|By Joshua Zyber
June 21, 1999
Hotel Room is one of David Lynch’s more obscure works and is generally not considered among the top echelon in his filmography. Created at a time when the initial popularity of Twin Peaks had long since started to fade, the program was originally designed to kick off a half hour anthology series for HBO. Those plans didn’t work out, and so the only three stories to be filmed were strung back-to-back into a movie which aired to little fanfare and was soon forgotten. However, actually watching the program, it isn’t half bad and should be of significant interest to fans of Lynch.
The gimmick of the show is that every story takes place in the same hotel room but in different years, yet the hotel seems to be trapped outside of time. The room itself changes very little and the only recurring characters are the bellboy and maid, neither of whom ages. The first and last episode were written by Barry Gifford and directed by Lynch. The middle episode was written by novelist Jay McInerney and directed by Twin Peaks alum James Signorelli, perhaps best known for his years directing Saturday Night Live. Among the cast are several “Lynch Gang” regulars: Harry Dean Stanton, Freddie Jones, Crispin Glover, and the sublime Alicia Witt (who started her career as little Alia in Dune). Glen Headley, Griffin Dunne and Deborah Unger also appear.
The first story, Tricks, concerns Stanton’s character nervously bringing a prostitute to his room. Before he can get down to business, his old friend (Jones) mysteriously appears to interrupt and dredge up many dark secrets from their past together. The episode opens the door to themes of fractured identity and deconstructed reality that Gifford and Lynch would later explore to greater extent in Lost Highway, but altogether it is a mostly flat and unexciting piece of drama.
The second story, Getting Rid of Robert, is meant to be the most light-hearted and winds up being the least interesting. Three women wait in the hotel room for Dunne’s character, with whom they have all apparently had relationships, to arrive. They plan to confront him so that Unger (his current girlfriend) can dump him. The whole piece is much more of McInerney’s milieu than of Lynch’s. The characters are yuppies straining to find some deeper meaning in their lives but unable to see past their own shallow desires. There is a perverse twist at the end, however, which brings a nice Lynchian feel to the proceedings.
The real show-stopper here is the final episode, Blackout. A tour-de-force of atmosphere, nostalgia and deep emotional resonance, the story concerns two young tourists from the Midwest who visit New York City for the first time and wind up in the middle of an electrical blackout. The girl obviously has some emotional and mental problems, and as the story unravels so does she. The piece is carried almost entirely by Witt, who does a marvelous job bringing a tragic innocence and vulnerability to her character.
The program was released only on videotape in the United States, and I was not aware until very recently that there had ever been a laserdisc release. I should have realized that David Lynch’s enduring popularity in Japan would open up the possibility of a laserdisc issue in that country. As soon as I found out about it, I naturally dug up a copy as soon as I could.
The picture is rather grainy. I suppose that is to be expected from a cable program, though I suspect that the original photography by Peter Deming (later to work on Lost Highway) was less so. The image is otherwise reasonably sharp and stable. There are Japanese subtitles in the frame, though they are rarely obtrusive. There really isn’t an audio passage in the program that could be used to show off a sophisticated sound system, but it is an interesting sound design and the audio is clear and strong. There is only one chapter stop, at the break between the first and second episodes, and the side-break falls naturally after the end of the second episode. The disc was released by Pony Canyon and comes in a jacket with some classy artwork that shows an affinity for Lynch’s work beyond this particular program (the dominant image is a red curtain).
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