Oct 31, 2022
By Austin Trunick
“We’ve met before, haven’t we?”
“I don’t think so. Where was it you think we met?”
“At your house. Don’t you remember?”
“No. I don’t. Are you sure?”
“Of course. As a matter of fact, I’m there right now.”
The above exchange from Lost Highway may be among the most chilling line readings in the filmography of David Lynch—a director responsible for several of cinema’s freakiest moments outside of the horror genre.
There are two overlapping stories at play in his 1997 feature film. One follows jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), whose marriage to Renee (Patricia Arquette) is rife with jealousy and boredom, and barely hanging on by a thread. Their relationship becomes more frayed when they start receiving unmarked VHS tapes of footage shot inside their own home while the couple is sleeping. The second follows mechanic Pete Drayton (Balthazar Getty), a not-quite-reformed criminal who gets into an ill-advised fling with the girlfriend of a dangerous Mafioso (Robert Loggia). This girl, Alice, is the blonde doppelganger of Fred Madison’s wife—whom Madison had been convicted of murdering, and was waiting on death row until he mysteriously disappeared and was replaced in his cell by Pete. (Pete has no memory of the events leading up to the strange switcheroo.) The two men are connected by some underworld-type characters from the LA porn scene, and a terrifying, spectral figure known only as the Mystery Man (Robert Blake), who seems to be guiding their actions in a supernatural way.
These two stories connect to each other in a circular pattern, like a tape loop or a snake eating its own tail. Like so many of Lynch’s works, trying to find concrete meaning will be an effort in frustration—Lost Highway is one that needs be looked at like a painting, with Lynch using the medium to create atmosphere and evoke emotions rather than attempting to tell a story that follows any conventional logic. If you’re willing to let the sound and imagery wash over you, Lost Highway is among Lynch’s most frightening works—with a pervasive feeling of dread that runs throughout.
Of Lynch’s films, Lost Highway’s leap to the 4K Ultra HD format was one of our most-anticipated. This is a dark movie, not just in tone but lighting-wise. Very little of it takes place during the day, and many of the night and interior scenes are lit by things like table lamps, headlights, or incandescent bulbs. This is where the HDR presentation provides a breathtaking upgrade over prior home video releases of the movie—the blacks are truly black, and far fewer details disappear into the darkness. Lynch oversaw the 4K restoration included here on Criterion’s reissue, and if you’ve never seen Lost Highway projected on film, seeing it here may feel like seeing it for the first time versus the muddy, digital transfers of the past. The soundtrack, too, receives a massive refresh, with an all-new 5.1 mix which allows the movie’s orchestral-industrial score to better contribute to the overwhelming tense atmosphere.
As essential as the 4K upgrade of this film is for Lynch fans with the setup to take advantage of it, either of Criterion’s new editions would earn our highest recommendations for their inclusion of Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch in the release’s bonus features. Shot largely during the making of Lost Highway, this feature-length documentary is far and away the best look behind the curtain at Lynch’s working methods that we’ve yet to encounter. Directed by Lynch’s longtime friend, Toby Keeler—who played a small role in Eraserhead—the film features the famously evasive filmmaker at some of his most relaxed and reminiscent, talking about his works up to that point like someone happily taking a walk down memory lane.
Pretty as a Picture takes a many-angled approach to documenting Lynch’s creative process in the course of making Lost Highway, with your standard, fly-on-the-wall moments of Lynch directing the film—but, perhaps more importantly, it talks to the people who he’s Lynch worked with time and again over the course of his career. We watch him sit in a Czech recording studio with Angelo Badalamenti, crafting and exploring the movie’s bizarre soundscape together; his longtime costume designer, Patricia Norris, walks us through the movie’s wardrobe. Novelist Barry Gifford, author of Wild at Heart and co-writer on Lost Highway, looks back at their writing process with both admiration and frustration; Lynch and producer Mary Sweeney and horse around in an editing suite. Moments like these stand in stark contrast to the interviews with Lynch newcomers on Lost Highway—actors such as Robert Loggia, Balthazar Getty, Bill Pullman, and Patricia Arquette—who still seem to regard him as an unknowable genius. Meanwhile, those who know him well talk about him like he’s a kooky, creative playmate who just has the time of his life making movies.
The documentary’s even more of a treasure to Lynch fans when it steps away from the movie set, sound mixers, and editing decks. Pretty as a Picture acts like a Lynch biography from his earliest forays into experimental film, all the way through Eraserhead, his studio work, and Twin Peaks. There are too many highlights to list, but here are a few:
– Lynch guiding a tour through the Eraserhead filming locations with dear friends Jack Nance and Catherine Coulson (Peaks’ log lady), bickering playfully about where certain shots were done.
– The director’s friend, former wife, and collaborator talking about his repeatedly painting the walls of their home black so that they could shoot their short films.
– Mel Brooks recounting his first meeting with Lynch about The Elephant Man, and being surprised by his buttoned-up appearance.
– Actor Dean Stockwell admitting that he was too high to remember meeting Lynch at one of his rollicking LA house parties in the early ‘70s before being cast in Dune.
– Lynch engaging in a friendly argument with his longtime producer over the details of how they cast the malicious BOB in Twin Peaks, and practically giggling while telling the origin story of the pilot’s fish-in-the-percolator line.
– Jennifer and Austin Lynch talking about what it’s like growing up with David Lynch as their father, as their dad’s out in the back yard nailing a hunk of meat to one of his latest paintings.
If it’s not clear from those bullet points, this documentary offers one of the most candid looks at Lynch’s life and career that we’ll ever get. It helps de-mystify Lynch, and that alone makes it a must-see for any fans of his work.
Both Criterion’s new 4K and Blu-ray releases also include readings from the 2018 book Room to Dream, so archival interviews from the original release of Lost Highway, and a booklet interview reprinted from Lynch on Lynch. All in all, this release provides an unbelievably strong audio-visual upgrade of the film, perhaps the best documentary about Lynch ever made, and nice collection of additional bonus materials. It’s a must-own.