Release Date(s)1988 (May 27, 2019)
Studio(s)HandMade Films/Island Pictures (Powerhouse Films/Indicator)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This is a Region B release.]
One doesn’t quite know what to make of a film like Track 29 upon a single viewing. It’s not a film that allows itself to be understood, if at all, leading you down areas of discussion to conclusions that can be easily debunked by a single scene, rendering any arguments about it completely moot. It’s why it wasn’t that well received when it was initially released. Even Roger Ebert, while recommending the film, admitted to not liking it, and that liking a film like this is inconsequential. I think I’d have to agree with that sentiment. It’s not entertainment, it’s an experience.
Based upon and adapted from a television play by Dennis Potter, Traffic 29 introduces us to the world of suburbia, particularly a bored, alcoholic house wife (Theresa Russell) and her doctor husband Henry (Christopher Lloyd), who has a large obsession with toy trains. Spending her free time with her friend Arlanda (Colleen Camp), Linda soon meets an intriguing British man named Martin (Gary Oldman) at a local diner. Taken by him, he soon shows up on her doorstep and reveals himself to be her long lost son, who was taken away from her immediately upon his birth. While Henry obsesses over his hobby, as well as one of his nurses (Sandra Bernhard), Linda and Martin get to know each other, but it soon becomes clear that everything is not right about this relationship and what it could ultimately mean for Henry’s and Linda’s failing marriage.
Needless to say, Track 29 is not your average film. It’s a lot of different things, including a bit of a satirization of family values and society. What makes it more obtuse than open-minded is that there is no clear read of the film as it contradicts itself constantly, right up until the very end. Like Nicolas Roeg’s previous work, Don’t Look Now, the major reveal as to why the characters are the way they are and why they’re going through what they’re going through isn’t revealed until late in the story, but even then, it lands with a thud because we’re not even sure if it’s real or not. Despite its Twin Peaks-ish quality, meaning that it contains kooky characters with odd quirks in both mundane and extraordinary circumstances, it can both highly disorienting and infuriating.
On the one hand, the film deals with marital strife and how a tragic past can eventually infect one’s future if it isn’t dealt with properly. But on the other, it also deals with mental illness and how it affects others nearby. The saving grace is that the film is well-shot and well-acted, as one would expect from such a strong cast and a competent cinematographer. However, Track 29 is likely to confuse viewers to the point of dissatisfaction. Others may find it intriguing enough to want to go through it twice and find more to substantiate its rather dense composition, but that will severely depend on their level of patience and their tolerance for incomplete answers.
Track 29 comes to Blu-ray for the first time in a Region B release from Indicator, with a presentation that’s sourced from an HD master held by HandMade Films. Overall, this is not a sharp and pristine presentation, but it’s a natural one that offers plenty of fine detail. The color palette isn’t all that remarkable, which is likely by design, but a few random hues do manage to poke through from time to time, particularly in Linda’s house, in Henry’s clinic, and during the Trainorama festival scenes later in the film. Blacks are a little bright at times, but contrast is good. Everything appears stable and clean as well, leaving behind no noticeable damage.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. For the most part, it’s not a major stereophonic experience as a lot of the film is all about the dialogue, but there are certain sequences that benefit from deep bass activity, as well as a few slightly wider moments, including Henry’s energetic Trainorama speech. Dialogue is clear and precise and sound effects offer plenty of nice fidelity, but it’s the score and song selection, including the opening credits number Mother by John Lennon, that has the strongest amount of sonic clarity. There are also no instances of leftover hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts to speak of.
Extras include The NFT Interview with Nicolas Roeg, a 67-minute discussion with the director, conducted at the National Film Theatre in London in 1994 (which plays over the film itself); a great audio commentary with author and film historian Jim Hemphill; Postcards from Cape Fear, a 17-minute interview with actress Colleen Camp; On the Right Track, a 10-minute interview with editor Tony Lawson; An Air of Mystery, a 6-minute interview with costume designer Shuna Harwood; Buzz and Gossip, a 15-minute interview with sound mixer David Stephenson; an isolated music and effects track in 2.0 LPCM; a full frame theatrical trailer; an image gallery featuring 19 stills of promotional images and posters; and a 36-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, Track 29 by Danny Leigh, extracts from Graham Fuller’s Potter on Potter in which Dennis Potter talks about the film, an interview with Theresa Russell by Steve Dollar for the Atlanta Constitution, a set of critical responses, the film’s poster, and presentation details.
Longtime Nicolas Roeg fans don’t need me to tell them that Track 29 is a film that was in dire need of an HD upgrade. For those with Region Free capabilities, it’s certainly the finest offering of the film to date. With a nice transfer and plenty of informative extras that are well-worth digging into, it’s a great package overall – even if the film is a difficult one to come to terms with.
– Tim Salmons