Jun 12, 2012

Track 29

Out of all of his many experimental and distinctive auteur works, Nicholas Roeg’s drama-fantasy-horror hybrid Track 29 (1988) is very possibly the English filmmaker’s most singular, inscrutable, and artistically ambiguous work, even if it is his least technically innovative. Co-produced by George Harrison of The Beatles fame and penned by English screenwriter Dennis Potter, Track 29 takes an outsider (aka liberal Brit) look at a small American Southern town in a most contemptuous and unflattering way. Starring Roeg’s cat-eyed ex-wife Theresa Russell (Eureka, Insignificance) in the lead role, Track 29 is a work centering around a mentally-unstable and under-sexed alcoholic housewife named Linda Henry who receives a surprising visit from a young eccentric British hitchhiker named Martin (played by Gary Oldman) who purports to be the son she reluctantly put up for adoption as a scared teenager. Fed up with her pretentious yet eccentric philandering surgeon husband Henry (played by Christopher Lloyd) – who has a peculiar duel fetish for masochistic spankings and model trains – Linda begins to embrace the loony leprechaun of a man that is apparently her long lost sole progeny, but unfortunately for her, he may be only a figure of her distorted imagination. While her hubby Henry is off getting routine spankings at work from his beak-nosed mistress nurse Stein (played by a young yet still considerably repulsive Sandra Bernhard), Linda enters the mysterious world of incestuous family bonding with her man-child son; a hyperactive and high-strung lad who feels that being a coddled grown-up toddler is an ideal career move. Noticeably scarred by his abandonment as a child, Martin inevitably has a terrible temper-tantrum and takes out his pent up rage on Henry and his extravagant model train set in this extremely loose reworking of Oedipus Rex.

 It should be apparent to most viewers of Track 29 that Nicholas Roeg is not exactly sympathetic towards the inhabitants of the small Southern town that he depicts in the film. In fact, not a single character in the entirety of Track 29 is remotely likable. One can only assume that Roeg was pompously sneering at the fictional degenerate confederate Anglo-Americans characters that he so brazenly concocted throughout the production of Track 29. Many of the characters and scenarios played out in the Track 29 would be at home in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Track 29 is a work that is probably more of interest to Lynch lovers than fans of Roeg’s previous work. Although missing Roeg’s signature choppy deconstructed narrative montages, Track 29 does features a couple Lynchian flashbacks that scream rustic surrealism and oddball clodhopper perversity, which is undoubtedly the English filmmaker’s prejudiced vision of the American South. Right from the get go of Track 29, it is most apparent that Linda is the no longer desired trophy wife of her intellectually superior husband Henry; a man whose sense of superiority over his spouse is quite glaring to the point where he barely sees the need to conceal his preference for toy trains and his less than homely Hebraic mistress. Linda, being of a more conventional sexuality, fantasies about her Daddy but eventually settles for her overly sensitive son; a fellow who is quite conscious and equally vocal about his overwhelming Oedipus complex. Only through her son (whether he be real or imaginary) can Linda expel the "inner demons" of her fragile mind and rid herself of a soulless man who sees her as nothing more than blatantly inferior aesthetically-pleasing white trash. Despite the mostly obnoxious and otherwise loathsome nature of the main characters in the film, I was reasonably impressed with all of the lead performances featured in Track 29. I tend to think of Theresa Russell as a savvy and sophisticated seductress so it was nice to see her play against character as a psychosis-ridden philistine with a self-destructive drinking problem. Additionally, I have always found Christopher Lloyd’s iconic character roles in the Back to the Future trilogy and The Addams Family films to be patently exasperating, so I certainly welcomed the unwavering chutzpah and gross infidelity of his character in Track 29. Of course, out of all the performances featured in the film, Gary Oldman deserves the most praises for his willingness to hop on Christopher Lloyd whilst au naturel, on top of acting like an all-around retarded rug rat throughout Track 29

At the conclusion of Track 29, many questions are left unresolved; hence the general mixed feelings towards the film among Nicholas Roeg fans and general viewers alike. For me, Track 29 is an abominable portrait of Americana that keeps on giving with subsequent viewings due to its lack of resolve and overall incoherence. Whether Track 29 is a dream-within-a-dream, a series of alcohol-induced illusions, and/or a semi-surreal depiction of reality is up for speculation, but I certainly consider the overwhelming ambiguity of the film's storyline to be one of its finest assets.  After all, being that Track 29 is an intemperate celluloid psychodrama of sorts that depicts the lifelong trauma a woman suffers from after being brutally deflowered by a bestial carny, one can only expect a certain amount of rationality for such a work. It should be noted that Martin himself takes on the appearance (even featuring the same trashy Mother tattoo sprawled across his chest) and wardrobe of his hillbilly father, who he actually meets while hitchhiking during the beginning of Track 29.  For Linda, Martin is a dichotomous symbol for her greatest dreams and worst nightmares; the son of the man who would not stop when she said "no" during sex, but also the man that gave her carnal pleasure and her only child.  It is only when she comes to terms with these conflicting emotions via Martin that she can move on with her life.  Needless to say, I think that rape victims should approach Track 29 with the utmost caution.

-Ty E

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