Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Track 29 (Nicolas Roeg, 1988)

Let's say you're in the middle of giving a rousing speech at a convention that celebrates model trains, you have the crowd eating out of your hand, and your leggy mistress is in the front row beaming with a sense of misguided pride. But what's that? A deranged Englishmen, one conjured by your non-model train enthusiast wife, is currently smashing your expansive, state of the art model train set-up like he were a floppy-haired limey version of Godzilla. I don't know 'bout you, but I think it's safe to say that Track 29 represents every white American male's nightmare. I know, you're thinking, not all white American males like model trains. That's the thing, model trains are just a metaphor. Whether it be distractions like American football or Star Wars, white American males have forgotten what's important in life. Do I have to spell it out for you? Look at Theresa Russell's organic structure. You see it? All right, what's missing? That's right, her husband's penis. Since her husband's too busy playing with his trains, Theresa... or, I should say, Linda Henry, is forced to imagine herself hanging out with her fully grown son, who, of course, is played by Gary Oldman. Not that I approve of his actions, but her husband's mistress is played by Sandra Bernhard, who, as we all know, is not only leggy as all get out, but foxy beyond belief. On top of that, Sandra B. gives Christopher Lloyd's model train enthusiast exactly what he wants. And that is, a good spanking every now and then.

(Wait a second, you mean to tell me that Track 29 features Christopher Lloyd as a doctor/model train enthusiast who likes to get spanked, Sandra Bernhard as a nurse who likes to spank model train enthusiasts who practice geriatric medicine, a floppy-haired Gary Oldman as the adult son of an American woman, and Theresa Russell plays a curvaceous woman with a huge doll collection?) That's exactly what I'm telling you.

How was this movie allowed to be made? I mean, don't they have laws in place that prevent these kind of cinematic anomalies from occurring? To answer my own question, I have no idea.

In the meantime, I have to congratulate myself for going this long without saying it, but I can't hold out much longer. And that is: What the fuck? It had to be said at least once. I try to use the expression, "what the fuck," sparingly, because if you use it too much, it lessons the thing you think is worthy of your fuck-based disbelief and/or confusion. But after giving it much thought, I can safely declare that Track 29 is definitely worthy of a what the fuck.

In truth, I knew I was going to type words about Track 29 the moment I saw Theresa Russell bouncing around in purple exercise clothes. (Hold up, you mean to tell me you don't write movie reviews based on a film's ability to tell a compelling story or on a the quality of the direction?) Uh, no, I write them based on whether or not Theresa Russell appears onscreen within the first five minutes wearing purple exercise clothes, haven't you been paying attention?

In my defense–not that I need to defend myself–I was on the cusp of making a pretty profound point about how this film is in fact a scathing rebuke of the infantilization of the American male. (Where?) In the opening paragraph of this here movie review, that's where.

You can tell right off the bat that this film, produced by George Harrison's HandMade Films, is not going to sport a conventional trajectory the moment we see Gary Oldman standing by a rural bridge with his thumb out. Wearing one of them Peruvian hats underneath a cowboy hat, Gary screams, "Mommy!" at the top of his lungs.

As Gary waits for someone to give him a ride, Linda Henry (Theresa Russell) is at home exercising in purple sweats (dig the matching headband, girlfriend). Drinking vodka-spiked orange juice and watching a science fiction movie on television (she can multitask like nobody's business), Linda (who is also rocking a fierce ponytail), calls her husband Henry Henry (Christopher Lloyd), who is upstairs playing with his model trains. Now, Henry Henry would probably bristle if he heard me call what he's doing "playing." But you know what? I don't care. If you can think of a better way to describe what you're doing up there, please, let me know. Until then, you're a middle-aged man who plays with toy trains.

Nonetheless, you don't have to be a marriage counselor to figure out that Linda isn't happy with her husband's obsession with model trains; if you call them "toys" you'll be on the receiving end of one of Christopher Lloyd's trademark exasperated looks.

You'll notice that a water tower looms large over Henry and Linda's home. This reminded me of this guy I knew as a teenager who lived in a house that had a large water tower practically right next to it. One day I asked him: Aren't you afraid the tower will one day come crashing down on your house, killing you and your entire family? Surprisingly, he said no. Yet, despite his reply, the thought that the water tower might come crashing down on us was never far from the back of my mind every time I was over there. (What's this got to do with Track 29?) Nothing, really, I just... (Nothing, eh? Then get to writing about Theresa Russell's knees. No one cares about your irrational fear of water towers.) It's not that I'm afraid of water towers, per se. I just get nervous whenever I find myself in the vicinity of large metal objects that could possibly fall on me.

Am I crazy or is Nicolas Roeg have a thing for Theresa Russell's knees? (Since I've seen Track 29 as well, I can say, without hesitation, that you are in fact not crazy.) Whew, that's a relief. I mean, for a second there I thought you were going tell me I was crazy. (No, there's definitely something going on with her knees.) In case anyone doesn't know what we're talking about, Theresa Russell's knees are the focal point of almost every scene in this film. In fact, there are a couple of instances where her knees are the only things onscreen.

My favourite instance of this type is when Linda's friend, Arlanda, played by the always delightful Colleen Camp, listens to her tell a strange anecdote, and the only thing onscreen are Theresa's knees. It was almost as if Theresa's knees were telling Colleen the anecdote.

As the film went on, and with no let up in the knee sightings in sight, I began to think: Oh, great, the crux of my review is going to be knee-based. (You make that sound like it's a bad thing?) Well, as most people know, I'm somewhat shy when it comes to waxing semi-poetically about certain female body parts. However, this film has given me very little choice in the matter, as it repeatedly shoved Theresa's delicious knees in my face. Oh, and how do I know they're delicious? Trust me, they're delicious.

Actually, forget about her nice knees, everything about Theresa Russell in this movie is delicious. (Aww, that's so sweet... in a mildly creepy sort of way.) The way Nicolas Roeg films Theresa Russell in this movie reminded me of the way Jess Franco films Soledad Miranda or Lina Romay. In that, it's obvious that he's enamoured of her. And who can blame him? She's got a pleasing shape.

If you're wondering how Gary Oldman fits into this story, it's not that simple. From what I gathered, Linda had a baby when she was a teenager. And that baby, if the contents of the flashback are correct, was taken away from Linda upon its delivery. Well, after Martin, the name of Gary Oldman's character, meets Linda at a local diner, the garrulous Englishman drops by her house as she's taking a dip in her pool. Holy crap! Would you look at Theresa Russell in that bathing suit! (Stay focused.) Sorry, um, yeah, Martin is definitely real when we see him in the diner, as the waiter and Arlanda both interact with him. However, I think Martin is a figment of Linda's imagination from this point on.

Giving her some convoluted story about how he's the long lost baby that she had when she was a teenager, Linda seems convinced that Martin is her son. And so begins one of the oddest mother-son relationships in film history.

Now, I've seen my fair share of kooky Gary Oldman performances over the years (his turn in Tiptoes immediately springs to mind), but his work here is beyond kooky. In fact, it's so kooky, I felt a profound sense of unease every time he and his floppy head of hair would appear onscreen. It gets to the point where Gary says, "I'm entitled to an American childhood" (in a mock child's voice) and uses Theresa's diaphragm as fake lips to mouth even more inappropriate gobbly-goop.

She's only in three maybe four scenes, but Sandra Berhard (the real reason I watched this movie in the first place) managed, nevertheless, to impress this viewer. How, you ask? It's simple, really. She's Sandra Bernhard. Seriously, she spanks Christopher Lloyd in one scene and sits cross-legged at a model train convention (Trainorama). I know 'nuff said.

The real reason to see this movie is to witness the stunning performance given by Theresa Russell. Yes, she's sexy, gorgeous, leggy, and all that. But she's also fearless. Reminding me of Kathleen Turner in Crimes of Passion and Cathy Moriarty in White of the Eye, Theresa–in the grand tradition of British directors working in America who bring out the best in blonde actresses born in the U.S.A.–isn't afraid to appear foolish or daft. And because this, the quality of the film inevitably go through the roof. If you're a fan, like I am, of American movies directed by British directors that feature a lead performance by an American actress playing an insane person, than I highly recommend that you seek out this motion picture.


  1. Couldn't be more right about Russell. She's one of those few that goes places and takes roles that most would run far away from. So naturally she's underappreciated. Ever see Ken Russell's Whore (1991)? Everyone bitches about that film and her performance in particular but she kills it. Totally owns the movie.

    1. I've seen Whore a couple of times, once on TV (Showcase channel in Canada used to air it all the time) and once on the DVD (a bootleg, I think). Anyway, I should do review of it someday.