on December 2, 2003
If you're reading this, then you've seen this movie or are at least curious what all the hype is about?
The late Stanley Kubrick, the only major filmmaker Lynch has cited as a direct cinematic influence, believed that ERASERHEAD was one of the most perfect "cinematic experiences" created to date. This movie has enjoyed success on the midnight movie circuit for years, particularly in NYC where it ran almost every night for something like five years straight. I've seen it on big and little screens in three different states. Insofar as interpretations are concerned, I've long since tossed all that out the window. In terms of rational comprehension, ERASERHEAD is the fabled big fish that remains brilliantly elusive of any attempts to capture it.
This movie gets better, and more humorous, every time I watch it: in my opinion - ERASERHEAD is the cinematic experience that comes the closest to capturing "dream logic", next to the equally brilliant WAKING LIFE. If you ever get the chance, watch ERASERHEAD in a movie theater with a great sound system - you will understand why Stanley Kubrick was moved enough to make his statement. It's like experiencing someone else's dream - the ultimate act of voyeurism? As if I was granted audience to a demonstration of delicate brain surgery, and catching glimpses of the patient's face throughout the operation (particularly the opening scene). It creates such a visceral landscape with its dark, peculiar selections of image and sound, that it seems to be constantly reminding you that the "soul" is helplessly sloshing around somewhere inside an organic bag of blood, bone, hair follicles, industrial shrapnel, dirt piles and antique radiators; a terrifying and beautiful delineation of a living creature suddenly made aware of its own being (birth imagery abounding). It is a perfect symphony of sound and image, amazing work for a first time feature film director! I've seen this movie placed in the HORROR section at local video stores; it's better suited for the COMEDY section, I fear. The movie was created on the AFI campus in California; production beginning his last year there, and continuing on for several more years in secret. Not for everyone, but certainly worth a peek.
I own a copy of ERASERHEAD on DVD, finally. Remastered sound and image, includes a few extras - the standout is a "stylized" interview with Lynch about the making of the film, the characters involved and anecdotes.
on April 14, 2000
WHEN will they re-release this masterpiece on video and DVD? This film is purest Lynch. It isn't a movie, it's an experiance. David Lynch himself said that he didn't so much think of Eraserhead, than feel it. Never have I heard a more true statement. 'Eraserhead' is Atmosphere with a capital A, and contains some truly unnerving moments that come straight out of our darkest nightmares. David Lynch is a true artist. To watch Eraserhead is to be totally absorbed into another world; Henry and his bizarre hairdo; the gentle yet strangely disturbing Lady in the Radiator; and last but not least, the hideous 'Baby,' a truly grotesque little monster who is more terrifying than any other man-made creature in motion picture history. (Lynch has refused to say how he created the Baby....IF he made it, that is. CREEEEEEEEEEEEPYYYYY! ) There is an unrelenting sense of menace and fear throughout all the proceedings. Some may huff and dismiss 'Eraserhead' as an 'artsy-fartsy' flick intended for the smallest film cults. 'Eraserhead' is not cult; it's timeless. If only Lynch would create another film of this magnitude and purity. Maybe he still will.I look forward to the re-release of this ignored classic with great anticipation.
on April 16, 2002
David Lynch's surreal masterpiece ERASERHEAD, is in my humble opinion the most personal 90 minutes of celluloid ever created. As with many of his other films, theories abound about this "nightmare on film," and it seems people have more fun dissecting (no pun intended) the imagery and symbols than actually watching the film. It's certainly not enjoyable to watch, or entertaining by any stretch of the imagination, but it is compelling, engrossing, and disturbing. A true film "experience." There's never been anything like it from anyone else, or Lynch himself for that matter, and more likely than not we'll never see anything like it again. At it's most simplistic it's Lynch's fears and horror concerning "family" and "industrialism" taken to the nth degree. Most people describe it as post-apocolyptic, but it's truly modern/contemporary, just dark and unfamiliar to most. But again, like with many of Lynch's films--especially the recent MULHOLLAND DRIVE--you'd have to be David Lynch to fully understand everything that takes place or is shown, and that's what makes his movies so intriguing. Are his films weird and mysterious on purpose, or is this all normal to him? Of course none of us can ever know. Let's hope the rumors are true and that this will finally be available in the very near future.
on August 3, 2013
More than 35 years after its initial release, Eraserhead remains a curious enigma wrapped in shadowy symbolism. It's a shining example of what can happen when a director cracks the door open just enough to glimpse his vision, but not enough to fully grasp the story. David Lynch, for better or worse, intentionally or not, delivered a heck of a story, but stumbled on the punchline.
Others have already spelled out the plot, but in a nutshell: Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is seen in the opening, in a montage with the 'Man in the Planet' who manipulates a sperm-like creature (which has exited Spencer's mouth) and the creature appears to fall to earth. Later, we're introduced to the world of Henry. He's a Nobody, the anti-hero. A printing company employee on vacation who returns to his dreary apartment building to be informed by his sexy neighbor across the hall that 'Mary' has called, and wants him to have dinner with her parents. Mary appears to be a past love interest. Henry obliges and finds that Mary's family puts the 'funk' in dysfunction. From the catatonic grandmother to artificially chipper father Bill, the dinner goes from bad to worse when the 'baby chickens' (probably Cornish game hens) weren't cooked long enough. This is one of the best scenes of the entire film.
Mary's mother soon corners Henry and informs him that Mary had a baby, and that the two should marry. But the baby is anything but. Imagine an infantile 'E.T.' Henry and Mary are now in his apartment, but the infant's incessant crying forces Mary to return home. Henry now embarks on a series of bizarre visions and dreams as he attempts to care for the strange infant. The finale, both shocking and graphic, leaves the viewer wondering, what the heck did I just see?
Much of what this film has going for it is atmosphere. The sounds are creepy. Now add to it the pipe organ meanderings of the legendary Fats Waller. And we see Henry as he travels what resembles a post-industrial landscape. We hear the noises of factories operating, but nowhere near total capacity. One can easily imagine modern day Detroit, with its large areas of urban blight and abandoned housing, the result of 50+ years of liberal politics and the greedy hand of the auto unions. A city dying, a city in decay. The film is as stark as the visions shown, a curious play on light and shadows. It's difficult to imagine this movie in anything BUT black and white. But it was used to great effect by Lynch.
But at the end, there are too many questions and not enough answers. A director can leave too much to the audience to try and interpret. Much has been made about the sexual undercurrents, but was the baby the epitome of the fear of fatherhood? Was the child an alien implant? And just who was the Man in the Planet? An intergalactic father looking for a surrogate parent? And the Lady in the Radiator, was she trying to draw Henry away from the dark side and to the Light? It could be argued (and I'm sure there will be plenty of argument) that Eraserhead might be the horror film equivalent of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Long after you've stopped pondering about the plot, the nightmarish images will stay with you.
TRIVIA: Due to funding problems, it took more than 4 years to complete the film. The late Jack Nance (1943-1996) kept his crazy hairstyle for the entire time, until the movie was completed.
I accidentally watched Eraserhead many years ago on the big screen with a younger distant relative from the farmlands out West. I expected him to be creeped out and bewildered. Instead he educated me to the pretentiousness of the coasts--he roared with laughter through the whole thing!
Not at it, mind you, and it wasn't the nervous laughter of discomfort. He thought it was a great stitch, a merciless funny-as-hell parody on dating, getting your girlfriend (who you don't care much for to begin with) pregnant, dealing with the idiot parents, dealing with the alien baby (as all babies are for a young accidental parent), etc. Dang if my yokel cousin wasn't right and dang if most of the trendies and intellectuals oozing over this wonderful movie weren't missing the point utterly because they had very different lives, more directly in tune with John Water's nearly contemporaneous middle-class rip, Polyester. Eraserhead was working class, laboring folk stuff--it reeks of Akron, Ohio, and Wal-Mart, and homes next to decaying factories that are still, by a thread, in operation.
Since then I've seen this movie as it is and enjoy it as a first-rate black comedy that makes tons and tons of sense. My college friends still don't get it, after all, if the girlfriend gets pregnant it's an inconvenience that's dealt with elsewhere. None of these Ivy Leagers had ever dated the daughter of a Polish-Catholic factory worker.
Enjoy, but try to see this landmark comedy for what it is!
on October 9, 2012
Atmospheric. Industrial. Grating sounds. Silence. Steamy sounds. Smoke. Silence. Groaning machines. Solitude. Parenthood. Creaking doors. Loneliness. Silence. Abrupt slams. Bizarre interludes. Hideous offspring. Spazzy girlfriend. Erotic neighbor. Little hen dinner. The lady in the radiator. Pencil erasers.
If you like the art of film, you will most likely need to see Eraserhead at least once. I needed to see it more than once...
on May 8, 2005
This movie is a surreal masterpiece. It can be comprehended in so many ways. I wouldn't like to call it brilliant, but it is amazing. The best part about the movie is that it's so bizzare and creative. It's so surreal because you can tell it came out of the very depth of Lynch's imagination. It's a world that nobody has been to or seen. We meet people that we never met, but can see our reflections within their actions and emotions. What I also like about the movie is the fact that it camoflouges your mood and present atmosphere. On your best days, it can seem like a comedy because it's so silly. But on a dark night, the baby can still send you chills.
Warning: NOT FOR PREGNANT MOMS, NEWLYWEDS, OR THE SQUEAMISH.
on January 18, 2006
Yes, 5, I mean it. For me.
This film is not a horror film. Well maybe it is. Maybe it is what horror films would be if they really wanted to try to bring you into losing your grip on reality - while needing to act normal and... OK you can't easily describe this and I won't try to hard to do so. The phenomena I experience from Eraserhead is visceral more than ethereal. The characters are down to earth and plain, anxious but accessable, like neighbors. Not real creepy naighbors, just typical, nice troubled neighbors.
Eraserhead is an impressive depiction of someone who is a nice guy, very shy, and mentally ill. It can also be funny as hell once you get oriented to his disorientation, or that of his world, or wherever disorientation resides. Well, it resides in him, at least in part, and that's part of the puzzle of the film.
It is hardly unusual to mix humor with horror. Dawn of the Dead is a fave, but that's different. IThat movie was satisfying in a traditional movie sense, ended well, all was right in the world, including the set up for the sequel.
But this work is a hard-core ART film (there, I said it).
An argument can be made that it is also an environmetalist statement - Henry's mind may be the victim of local industrial pollution. There's not much dialog, so the little speech from the pipefitter is probably a clue in that direction. ("look at my knees").
The "funny" in this film is sympathetic, ecstatic funny, not derisive - you like Henry and want him to succeed at whatever he is trying to do - which is to be normal, like having a girlfriend, impressing her parents (now there's a ghastly, neurotically hysterical scene), stuff like that.
I didn't think of him as mentally ill the first tome I saw the film. Maybe he's not. But he seems to experience things very much the way my friend who is schizophrenic (and brilliant and wonderful) does. He confirms this too, but the film was really hard for him to watch. To close, he said.
If it is a depiction of mental illness, it is not really romanticized. The film doesn't conform to the cliches or pander. It even makes "A Beautiful Mind" seem a cliched regarding mental illness (that's another topic). It has a lot of surprises that are delightful and deliciously bizarre, but only because one is not stuck inside that somewhat broken brain.
It is easy for me to admire Henry's ability to keep trying to do the right thing in the face of a world that is not quite right. When he does the stuff toward the end that I won't describe, the stuff that acts as a climax of the film, aren't his intentions good? He doesn't know for sure what the consequences of his actions, or anyone elses, will be in this world he is in, and he can't ask, or discuss it, that's not an option in his world. Addressing any problem might make it worse - lord knows it is already bad enough. How to decide what to do then? Maybe try to do something the opposite of what you think you should do, because doing what you should do seems to backfire? Were that it were so elegant.
I love the multiple layers of dreams - you are not sure what level of reality he is in, when he is asleep, awake, half-awake, half dreaming, what percent of his irrational mind is in operation at any point. He and we see weird things and they may or may not have a rational explanation. Like his GF yanking the bed over and over while she cries - I won't say more. There are a lot of examples and they are interesting puzzles.
The film has an anthropological thing, like a Matthew Barney film - you are watching a culture, people you don't know much about, and they do things you don't understand, but you try. When they are explained, it can be almost disappointing compared to the feelings or ideas you had developed on your own.
One person mentioned this as an influence on Matthew Barney and others - yes! I would also direct you to Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", a brilliant film that directly takes the Eraserhead black egg image (the one with the sweating anxious guy inside who is pulling on the lever to try to prevent a terrible train wreck - insanity - unsuccessfully) and used it in the poster promotions. I take that as an homage, a compliment to Lynch. Although it also seemed like a rip off. But who knew.
This is also like Barney in that you are more likely to love it or hate it than something like, oh, the Wizard of Oz or Rosemary's Baby, which almost everyone enjoys (right?). A film like this would be, say, Dancer in the Dark, van Trier's musical tragedy featuring Bjork - people are all over the map in how they react to it (it's fantastic IMO). That's not entirley a digression, because Bjork and Barney are partners (plug, watch for his film Drawing Restraint #9 soon, starring - Bjork.)
Of course extremely mixed reactions do not a masterpiece make. I could try to defend Eraserhead on several fronts, but I'll just mention the beautiful B&W cinematography and his amazing results on a zero budget. This is not a cheesy film, it is definitely an art film of high standards, a work of Lynch's deepest, most pent-up young passions and intellect, humor and horror and surprise and delight and dark/light emotions, his rascally wicked sensibilities. This is ceretainly the same person who made Mulholland Drive - and The Straight Story. He loves and respects his characters, and he mourns for them, and exalts in their successes. If any.
The soundtrack is utterly brilliant, but you have to be into noise-ish things. And there's the Fats Waller pipe organ stuff that might make you feel queasy as you wonder "what in god's name is that??". Fats does not come to mind unless you happened to have heard this stuff. Jonathan Bepler's Cremaster soundtracks probably owe something to this, although they are more or less unsurpassable. (If you want to hear where Bjork's Vespertine may have come from, listen to the soundtracks for Cremaster 2 and 3, and be very suspicious. After all, Bjork was falling in love with Barney at the time the films were being made/shown. But here I blaspheme.)
This is not as much the Lynch of Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks. The irony is dealt a bit heavily in those, which has a tiny bit of emotional distancing to me. Although all Lynch is must-see.
The central scene from which the film gets it's name seems almost completely without precedent, with the exception of some scenes from Bunuel/Dali's Un Chien Andalou, (remember the priests dragging the piano with the decaying mule on top - BTW a scene Barney seems to borrow from with the rotting horse buggy race in Cremaster 3 - the ants-in-hand, the sliced eye). Lynch's scenes here, to me, sometimes surpass any I have seen in their powerful weird surreal horrible gorgeous fascinating repulsive vile beautiful way. The scene onstage, which I won't try to explain (Lynch loves sort of nightmare-y but riveting dreams that take place on stages, don't we all) is an indelible favorite etched in my neurons.
On second thought, maybe you don't really want that memory forever.
I think some (not all) of the people who hate this film are reacting realistically - it is truly not a place we want to go. It does not help that it does not have a satisfying ending, unless you like whatever the hell sort of ending it is. This film is structured as if it had a kicker denouement, but good luck feeling good about it - it is totally disappointing in its way - because it is a truly bad ending. Sort of. Although it might actually be a really good ending. It is a very logical conclusion, however. I think. Maybe.
So I respect anyone hating this film. I would never recommend it without knowing a lot about a person first.
I watched this repeatedly when it came out - it was the "other" midnight movie when the (I thought) abysmal "Rocky Horror" show was showing every night. Rocky Horror is a totally non-threatening, predictable attempt at camp that, I suppose, helped some people accept gayness or something, or have fun. I still don't like it, that to me is the definition of a bore.
When I suggested this to a couple of friends and asked how they liked it afterwards, they said "we don't really go in for horror films". I was aghast - this was NOT a HORROR FILM. But then again...
on October 19, 2000
If only one film had to be chosen to show in film school, this would have to be on the top of the list. Eraserhead fills the screen with enough visual sexual puns to give Freud a nightmare in this offbeat David Lynch classic. It is an amazing banquet of tightly controlled images that bombard the senses. From the Man in the Planet's release and fruitless attempt to "pull back" to poor Henry's vain effort to shake off the responsibility that he's inadvertently stepped in, this film takes the viewer down a very different sort of rabbit hole. Alice definitely doesn't live here. The audience follows Henry into his forced marriage and watches him as he turns on the spit of his actions' consequence. This universal tale of a moment of pleasure and its inevitable outcome can make you squirm! Particularly potent is the dinner scene with Mary's parents where Henry learns that "there's a baby". From the moment Henry arrives the audience is bombarded with claustrophobic visual references to birth, responsibility for actions and to ultimately sexual desire turned rancid as Mrs. X in a feverish display attempts to seduce Henry's not-so-attractive personae. But it is Mr. X who gives us the male perspective with his soliloquy of building a life out of thin air as he describes putting in the pipes (to control everything) and then going numb from it. He fatefully points the way for Henry when he describes massaging his numb arm back from its dead state. And then, in a supreme act of irony, Mr. X hands Henry the knife, bidding him to do what he can't. But poor Henry's attention is riveted only on the near future as he hallucinates (or does he?) the chickens oozing afterbirth. In the end, the audience is left with hope, but not until Henry earns his "Horrible Henry" moniker. But it is the hope of irony. Does Henry pay? Or is he doomed and are we all? In heaven, everything is fine-or so we're led to believe. Greatness in film is in the creator, not the accounting office. Shot on a shoestring, Eraserhead transcends. Once cannot imagine the production to be any more lavish. This is a must-see for any serious film student. Its dark and quirky imagery and it's tightly controlled editing shows that real genius is not a substitute for meagbuck budgets.
on December 28, 2005
There's nothing to say about this film that hasn't already been said. It doesn't surprise me that there are some reviewers who've given it one star, any more than it surprises me that irons come with instructions reading "do not iron clothes on body."
To say that this film isn't for everyone is an understatement. But anyone who loves the art of filmmaking should have a proper viewing of this great surreal work. Turn off the lights, leave your expectations at the door, and let it wash over you. This film has its own inner logic that defies attempts at conventional explanations. It's like a dream, and it captures the feeling of a dream as effectively as any film yet made.
If you're the type of person whose movies must have a conventional plot, a good guy and a bad guy, and who'd complain about a movie having "hardly any dialogue," then stick with something from Blockbuster's "new release" wall. But if you want to experience a true work of art, the result of a gifted painter successfully translating his impressionistic visions to the screen, then go ahead and enjoy Lynch's masterpiece.