Eraserhead (1977)
By: Trist Jones on April 7, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Subversive Cinema (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 89 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: David Lynch
Starring: John Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates
Screenplay: David Lynch
Country: USA
When I was in 9th Grade, I was over at a friend's house. We'd been taking it easy after a massive week at school and decided to usher in the holidays with some beers. As the night went on, we started flicking through the channels to see what was on. Crap, crap, music videos (which were, at that moment, crap) and then there was this black and white movie, and something about it immediately struck us as being oddly discomforting. We decided to stick with it and see what was going on. Little did we know that we were about to embark on the most disturbing viewing experience our developing minds could handle, or in my friend's case, couldn't handle.

Notorious oddball director David Lynch came into the film business with Eraserhead as his first offering, and it became a very clear case of first impressions lasting. Eraserhead was, and still is, a very bizarre and nightmarish trip and established a style and atmosphere that would be carried throughout Lynch's career, and would also inspire generations of filmmakers. The story, as best as one can put it, is about a man named Henry, who finds himself the father of a horrifying baby/thing, married in a shotgun wedding to a girl who is, along with the rest of her family, clearly a few trees short of a forest. However, as this story progresses (or meanders, depending on your point of view), Henry finds himself seduced by the mysterious woman across the hall, and constantly barraged by nightmarishly bizarre occurrences within his apartment.

Lynch has always been extremely ambiguous in regards to Eraserhead, never saying anything about his ideas behind it and therefore leaving it entirely open to the viewer's interpretation. This may have even been the intention the whole time, but either way, it is a very thought provoking film and is great in that it truly is one of those films you can find yourself in very deep conversation afterwards as there are many varied and mixed interpretations of what happens in this film and what particular moments may or may not represent.

To me, the whole thing is like a dream put on film. Neither good, nor bad, just a series of events that seem to unfold in a rather disjointed but somehow seamless fashion, just as they feel and appear to in one's dreams. In reality, it doesn't really make much sense at all, but in the world of your dream, it all fits together, no matter how bizarre or seemingly out of place things are. This is exactly how Eraserhead feels to watch, but as it isn't your dream you're watching, there's an extremely disturbing quality to the whole thing.

Many times the film becomes visually repugnant. The black and white photography along with the general mise en scene is discomforting enough, but the lighting, sparse make up and grotesque effects make up help create some truly off-putting moments. But of course, this film wouldn't be anything near what it is if the performances what they were. The girl behind the radiator, Mary and her parents, Henry, all perfect performances that really do make the characters what they are, but they don't even come close to the performance of the baby.

The baby is probably the most disturbing thing about the whole film. It's easily one of the best puppets I've ever looked at, but could technically be the best. It's completely seamless, and how or what this thing was made from is a complete mystery. Lynch has never spoken out about what the thing is, some reporting it to be a dead and embalmed calf or sheep, but the way it's manipulated makes me think otherwise, especially when it's eyes and tongue move. Even with a background in puppetry, this thing has me completely baffled.
Video
Given that Eraserhead is essentially a student film, made nearly thirty years ago, the transfer is fantastic. I never got a chance to see the general release, so I can't fairly compare the two, but with the DVD being recalled and now made exclusively available through David Lynch's personal website, I trust that the 'cleaned and remastered' labelling means that it is superior quality.
Audio
Understandably, it's pretty sparse. The only audio option is an English 2.0 track, which is really clean and perfectly audible.
Extra Features
Eraserhead has next to nothing when it comes to extras. You get a trailer for the film and a "Stories" featurette, which features David Lynch basically telling you stories about the production. Nothing particularly noteworthy is mentioned and Lynch has a very clear tendency to ramble.

I also have a huge problem with not being able to chapter search on DVD's. Even short films have chapter skips and searches. Eraserhead (possibly on Lynch's call) pretty much forces you to watch the whole thing, and if you try to chapter skip, you end up watching the trailer.
The Verdict
As a DVD package it's pretty lacklustre, but it's a film that really needs to be seen. Whether you like it in the end or not, you still really should track a copy down just to see it. It's a fantastic piece of film making, but if you're coming at it thinking you're going to get a standard three-act horror/drama movie, you're going to find yourself feeling probably more uncomfortable than you normally should watching it. It doesn't adhere to the regular rules of filmmaking, but doesn't come off as pretentious film-school art wankery. If you've seen any of Lynch's other films and liked what you saw, you really need to see Eraserhead, as it truly is the progenitor of it all. It's a four star film, but a two star package.

Just as a post-script; completists or hardcore Lynch fans may want to head on over to davidlynch.com, as there's a boxed version available that also comes with the director's short films on separate DVD's.
Movie Score
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