I may be the only person in the world who likes this movie, certainly among the
most maligned ever made by the great Nicolas Roeg. To be sure, TRACK 29 has its
share of not-so-great things, but--dammit!--I like it anyway.
TRACK 29 (1988) was a collaboration between two of the UK’s most
unfettered talents: director Nicolas Roeg, of mind-rattling classics like
PERDFORMANCE, DON’T LOOK NOW and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, and screenwriter
whose superbly innovative BBC teleplays include PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE
SINGING DETECTIVE. TRACK 29 was an unaccredited rewrite of Potter’s teleplay
SCHMOEDIPUS, made for the UK’s PLAY FOR TODAY series in 1974.
The resulting film, starring Roeg’s then-wife Theresa
Russell, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lloyd and Sandra Bernhard, was every bit as
sublimely nutty as can be expected, although it was poorly received.
Distributed theatrically by the cash-strapped Handmade Films, it got little
respect from critics or audiences (“Blue-Velvety” was a typical dismissal) and
to add insult to injury was released on video by the notorious Cannon Films. No
wonder it’s since been largely forgotten.
Linda is an emotionally disturbed housewife living in
North Carolina with her doctor husband Henry, who’s unhealthily obsessed with
electric trains. Linda’s life is routine and boring as Hell, but an upheaval is
coming in the form of Martin, a spooky Englishman on a hitchhiking journey to
see Linda. Martin believes he’s Linda’s illegitimate child, the product of a
teenage dalliance with a studly carnival worker.
Martin turns up at Linda’s house just as she attempts
suicide in her pool. The two end up spending the day together in a reunion that
quickly turns perverse and incestuous. Henry, meanwhile, gets fired from his
job after spending too much time with a randy nurse, who spanks his naked butt
to the sounds of train horns.
Back home Martin has become destructive, smashing up
Henry’s train sets. But is he really doing this? For that matter, is he truly
real? The evidence would seem to suggest he’s not, but that doesn’t matter to
Linda. Martin is acting out her most deep-seated wishes, after all, and
continues to do so when her none-too-better half returns home, precipitating a
deadly confrontation involving a sharp knife…
It seems that with most people, to view TRACK 29 is to
hate it, and, truth be told, it is a rotten movie by most critical standards.
It’s a product of Nicolas Roeg’s eighties period, when his films went from
pleasingly eccentric (DON’T LOOK NOW, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH) to cranky and
idiosyncratic (BAD TIMING,
EUREKA). It seems entirely appropriate that FRAGILE GEOMETRY, Joseph Lanza’s
1989 book on Roeg, contains a chapter comparing his films to those of Ed Wood.
The comparison seems particularly apt in regard to this film, which is
inconsistent and often downright clumsy--and labors under a lead performance by
the inimitable Theresa Russell.
How you respond to TRACK 29 depends on how you respond
to Theresa Russell’s bad acting. Affecting possibly the least convincing
southern accent in film history, Ms. Russell is called upon to do some heavy
duty emoting here, and, as in most of her starring vehicles (BLACK WIDOW,
IMPULSE, COLD HEAVEN), fails miserably. Gary Oldman doesn’t far much better,
overacting shamelessly. Christopher Lloyd on the other hand plays…Christopher
Lloyd. Ditto Sandra Bernhard (never an actress known for her range).
But for all that--or perhaps because of it--I really
like the film. It’s genuinely twisted and surreal, and has impressive
cinematography by the great Alex Thomson. Nicolas Roeg may be a confounding
filmmaker, but he’s also a brilliant one, and packs the proceedings with
dazzling visual pyrotechnics. A guilty pleasure? Yes, but with such excellence
on display I’ll have to admit I really don’t feel all that guilty about
liking TRACK 29.
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Producer: Rick McCallum
Screenplay: Dennis Potter
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
Editing: Tony Lawson
Cast: Theresa Russell, Gary Oldman, Christopher
Lloyd, Sandra Bernhard, Colleen Camp, Seymour
Cassel, Leon Rippy