Monday, October 10, 2016

Eraserhead

1977's ERASERHEAD is memorable for numerous reasons, for me especially because it was the first movie I ever rented.  It was from a mom and pop store in Lake Worth, FL called, I kid you not, Pick-A-Flick.  The movie was near the top of my wish list, even though I was eighteen years old.   By the time I finally got a VCR that Christmas, senior year of high school, my taste in film had begin to broaden to include interest in things that might be called avant garde.  David Lynch's first feature length film more than qualifies.

Taking a bid from Kafka, and perhaps personal experience,  Lynch fashions a nightmarish industrial world in which Henry (Jack Nance) wanders with uncertainty.   He lives in a dank flat filled with dead plants and dirt.  It appears that Jack has gotten his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) pregnant.  Her mother (Jeanne Bates) orders the two to marry.  Their offspring does not resemble a human, more a mutant.  It emits terribly, unbearably sad cries the way a human would, day and night, enough to drive Mary back to her parents'.  Henry is left with the slug/alien like creature, and plenty of time to wrestle with his subsconscious.

To borrow an oft-used quote, attempting to describe ERASERHEAD is like "dancing about architecture".  Lynch expands the disturbing visuals, sounds, and themes of his short films into a full length gasp of despair.  Many have described the movie as a manifestation of Lynch's fear of marriage and fatherhood.  I recall thinking the film was anti-pro life, a feeling that remains.  The imagery of flying and slithering spermatazoa and a myriad of other sexualized elements create a dissertation on the horrors of reproduction.  The methods to achieve this are shown to be hungrily desired but also quite unsavory.   Note the extremely bizarre dinner scene, still one of the strangest moments Lynch has created, as a miniature chicken propels its legs and gushes blood on Henry's plate while his mother in law makes weird (orgasmic?) noises.  The mother later begins kissing Henry's neck.

The film's title is revealed in a curious scene, a device I normally find unnecessary but here it not only accelerates the nihilistic theme but allows Lynch to create scenes that point the way to moments in his later works, namely Twin Peaks and WILD AT HEART.  Henry is shown, sometimes literally, to be drowning in a filthy environment, perhaps representative of the view of sexuality as wholly distasteful and grotesque.  A fascinating juxtaposition of what is considered in that context as proper (matrimony) and immoral (adultery), yet both ultimately resulting in the same barren landscape.  The soundtrack of low frequency industrial noise throughout ERASERHEAD is perfect to keep the viewer feeling uncomfortable.

How did my high school self respond to such an unusual movie? I was mesmerized, certain I hadn't seen anything like it before.  Thousands of movies later, I can still say that...

In heaven, everything is fine.....

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