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The Rewards are Endless: Scott Ryan on His New Book, Lost Highway: The Fist of Love

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Scott Ryan, author of Lost Highway: The Fist of Love. Headshot by Faye Murman.

The man locked up in a jail cell and sentenced to the electric chair is no longer the same man, quite literally. He used to be Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), a paranoid saxophonist accused of killing his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), but to the bewilderment of the prison guards, he has somehow vanished overnight. Seated in his place is Pete (Balthazar Getty), a significantly younger auto mechanic who hasn’t got a clue how he got there. What can the authorities do apart from release the lad, allowing him to return to his job at a garage, his adoring girlfriend, Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner), and his formidable client Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), whose mistress Alice seems naggingly familiar (after all, she is also played by Arquette). What is the connection between these two wildly different men—Fred and Pete—and why does an ominous Mystery Man (Robert Blake) seem to take malicious delight in tormenting them both?

These are the questions that left me hopelessly puzzled during my initial viewings of David Lynch’s 1997 film, “Lost Highway,” a deeply unsettling neo-noir that has yet to gain the devoted following of the director’s revered classics such as “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet,” and my all-time favorite film, “Mulholland Dr.” Now Scott Ryan, the managing editor of the essential “Twin Peaks” publication, The Blue Rose Magazine, has released a new book that serves as a fitting follow-up to his previous work of impassioned analysis, Fire Walk With Me: Your Laura Disappeared. Ryan makes it abundantly clear in the opening pages of his book, Lost Highway: The Fist of Love, that he was not a fan of the titular film when he made his first stab at viewing it. Yet the author, along with the excellent array of interview subjects he has assembled (including Arquette, Getty and Wagner), goes on to make a convincing case that “Lost Highway” is as masterful a work as any in Lynch’s oeuvre, and demands to be seen more than once in order to be fully experienced. I recently spoke with Ryan via Zoom for RogerEbert.com about the epiphanies he had while delving into the meticulous artistry of this long misunderstood film.

Just like you, I had always found “Lost Highway” to be the David Lynch film that was the most difficult for me to embrace—until I experienced it on the big screen at Daniel Knox’s Lynch retrospective held last year at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. Now I can’t imagine Lynch’s career without the film because it really does serve as a key transitional point for him. 

Seeing “Lost Highway” on the big screen is a totally different experience, especially in its new 4K restoration, which a lot of my book covers. I truly believe that it is the forgotten film of Lynch’s career, and the sales of the book back that up. [laughs] I knew it was going to be a hard sell. There are many fans of The Blue Rose who support everything we do, but I recently found that four hundred people who bought my Fire Walk With Me book have not bought this book. That was a surprise. To me, “Lost Highway” is just as good as “Mulholland Dr.”, and I know those are big words because “Mulholland Dr.” is often ranked among the best films of all time, but I really think that there is a similarity between the two films. It’s kind of the same story—not really, but kind of. 

The 1997 interview with Lynch contained on the film’s Criterion Blu-ray edition finds the director openly discussing how the O.J. Simpson trial inspired “Lost Highway,” and how Fred Madison’s attempt at escaping his own murderous deeds is similar to the medical condition known as a “psychogenic fugue.” 

Right! It says so much about our society that “Mulholland Dr.” is considered literally one of the best films ever, and “Lost Highway” never makes any “best of” list. It’s so interesting how Lynch inspires such passionate feelings, good and bad. 

A filmmaker like Lynch illuminates the limitations of film criticism in how his work requires more than one viewing to truly experience it. I think the reason why “Mulholland Dr.” is much more easily accessible is that we are more naturally endeared to Naomi Watts’ character of Betty and her relationship with Rita (Laura Elena Harring) than we are to the monstrous Fred Madison. 

When I interviewed Balthazar Getty for the book, I said to him, “How much did you focus on Bill Pullman’s part of the film?”, and he said, “Not at all. I don’t even think about that part of it.” That prompted me for the first time to think of what it would be like to watch “Lost Highway” in that way. What if you started the film with Balthazar Getty? And in a way, that’s what “Mulholland Dr.” did. It starts with the happy part first. Betty is coming to Hollywood, there are people dancing to swing music, and you’re like, ‘Isn’t this great?’ Not that Pete’s story is all great, but it certainly isn’t as dark and scary as Fred and Renee’s story is, and I think that has a lot to do with it.

It’s all about what you’re coming into. “Lost Highway” is dark and scary and unsettling right from the get-go. “Mulholland Dr.” doesn’t become that dark until the last twenty minutes, and by that point, I think you’re ready for it. I even admit in this book that when I first watched “Lost Highway,” I ejected it from my VCR after the first few minutes and didn’t even finish it. So I am not condescending to readers by going, “Let me school all of you and say why you’re wrong to feel this way about the film.” It was only a couple years ago that I didn’t like “Lost Highway” either!

When I interviewed Barry Gifford in 2021, he told me that when he and Lynch first wrote the screenplay, it was so funny that they eventually had to rewrite it so that the film wouldn’t come across as an overt comedy. Watching the film with an engaged crowd certainly illuminates the dark humor that made the final cut.

I don’t think those early drafts ever slipped out into the world. In the book, I compare the film with its shooting script, in which David and Barry had the tone down much better. Last month, I was in Snoqualmie, Washington, for an event called The Real Twin Peaks where I got to host some panels. Someone in attendance had just been to a screening of “Fire Walk With Me” the night before, and she told me that she left the theater because people were laughing throughout the film. That really upset her because she didn’t think the film was funny. As you know from being at the Lynch retrospective in Chicago, a lot of things in his films get laughs that you may not find amusing while watching them at home. What I explained to her is, “People aren’t laughing like it’s an Adam Sandler comedy.”

Except for moments like, as you mentioned in the book, the tailgating sequence in “Lost Highway.”

Right, you’re just so happy in that moment. We’ve all been tailgated and we all want to get that person. It’s such a cathartic experience. 

And producer Deepak Nayar mentions in your book how that scene came from Lynch’s own frustration with a tailgater.

What Deepak knows is just unbelievable! He was such an incredible storyteller that he didn’t need me at all in our interview. I just clicked record and he was good to go. As for the aforementioned audience response, people are laughing because they are experiencing Lynch’s work in public and they are uncomfortable. Lynch is going to make you uncomfortable and that’s why we love him.

You begin the book with a wonderful foreword penned by our own Editor at Large, Matt Zoller Seitz.

I was very fortunate to get Matt to write it. He has honestly been an angel to Fayetteville Mafia Press, which is the publishing company I run with David Bushman. Matt ordered a ton of Courtenay Stallings' book Laura's Ghost, and that basically kept us in business during the pandemic. Then he offered to do the foreword for this book. He is a wonderful writer and an even better person.

Patricia Arquette’s interpretation that “Lost Highway” is portraying the inner mind of a misogynist played a crucial role in deepening my understanding of the film.

I have been very fortunate to interview a lot of Lynch actors, and I am not putting anyone else down, but I’m telling you, Patricia Arquette is the smartest actor, male or female, that I have ever spoken with. When you see what she does in this movie or “Boyhood” or “True Romance” or countless other things, you think, ‘How does she do this? Why is she better than everyone else?’ And after talking to her for five minutes, I realized that it’s because she’s smarter than everyone else. If you’re smarter, you do your job better, regardless of whatever it happens to be. She knew everything about her character. It’s been 25 years, and it’s not like everyone has been begging to talk to her about “Lost Highway” during that time. They want to talk about “True Romance,” which is understandable. But Patricia still understands both of her characters from “Lost Highway.”

She understood why Alice was in the film, what her role was and what she was there to create. When she called Alice a monster, I was initially taken aback because I had always looked at her as a victim of Mr. Eddy. Now here is the person who played her saying, “No, she’s a monster. She’s manipulating everyone because she is the creation of a man who thinks women can only manipulate with their body, not their mind.” Of course, you want to start a book off with a good interview, but the true reason her interview leads this book is because she’s got it. You can read the Patricia Arquette interview, and you have the whole book. She’s that smart and understood this movie in a way that is unlike any other Lynch actor I’ve interviewed. Most people who act for Lynch say, “Oh my god, I don’t know what this movie was. I just did what he said.” And again, that’s not putting them down because you’re not supposed to understand Lynch, and that’s what he really wants from his actors. But Patricia really understood this film.

You look at the nude scenes of famous actresses that everyone talked about in the ’90s, and they were almost always about sex and often so freaking pointless that you’re sure they were included just so HBO or Skinimax would pick up the film. I don’t believe Patricia’s nude scenes in “Lost Highway” are gratuitous at all. Alice has to be naked in that scene with Mr. Eddy because she’s got a gun pointed to her head. Patricia knew that and it was really hard for her. I was so grateful that she brought up the nude scenes in our interview so I didn’t have to. She told me how she’s very uncomfortable with nudity and that she didn’t want to do those scenes in “Lost Highway,” but she understood that they made all the difference for her characters.

She also told you of how she was able to advocate for herself onset when she felt that some of the men in that scene weren’t acting professional, which prompted Lynch to have a conversation with them that cleared up the problem. 

I think it is very American to be worried about nudity because Lynch is an artist first. Nudity has always been a part of art, and when you are in one of his films, you become a part of his paintings. I don’t think any of his films gratuitously have nudity. The Pink Room scene in “Fire Walk With Me” wouldn’t be the same if Sheryl Lee didn’t take her clothes off in the middle of the bar. It says so much about where her self-worth is in that moment.

It also amplifies the horror Laura feels when she sees her friend Donna, so movingly played by Moira Kelly, attempting to follow her lead. 

Yes, it’s all a part of Lynch’s art and I think that’s sometimes really hard for an American audience to embrace.

To me, Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” could be interpreted as a fever dream had by Christian Slater’s Elvis-obsessed character in “True Romance.”

That had always been one of my bucket list questions for Patricia Arquette, and I was glad that I got to ask her about the connections between those two films. She agreed with me that those connections are there, and in doing a bit of writing about “Pulp Fiction” and other Tarantino films, I actually see a lot of similarities between Lynch and Tarantino, which is interesting since Tarantino has said some snotty things about Lynch. But I think he likes Lynch because you’ll often see him do things that Lynch had already done first.

What makeup artist Debbie Zoller achieved in “Lost Highway” was incredible, leading up to Fred’s implied electrocution at the end. I love your comparisons in the book of Pullman looking at the skylight in his house and then the light in his cell, suggesting that he has always been in prison throughout the film, which echoes the interpretation that Agent Cooper never leaves the Red Room in “Twin Peaks: The Return.”

Debbie Zoller’s work on Alice and Renee is so detailed. She is just incredibly smart and great at her job. I love that interview, and she was very motivating to me. I got sort of emotional during our conversation because she told me about how she really took control of her life and her career by believing that she could do more. She got her start on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and she said, “I could still be working on ‘Star Trek’ today, and that could’ve just been my career.” She could’ve spent thirty years working on “Star Trek,” and there’s nothing wrong with that career, but she’s gotten to do so many other things because she believed she could do more than put on Vulcan ears. When you look at all that she has done, it just makes you think that whatever you want to do, nothing should hold you back from going out and doing it. 

I had to quote you in my obituary for Angelo Badalamenti because I loved how you analyzed his music in your previous book. You do an equally wonderful deep dive into the “Lost Highway” soundtrack here, which you dub the film’s “reliable narrator,” an observation that could likely be made about all of Lynch’s work. Have you gradually come to that realization through your analysis of the music?

Yeah, definitely. I really learned that from “Fire Walk With Me” years and years before I was ever covering Lynch. I started to notice how he’d put the sound of the electricity in whenever certain things would happen, which made me begin to pay close attention to the sound. So much of the feeling and mood in “Eraserhead” is created by the sound. All that being said, I knew very little about the soundtrack for “Lost Highway,” so that chapter on it became my favorite in the whole book because I actually had to do research on the songs. Whereas I knew every song frontwards and backwards from “Fire Walk With Me,” I really had to research where the songs in “Lost Highway” came from and what they meant. I learned a ton about them, and they helped to sort of explain the movie. That is not true of most movie soundtracks. I don’t know if studying the “Clueless” soundtrack is really going to bring something more to that movie, but with “Lost Highway,” it truly does. 

During my interview last year with the film’s editor, Mary Sweeney, she said, “David and I met with David Bowie at a recording studio in New York, and it was such a thrill to ask for his permission to get the stems of ‘I’m Deranged,’ so that we could just bring in the local under-wind before bringing in the rest of the stems during the film’s final moments. I loved that idea, which is a testament to David Lynch’s genius.” When you hone in on the poetry of those lyrics, the essence of the film is revealed.

That song is where I got the title for my book, The Fist of Love. I knew that I wanted to pick a lyric from that song because it is so important, but I also knew that if I called this book, I’m Deranged, everybody would think it was my autobiography. [laughs] “The Fist of Love” encapsulates what the movie is really about—violent love. “Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil first plays during Fred and Renee’s embarrassing sex scene. There could not be a more degrading sexual moment than your partner tapping you on the back. Later, we hear that song again when Balthazar Getty—this built, hot 20-year-old guy—is having sex with a beautiful blonde girl in front of the lights of a souped-car in the desert. It’s so obvious that this is Fred’s fantasy designed to erase that horrible sexual moment, and only after it occurs can Fred return. That stuff is deep and so artistically done.  

What makes “Lost Highway” doubly chilling is the fact that in real life, following the film’s release, Robert Blake soon found himself convicted of the same crime that O.J. Simpson—and Fred Madison—did. In many ways, this film makes a fitting double bill with Blake’s other great and eerily autobiographical role in Richard Brooks’ 1967 masterpiece, “In Cold Blood,” also available via Criterion.

I opted not to go for an interview with Robert Blake as well as Marilyn Manson because I try to steer clear of anything that’s sordid in my work. I just look at Robert Blake’s performance in that film, and that’s where it ends for me. He is so creepy, and nobody else could’ve played that part. It’s hard not to think of Bob when I look at him. Lynch is so good at creating these completely evil people who scare you to death. 

I also think of the Man Behind Winkie’s in “Mulholland Dr.”, another seemingly evil entity who embodies a truth too painful for the characters to acknowledge. I love Arquette’s interpretation of the Mystery Man’s assertion that he’s in Fred’s house as meaning, “I’m inside you.”

Right, she was so smart. Getting to talk to Natasha Gregson Wagner was also incredible. She’s so innocent and sweet in the film and plays that part so perfectly. I’ve always been a big fan of her’s, and she was just as nice as you would want her to be.

The dream world that is cinema gets threaded into the world of “Twin Peaks” in so many fascinating ways. I always felt that the loss of Natalie Wood haunted the show, in part because two of her “West Side Story” co-stars, Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, are prominently featured—which made the casting of Wagner, Wood’s daughter, in “Lost Highway” seem somehow fitting. 

Natasha was very open to talking about her mom with me, and we do touch upon the recent documentary, “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind,” because I admitted to her that I didn’t know Natalie was her mom. To me, Natasha was the girl from “Two Girls and a Guy,” which is one of my all-time favorite movies. I just love that movie, and I had only found out a couple days before I interviewed her that her mom was Natalie Wood. When I admitted this to her, she actually liked that. She said it made her feel like a real actress, and I said, “To me, you were.” She’s been in a ton of great stuff.

Another of Lynch’s brilliant casting choices is having Lee Grant, a great actor and filmmaker who was blacklisted, play the woman who warns Betty that “someone is in trouble” in “Mulholland Dr.”

Right. I think a lot of the character names in “Twin Peaks” came from Mark Frost. I can see Frost having a lot to do with the homages to “Laura” and “Vertigo,” but to me, “Mulholland Dr.” is where Lynch reveals what he really thinks of Hollywood and how it hasn’t taken care of him. I’ve actually never said this before—it’s just come to me right now—but if you’re going to compare any character in a Lynch film to the director himself, Betty is a pretty good one to go with. I think Lynch thought he was going to go to Hollywood and become the next Steven Spielberg, and to us, he did, but I think he wanted to have that recognition from everyone. 

David Lynch’s portrayal of John Ford in Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” brought down the house when I caught the film’s Chicago premiere.

I think Lynch is a great actor! He really moved me in “Lucky.” His work in “The Fabelmans” is good, but it’s more like stunt casting. To me, he’s really playing a character in “Lucky,” and he was also very good on the TV show, “Louie.” He could’ve been an actor. I can’t imagine that’s how he wants to spend his days and I doubt it’s something he really enjoys. I do always point out that there’s only one person in all of “The Return” who ever explains anything, and it’s Lynch’s own character of Gordon Cole. If there was ever a scene that required someone to lay out a bunch of exposition, it would always be David Lynch who delivered it. After all, if anyone was going to explain anything in “The Return,” it was going to be him! 

Lynch gave himself a lot of dialogue in that, so maybe he does enjoy acting, and I think he’s great at it. I’d like to see him star in a film that he wrote. Wouldn’t that be so fascinating? In my opinion, Gordon Cole is as beloved as Albert, played by Miguel Ferrer. That character leaps off the screen in every single scene. The other thing that I like to point out is that Gordon Cole is the only character who doesn’t change between the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” and “The Return.” Amidst all the people saying that “The Return” shows how you can’t go home again and you can’t be the same, the David Lynch character can!

Mary Sweeney told me that she felt Lynch had cut loose in “Lost Highway” by implementing fancier equipment such as cranes that he hadn’t used since “The Elephant Man” and “Dune.”

When you read the interviews with him as the movie was coming out in ’97, you can see that Lynch was hoping for “Lost Highway” to be a huge hit. I really believe he thought that it was going to cross over and be like “Twin Peaks.” It was going to have that moment. In the book, I speculate about how the film’s failure to connect with critics and audiences must have hurt Lynch because he had a lot of hope for it. Yet his work just takes a long time to sink in. There was an interviewer who kept asking me whether I thought “Lost Highway” would ever cross over and be universally loved. The legacy of “Fire Walk With Me” has certainly changed, but I don’t think “Lost Highway” is coming back. The people who love it will love it, but I just don’t see Netflix picking “Lost Highway” to stream. I know the film was released last year in a 4K restoration, but when I looked at its box office, “INLAND EMPIRE” did better on its rerelease than “Lost Highway.”

The November 2022 issue of The Blue Rose Magazine commemorating the 25th anniversary of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.”

I’d like to think that the work you’re doing, not only through this book but the Blue Rose Magazine issue devoted to “Lost Highway,” combined with the increasingly revered stature of “Mulholland Dr.”, which recently cracked the top ten of Sight & Sound’s greatest films list, will inspire audiences to give the picture another look.

Well, I don’t mean to be pooh-poohing, but we might be it in terms of the people who are linking “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Dr.” I don’t think Sight & Sound is linking those films, though they should be. Sometimes when a star like Patricia Arquette receives an Oscar, their whole catalogue becomes relevant again, but I didn’t see “Lost Highway” get a bump after she won for “Boyhood.” I just think that the film is really hard for people to embrace. As movies become worse and worse, and you have to think less and less, here’s a movie that there is honestly no way to understand the first time you watch it. You have to watch it twice and probably three times. That’s gonna catch on? It just seems really unlikely to me. I hope it happens, because I’m the only one who has a book about it, but I don’t think it will. 

What specific epiphanies did you have about “Lost Highway” while conducting these interviews for the book?

My discussions with cinematographer Peter Deming and cameraman/focus puller Scott Ressler about going down the dark hallway and filming in a house that doesn’t have natural light were beyond fascinating to me. Scott talked about how he should’ve quit that job because he was concerned that future employers would think that he had made a mistake on this film. He was supposed to make certain shots blurry because that’s what David wanted. He said someone else would’ve quit over that, but he was a fan of David and that is what he was asked to do. You just tend not to think about the crew and how they had to change their own approach to the craft in order to bring these ideas to life. To me, that is so exciting. I love films that I haven’t seen before, and that’s what “Lost Highway” is. 

I was so fascinated by Scott’s description of the technique known as “lens whacking.” 

They use that technique in “Mulholland Dr.” a lot as well, but they invented it on “Lost Highway,” and what’s funny is that none of them—Peter, Scott or David—would take credit for it. They wanted to have a shot be in focus, go way out of focus, and snap back into focus. Now, if they had made this movie in 2023, they wouldn’t have to do anything in camera. It would simply be done in editing, and the actors wouldn’t even know it was happening. But here, they were trying to figure out how to do it and since Scott was in charge of focus, he said, “Well, I could just grab that lens and pull it out and put it back in.” They all loved that idea, and I’m not going to spoil this story because I think people should read it in the book, but it leads to one hell of a Gary Busey story. [laughs]

That story almost sounds like a scene from a Lynch film!

[laughs] It really does. 

I love how you point out in the shooting script that the first time we see Fred Madison, he is looking at a mirrored reflection of himself, which is never made clear in the actual film. Then you go on to compare it to the opening shot of Josie glancing at her reflection in the “Twin Peaks” pilot. And what is “Lost Highway,” if not the cinematic equivalent of looking at one’s reflection?

Right, and I think it’s interesting that Lynch began them the same way. If you look at the pilot of “Twin Peaks,” the camera is pulled back far enough that you see the curvature of the round mirror that Josie is looking in, so it’s obvious that she is looking in a mirror. This shows you how much Lynch changed as a director when he filmed “Lost Highway” six years later. He pushes in on Pullman, so it’s only the look of the shot that suggests it’s a mirror, which really blew my mind.

That’s what makes Lynch’s work so exciting in that nothing is spoon-fed to the viewer.

Yeah, if you like to think, it’s a fun way to go. I’m actually writing my next book right now. It’s called The Last Decade of Cinema, and it’s about 25 unique films from the ’90s. So I am working on that and I am finding that in the ’90s, there are so many movies that just let you figure it out. You decide what “My Own Private Idaho” is about. You decide what’s going on in “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” I would actually love to do a weekend of ’90s films at the Music Box. I’ve already gotten to interview a couple of really good screenwriters for the book, and I am in the process of scheduling an interview with the writer of “Reality Bites.”

Mary Sweeney’s genius as not only an editor but a screenwriter is in knowing what not to show or to articulate, as evidenced by the final scene of “The Straight Story.” She told me, “The gaps in that scene are what the very powerful emotions between those two actors deserved. It’s similar to how I approach frightening people. The less you actually show slashing, the scarier it is. It’s certainly an old principle of filmmaking and film editing that many great editors understand. It’s not anything I’ve invented. I just clued into it very early on in the process, because David’s films really demand time for people to digest while they’re watching. There’s a lot you don’t quite understand. You’ll watch his films and think, ‘Wow, I really like that sex scene, but what the heck is going on here?’, or, ‘Oh my god! She’s chopped up in a video? Did I really see that?’ You have to make sense out of it. As an editor, you need to respect the audience but you also kind of own them, and I don’t mean this to sound manipulative. You want people to enter the dream. That’s the whole idea.”

Since my brain is set on the ’90s, I’m reminded of a film that I’m covering in my next book, Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” Almost all of the violence and shootouts take place in the dark. The inciting incident is the slicing up of a saloon girl by one of the johns, and you see so little of it. It’s scarier and more violent because you don’t see it. The same is true of the infamous scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” where the guy’s ear gets sliced off. You don’t see it, but everyone in the audience already had their eyes closed before the camera pans to the wall, so they think that it’s there on the screen. That is why, in my opinion, the best way to portray violence is to not show it. 

Lynch and Sweeney are more radical in that way than practically any other director and editor in their collaborations, since they take everything away that, as you mention in the book, would’ve turned a film like “Lost Highway” into some sort of routine crime procedural. 

I asked Lynch’s longtime producer Sabrina S. Sutherland whether any of the scenes from the shooting script that were not in the film would be included on the Criterion release, and she said there wouldn’t be any, so I don’t think they ever shot them. So much of that script reads like a police procedural. Do we really need to see the police investigating the murder? No, that’s not what this movie’s about. It would’ve turned “Lost Highway” into an episode of “The X-Files,” so I find it hard to believe Lynch even shot that stuff. I think it got cut ahead of time. 

I wonder if Lynch put those scenes in just to get the script sold and never intended on shooting them.

[laughs] Right, and I think a lot of times, he has that worked out. He knows the entire story and what parts of it you don’t need to see. People get upset when they learn that Lynch cut Doc Hayward’s line in “Fire Walk With Me” that foreshadows the arrival of the angel for Laura at the end. Having that scene cut is what makes the ending so great. You don’t expect her to find an angel. That movie is just going down, down, down into dark places, so when that happens, we are as lit by that light as Laura Palmer is because we did not see it coming. As viewers, we can do some of the work too. We’ll get there on our own terms.

Though Lynch may want his films to be successful, he’s not going to kowtow to some formula in order to make that happen.

Exactly. And at the end of the day, should a movie in which a husband kills his wife make us feel good? No, we should feel bad, just like the town feels bad about Laura Palmer’s death. We are not desensitized to the the murders that occur in “Twin Peaks” or any David Lynch movie.

It’s almost like “Lost Highway” is the film our culture deserved after the sensationalism of the O.J. Simpson trial dwarfed the story about the actual lives that were lost. 

I was just writing yesterday for my book on ’90s films about Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For,” and that’s what that whole movie is about. It was made right on the precipice of the O.J. trial, and they were trying to warn us about what could happen if we embraced that sort of sensationalism. We are certainly living in the results of it in our culture now where that’s what everybody wants. It is crazy. 

In some ways, the mirror shot that opens “Lost Highway” is reflected in Roger Ebert’s two-star review of the film, which perfectly encapsulates how many people—myself included—felt the first time they saw the picture, while also touching on the film’s key theme of sexual frustration: “David Lynch's ‘Lost Highway’ is like kissing a mirror: You like what you see, but it's not much fun, and kind of cold.”

In the book, I quote Gene Siskel, who doubted that anyone could make heads or tails of the film, and again, I don’t blame them because it is a hard film. I think they went into it with negative feelings for Lynch, just as I initially went into it as a new father who had a lack of sleep. I do think that you have to be open to all of Lynch, even in the case of “The Straight Story.” It is the easiest film of his to consume, but you still have to be open to watching a guy drive his lawnmower across multiple states. [laughs] If you want to go into it hating the work, you can hate everything that Lynch has done. But if you want to go into it with open palms, the rewards are endless.

Scott Ryan’s book, Lost Highway: The Fist of Love, is now available for purchase at the official site of The Blue Rose Magazine. The 4K restorations of “Lost Highway” and “INLAND EMPIRE” are now available to purchase via The Criterion Collection. Scott will be conducting all of the Q&As at Daniel Knox’s upcoming Lynch retrospective scheduled to run from Wednesday, May 24th, through Sunday, June 4th, at the Texas Theatre in Dallas.

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the former Literary Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 


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