Track 29 (1988)

One of Roeg’s greatest gifts, and also, occasionally, his crux, is how he can make even simplicity seem complex. The story and goings on of Track 29 would barely fill a paragraph in a standard film review when broken down into a synopsis, yet Roeg, true to form, fractures the whole thing into countless images, contradictions, repetitions and illusions. All his movies feel like moments reflected in shards of shattered glass and this one is no different. Basically a twisted oedipal story backdropped by Reagan-era Americana, the whole thing is complicated by Roeg’s technique turning it into a head-stew of forbidden kink, furious domestic displacement and, ultimately, deranged violence.

Gary Oldman’s performance, arriving early in the actor’s career when everything he did was dangerously unpredictable, is certainly startling. He literally arrives in the movie screaming his head off and – no spoilers – given the nature of his character he has to allow for a lot of interpretation. Childlike, sexual, otherworldly, aggressive and innocent all at once, it’s a very tricky tightrope to walk. I’m a big Gary Oldman fan but I found his performance perhaps a bit too conceptual for my liking. Luckily that’s not all there is as regular Roeg MVP Theresa Russell goes all-out, as expected, while an unexpected turn from Christopher Lloyd works as an effective reminder that the guy actually did play characters other than Doc Brown in the 80s. Colleen Camp also pops up in the obligatory best friend part but instills enough spunk – and spandex – to make it memorable.

When it all comes down to it though, this is Roeg’s film first and foremost. It’s a little more heightened, less grubby, than the films that preceded it, instead playing like a darkly twisted takedown of American values that is littered with childlike totems and signifiers wielded for sinister intent – an elaborate train set destroyed, Zabriskie Point-style and a fair ground tainted by sexual assault. As a canvas of Roeg’s concerns and artistic fervour in 1988, the film works albeit in more of a minor key, but taken out of context of his surrounding filmography the film would no doubt feel sleight and puzzling to casual viewers. Or maybe its radical impulses would be more impressive?

As a long-time lover of Roeg, seeing every film in his back-catalogue has been a goal of mine for a while but availability of certain titles has meant the journey has been slower than I’d like. My obsession with Gary Oldman and Handmade Films has also meant Track 29 has been high on my blind-spots for other reasons, so I’m especially grateful for Indicator’s lush edition that let me experience it in style.

Watched on Indicator blu-ray

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