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.
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.