ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Track 29 (1988) dir: Nicolas Roeg Blu Ray (Indicator)
A bizarre and unexpected visitor
Theresa Russell plays Linda, an alcoholic housewife living in a small town in America with her older husband Henry (Christopher Lloyd), a doctor who is obsessed with his huge model train set. One day, she encounters a young Englishman named Martin (Gary Oldman), who has hitched a lift into town. He keeps popping up everywhere: in the local diner, outside their window at night and finally standing at their outdoor swimming pool. During the last of these three occurrences, he tells her that he has been travelling across America in his attempts to find his own mother who abandoned him at birth - and that she is the one.
Despite Martin’s intensely weird behaviour, Linda takes him in and they embark on a bizarrely sexualised relationship. It soon becomes clear, however, that not everything is as it initially seems.
Watch a video:
Is there any method to this cinematic madness?
Nicolas Roeg’s Track 29 is a surreal, quirky, disturbing yet surprisingly funny psychological comedy-drama. You’ll either love it, hate it or maybe even a little bit of both. Even the reviewing community can’t seem to make up its collective mind about this one.
If there’s anything for certain, however, one can confidently assert that it’s positively dripping in brightly-coloured 1980s visual flair and extremely carefully constructed out of its own rich slew of metaphors. Roeg (who sadly passed away in November of last year) was clearly a director who knew what he was doing. He won an enduring reputation amongst cineastes, in particular for his four early films: Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell), Walkabout, Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth. As such, this comparatively minor entry in his filmography is difficult to wholeheartedly dismiss.
On the other side of the coin, it’s equally difficult to deny that it makes for some decidedly uncomfortable viewing. While it doesn’t quite go all the way with its whole Oedipal subtext, it still veers into some pretty queasy territory. The performances by the three leads (Theresa Russell, Gary Oldman and Christopher Lloyd) are so cartoonishly over-the-top that they end up becoming more grating than anything else. Everything blows up in a wildly violent and gleefully destructive manner at the end. Or - does it? It’s never made 100% clear which occurrences are real and which are merely occurring in Linda’s fevered mind. Nonetheless, there’s obviously some method to all of this cinematic madness.
The overwrought acting style is quite deliberate because the characters are, in effect, adolescent children in the bodies of fully-grown adults. Russell’s Linda is mentally trapped by a specific event which occurred towards the end of her childhood and left her with a long-lasting emotional wound. She dresses like an adolescent (even wearing braces) and surrounds herself with various dolls plus an equally childlike husband who gives up part of the house to his massive train set. In the end, once her trauma is resolved, she dons the sort of elegant dress and hat that an accomplished, successful woman would wear and gets into a car to leave her small town existence. She has literally and metaphorically moved on with her life now. Or - has she?
There are lots of sly, witty little touches here, most notably in the use of film and TV programmes playing in the background as a means to prefigure the upcoming action. Early on, we hear the iconic theme to the British children’s cartoon favourite Danger Mouse, thereby heralding the imminent arrival of the British, childish and cartoonishly excessive Martin. Meanwhile, the film’s blood-splatted climax is menacingly foreshadowed by the finale of the original Cape Fear playing on the living room TV. These deliberately self-conscious references serve as a litmus test over whether or not you will like Track 29; you will either find it to be cloyingly arch or it will adore its sheer chutzpah.
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Nicolas Roeg
Script: Dennis Potter
Starring: Theresa Russell, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, Sandra Bernhard, Seymour Cassel, Leon Rippy
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Although the image isn’t the sharpest, those garish 1980s colours look wonderfully vivid. The stereo audio is even better; it’s richly layered and genuinely jolting at times.
The NFT Interview with Nic Roeg
It’s yet another of these pesky audio interviews which play over the film in a commentary track style. This one was conducted at the National Film Theatre, London in 1994, shortly following the release of his made-for-TV adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Awful audio quality makes this one a challenge to take in.
Audio Commentary with Jim Hemphill
American filmmaker and film historian Hemphill narrates this quality gab track. As well as the usual on-the-fly cast and crew bios, he also takes a look at Nicolas Roeg’s directorial style, his artistic crossover with writer Dennis Potter, and the film’s ambiguous nature and underlying themes.
He also provides us with a good deal of background trivia. Director Roeg and actress Theresa Russell were married at this time and this was the fifth of their several movie collaborations. They were due to follow it up with an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel Chicago Loop but it never came to fruition. The production was originally a Dino De Laurentiis property and was shot at his DEG Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. However, due to financial difficulties brought on by a string of major flops, he had to sell it off to ex-Beatle George Harrison’s company HandMade Films. It became the first HandMade Films production to have been filmed in the USA.
Postcards from Cape Fear
An interview with actress Colleen Camp, who discusses her experiences of working on Track 29 as well as touching on her more recent career as a producer. She reveals that Nic Roeg cast her in the film after seeing her in Joy of Sex (1984) and appreciating her performance.
On the Right Track
An interview with the film’s editor Tony Lawson, who discusses Track 29 and director Nic Roeg - with whom he collaborated on several films. He mentions that Mr. Roeg doesn’t so much tell his cast and crew what to do as suggest ideas to them.
An Air of Mystery
Costume designer Shuna Harwood talks about her contribution to the film. She remembers the experience as being “relaxing” - something which isn’t always the case when working in the movie business.
Buzz and Gossip
Sound mixer David Stephenson talks about the film. It was his second collaboration with Nic Roeg - the first being Casino Royale (1967), for which the latter provided some additional photography. While Track 29’s production didn’t provide too many challenges for him, he recalls that it was particularly awkward to record sound near the massive train set because the transformers (hidden underneath the models) created an audible buzzing noise.
He also mentions that the director kept asking him about his experiences of working with Alfred Hitchcock on Frenzy (1972). Roeg wanted to take some influences from the Master of Suspense.
The extras are rounded out by an isolated music and effects track, a trailer, an image gallery and a collector’s booklet.
As you can probably deduce from my review, Track 29 won’t appeal to everyone. Nonetheless, fans of the idiosyncratic Nic Roeg should definitely give it a go.