Monday, March 4, 2013

Eraserhead - Lynch (Movie)

As promised last week, here is a review for a masterpiece of body horror cinema: Eraserhead! Did any of you guess? Debuting in 1977, Eraserhead is surrealist filmmaker David Lynch's first film, and arguably his best. I only recently found out who David Lynch was, through Ramsey Campell's indirect recommendation. As a reviewer of sorts, this is kind of embarrassing for me. But hey, I'm young, so I've got an excuse. I'm guessing most of my readers who are in their mid-twenties or younger also don't know what Eraserhead is, so hopefully this will be illuminating.

Readers familiar with my reviews will know I often diverge into some semi-related sub-topic before reviewing the work in question, and so it is today. I want to address something that I feel is key to understanding Eraserhead, but also many different works of art: motivation. I have written of this in detail before, but I just want to look at a tiny piece of the issue right now. Everyone likes different art for different reasons. It is my experience that this--more than any other factor--helps us determine what art we do or do not like. For example, some people appreciate songs that are easy to sing along to and choose their favorite songs on this rubric. Others are interested in guitar-work, and their favorite songs are the ones with the best solos or most interesting rhythmic riffs. Neither of these reasons is right or wrong, it simply shows how a person's artistic values lead them to prefer one song over another.

The "Lady in the Radiator", as she is known in the credits.
Eraserhead is not a movie you watch after a long day at work to unwind or to get a few chuckles in. Eraserhead is a disgusting, terrifying, intellectual thriller. It is not easy to watch or decode. It is meant to be dissected like a fine cryptic painting. If that doesn't sound fun to you, let me offer this thought for you to take or leave: it can be good for us to stretch our artistic limits. I am someone who has scoffed at the idea of liking songs based on how easy they are to sing along to, but then I decided to slow down and really consider the idea. It wasn't long before I started to see the value in it. I realized it isn't a stupid reason to like a song, it was just different from what I tended to look for. I understood both art and people around me a little bit better. If you are a person who really only watches movies that you think will be "fun," then it might be time to try something new and take on a film that is meant to challenge the viewer, as much as entertain.

Filmed over the course of five years (the sound engineering/dubbing alone taking up more than a year of that time) on a budget of about $20,000 dollars, Eraserhead succeeded because Lynch was meticulous about every detail. It was originally approved by the American Film Institute based on the misunderstanding that it would be a short film running about twenty minutes, because the script was twenty pages. They didn't realize that a full ten minutes would pass in the start of the movie before anyone said a word. Lynch had to go to outside sources for funding many times, including from the film's crew and actor Jack Fisk's wife, Sissy Spacek. I suppose what this comes down to is dedication. Lynch never gave up on the film despite taking years longer than anticipated.

His reward was a highly respected and debated film. It is a moving depiction of family tension. Unlike most horror, Eraserhead doesn't rely on themes like murderers or ghosts, instead it draws from Lynch's very personal fears. Fears like fatherhood and commitment. I'm tempted to link to a hidden page for those who have seen the film to post my interpretation of the movie, but your own interpretation will probably serve you much more fully than mine could. It is meant to be an "open metaphor." Lynch himself refuses to give an explanation, for he has said he doesn't want to color the interpretations of others.

Some reviewers have felt the movie is "weird for weird's sake", but I feel that is a gross oversimplifying of the work. Yes, some lines and scenes seem to be thrown in as mere style adornments (particularly in the first half), but I think anyone who knows how to look for meaning will find it in this film.

As a final remark, be sure to note John Nance's outstanding performance as passive Henry. He brings a Murray-esque energy that can't come easily in such long, silent scenes. He was a perfect choice for the role and stood by the film resolutely throughout its five year production period, even sporting the unusual hairstyle for its duration.

-MA 3.4.13

1 comment:

  1. Eraser head has aesthetic value. Wonderful film, good review.