Long, long ago, in a far off land called the 1970’s, I was a geeky kid who loved movies. Unlike normal, non-cinema obsessed youth, my favorite part of the year wasn’t summer vacation – it was the weeks devoted to the Los Angeles Film Exposition (commonly called “Filmex”), the annual international festival that ran from 1971 to 1983 before morphing into the organization American Cinematheque.
For a budding film geek, having a Filmex pass was like being
given free rein in a candy store filled with exotic treats from around the
world. I’d ditch school and take a series of city buses to
Which is how I first saw David Lynch’s freaky fever-dream Eraserhead. Three decades later, we know what to expect from Lynch, but in 1977 his beautiful, surreal, terrifying contemplation of urban anxiety was wholly new, and utterly baffling. The non-linear story uses Lynch’s personal brand of dream logic to tell the tale of a man named Henry (Jack Nance) whose girlfriend abandons him and their grotesquely deformed baby. While the baby’s in his care, Henry sleepwalks through a bizarre chain of interactions with increasingly strange characters.
As a young filmgoer fed on a regular diet of standard
Now, what Eraserhead is actually about is anybody’s guess.
Lynch himself has never fully explained it other than to say it reflects his
anxieties while living on his own in an industrial part of
Watching Eraserhead for the first time is a revelation, a mind-altering experience in an utterly unique way of telling a story on film. Despite its incomprehensible storyline, Lynch’s masterful use of shadow, industrial sounds and grotesque imagery creates an inescapable feeling of dread in the viewer, a palpable sensation of being trapped inside someone else’s nightmare. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, even when the images are so awful that you want to look away.
Sporadically shown over the years in art house and repertory theaters, the film received a broader DVD release last year (previously it was available only through Lynch’s website) but it really ought to be experienced on the big screen. The Northwest Film Center is offering that experience this week, and you should take advantage of the opportunity, even if it leaves you jittery and scratching your head in confusion.
Playing with Eraserhead is Lynch, a new documentary that reveals the director to be obsessed with Transcendental Meditation, which he promotes to his cadre of worshipful protégés in between power walks. Direction is credited to “blackANDwhite,” who may be one of Lynch’s young in-house bootlicks or could really be Lynch himself, since this seems like the sort of thing he would do. Whoever directed it, it’s awful – tedious, unenlightening, and sluggishly paced. Skip it if you can.