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 the train left the station. For my hippie house, it was enough that it showed up at the end of a 6-hour tape that saw heavy trip come-down late-night rotation (after Fleischer cartoons, PERSONA) 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." Too high. Sheer coincidence? Not where TRACK 29 is concerned. Coincidence may be an illusion, but it's all we got, right?
The story follows an alcoholic pill head housewife played by the ever-sultry Theresa Russell (rocking a flat-Texas twang). Her husband (Christopher Lloyd) is a doctor having an affair with his nurse (Sandra Bernhard). He ignores her 'needs' and spends his few home hours obsessing over his sprawling electric train track. It winds through the whole upstairs, screaming "metaphor!" Russell finds her own obsession when she meets 'craaazy' Gary Oldman (keeping his Brit accent) at a roadside dinner; he's her long lost son given up for adoption and for years he's been tracking her down. Maybe. Only she never had, lost or gave up a son. Maybe she had an abortion, but she's damned bored, so what else she got to nurse, aside from delicious screwdrivers? Maybe he's a figure of her imagination... who really knows? Sigh, it's that kind of movie, 'artsy.' The train surely means Lloyd is "The industrialist" and Russell is the lonesome land, craving the more understanding hand of the Europeans who smartly stayed where they were instead of exploiting slaves and betraying Indian treaties. He's impotent, maybe! She's barren, maybe! Symbolism!
In lesser hands, it would be a mess of irritating Sundance quirks. Here it's a foggy indictment of the middle class, a meditation on the thin line between motherhood and cougardom, a tragic tale of incest and redemption, and/or just a big mess, or something else altogether, depending on the viewer and their frame of mind. The trick may be to get that frame seriously altered beforehand, and to pay only moderate attention, for Roeg's films demand you only half-watch them while falling asleep, fooling around with a cute but vapid hippie girl you met at the show, and/or throwing up on the wooden floor and praying for death.
But I endorse TRACK 29 as there's been so 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 the fifth martini of the morning and the milkman disappeared into your carpet and you need to find your keys because you left something... burning... somewhere limb. The TV is giving you secret messages limb, the limb way high on the tree, too flexible to merely break off and fall. It's a limber limb 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 limp, I mean 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.
To "get" this movie, qualified doctors recommend you take a bunch of acid the night before, when really freaked out, start drinking yourself back to normal. Keep drinking til Monday morning, then call in sick from work, then put this film on while you putter about the house with your tumbler of gin and juice and three cigarettes going in different rooms, robe splayed open, burns and bruises all over your body that you don't remember getting.
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. His 'momma, you had me howl of primal John Lennon scream on the soundtrack therapy, David Cronenberg's THE BROOD psychoplasmic-alcoholic miasma of sexual frustration and resentment against her closed-off train fanatic doctor husband manifesting in a Satanic visitation kind of vibery performance embodies lots of contradicting stuff at once and still is 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 through to Monday and calling in sick from work, etc. Sic transit gloria, bitchez! You HAWD your CHAWNCE