Antonio Carlos Jobim: "Insensatez" (mp3)
Years ago, when I first saw David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), it left me disappointed and confused. It didn’t have the clean contours and indelible characters of Blue Velvet, or the circumscribed concentratedness of Eraserhead. It defied attempts at neat explication, bypassed psychological realism, and its structure seemed perversely baffling. The film felt remote and cold; I wasn’t ready for it.
I returned to Lost Highway this week and found an entirely different film waiting to meet me (a different me to meet the waiting film). The structure now seemed purposeful and original—perhaps it took me Mulholland Drive to see that—and the deliberately abstract quality of the movie and its characters made the rejection of realism a virtue. A little treatise could be (or perhaps has been) written about this movie; here is simply an observation or two.
Lost Highway is a Moebius strip movie—its beginning and ending are tied together, but at their point of meeting, they don’t complete a tidy circle. Along the way, this celluloid/highway strip of a movie has twisted, and turned itself inside out.
Here are the two elements that make up the Moebius strip:
(1) Bill Pullman, a saxophonist who suspects his wife is having an affair. A few minutes into the film, we see him go to work at the Luna Lounge. For one electrifying minute, Pullman blows the most anguished and scary free jazz solo you ever heard, all wails, blares, squawks, and squeals, with a thunderous rhythm section behind him.
(2) Balthazar Getty, an auto mechanic who lives with his working-class parents. A few minutes after we meet him, he’s in his backyard on a sunny afternoon looking over into his neighbor’s yard at a small pool with a toy boat and a floating ball with a frisky dog hanging about. It lasts just a few seconds but it’s the only optimistic moment in the entire film. On the soundtrack is “Insensatez” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. A little later, he hears a blast of free jazz on the radio; he turns it off.
As we travel down this strip, we see a stream of doubles, like pairs of headlights flashing by: two women, one blonde, the other redheaded—two Patricia Arquettes; the two-named gangster; two pairs of cops shadowing their quarry. The film itself softly fractures in two at one point.
What happens at this mysterious point where the Moebius strip twists? We’ll never know. Getty's dad, Gary Busey, knows. But he can't bear to tell his son and just shakes his head; he’s got tears in his eyes. He could almost be a stand-in for Lynch, but the reason Lynch is silent is that there is nothing "to know". What we have here is simply a structural pretext on which to build a beautiful edifice of echoes to house an unwaveringly subjective cinema.
So, I ask you: Ever run into a film (or films) that took you a second viewing, years later, to appreciate?