Mar 6, 2011

Eraserhead


In 2004, David Lynch's film Eraserhead (1977) was justly deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry. Personally, I feel Eraserhead is worthy of all three categories used by the United States Library of Congress, as I indubitably consider the film one of the grandest artistic achievements in American history. When I look back at my entire life, only a handful of hallmark films would leave such a deep impression on me that they would act as markers for which every subsequent cinematic work would be judged; Eraserhead being one of those films. Eraserhead is the kind of rare cinematic work that seems to have grown organically from the soul of the artist, boldly expressing the most deepest, darkest, and repressed feelings of traditional white America crying out in a nebulous globalized industrial world. I was certainly not surprised to learn that David Lynch has described Eraserhead as his "most spiritual movie." Lynch grew up in wholesome "middle America", so it is no revelation to realize that his whole outlook on life was changed when he moved to the industrial wasteland of Philadelphia; the city that would inspire the postindustrial barrenness of Eraserhead. Describing his ideal upbringing, Lynch stated, "Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast." After viewing Eraserhead for the first time, it will be glaringly apparent to the viewer that something was burning a hole in the sensitive filmmaker's pure soul. 


After David Lynch married his first wife Peggy (which produced a daughter), the Lynch family moved to Fairmount, Philadelphia, an area plagued with such brutal crimes that it would harbor a dire sense of fear in the young filmmaker. Not only was David Lynch thrown into a state of perpetual fear by the city; he was also a reluctant father in a troubled marriage. After sending a copy of his short film The Alphabet (1968) and a script of the short The Grandmother to the newly founded American Film Institute, David Lynch received financing for his upcoming work, eventually leaving Killadelphia for the AFI conservatory in Los Angeles, California. Not long after moving to the most populated city in California, Lynch began working on Eraserhead. AFI initially granted the director $10,000.00 to work on his first feature-length (although the film was originally intended to be only 42 minutes) film. Although David Lynch started filming Eraserhead in 1972, he would not complete the film until 1977. Not long after he started shooting the first scenes of the film, Lynch's marriage dissolved, as did the grant money for the production. Unable to obtain subsequent money from AFI, David Lynch took out a loan from his generous father and started a newspaper route. Divorced from his wife, Lynch started living on the movie set of Eraserhead, filming much of the movie during his sleepless nights. Despite suffering terrible times in Philadelphia, an atomized nuclear family, and an overall turbulent position in his life, Lynch was able to channel all of these negative emotions into the unsettling nightmarish aura that is Eraserhead; A film that Lynch has described as "my Philadelphia story."


Eraserhead begins when a diseased "man in the planet"(who I see as God) manipulates a couple metal mechanical levers, propelling a sperm-like organism to fall out of Henry' Spencer's (the film's protagonist) mouth into an abyss of percolating liquid. Although David Lynch has continuously left the meaning of Eraserhead in the realm of ambiguity, I see this scene as the conception of the alien child that will haunt Henry throughout the film. Near the beginning of Eraserhead, Henry is invited to eat dinner at the dilapidated house of his hyper-neurotic girlfriend Mary X. Henry, always anxiety-ridden and confused, is especially startled by his Girlfriend's bizarre family. Whilst eating dinner with Mary X's tribe, Henry becomes perturbed by a miniature man-made bleeding chicken that he is quite reluctant to carve. The father of the house makes a point to recognize that the mini-chickens are "just like real chickens," - a statement that reminded of the failure that is the industrially manufactured food industry, as well as the absurdity of inorganic food. I also could relate to the contrived conversation Mary's father tries to strike up with Henry. Every time I have dated a girl, I have been bothered by the banality and passive aggressive nature of the Girl's father, thinking to myself that behind this man's facade of friendliness lies an atavistic urge to kill the man that has buggered his sweet little girl. Mary X's Mother also carries an exaggerated caricature that resembles Mothers of girls I have dated - a combo of aggressive neuroticism and sexual gesturing. Like Henry, I always questioned whether or not I would leave the home of my girlfriend's family unscathed. Unfortunately for Henry, he will be indefinitely enslaved to his girlfriend's family via the birth of a repulsive newborn mutant child. 


Eraserhead is a film that would have never worked, had the director opted out of shooting it in black-and-white film stock. Both in atmosphere and aesthetic, the film is a stark colorless journey into a very real nightmare, following a lonely life that hopelessly struggles to find physical/psychological relief. Thank the Anti-Christ that Eraserhead reached cult status in the underground cinema circuit, as the film's success probably saved Lynch from a dreadful life. Every time I watch Eraserhead and see Henry Spencer lose sanity as his mutant infant cries endlessly, I can only guess the unmentionable things that haunted David Lynch's mind as a destitute parent living in the cold bowels of a Philadelphia ghetto. The only escape Henry has in Eraserhead is in the company of a beautiful temptress that lives across the hall and a mutant-cheek cutie that lives in his radiator. Henry's girlfriend is homely at best, with a personality comparable to that of a neurotic toddler that suffers from acute autism. I think that most viewers of Eraserhead will agree that Henry's extracurricular sexual liaisons are quite understandable when you consider the intolerable nature of his girlfriend; a highly disagreeable gal that spends most of her time falling victim to seizures. If you believe that you have suffered immensely from a highly destructive romantic relationship at some point in your life, after watching Eraserhead you will indubitably change your mind and feel nothing short of the deepest empathy for poor Henry Spencer; God's most lonely man. By directing Eraserhead, David Lynch audaciously filmed his black and battered heart on celluloid for all the world to see. 


Although I have seen more than my fair share of films with dreamlike qualities, Eraserhead is the only one that permeated the organic feeling of an authentic dream. Like Henry Spencer, in my dreams I have had the tragic feeling of losing a beloved lady in the darkness of hallways. During dreams, I have also had the pleasure of meeting an autoerotic succubus, as well as a virginal blond beauty; the two archetypical extremes of female sexuality. I decided to re-watch Eraserhead a couple days ago after hearing a worthy cover of the song "In Heaven" by the darkwave group The Danse Society. Although Eraserhead is a cinematic journey into heaven, the film also takes the viewer deep into the bottomless pits of psychological hell. The lady in the radiator may have an unsettling smile, but she certainly makes "everything thing feel fine." Despite the morbid nature and grueling intensity throughout most of the film, Eraserhead concludes on an uplifting note, as if David Lynch was able to foretell the fruitful career he would have in filmmaking (not to mention the fact he has dated beautiful women like Isabella Rossellini). Eraserhead ends with a climax more electrifying than a brothel of flapper whores screaming out in ecstasy as they reach the peak of an ethereal collective orgasm. If you consider cinema holy, Eraserhead is your Book of Revelation. 


-Ty E

8 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Once again it was so magical to arrive here and see the name "ERASERHEAD" and then read the brillaint reveiw devoted to it, quite superb. When Soiled Sinema hits these heights it really is difficult to think of another film reveiw site anywhere on the web that is even in the same league.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Did you read the story on IMDB about how Jack Nance snuffed it ?, its really kinda` sad, and right on Eliza Dushku's 16th birthday as well.

Nicole✗✗ said...

David Lynch gave us a real original with Eraserhead!

Anonymous said...

I got a 45 minute blowjob while this was on IFC last weekend, it's a hell of a way to experience the film. I wanted to throw out I'd like to see SS reviews for All That Jazz, Mishima A Life In Four Chapters and William Friedkin's Sorcerer. You recently pointed me to Hausu and Existenz which I enjoyed the hell out of, I also enjoy your unique insights in your awesome reviews. Next to Ruthless Reviews I don't pay attention to any other movie reviewers and haven't for the past 3 years it seems.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its just over 2 weeks until the release of Zack Snyders "Sucker Punch", i`m really looking forward to your reveiw of that one.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

This week-end i expect to be reading a reveiw of "Battle: Los Angeles" on this site as well.

Infinite Jester said...

Amen, anonymous!

Anonymous said...

Great review TyE
We all anonymous thank you!

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