Picked Flick #72: Eraserhead
Lynch keeps daring us and daring himself, and the film world tenses with anticipation at each new step he takeswhich, more than four years after the trip down Mulholland Drive, could hardly appear a moment too soon. There is no question in my mind that Mulholland is Lynch's best and richest movie, but if that masterwork is missing anything, it's the daft, piquant riskiness of a film like Eraserhead, which reflects not the trained professionalism that comes with decades in the business and a cohort of frequent collaborators, but from a pure will to test the on-screen viability of an almost id-level sensibility. Lynch is the credited director, writer, editor, composer, production designer, special effects technician, and sound-effects editor on Eraserhead, and I suppose I feel, with no particular justification, that assigning any more chefs to this dada dish could only have diluted the flavor. Though quite evidently a workshop for sonic concepts, experiments in framing, and poker-faced acting styles that would later be redrawn in finer detail, Eraserhead works marvelously on its own terms. A dreamscape to equal Un chien andalou, the film also traces a clear narrative line through nervous courtship, an excruciatingly anxious paternity, and a kind of fantasy life that isn't so much stifled as it is genetically rearranged by an oppressive, penurious existence in a post-industrial no man's land.
I'm sure all of Eraserhead's fans have their own favorite moments. Unquestionably, one of mine is the non-diegetic soundtrack of whines and slurping sounds beneath Jack Nance's first painful meeting with his girlfriend's parents, belatedly linked to a dog suckling her litter in the same room. Close behind that is the Tod Browning shot of Charlotte Stewart's strained expressions as her head rests on the foot of a mattress, only tangentially indicating that below the sightline of the frame, she is reaching for a suitcase beneath the bed. All of the scenes of the titular and pustulent dino-baby are unforgettable, as is that famous shot of Nance's startled grimace and his backlit pile of wiry curls while the spores released from his baby's abdomen fill the air around him. What does any of it mean? Please don't make me guess. I haven't even tried to delve into the connotations and integrated resonances of Eraserhead because the pleasures it imparts as pure collage are so profound, so inexpressibly funny, and so relatably sad. And I cop to finding enjoyment in the fact that Eraserhead is, for all its notoriety and the prestige of its director, so totemistically difficult to locate, making the movie rare in every senseuncommon, exquisite, and served up all but raw. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)