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United Kingdom/USA 1988
Directed by
Nicolas Roeg
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Track 29

Nicolas Roeg has had quite a few strong films ever since his co-directorial 1970 debut with Performance   but  this film was the definitive nail in his directorial coffin which had been gradually closing since Eureka (1983).  Given their “bent” sensibilities, one might think that writer Dennis Potter (Brimstone & Treacle and Pennies From Heaven). would be a good match for Roeg but the outcome is a drab, strident and quite ugly film.

The director’s then-wife, Theresa Russell, plays the mega-bored wife of a North Carolina doctor named Henry Henry (Christopher Lloyd), who has a passion for model trains (the film's title comes from the Glenn Miller signature tune "Chattanooga Choo-Choo") and being spanked (comedian Sandra Bernhard as his nurse obliges). One day Englishman Martin (Gary Oldman) arrives in Linda's life. But it turns out that he is her fantasy of the child she had after being raped by a carnival roustabout as a teenager and had been forced to give up.

I don’t know that anyone could have got Potter’s heavy-handedly Freudian script to work but Track 29 is more about Roeg than Potter, more violent than ironic, piecemeal than whole, and more American than English.  It takes a while for us to be let in on the twist that Linda has lost her mind and that Martin is a projection of her psychoses. This is a clever development and a potentially rich vein of material but it is tediously realized with Oldman, dropping what appears initially to be a re-working of the David Bowie character in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) assuming the identity of a malevolent imp and adopting an off-putting  pseudo-babyish vocalization that is matched in lack of appeal by Russell’s vacuous Southern hausfrau with really bad wardrobe choices as the film keeps us wondering what is real and what is in Linda’s imagination.

The only scene which has a Potter sensibility is when Martin sings "M.O.T.H.E.R"., an early 20th century sentimental ballad, to her.  It’s a nice moment and indicative of what a less provocatively histrionic treatment might have resulted in.




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