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a film by David Lynch
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America's most enigmatic filmmaker chases his demons down a Lost Highway

David Lynch
by Bob Strauss, e-online

After a five-year abscence, David Lynch is once again unleashing his nightmares on the big screen with Lost Highway. Of course, it may be another five years before anyone figures out what's really going on in Lynch's latest, unsettling cinematic tone poem. It seems to be a tribute to femme fatale-ism, psychic transferral and demonic telephone pranksters. Then again, it may not be.

On the many ways of interpreting a Lynch film

The only thing certain is that Lost Highway is bound to generate as much discussion as Lynch's two certified masterpieces, Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. His new film's sexual obsessiveness, dives into dementia and 180-degree plot twists are also likely to revive the charges of self-indulgence that greeted Lynch's last two films, Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, as well as the later episodes of his groundbreaking, early-'90s series Twin Peaks.

All we can tell you about Lost Highway is what we've seen, which is probably how Lynch likes it best. Bill Pullman plays a jazz musician married to a red-haired, crimson-lipped Patricia Arquette. One day she turns up dead, and it looks like he killed her, though he can't remember if he did.

Sometime later, Pullman disappears from a maximum-security prison cell, and a young mechanic Balthazar Getty from the San Fernando Valley appears in his place. Still later, the mechanic meets a mobster's moll–a platinum-blond Arquette–and they embark on a hallucinatory sex and murder spree.

Sitting on the deck outside his surprisingly normal Hollywood Hills home, Lynch–who's sporting a mightily impressive natural pompadour these days–refuses to explain the meaning of Lost Highway.

Not because this gracious, low-key, 51-year-old former Boy Scout gets a kick out of being inscrutable. It's just that he views film as a medium with deeper, less tangible potential than the simple storytelling mechanism we've all come to consider it.

This doesn't make Lynch's work any less maddening, alarming or memorably haunting. But it is proof that at least one guy in Hollywood is incapable of compromising his art, no matter what bizarre roads his vision leads him down.


Is your hair a metaphor for your views on art and life?

Well, I've been blessed with good hair, or at least some people think it is. It is the way it is, sort of does what it wants to. So, yeah, I guess it is.

The press kit says you're calling Lost Highway a "21st-century noir horror film."

That's a lot of baloney. Barry [Gifford, Highway's cowriter and Wild at Heart's author] and I wrote those lines on the treatment because they felt like the hip part of a B-movie's poster lines. When you say four or five words on a film–or four or five paragraphs–it doesn't capture the whole. So, that was written, basically, for the treatment. And for the French.

Then how would you describe Lost Highway?

What I wanted to do is in the film, from the beginning to the end. Y'know, when you make a film you're inside of it, and it's a process of translating ideas to film using this beautiful medium. I can't, in words, say what I say in film. You work two years to get two hours and 13 minutes of film a certain way, and that is what you want to do–that is it. The talking about it is always a failure. It's always less than what you want to say and less than what the film is. It's, um, just a bummer.


Oh, no, that's okay. I'm just being straight with you.

But you must have to talk out your concepts with the actors while you're making the movie

Well, actors ask questions. When rehearsals start, you can be very close or a million miles away, it doesn't matter. The process starts, you rehearse, you talk, you rehearse, you talk. And I promise you, the words are only part of this process.

I don't know how it works. Sometimes it's a hand gesture or a look, but something is transferred from one person to another that has nothing to do with words. It's an understanding, something is going on, and little by little, this performance is altering and getting very close to the way it should be.

Patricia Arquette says she feels the part where her husband is replaced by Balthazar Getty is really a projection on the part of the killer, who doesn't believe he's committed a crime and thinks he loves his wife, when, deep down, he's seething with jealous hatred.

I'm sure it would be interesting to hear Patricia's take on it. But I guarantee you it'd be different from other people's takes.

It can't be easy to get financial backing for movies like this that are not open to simple, universal interpretations. I mean, even producers of supposed "art-house" pictures want to ensure some kind of return on their investment.

Well, I've really been fortunate. I don't really know about the studio system, but when several people have to understand everything in a script in order to greenlight it, it narrows the chances for abstractions.
There are some great films that everybody understands, where the understanding is critical and you're led through understanding to some fantastic places. But film can make abstractions, and in life there are abstractions. It's a powerful medium, and it can do many things.

But wouldn't you say your abstract approach prevented you from being able to make a film for almost five years?

Well, it's always a mysterious thing. Something was going on in '92, when Fire Walk with Me came out. It was a bit of a dark cloud for me; I could feel being in it, and I could feel it sort of lifting around '94. I did a lot of painting, I was building things and working some with music and trying to catch ideas. I wrote a script called Dream of the Bovine, and no one cared two wits about that script. Very stupid comedy.

So, you're saying the five-year gap between Fire and Lost Highway was due more to creative than financial blockage?

Yeah, a little bit. There were some very frustrating times. But, y'know, everybody has those things. Sometimes, you just get red lights. Then, for some reason, fate steps in, they turn green and away you go. But it's always been like that for me. I have never gone right from one thing into another, and I don't know if it's possible.

Some people will have trouble with Lost Highway's dreamy intangibility, yet others will find the nudity, fetishistic sex and eroticized violence hard to take. Of course, that's nothing new when it comes to your work.

Well, this one's based on some truthful aspects of human behavior. People can get into trouble–they can get into a lot of trouble. A lot of stories deal with people's struggles and the strange things their desires lead them into. Their mind may tell them that's not a good place to go, but people sense things. And instead of truth coming, imaginary paranoia starts growing, and they misperceive the truth of things. Then a demon starts growing. All these things are part of the human experience. But instead of being in trouble myself, I like to go into a world where others are in trouble, then come out and have that as an experience check for myself later.

I suppose that's a basic voyeuristic reason we all go to the movies. Still, your films constantly have stuff that seems more shocking than the things in anybody else's films–except for maybe David Cronenberg.

It would be wrong to invent a scene just to shock somebody. Every piece has to live inside the film, it has to make sense. These ideas come out and present themselves to me. Sometimes you throw them away, other times you feel you're in a vein, that the thing exists in its total just behind the veil, you're seeing pieces of it and it's talking to you and it wants to be a certain way...Now I feel like I'm in a psychiatrist's chair.

Well, then let's dig a little deeper into how your brain operates. You've certainly given me the impression you're more comfortable expressing yourself through images than through words.

I'm not comfortable with words. I love images,and I love sounds, and I love feelings. I like the idea of intuition. I think a lot of things in life are understood that way. But you internalize these things; they don't really pop out. Certain things are built inside–little areas of understanding. I feel that I live in darkness and confusion, and I'm trying, like we all are, to make some sort of sense of it.

How are you handling the mysterious murder of Jack Nance, who starred in Eraserhead and appeared in all of your other projects except Elephant Man.

I really don't know what I'm going to do without him around. Jack was one of my best friends. I was in France when it happened, and the French papers had stories on Jack. So did the English papers. I was very happy to see that so many people cared about this guy, but I still don't believe it happened. I picture the guy in his robe and slippers, sitting in his chair. Another unique character.

Despite all the perverse imagery up on the screen, it sounds like you actually live your life in a pretty straight, upbeat manner.

Cigarettes are pretty much my worst vice, and I even stopped smoking for 20 years. I spend most of my free time with my family and working on art.

Guess it keeps the nightmares at bay.

You know, film is the thing that brings many media together. So, it made me become interested in each separate thing. Sometimes still photography will give you ideas for a film. Or a painting. Each thing is a world that you can fall into, and each medium is unique. You can go very far in each one, it's just a question of time and experiencing it and entering into this dialogue with it. But it's a great life, y'know?

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