - is both blazingly modern and resolutely retro in look and feel. Dubbed by Lynch and Gifford "a 21st-century noir horror film," the film draws its plot, or rather, its plots, from classic film noirs filled with desperate men and faithless women, expensive cars and cheap motels. From this inventory of imagery, Lynch fashions two separate but intersecting stories, one about a jazz musician (Pullman), tortured by the notion that his wife is having an affair, who suddenly finds himself accused of her murder. The other concerns a young mechanic (Getty), drawn into a web of deceit by a temptress who is cheating on her gangster boyfriend. These two tales are linked by the fact that the women in both are played by the same actress (Arquetre) and may, in fact, be the same woman. The men in each are connected by a mysterious, mind-blowing turn of events that calls into question their very identities.

Unfolding with the logic of a dream, which can be interpreted but never explained, LOST HIGHWAY is punctuated by a series of occurrences that simply can't have occurred: one man turns into another; a woman who may be dead seduces the man who might have killed her; a man phones himself and - inexplicably - is at the other end of the line to receive his own call! As post-modern noir detours into the realm of science fiction, it becomes apparent that in LOST HIGHWAY, the only certainty is uncertainty. That, and the fact that David Lynch remains one of the most distinctive and fascinating artists working in film today. Lynch trained and began his artistic career in painting - (he still creates canvases that arc exhibited internationally) so it is unsurprising that even his earliest work on film has been described in terms of painting. From FRASERHEAD onwards, his distinctive style has been called "expressionistic and, like the expressionists, he places a premium on conveying emotions that are communicated by the distortion of color, shape, space and time in a highly personal way. He has also been compared to the surrealists who, in the words of Andre Breton, believed in "the omnipotence of the dream." In keeping with this movement, his films are rebellious experiments in irrationality and abstirdity that bring an almost psychoanalytic approach to sex, dreams, and the unconscious.

Lynch himself disavows membership in any specific artistic "school," even as he acknowledges certain preferences and influences: "I love Surrealism and I love Expressionism," he says, "but, I had never seen THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI until after I had done EPASERH FAD." He goes on to say, "Ideas are the thing, and they just come out in a certain way, based on what you love and what you're feeling. Later on, you find out that you're in some sort of school!"

Regardless of what label one tries to put on him, Lynch, like all modern artists -- irrespective of their labels -- brings a radically new attitude toward both the past and the present and, in his exploration of the film medium -- a medium that has remained suprisingly realistic in its first century of existence -- he reveals a modernism that has long been taken for granted in painting and music, but which is rarely exhibited on screen. "In my mind," he says, "it's so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious -- something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoonfed to you. That's the beauty of cinema, and it's hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people's minds stop working." Displaying an obvious affection for abstraction, Lynch's films have become increasingly non-narrative, fueled less and less by what one might call "story" and increasingly emphasizing mood, tone, feelings, and a highly subjective vision of the world. Unlike WILL) AT HEART, which was drawn from a pre-existing novel by Barry Gifford, LOST HIGHWAY was actually born from a mere phrase from one of Gifford's novels: "Barry wrote this book Night People," Lynch recalls, "and in it, it had a phrase "Lost Highway.' And I said, 'Barry, I love these two words. We should make something that's called Lost Highway,' and he said 'Let's write it."' Apart from this, lynch and Gifford drew inspiration from film noir. ""Barry and I called it "a 21st-century noir,"' Lynch recalls, explaining his affection for the genre as follows: "There's a human condition there - people in trouble, people led into situations that become increasingly dangerous. And it's also about mood and those kinds of things that can only happen at night. You can jtist take that," he concludes, "and run with it your own way.

From this departure point, Lynch and Gifford fashioned a script that actually subverts the rules of conventional fllmmaking. Ending virtually where it begins (and full of interior repetitions), the film is structured somewhat like a circle, although it is far less simple than that. Taking a twist at a pivotal point - a twist that turns the narrative inside out -- its a Moehius strip," observes Lynch. "We talked about that while we were making it."

At its outset, LOST HIGHWAY appears to be the story of Fred Madison (Pullman), a successful jazz musician married to Renee, a beautiftil brunette who seems strangely withdrawn. A disturbing study of contemporary marital malaise, this chapter of the film explores Fred's escalating anxiety and insecurity as he begins to realize that Renee may be leading a double life. He has much cause for concern: though Renee says she will be waiting fi)r him while he is out performing, Fred's call home is unanswered and her bed lies empty. One night he escorts her to a party hosted by a vagtiely unsavory man, Andy (Michael Masee), whom he has not met before, and Renee is less than candid about how she came to know Andy and his crowd.

At the party, Fred has an alarming encounter with a strange gnome-like man (Robert Blake, identified in the film's credits as "The Mystery Man"), who insists that he has met Fred before and has even been in his home. The "Mystery Man" then proceeds to place a call to Fred's hotise and somehow manages to be at the other end of the line to take his own call. This shocking confrontation with the impossible - a person who seems to be in two places at once f()rces Fred (and the viewer) to ask certain questions: Why does Fred suddenly feel like a stranger in his OWn life? Why does he know so little about his own wife? Why has he no recollection of encounters that would seem to be unforgettable? And, who is sending him those mysterious videos that indicate that someone has access to his home, and has been recording Fred and Renee's intimate moments? Before Fred can decipher any of these strange occurrences, something even stranger happens. In a flash, Renee's bloodied corpse is found in their bedroom. Though Fred has no memory of the events that led to her death, he is the sole suspect. In fact, given his recent mental lapses, he could be the killer. The police apparently subscribe to that theory and Fred, in short order, is arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated.

Layering yet another mystery upon these mysteries, Lynch next takes his boldest storytelling leap: one day, during a routine cell-check, Fred is missing. In his place is a young man, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), who has a conspicuous wound on his head and who, like Fred before him, has no recollection of the immediate past. The authorities can't begin to tinderstand how Fred escaped a maximum sectirity prison or how Pete gained entry. Ultimately, they are forced to release Pete, who has no visible connection to either Fred or to Renee's death.

At this point, LOST HIGHWAY becomes Pete's story, and we soon learn that he is an auto mechanic with a girlfriend, Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner), parents (Gary Brisey, Lucy Butler), and a wealthy client, Mr. Eddie (Robert Loggia), who is probably a gangster and who will let no one but Pete service his valuable cars. Still disoriented from his "blackout," Pete has a chance encounter with Mr. Eddie's sultry blonde mistress, Alice (also played by Patricia Arquctte), and before long he finds himself embroiled in a torrid affair with another man's woman - a woman about whom he knows nothing and who, like Renee, appears to be leading a double life.

In keeping with the Moebius strip concept, Pete's story is virttially the inverse of Fred's: one man is a middle-aged artist who lives comfortably in the hills above the city, the other a youthful laborer from the blue-collar row-houses in the valley. Fred loses his woman to another man, Pete steals another mans woman. Yet, for all these differences, these two men frinction as each other's alter egos and their common, uncommon experiences in confused identity, memory loss, depersonalized sex and, ultimately, betrayal and death, are equivalent. "They're living the same relationship," observes Lynch, "but they're living it in two different ways. They're victims in different ways, in both worlds." The "transformation" of Fred into Pete, which combines the fisney of Lewis Carroll with the phantasmagoria of Franz Kafka is, perhaps, the defining aspect of LOST HIGHWAY in that it denies the atidience something they get from most other movies - a literal explanation. (Lynch even taunts the atidience in a scene at Pete's home during which he asks his parents what happened to him and his father, eyes brimming with tears, refuses to answer. The implication is that the father has an explanation, but can't bring himself to utter it. Perhaps this is Lynch telling us that he, too, has an answer but that we, like Pete, will have to find it on our own.)

It is tempting, while viewing LOST HIGHWAY, to make something linear and literal out of Lynch's Moebius strip. For instance, one could say that Renee and Alice are actually the same woman, with Renee donning a blonde wig and sneaking off while Fred is working to cavort with Mr. Eddie, Andy and Pete. "The only problem," Lynch reminds us, "is that Renee was already killed." One cotild also try to explain the Fred/Pete phenomenon in strictly psychoanalytical terms. Lynch points out that there is an actual psychological malady called "psychogenic fugue" that "fits Fred Madison perfectly. When Barry and I were working we didn't know the term, htit it's when a person suddenly takes on a completely different personality, different friends, everything."

In many ways LOST HIGHWAY is about psychogenic fugue. (Furthermore, the mtisical term "fugue," which is defined as "a musical form composed for multiple instruments or voices in which the subject is announced in one voice and then developed by another," is highly applicable to the film.) However, if psychogenic fugue were Fred's problem - if it were simply that he had developed a new identity for himself - how would one explain a new family, new body, and new fingerprints?

Easy explanations aside, Lynch maintains that the answers are nonetheless there. "There are explanations for a billion things in life that aren't so understandable, and yet inside - somewhere - they are understandable. There arc things that happen to people that can be understood in terms of jealousy, or fear, or love. Maybe not in a rational, intellectual way. " Lynch insists that the Fred/Pete "transformation" and other stich occtirrences are not inexplicable." He continties: "It's like when you are sitting alone, yoti sometimes have the feeling that there are different parts of you. There are certain things that you can do and there are certain things that yoti wotild never do tinless there was a part of you that took over. So, in a way, it's kind of logical." Here, it is crucial to point out that grappling with LOST HLGHWAY's unusual plot will only take the viewer so far. Ln the end, the film is no more about its "story" than it is about its unique style. Rather, it must be seen in its totality - a complete integration of music, painting, architecture, poetry and drama that fuse to form a spectacle that is grander than the sum of its parts. As Lynch himself puts it, "every single element is critical and the film is never finished until it's finished. You build the whole thing piece by piece. The script is one thing, but it's not the finished thing or else you'd just release the script. It forms a blueprint, and as you start shooting, you get more ideas, and you see things in front of you." For instance, the mere choice of Los Angeles as the film's setting adds enormously to the sense of restless, directionless motion that is the lost highway of the title. Could the film have taken place elsewhere? "Perhaps," says Lynch, "but you don't know how it would affect it. The place, the light and the feel - all these things come with the knowledge that you are looking for things to flesh out your ideas, make them more right. For me, LA was the right place."

The house inhabited by Fred and Renee is similarly integral to the film's scheme, combining stylistic elements of yesterday, today and tomorrow, just as the narrative does. In fact, the house's peculiar design could almost serve as a metaphor for the entire film: when seen from the front, there are a few small windows, providing limited opportunities to see inside. But when it is approached from other angles, one realizes that there are many ways to observe the interior. The design within the house also corresponds to Lynch's overall vision. "I always like to have the people stand out, so the furnishings have got to be as minimal as possible so you can see the people." Lynch adds, "There were many things that had to be built for the story to work," and since Lynch has lately expanded his activities to include the design offurniture, he actually built some pieces for this set himself, most notably the case that contains the Madison's ominous VCR. The heightened use of ambient sound, along with the eclectic blend of music, are additional ingredients that Lynch works prominently into the overall conception of his film. "Half of the film is picture," he notes, "the other half is sound. They've got to work together. I keep saying that there are ten sounds that will be correct and if you get one of them, you're there. But there are thousands that are incorrect, so you just have to keep on letting it talk to you and feel it. It's not an intellectual sort of thing."

Similarly, with the music, which ranges from old standards done in a new manner, to utterly contemporary pieces that contain haunting echoes from the past, Lynch's process is intuitive. "I listened to tons of music," he says, "and some of it talks to me for this scene or that. I don't really know why, but each piece that ends up in the film supports the scene and makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts."

Ultimately, discussing the individual parts that form the whole of LOST HIGHWAY is something David Lynch is both unwilling and unable to do. "It's a dangerous thing," he notes, "to say what a picture is. If things get too specific, the dream stops. When you talk about things, unless you're a poet, a big thing becomes smaller."

"It's not like I'm trying to cop out, he continues, "but where these things come from, I honestly don't know. Right now," the director confides, "I'm trying to find my next film and it's not here yet. I'm fishing, and maybe tomorrow it will bob to the surface. From where does it bob? From an area otitside otir consciousness But at one time or another, it meets your consciousness and then you know it."

"Once an idea comes," he concludes, "it comes with all this power, like a gigantic spark. And everything is contained in it, and it thrills your soul. You know just what to do from then on. It's complete."

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