Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Great Acid Movies #30: TRACK 29 (1988)

Nicholas Roeg is a far-out dude, and TRACK 29 was so far out that few, apparently, were hearty enough to be able to get on board before its train left the station. For my hippie house it was lucky enough to show up at the end of a 6-hour tape that saw heavy rotation (Persona - Night of the Living Dead- Track 29) and we ended up watching it dozens more times than we normally would have, just because we were unable to change the channel or press "stop." Sheer coincidence? Not where TRACK 29 is concerned.

The story follows an alcoholic pillhead housewife played by Theresa Russell. Her husband (Christopher Lloyd) is a doctor having an affair with his nurse (Sandra Bernhard) and ignores her. His home time is spent obsessing over a sprawling electric train set that winds through the whole upstairs. Russell finds her own obsession when she meets Gary Oldman at a roadside dinner; he acts as if he's her long lost son given up for adoption and for years he's been tracking her down. Only she never had, lost or gave up a son, she had an abortion, maybe... who really knows? It's that kind of movie, and in lesser hands it would be a mess of irritating Sundance quirks. Here it's a foggy indictment of the middle class and a meditation on the thin line between motherhood and cougardom, and a tragic tale of incest and redemption, or just a big mess, or something else altogether, depending on the viewer and their frame of mind.

There's been few post-1970s films with the guts to really, really take it on a limb -- not the quirky Diablo Cody kind of "faux-limb"-- I mean fifth martini of the morning, the milkman disappeared into your carpet, you need to find your keys because you left something... burning... somewhere and the TV is giving you secret messages kind of limb... the kind way high on the tree and too flexible to merely break off and fall, that would be too easy. It's the forced to endure a life of constant waving in the breeze, with all the drugs you can get your hands on and a spouse having an affair with Sandra Bernhardt kind of limb, and Theresa Russell rides it like a hurricane. The TV really does talk to her, in that background subconscious kind of way only Roeg and Alex Cox have ever got just right (as we'll soon see when Great Acid Movies continues after this commercial).

To "get" this movie, qualified doctors recommend you take a bunch of acid then when really freaked out, start drinking yourself back to normal, keep drinking for three straight days and then, on the second day of calling in sick from work, put this on while you putter about the house in the morning after not sleeping, with your tumbler of gin and juice and three cigarettes going in different rooms, robe splayed open, burns and bruises you don't know what from. Then and only then... maybe.

The dosed goodness here really hinges Gary Oldman's ability to be both real and imaginary at the same time, all the time, a mix of returned repressed moma you had me howl of primal John Lennon "Mother" on the soundtrack scream therapy via David Cronenberg's THE BROOD, a psychoplasmic-alcoholic miasma of sexual frustration and resentment against her closed-off train fanatic doctor husband manifesting in a Satanic visitation. Oldman manages to embody all this stuff at once and still be sexually potent (capturing the same woozy sense of intimacy-enhanced altered reality he and Ryder pulled off in the otherwise mega-crappy Coppola's Dracula). What a man! What an actor!

DISCLAIMER: Neither the author nor most qualified doctors actually recommend you take a bunch of acid then when really freaked out, start drinking yourself back to normal, keep drinking for three straight days and then, on the second day of calling in sick from work, etc. Sic transit gloria, bitchez!


  1. I saw this for the first time last year. That Lloyd stuff is so nuts, makes the ending seem drab in comparison.

  2. Filmbo, thanks for bringing that up, I kind of forgot stretches of this movie, all I remember is being all caught up in the psychosexoincestual quasi-hallucinations of Russell and Oldman. I wish they'd release this, and also Kusturica's underappreciated ARIZONA DREAM, with Johnny Depp and Jerry Lewis.

  3. For your readers, the film can be watched in its entirety on youtube. Not exactly ideal but it looks surprisingly okay.

  4. Dennis Potter's TRACK 29 screenplay was originally supposed to have been filmed by Joseph Losey with Vanessa Redgrave in the Teresa Russell role and Lee Marvin (!) in the Christopher Lloyd role. Man, would I have loved to have seen THAT!