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Eraserhead

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No A&F discussion of Eraserhead? I could've sworn we went round and round on this one years ago. Perhaps the old Novogate archive has something, although I wouldn't know how to locate it. I know that we tore into the questionable morality of Henry Spencer that year at Cornerstone, everyone had their FLAME ON that day. I don't think that waitress will ever view "Christian film critique" in the same light. :)

Is IMDB actually wrong? It lists Eraserhead as a 1977 film. Which would make last year the 30th anniversary.

First, the obligatory visual reminder of an ill-fated Mr. Spencer:

eraserhead.jpg

Next, a fun trip down memory lane: Links to a Twin Peaks discussion; The Straight Story (which I STILL haven't seen, UGH!); Dan's one-posted The Elephant Man; a Blue Velvet thread in which Blue Velvet isn't discussed; Lynch's inadequate and carbon copied Inland Empire; Lynch's out-of-hand TM Lecture; Dune; and one of the most hallucinatory threads we've ever had, Gregory's Taxi-Driver-like Slide into his Need for a Christ-like Hobo. (I only wish Gregory hadn't deleted all his posts.)

But no dedicated thread to Eraserhead. Weird.

Well, there is a newly restored 35mm Anniversary Print coming to the UICA here in Grand Rapids next week. I've never seen this film in a theater. The salivary glands are juiced.

I am of firm belief that Lynch's best work is found in black and white: here, and in The Elephant Man. His present-day works are merely rehashed and in color, and most recently in Inland Empire, on digital video and shot impromptu. He has trapped himself inside his created but not understood horror, and in being only interested in how to best neurotically attack his audience, he's forgotten how to make interesting characters like Henry Spencer. In almost completely ruling out narrative structure, he's made his latter films only into a parody of what was once serious film.

Henry Spencer works because there is an actual story there. The Elephant Man works because John Merrick is an actual, tender, real man, abused at the heart of the film. Twin Peaks works because Agent Dale is so strangely unaffected by how surreal everything around him really is. And all of the Twin Peakish events – Bob, the other dimension, the red curtains, Leland Palmer's hair, Laura Palmer's disappearance – are things that we can first relate to and then later they will horrifically affect us.

Eraserhead works on many resonant levels: unfulfilled sexual needs, longing, loneliness, abandonment, fatherhood, loyalty, morality, the wrong that lust produces, the chaos of industrialization, the alienation of modernity, fate and the nature of sin/destruction. I do not think Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway or Inland Empire ever come close to anything as profound as this, and these are just flippant starters.

Feel free to challenge me on that, but this is at least my starting block as I prepare (notebook in hand) for the big screen viewing of what I believe is Lynch's greatest work next week. Then again, I haven't watched it in probably 15 years – perhaps 'll change my mind.

Edited by stef

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I have been warned against viewing Eraserhead by my brother and although I know that I will have to view it someday to complete the Lynch filmography, it's not prioty. I am very hesitant to watch films that others have described as "nauseating" or "vile". Still, your belief that Eraserhead is Lynch's best makes me want to visit it, regardless of the warning. Lynch is such a strange director, and one of the few whose films are physically exhausting. After seeing INLAND EMPIRE, which I appreciated for the "experience" more-so than the film, I was in a cold-sweat and feeling drained. Unfortunately, I was going to a Midnight show of A Clockwork Orange directly after, so I had more shenanigans in store. If Eraserhead ever comes as a Midnight show, I will definitely fork over some money to experience it on the big sceen. But until then, I hesitate.

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Nice one, Stef. It doesn't look like I will have an opportunity to see this print, but I would be interested in seeing the film with better sound than I have had a chance to in the past. Davis had a nice little capsule when the print screened in New York.

Edited by MLeary

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As someone who greatly admires David Lynch's work, especially his mid to later work - Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, I have to say I was incredibly confused by Eraserhead. I never even came close to "getting it". It was a visually stunning, but frustrating viewing for me.

I might have to revisit it again though. My wife will be gone for a week in March. It's my chance to rent all the films she doesn't like but I do: i.e. David Lynch films.

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From the NY Times capsule:

The black-and-white world of “Eraserhead” disturbs, seduces and even shocks with images that are alternately discomforting, even physically off-putting, and characterized by what Andr
Edited by stef

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Kyle, if you get a chance to flip through any collections of his non-film art, that may help with watching Eraserhead again. This book, this book, and this book, all demonstrate how painterly Eraserhead really is. Along with all those early shorts, it seems that his artwork at the same period helps to identify what is going on in the film.

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Thanks for the advice. One of the things that strike me about Eraserhead is that even though I thought it was odd as hell and was pretty sure I would never watch it again it's stayed with me. David Lynch made a genuine artistic impression upon me. I might not know what it means, but its there. Truth of the matter is, it has been that way with all his films, even if that means qualifying why I can get through the muck that is all most of my friends can see.

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Never thought that the "chicken" was saying anything. I'll be listening for this at the screening.

I never did either. After extensive googling, I still don't think it does. If that chicken actually said anything, whatever it said would be famous.

Edited by MLeary

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Anyone know where I can find evidence that the film took five years to make and the cast lived communally together during that time?

It might be myth, but it is an aspect of the film that intrigues me, and one that I'd forgotten about.

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Here? Cripes, I had forgotten how good this piece is, what a great story.

I am reading it now too, it is excellent. Thanks for that! But now I really want to see The Grandmother.

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Oh, and Aren - Eraserhead is a much more subtle, soft -- maybe even "boring" film, more like The Elephant Man than Lynch's latter works.

That's good to hear. From the Lynch films that I have seen, The Elephant Man is by far his best.

Edited by Aren Bergstrom

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Here? Cripes, I had forgotten how good this piece is, what a great story.

Thanks for the link. It's a great, if long, read. However its already paid great dividends. I've already begun to view Eraserhead as more than a visually-stunning but weird for the sake of being weird little film. Now that I'm recognizing the painter in Lynch's work I'm already remembering it in a different way. It's certainly taken on a new life.

Thanks.

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Wow! Now this is an immediate dive into some excellent conversation.

Stef - you are right, we did have an discussion on this in some previous incarnation of this forum. I was reading through this thread and remember trying to get through Eraserhead for the second time about 5 years, just before our first child was borm. It was impossible.

Since then I have watched it 4 or 5 times. I had an odd, internal sort of growing fascination while watching this. I was intent on getting through this film with my mind set on losing the experience of the macabre and disturbing images, although not entirely possible to do. Slowly my mind went from a look away fascination with the images to a mesmerized disturbance of the internal tempo of the sound images. This film is brilliantly treated with sound.

This would be excellent to see on the large screen, what are the dates?

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It's certainly taken on a new life.

Yeah, that is one of the better pieces of film writing on the internet. It so neatly grounds our experience of the film in the context of its technical difficulties.

Thom, my experience of the film has morphed a bit now having a child of my own. Now I connect far more quickly with the paternal references in the film, and wonder if part of the inspiration for the film is some sort of psychotic spin on fatherhood. When Mary leaves him, the intensity of the images and his psychosis increases, perhaps Henry has been pushed over the edge at this point - culminating in the whole Eraserhead thing. Honestly, I can understand that there is a fear associated with being a father for the first time, and I had never connected with the film in this way until our own daughter came along. He had a child four years before production on the film began which may put us at least in the orbit of some of these thoughts.

This film is brilliantly treated with sound.

This is in part because of the guy responsible for the sound. He was immediately picked up by the AFI in its early stages, and the article linked above does an excellent job of explaining his technical influence on the film.

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good points Mike.

When I saw the film, it was six years ago. I was engaged to be married and without child. I had no way of comprehending the realities of marriage (let alone a wife leaving!) and having a child. I was free in a way Harry was not and could not identify with him in the slightest. Lately I've been thinking of the fatherhood aspect too. While I finish school I am home with our daughter much more than my wife is. While I love being a father, it is terrifying and honestly quite claustrophobic. I am tied to her in a way I couldn't possibly imagined. Every single aspect of my life is dominated by the reality of having a child. It is a truly constraining experience. It's frightening to imagine how I would respond if a gave way to my more sinister desires in those fleeting moments of pure frustration and selfishness. Suddenly Harry has become a sympathetic character. I relate to him in a way I never thought imaginable.

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This would be excellent to see on the large screen, what are the dates?

It's 3/7 thru 3/13, and it's less than three hours away from you.

If you come up on Saturday, we can watch it, stay up until 3 talking about it, talk about the Trinity, wake up and go to Mars Hill... And if you leave around 3pm Michigan time and go really, really fast, you could almost make it to Chicago by, like, three!

(But you'd have to go really, really fast.) :)

When Mary leaves him, the intensity of the images and his psychosis increases, perhaps Henry has been pushed over the edge at this point - culminating in the whole Eraserhead thing. Honestly, I can understand that there is a fear associated with being a father for the first time, and I had never connected with the film in this way until our own daughter came along. He had a child four years before production on the film began which may put us at least in the orbit of some of these thoughts.

This is really a great paragraph, and it makes me wonder whether the child even really does look the way it does, or if perhaps this isn't just another figment of Henry's imagination, stemming from this depressed psychosis.

And Kyle - after screaming at the most beautiful five year-old girl in the world tonight, I can completely relate to what you're saying. I always think that love is going to change the world, but then I can't even love my own family right.

Edited by Persona

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What terrifies me about watching the film this way though, Stef, is that it just makes the fact that Henry kills his own child all the more barbaric. I used to think that cutting through the "bandages" was a misguided act of mercy or fatherhood. He is trying to actually nurture it somehow. But maybe he is so angry at the control it has over him that he actually wants to see how it ticks, to solve the mystery once and for all.

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Wow. I had completely forgotten about that scene.

Just -- wow.

It will be something to watch for this weekend.

Edited by stef

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For those of you who have access to ON Demand cable channels, The Sundance Channel's ON Demand selection includes Eraserhead - available until June 13th. I don't subscribe to the Sundance Channel, but we get Sundance ON Demand under the Free Movies category of ON Demand. I don't know if this is standard for all cable outlets, but it may be worth checking out. Lynch's Inland Empire is also available, and I'm thinking of checking that out later today.

I had never seen Eraserhead until last night... and I'm still processing it. Definitely saw many of the same stylish flourishes in this film that Lynch has built on in subsequent films.

Erasehead was the second part of what may be the most unusual double feature I've experienced... I watched it after coming home from seeing UP!

IIRC, back in my VHS days, I had another odd pairing involving David Lynch and a "Kiddie" film. I used to have Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Blue Velvet on the same tape. Strangely, this combination worked.

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Never thought that the "chicken" was saying anything...

I never did either. After extensive googling, I still don't think it does. If that chicken actually said anything, whatever it said would be famous.

I've listened to this with the sound on high, right, left, mono, stereo, earphones, no earphones, soundboard, straight...

That chicken didn't say a thing. It just sounds like pantlegs rubbing together, and quite loudly.

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That is the sound of someone running away from fatherhood in terror.

That is the line that just got stolen from you in the reaction I'm writing up.

Edited by Persona

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Eraserhead is a great film that I have no desire to see again. Any time I hear the name of the film, scenes come quite unbidden back to me and replay themselves in my head. The movie still gives me the shivers.

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Eraserhead is a great film that I have no desire to see again. Any time I hear the name of the film, scenes come quite unbidden back to me and replay themselves in my head. The movie still gives me the shivers.

I've seen it twice, and enjoyed it both times (the Lynch I can't bring myself to revisit is actually Inland Empire). But it's a deeply disorienting experience, and doesn't have as clear an emotional center as much of Lynch's other work (Mulholland Dr, for instance).

Eraserhead strikes me as kind of Charlie-Chaplin-by-way-of-Lynch. The central character is as befuddled by his world as the Tramp seems to be, and the carving-the-chicken scene is one of Chaplin's sentimental dinners turned nightmare.

Has anyone here read Eric Wilson's The Strange World of David Lynch? He argues that Eraserhead illustrates an ironic-Gnostic awakening, with the baby-killing as a symbolic castration (finally refuting Gnosticism and so ironically becoming a truly Gnostic work. Yeah, yeah):

Even though it undercuts its Gnostic mythology with a paen to organic energy, it in the end leaves viewers hovering in an interpretive limbo that recalls the pre-fallen condition, a state in which the cosmos is not yet divided into this and that, a soul and body. Occupying the space emerging in the wake of canceled oppositions, the film appears in the same light as a not-yet-named rotting piece of meat, as a thing not yet reduced to delusional human reason. Free of conception, the movie conceives gnosis, insight into the unhindered holiness of particularity, of energies liberated from mental enigma.

I find Wilson's reading deeply unsatisfying for a number of reasons (not least of which that he seems to be making up his own form of Gnosticism out of whole cloth) but I do like the idea that the film is intended to throw us into a liberating sense of uncertainty; our inability to make sense of it frees us from the need to make sense of it. This is, of course, a theme that comes up in Lynch time and again (the trip to the "Black Lodge" is at the heart of all his films except--perhaps--The Elephant Man and The Straight Story, though one could argue that the freak-show in TEM is itself a kind of Black Lodge experience.

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