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Review: ''Eraserhead''

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Oh Eraserhead, you weirdo, how do we love thee? We cannot count the ways. Shot over four years and finally released in 1977, Eraserhead was so strange that theaters rarely showed it before midnight -- a time slot it continued to haunt for years.

Eraserhead was the first movie I raced out to rent when I bought my first VHS player in the 1980s. I was 15 years old, and the movie left me utterly baffled, unnerved, creeped out and intrigued. Watching it today induced the identical effect: Most of David Lynch's movies have not diminished with time, but Eraserhead -- arguably the purest distillation of the director's signature dream-consciousness style -- has weathered the years better than most. This movie could have been made yesterday, or in 1950 -- or in the future.

Nominally the story of Henry (Jack Nance), a factory worker in a post-industrialist universe, who tries to raise his deformed, mutant baby with his wife Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), Eraserhead famously defies simple plot description. Lots of stuff happens (including my all-time favorite dinner scene in cinema, in which a tiny roasted chicken wiggles on the plate and oozes a strange liquid), but little of it makes traditional sense.

Eraserhead is less movie than head trip, something to be heard, seen and experienced -- especially heard. The complexity of Lynch's sound design, a hallmark of all his pictures, is particularly astonishing here, a cacophony of ominous clangs and hisses, portentous rumblings and warblings -- the word "dread'' transformed into noise.

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Shot in glorious black and white, Eraserhead is also suffused with striking images, from the dream sequence that earns the movie its title to the puffy-cheeked woman who lives in Henry's radiator. Although lacking the beautiful sheen that big budgets would eventually bring to Lynch's movies, Eraserhead is a perfect (and, in a strange way, much more accessible) counterpart to his last film, the grainy Inland Empire, which the director has proclaimed will be his final effort.

The late film critic Robin Wood once said of Alfred Hitchcock's much-maligned Marnie "If you don't like Marnie, then you don't like Hitchcock.'' The same goes for Lynch and Eraserhead. Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. all sprang from here. And if you have seen Eraserhead, but never in a theater, then you really haven't seen it. Here's your chance. This is where the term "cult classic'' was born.

Eraserhead (**** out of ****) plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cosford Cinema as part of the 27th Miami International Film Festival. For more info, including tickets, go here.

Comments

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Donald Chauncey

This film literally changed my life and set me on the path of avant-garde cinema. I began hosting quarterly experimental film screenings in my tiny North Carolinal library after seeing it. The soundtrack is seriously perception-altering.

Cinephile

Great film - saw this a few times in college way back in the early '80s and have a copy from Netflix sitting somewhere around the house waiting to be viewed once again... Sort of an atmospheric "horror" film - love the dinner scene with the Cornish hen!

BCH

There were a number of legends floating around Hollywood about Lynch during the production of this film. My favorite: Lynch was practically living at AFI HQ at the time, using short rolls of film stock that were acquired by supporters such as Frank Daniel (who later became the dean of USC film school). AFI had bought a new camera and needed to have it tested. When the execs gathered for the test screening, they were confronted by images of a female amputee, sitting on a stool and reading (if I recall correctly - details are a little fuzzy). One of the execs exclaimed something to the effect of, "Lynch did this, didn't he!"

Juan

Love this movie. This is still his best film.

Chris

Inland will be his last film? That's so strange. I thought IE was supposed to be the start of a new beginning for Lynch? Bummer.

Rene Rodriguez

@Chris: I'm sure he'll direct another movie again. Those self-imposed early retirements rarely stick.

Gregory

Rene I got really interested in cinema from reading your well-pointed reviews for over a decade (I can remember looking forward to reading an issue of the Weekened with a T-rex gnarling through the cover, promoting The Lost World). Ever since I saw Eraserhead in class two years ago, I've always wondered what you thought of it.

As I fan I would love it if you'd review more movies that you haven't covered, no matter how old it is (it doesn't have to be favorable, you make great points reviewing a bad movie too). It would also be enjoyable to start a chat forum too.

That could be a great way to build on this blog, a site deserving of growth. If you're worried about the death of the newspaper movie critic, this is a great venue for you to continue perennially.

Rene Rodriguez

@ Gregory: Thanks for the note and the suggestions. You will see a feature pop up on the blog very soon called "Rewind" in which I share a few thoughts on movies I've watched recently on DVD and Blu-ray - some for the first time, others on repeat viewing. They'll be less formally structured than reviews, but they'll be fun to write.

I don't know if a chat forum is possible on Typepad, but I will find out. I have discovered that the more you feed your blog, the more hits you get, and my readership has been climbing steadily over the past few months. I only wish people would leave more comments here instead of only on Facebook. You can follow the blog there by going here:

http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blog/reeling/

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