Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A viewing 18 years overdue

In 1997, I bought the Lost Highway soundtrack.

In 2015, I finally saw Lost Highway.

There's a logical explanation for this, actually.

You see, Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails was the supervisor of this soundtrack, contributing two of his own songs ("The Perfect Drug," "Driver Down") and in all other ways overseeing its compilation. This included splicing in little bits of dialogue as he had done when assuming the same role on the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers three years earlier.

As that soundtrack had been a certified Experience with a capital E in its own right, independent from watching the movie, I had the same hopes for this one. So much so, in fact, that I never bothered to actually watch the movie.

Oh, I should probably also mention that Nine Inch Nails was my favorite band at the time. And continues to be today.

If the Lost Highway soundtrack had captivated me the way the Natural Born Killers soundtrack had captivated me, I might have prioritized a viewing before now. It didn't get to that level. I did listen to it a number of times, and acquired at least one new favorite song from it ("Eye" by Smashing Pumpkins), but it didn't transcend. And then I heard that no one liked the movie, and that was that.

Fast forward 18 years, and the BluRay is staring me in the face on a library shelf in Australia. This was undoubtedly not my only opportunity to watch it over the years, but I'm pretty sure it was the first time I had seen it in a free rental scenario. And so I decided it was finally time to check this long-delayed viewing off my list.

Yep, a pretty big disappointment after all.

Lost Highway is not without its moments. It definitely has some chilling bits in its first half, when Robert Blake is used most effectively, and he may just be the creepy weirdo breaking into the home of Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette and sending them video tapes of themselves sleeping. Some of this stuff works on a basic visual level. But where it goes is decidedly unsatisfying after its mid-point shift, when Lynch (did I mention this was directed by David Lynch?) inexplicably saps all the atmosphere from the movie. He makes a futile attempt to restore the atmosphere in the last 20 minutes or so, but by then a viewer will have been legitimately bored to death.

I did feel a certain sense of deja vu watching it, a result of all these songs I'd heard before. And since I hadn't listened to the soundtrack in probably ten years, it wasn't like I was ticking off all the appearances of songs I was expecting -- they really did come at me like half-remembered fragments of dreams. As in "Oh yeah, that insane sax solo by Pullman's character is from this movie." But overall I found that the songs appeared in what seemed like pretty different contexts from what I was expecting, most notably the usage of "Eye," which just plays in the background while two characters are dancing, in a not-very-creepy scene.

The biggest disappointment, though, was the reminder of something I think I already knew, which was that "The Perfect Drug" -- the only actual Nine Inch Nails song on the soundtrack -- does not actually appear in the movie. ("Driver Down" is an instrumental that's credited to Reznor himself.) When I got to the end and it hadn't played, I thought we might get it over the credits, but that's just the reprise of David Bowie's "I'm Deranged."

Lost Highway itself was too deranged to be a mainstream film, but not deranged enough to be a really satisfying entry in the Lynch canon. Oh well, on to the next one.

As we have now stepped away from the era in which we regularly purchase whole soundtracks, I don't know if there will ever arise another Lost Highway scenario, where I buy the soundtrack without ever seeing the movie. I did buy Reznor's score to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo before I had seen it, but then I saw the movie just a couple days later. And now I don't even have blind faith in Reznor anymore, because the Dragon Tattoo score was such an over-long, self-indulgent affair that I didn't finally buy his score to Gone Girl until months after I'd seen it. I've only listened to that one all the way through twice, and don't envision a third listen any time soon. (Though just so you don't mistake this paragraph for being anti-Reznor, I'll close the paragraph by stating for the record that I absolutely love his Social Network score, and have listened to it all the way through at least ten times.)

I'm also now one step closer to completing David Lynch's feature filmography, though Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me still elude me. I'm eager to correct at least the former of those omissions ... and also eager to see if the man ever gets off his butt and directs another feature. It's been nearly ten years since Inland Empire, Mr. Lynch.

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