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TRACK 29

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.

The Package
     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 Dennis Potter, 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.

The Story
     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…

The Direction
     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.

Vital Statistics

TRACK 29
Handmade Films 

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
 

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