All sources for ‘mental space’ in ‘Lost Highway’

“Sometime during the shooting, the unit publicist was reading up on different types of mental illness, and she hit upon this thing called “psychogenic fugue.” The person suffering from it creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything – they forget their past identity. This has reverberations with Lost Highway, and it’s also a musical term. A fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original, so it [relates] to the form of the film. ( Lynch quoted in )

“The unit publicist was reading up on certain mental disorders during production, and she came upon this true condition called ‘psychogenic fugue,’ which is where a person gives up himself, his world, his family – everything about himself – and takes on another identity. That’s Fred Madison completely. I love the term psychogenic fugue. In a way, the musical term fugue fits perfectly, because the film has one theme, and then another theme takes over. To me, jazz is the closest thing to insanity that there is in music.” ( Lynch quoted in )

Herzogenrath, B. (1999) On the Lost Highway: Lynch and Lacan, Cinema and Cultural Pathology. Other Voices. v.1, n.3, January 1999.

The first part of Lost Highway presents a marital scenario of uncertainty, anxiety, and unspoken suspicion. It takes place in a house which more resembles a fortress than a cosy home. From the film’s beginning, we have the feeling of tension and fear: home, the family unit is the place of trouble and terror. This feeling is emphasized by Lynch’s masterly employment of the soundtrack. For Lynch, “[h]alf of [a] film is picture … the other half is sound. They’ve got to work together” (Press Kit). So, in Lynch’s work, the soundtrack is a most important factor to enhance the mood of a scene. For example, during the dialogues between Fred and Renee there is no resonance to their voices. It is as if the works are spoken in a sound-absorbing environment, the whole spectrum of overtones, all those features that make a human voice seem alive, seems to have been cut. In its dryness, the voices of Renee and Fred almost seem to enact an absence of sound, or better – an absence of room, of the acoustics of space: it’s as if they are living in a recording studio covered in acoustic tile. (Herzogenrath, 1999)

“the general feeling of being observed, a feeling that takes shape in the fact that they live close to the “observatory.” The outside literally starts to intrude the inside, and the threat is emphasized by the deep droning sounds (in a cinema with a good sound system, the spectators actually can feel this threat as a uncomfortable feeling in their stomachs …”(Herzogenrath, 1999)

Lacan and drone sound in sound design:
“With respect to the delusional aspects of psychosis, Lacan comments on “this buzzing that people who are hallucinating so often depict … this continuous murmur … is nothing other than the infinity of these minor paths” (Seminar III 294), these minor paths that have lost their central highway. What is the deep droning sound underlying most of the movie but this “continuous murmur?””(Herzogenrath, 1999)

Caldwell, T. (1999) Lost in Darkness and Confusion: Lost Highway, Lacan, and film noir. Metro Magazine. No. 118.

“In the scene preceding the discovery of her [Rene’s] death, Fred disappears into the darkness of their house, but emerges as two shadows that move towards her bedroom, one shadow belonging to Fred, the other belonging to the Mystery Man as the embodiment of Fred’s violence.”(Caldwell, 1999)

Biodrowski, S. (1997) The Making of “Lost Highway”. Cinefantastique. vol 28, Issue 10, April 1997.

“There is a key in the film as to its meaning,” Lynch continued, “but keys are weird. There are surface keys, and there are deeper keys. Intellectual thinking leaves you high and dry sometimes. Intuitive thinking where you get a marriage of feelings and intellect lets you feel the answers where you may not be able to articulate them. Those kinds of things are used in life a lot, but we don’t use them too much in cinema. There are films that stay more on the surface, and there’s no problem interpreting their meaning.”

To realize his noirish world, Lynch let Deming shoot LOST HIGHWAY in varying levels of darkness. The film is a little creepier than something that has contrast, with few exteriors or daylight scenes. Whenever he could, Deming consciously used hardly any light at all to keep contrast down. “There are many places in the movie where I would normally use a back light, but didn’t,” Deming laughed. “So you have people kind of melding into the background. It’s kind of an extension of when Fred walks down the hallway and disappears; it’s keeping that feeling through the rest of the movie. In another film, a director would say, `What about a back light?’ and 90-percent of the time I’d put it there, but not for this movie. (Biodrowski, 1997)

Cinematographer Deming about using underexposure:
“The thing I wanted to achieve was giving the feeling that anything could come out of the background, and to leave a certain question about what you’re looking at. The film is working under the surface while you’re watching it.”Biodrowski, 1997)

Groys, B. & Ujica, A. (2006) Sur l’Art de David Lynch. In: Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain (2007) David Lynch: The Air is on Fire. Paris: Editions Xavier Barral.

L’espace, dans les films de Lynch, est donc une hétérotopie, pour reprendre le terme de Foucault. Il s’agit certesd’un espace qui, extérieurement, ressemble à celui de la réalité américaine, qui est donc pourvu de toutes les références, de tous les comportements et de toutes les images auxquelsnous sommes fort habitués, mais qui fait tout de même naître chez l’observateur le sentiment d’être déplacé dans un autre espace, dans un espace parallèle . De ce point de vue, il est particulièrement intéressant d’entendre Foucault dire que l’hétérotopie est le lieu où les temps s’accumulent, où l’histoire s’accumule – par exemple le musée, la bibliothèque ou le cimetière. Mais on peut aussi dire que l’hétérotopie est un espace dans lequel les esprits du passé règnent et prennent possession du temps présent.

Lynch, D. (2002) Master Class with David Lynch. In: Tirard, L. Moviemakers’ Master Class: Private lessons from the world’s foremost directors. New York: Faber and Faber.

(Lynch, 2002)P128:
“I have always believed that sound is half of what makes a film work. You have the image on one side, the sound on another, and if you know how to combine them properly, then the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts. The image is made up of different elements, most of them hard to control perfectly – light, frame, acting, and so on. Sound, however – and I include music in that category – is a concrete and powerful entity which physically inhabits the film.”

“I like to play with contrasts; I like using lenses that give a greater depth of field; and I like extreme close-ups […] But none of this is systematic.”

Chion, M. (2007) David Lynch. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma.

(Chion, 2007)P247: About Fred Madison’s house
‘Son intérieur est d’un design minimaliste, souligné par les cadrages et l’écran scope.’

Rodley, C. (2005) Lynch on Lynch. London: Faber and Faber.

“Making films is a subconscious thing. Words get in the way. Rational thinking gets in the way. It can really stop you cold. But when it comes out in a pure sort of stream, from some other place, film has a great way of giving shape to the subconscious. It’s just a great language for that.”

it’s about a couple who feel that somewhere, just on the border of consciousness – or on the other of that border – are bad, bad problems. But they can’t bring them into the real world and deal with them. So this bad feeling is just hovering there, and the problems abstract themselves and become other things. I just becomes like a bad dream.

(Rodley, 2005)P225: the madison house section repeatedly uses fade-ins and fade-outs – from and to black

(Rodley, 2005)P225:
Q: Fred and René’s house has an uncertain geogrpahy. It seems that it might be endless: that once you step into it, you’re entering some potentially vast, dark labyrinth.
A: that’s the way it is in relationships sometimes.You just don’t know how they’re going to go, if there’s an end to them of if there’s just more trouble.

(Rodley, 2005)P225:
“production design is mood”

(Rodley, 2005)P226: sound in the madison house
“the home is a place where things can go wrong, and the sound comes out of that idea. If you have a room, and it’s really quiet, or if there’s no sound, you’re just looking at this room. If you want a certain kind of mood, you find the sound that creeps into that silence: that starts giving you a feeling. And there are also sounds that kill a mood. So it’s getting rid of everything that you don’t want, and then building up all the things that are gonna support it and make it whole.
(Rodley, 2005)P227: about the drones and rumbles in the Madison house
“there’s one channel of the six-tracks that’s going to the subwoofer. […] There’s an uneasiness there.”

Astic, G. (2004) Le purgatoire des sens: Lost Highway de David Lynch. Pertuis: Rouge Profond.

P35: surexposition in the desert love scene

(Astic, 2004)p55: the way the Madison living room is framed and the flattening of the depth of field in certain shots suggest an uncertain geography, with a corridor being alternatively visible and invisible.

(Astic, 2004)P56: stairs are ubiquitous in Lost Highway (and recurring in other Lynch films such as Twin Peaks). Fred goes down stairs to the Death Row and, in a mirror scene, his alter ego Pete goes up stairs in the pimp’s house before he experiences a moment of “total derealisation”. “L’escalier dit ainsi, chez Lynch, l’abandon de la surface et le creusement de la rêverie ou du cauchemar effectué à même la matière architecturale de son film.”

(Astic, 2004)P58 another recurring motif is the hotel, reminiscent of Edward Hooper’s paintings which are a strong visual inspiration for Lynch.

P63: the phone rings in Fred’s soundproofed rehearsing room. Is the phone only ringing in Fred’s head?

(Astic, 2004)P69: when Fred talks with the Mystery Man at Andy’s Party, the music and ambient noise stops, and their words are very clear, the setting becomes visually blurred: it suggest the conversation is taking place inside Fred’s head.

(Astic, 2004)P79: when Fred has a nightmare of his murdering Renée, the bedsheets are black. In the videos, they are white.

(Astic, 2004)P80: There a triptych of paintings in the Madison living room. When Pete receives a phone call from Mr eddy and the Mystery Man, his worried parents have disappeared when he raises his gaze: instead, he sees three landscape paintings that were not there before, “absurdly highlighted by the focus of the camera.”

(Astic, 2004)p84: sparsity of the dialogue, with lots of silence between lines which gives a “pure sensation of dilated time”

(Astic, 2004)p91: the Madison house is always framed so ad to never be shown in its entirety

(Astic, 2004)p100: the seemingly endless corridor at the end of which Renée anxiously calls to Fred

(Astic, 2004)p100: the recurring images of mirror suggest Fred’s shattered personality (women in mirrors, Fred in the window, Alice reflected in the mirror in the scene where she submits to Mr Eddy, Pete reflected in the car window, Andy’s face reflected in the glass table)

(Astic, 2004)p102:
At the end of the endless corridor, Fred looks at himself in a mirror that is not the only mirror we have seen so far (in the bedroom). The scene 45 in the screenplay suggests this mirror is in the living room: it can only be in this part of the living room that is always occulted by the framing.

(Astic, 2004)P128:
The cinemascope format “flattens the verticals”, “enlarge black surfaces” and “widens the lateral convergence lines”: it distorts the perspective in a way that sends the characters into a purely “mental space”.

P132: the scene where Pete sees Alice for the first time is blurred, suggesting fantasy.

Chion, M. (2009) Film, a sound art. New York: Colombia University Press.

(Chion, 2009)P149: “Lynch’s characters often speak as thoughas though they were being listened to others, by some third party lurking in the shadows – which is, in fact, the case since they are listened to by us. But that also means that they seem to be observing us listening to them. So they create a void in their voice, which then gives greater force to the sound that comes after.”

(Chion, 2009)p205: “fundamental noise” (never pure silence in Lynch films)

McGowan, T. (2007) The impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press.

(McGowan, 2007)P157: Fred’s house
‘subdued lightning’, ‘minimalist décor’, ‘drab colours (black, gray, taupe, dark orange)’, ‘minimized depth of field’

(McGowan, 2007)P158: Pete’s house
‘bright lightning’, ‘colorful furniture and décor’, ‘no empty space’, ‘depth of field’
P167: ‘traditional conventions of Hollywood realism’

(McGowan, 2007)P168: Pete section: constant background music, the actors speak naturally without ‘lengthy and awkward pauses’.

(McGowan, 2007)P162: Fred and the Mystery Man at the Party
‘the background noise of the party dims to become almost inaudible, as if, in the midst of this crowded party, the Mystery Man and Fred are having a private – intrapsychic – conversation’

Zizek, S. (2000) The art of the ridiculous sublime: on David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Seattle: Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities/University of Washington.

Zizek (2000) interpret the stylistic difference between the world of Fred and Pete as the separation between, on the one side, the drabness of ‘pure, aseptic reality’ and, on the other side, ‘fantasy’. For Zizek, those two aspect constantly merge in the way we usually perceive our environment: fantasy constantly ‘sustains our “sense of reality”’, protecting us, somehow, from its drabness and making the world liveable. We are simply not used to seeing ‘reality deprived of fantasy’ and seeing it through Fred’s eyes causes a shock for the viewer. This forced separation of the reality and fantasy elements of our usual perception, Zizek calls the “extraneation” effect.

Hughes, D. (2001) The complete Lynch. London: Virgin.

(Hughes, 2001)P208: Peter Deming cinematographer on fred in the corridor
“Normally you would try and separate people from the background by putting a little backlight on them, but we thought it was subtly creepy to have people coming in and out of black, or standing there and becoming part of the background, and to have the audience not really knowing what could come out of the black, so you’re anticipating stuff.”

(Hughes, 2001)P211: at a preview screening, Lynch made the projectionnist turn up the volume to emphasize the ‘background drones and almost subliminal effects’.

(Hughes, 2001)P222: Peter Deming denies the difference in cinematography between Fred and Pete’s parts are a stylistic choice, he says they are a mere consequence of the locations where they were shot.

Berthomieu, P. & Lauliac, C. (2001) Music in a world of sounds: David Lynch par Angelo Badalamenti. Positif, December 2001, pp.89-92.

Music drowns in the sound design, so that the viewer sometimes doubt there is any music at all.

Henry, M. (2001) David Lynch: Désirer l’idée. Positif, December 2001, pp.83-88.

(Henry, 2001)Lynch explains that his production designer Jack Fisk once told him “If you make a film that takes place in 1955, don’t forget that most of the cars or the furniture would have been made before 1955”

Krohn, B. (1997) Entretien avec David Lynch. Cahiers du Cinéma. N°509 January 1997, pp 26-29.

(Krohn, 1997)David Lynch and his cinematographer, Peter Deming, chose a chocolate brown filter, which causes a dominant colour of “red yellow brownish” to penetrate every images.

Rodley, C. (1997) David Lynch: Mr. Contradiction. Sight & Sound. Vol. 6, Issue 7, July 1996, pp 6-10.

(Rodley, 1997) Present during the Lost Highway shooting, Rodley reports that David Lynch has a ‘very precise delivery in mind’ for the ‘sparse and enigmatic dialogue’, yet he ‘doesn’t give line readings but gives indications of mental states’ to help his actors.

Orr, J. (2009) A Cinema of Parallel Worlds: Lynch & Kieslowski + Inland Empire. Film International. Issue 37, January/February 2009, pp 28-43.

p31: ‘A cinema of parallel worlds leaves behind the sureties of time and place because it abandons a unicameral world for a bicameral world. Here, if “room” is taken generally as enclosed form of Raum, or space, then “unicameral” means one-space cinema and “bicameral” means dual-space cinema.’

Lynch, D. & Gifford, B. (1997) Lost Highway. London: Faber and Faber. That’s the screenplay.

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997) P10: Fred and Renee watch the first video
On the video, ‘the picture is accompanied by an eerie droning sound’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P32:
After Fred stares at himself in mirror that the screenplay locates in the living room, there is a cut to Renee in the bedroom calling out for him, then a cut back to the living room where ‘no one is in the living now, but a shadow moves slowly across a wall’. Then we see the same scene from ‘Renee’s POV’, looking ‘down the hallway’: ‘there is just darkness at the end of the hall. It is eerie. After a moment, fred slowly walks out of the darkness towards Renee. He walks out of the shot and the camera remains on the rectangle of darkness at the end of the hall.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)p32: The next scene is Fred watching the muder tape, with the same ‘droning sound’ on it.

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P85: the night just after Pete sees Alice for the first time
Pete ‘hears a succession of highly amplified sounds at intervals with eerie stretches of silence: crickets in fractured cadence; a distant television; a fly buzzing slowly in the room; a moth’s wings beating against light bulbs in the ceiling fixture; the washing of dishes. […] Underlying these sounds is a kind of unearthly, steady drone.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P86: same scene
‘Pete’s parents POV down the hall towards Pete’s room. There is no one there – just an empty hallway.’
‘Pete’s POV – the hallway and the living room. There is no one in the living room.It’s empty.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P112-114:
After Sheila screams ‘HE’S SOMEONE ELSE!!!”, ‘the droning sound returns’ and Pete hears ‘every word and every sound’ as ‘loud and distorted’.

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P118:
After Pete gets a phone call from Mr Eddy and the Mystery Man, ‘down at the far end of the hall he sees his parents staring at him.’ A close up shows the ‘parents staring in the direction of the living room as if sensing something, but not seeing’. The Parent’s POV then shows ‘the hall and living room beyond. There is no one there.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P125:
After Andy’s murder, Pete goes upstairs and ‘staggers toward the bathroom at the rear right of the hallway. The hallway suddenly becomes hazy, different from and longer than it appeared to be.’ Doors are numbered like in a hotel. Pete considers door 25, passes it and enters door 26 where he experiences an hallucination involving ‘an extremely whorish version of Alice’. When he flees and closes the door, ‘the hallway has “changed back” to Andy’s hallway. The doors no longer have numbers.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P134:
Fleeing the desert to escape the Mystery Man, Fred finally stops in front of ‘an old two-storey building’: the ‘Lost Highway Hotel’ and gets a room there. The hallway leading to it is ‘strangely similar to Pete’s vision upstairs at Andy’s’ and his room is number 25. Fred falls asleep and the film cuts to the camera moving down the hallway at night and stopping in front of room 26. Inside Renee and Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent make love.

Full Synopsis

The plot of Lost Highway (1996) needs to be explained in more details because of the complex time structure and relationships between (and changes of) characters that could become confusing otherwise.

The film starts with a view of a highway through a desolate, desert landscape at night shot from inside a moving car. The next scene shows Jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (played by Bill Pullman) at home: a voice in his intercom tells him ‘Dick Laurent is dead’. He looks through the window but can’t see anyone at the door. Over the next few days, Fred and his wife Renee (played by Patricia Arquette) receive anonymous videos showing, first, the outside of their house, then, them sleeping in their bedroom. They call the police. At a party at Andy’s, a friend of Renee’s, Fred meets the Mystery Man who tells him they have met before, and that he is inside Fred’s house at this very moment, proving so with a phone call. Fred is freaked out and asks Andy who the Mystery Man is. Andy replied he is a friend of Dick Laurent, to which Fred automatically replies that Dick Laurent is dead. This confuses and worries Andy and Renee, because they do not know that he is dead, and Fred is not even supposed to know him. Back in their house, Fred checks the house while Renee calls out to him from the bedroom. This echoes a dream Fred had when they started getting the anonymous tapes. The next morning, Fred, alone, watches a new video: on it, he sees himself murdering Renee.

Fred is condemned for the murder of Renee and sent to the death row. He experiences increasingly painful headaches, culminating in a terrible crisis one night. The desert highway at night is shown again. The next morning, Fred has inexplicably vanished from his cell: instead a younger man, Pete Drayton (played by Balthazar Getty) is found in it. Pete is unable to explain how he came to be there and is released to his parents, though a police car secretly follows him constantly. At home, Pete’s parents make mysterious allusions to ‘that night’ before Pete was found in prison. He goes out with friends, and his girlfriend Sheila makes similar allusions. The next day, Pete goes back to the garage where he works as a mechanic and checks the Mercedes of a gangster, Mr Eddy. The cops who follow Pete identify Mr Eddy as ‘Laurent’. Eddy comes back with Alice, a beautiful blonde who looks exactly like Renee (played too by Patricia Arquette). Alice convinces Pete to have a secret affair. Pete begins to experience hallucinations, culminating in a confrontation with Sheila and his parents who all refer again to ‘that night’. Alice tells Pete Mr Eddy knows of their affair and convinces him to steal money from Andy, the guy who introduced Alice to Eddy, and run away together. Pete gets a threatening phone call from Mr Eddy and the Mystery Man. Pete meets Alice at Andy’s house: it is the same Andy whose party Fred and Renee Madison went to. Pete finds a photograph showing both Alice and Renee between Andy and Mr Eddy. Pete accidentally murders Andy and experiences hallucinations involving a hotel lobby. Pete and Alice drive off to the desert (recurring view of the deserted highway at night). As they make love, Alice suddenly leaves him and vanishes. Pete inexplicably turns into Fred and is violently confronted by the Mystery Man who produces a video camera and tells him Alice’s name is Renee.

Fleeing the desert to escape the Mystery Man, Fred finally stops in front of the ‘Lost Highway Hotel’ and gets a room there. In the room next to Fred’s, Renee and Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent make love. The next scene shows detectives investigating the crime scene at Andy’s house: they find the photograph, on which Renee is alone between Andy and Mr Eddy/Laurent. Back at the hotel, on what appears to be the next morning, Renee leaves Eddy/Laurent, then Fred attacks him, drags him out from his room as the Mystery Man watches from the window and drives him to the desert. In the desert, Fred and the Mystery Man shoot Eddy/Laurent together but the last shot after he dies shows Fred alone. Fred drives back to his house in Eddy/Laurent’s Mercedes and says ‘Dick Laurent is dead’ on his own intercom. A police car was waiting for him and chases him down the desert highway.


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