Whereas the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth first emerged from a dry riverbed, the mysterious, young British kid (Gary Oldman) in Track 29 appears with a smash cut timed to the opening lamentations of John Lennon’s “Mother.” After a few rides, he descends into the unhappy routine of childless trophy wife Linda Henry (Theresa Russell), who may or may not be his mother. It’s somehow all too much and not enough, as the first half of Nicolas Roeg’s film feels uncomfortable and pushy and weird. Although Oldman and Russell were born almost exactly a year apart (shades of Cary Grant and Jessie Royce Landis in North by Northwest), costume, makeup, and suggestive editing (and sound cues) go a long way toward convincing us of the unspeakable. At around the halfway mark, while the images go off the rails, so to speak (toy trains are the sole obsession of Linda’s husband, Henry Henry, played by Christopher Lloyd, so train puns will be inescapable after you see the film), the narrative becomes distressingly prosaic, pursuing the kind of this-is-actually-that style of dumpster Freud-play that would have seemed novel just after the advent of the talking picture.
When your films have featured David Bowie as a sexless extraterrestrial, Art Garfunkel raping Theresa Russell as she overdoses on pills, and Gene Hackman’s corpse being grotesquely mutilated at the behest of Joe Pesci, you aren’t exactly leaving a lot of paths untrodden in terms of “the cinema of deliriously unhinged.” It’s true that Track 29 fuses together a Tennessee Williams-esque psychodrama of deeply troubled souls with the fractured, repetition-heavy, unreliable-narrator fugue states of Roeg’s most glorious flights of ecstasy. But since the man who once cut his cinematographer teeth with the likes of Roger Corman, David Lean, and Richard Lester had already effectively nuked the fridge (and Marilyn Monroe), one can’t be blamed for feeling as if a certain go-for-broke quality is missing from even the most psychedelic moments of this ambitious, post-Insignificance fever dream.
All the same, it’s a painless affair; its 90 minutes slide away with surprising ease, no thanks to the cast. Oldman still seemed to belong to the school of British movie screamers, having recently tore his way through Sid and Nancy, but his unfortunately overcooked performance, however, is equally matched by Russell’s cartoonishly exaggerated North Carolina accent. The fact that Lloyd and Sandra Bernhard, who plays his kinky, spanky paramour, play it relatively straight, should be your 27th clue that things are a little off.
Image Entertainment's single platter starts off with something that will strike loathsome terror into the heart of any home-entertainment connoisseur: trailers for three of Handmade's banner titles, Withnail and I, The Long Good Friday, and Mona Lisa. The films aren't the problem, of course, but the trailers look like they've been run through three layers of compression, or videotaped from an eight-inch kitchen television set, and thus do not bode well for what's to come. Luckily, the image and sound presentation of the film itself is far less shabby. Roeg's palette is dour and dreamy, ickily suggestive in its depiction of Southern-fried sexual psychosis, and Image's transfer is well-balanced, with just the right amount of nauseating, yet alluring, softness.
Hideous trailers for three Handmade classics.
Image's barren single-disc of this cheeky fairy tale is essential for Roeg-ians, but an optional curiosity for most.