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Eraserhead

Eraserhead

By James Arden • January 26th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
ERASERHEAD (MOVIE)
Libra Films International

Original release: March 19th, 1977
Running time: 85 minutes

Writer and director: David Lynch

Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates

Eraserhead

Eraserhead is not a film you forget. From the early shots of dystopian urban decay, complete with Lynch’s now signature echoing train noises, to otherworldly figures such as The Lady in the Radiator, it introduced cinema-goers to ‘Lynchland’ – an uncanny on-screen destination, whose different corners we’ve travelled to many times over the years: Twin Peaks; Lumberton; even to dreamy Los Angeles.

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) lives in a run-down apartment building in a heavily industrial area. Huge factories endlessly spew smoke, and the constant clunking of machinery is an inescapable noise. Upon receiving a message from his estranged girlfriend, Mary X, Henry walks to her house for dinner. At the table – while man-made miniature roast chickens spasm and seep fluid – Mary runs out crying. It transpires she’s given birth, but the baby was born early and deformed: “They’re not even sure it is a baby!” Whatever it is, Henry’s the father, and so begins a hurried married life with Mary, living in Henry’s apartment with their new…child.

Made over a five year period in which Lynch and his small, dedicated crew dealt with night shoots, financial difficulties and even a year-long halt in production, Eraserhead nonetheless afforded a now unthinkable level of freedom to the director across every aspect of production. Consequently, Lynch was able to fully immerse himself in the film’s world over those years:

“I felt Eraserhead. I didn’t think it. It was a quiet process: going from inside me to the screen.”

This level of control, of feeling spilling onto the screen, is even more relevant when one considers the uncontrollable elements of Lynch’s real life that accompanied the making of Eraserhead. One year into production, Lynch amicably parted with his first wife, Peggy. Their daughter, Jennifer, had been born unplanned in 1968 with club feet (which many consider, on some level, to have influenced the deformed child in Eraserhead).
Eraserhead

Henry channels Lynch’s fear of fatherhood, but the monstrous figure of the baby can be said to represent so much more. Arguably it personifies the unpredictability of life, and the sudden limitations on our existence that can spring up at any time. On some level, at some point, we all want to shun responsibility. Henry’s urban surroundings reflect his mood; the view from his window is a towering brick wall closely opposite, a monolithic representation of urban claustrophobia. He’s trapped by his new role as a father, with only the loud radiator becoming a source of comfort and escape. Lying on his bed, Henry gazes into the warm iron bars, eventually leading to one of the film’s most iconic moments: The Lady in the Radiator’s performance of ‘In Heaven.’

For Lynch enthusiasts, Eraserhead is also a cinematic goldmine for the first appearances of now signature Lynchian visual and auditory techniques; viewers with a keen eye will notice the floor pattern in the lobby of Henry’s hotel bears a striking resemblance to that of the Red Room in Twin Peaks (albeit in black and white). The peculiar, uncanny industrial and mechanical noises – in particular the screeching train wheels and distant whistle – were created by Alan Spelt with Lynch; the two subsequently worked together on several of Lynch’s films.

SOURCES:

  • Rodley, Chris (Ed.). Lynch On Lynch, London: Faber and Faber Inc., 2005

Yet, for all this talk of Eraserhead’s meaning and of its huge influence on the rest of Lynch’s career, no amount of words can sum up what it’s like to watch the director’s first foray in feature films. No two viewers will have the exact same interpretation of the surreal events that unfold.

It’s a film to be seen, to be absorbed and indeed, as Lynch said himself on making it, to be felt. Eraserhead may have gone from inside Lynch to the screen, but it’s a two-way street. It goes from the screen to inside us. It’ll lurk deep inside your mind – you won’t forget it.

Eraserhead

James Arden

James Arden

James is a recent English Literature graduate from the University of York. During his time at university he took as many film-related modules as possible, balancing his studies of Dickens and Shakespeare with healthy doses of David Lynch and Orson Welles. He’s drawn to auteuristic and controversial filmmakers; a far-reaching interest that extends from the colourful, retroistic aesthetics of Wes Anderson to the disturbing yet engaging films of Lars von Trier. Somewhere inbetween lies a love for Polanski, Kubrick and P.T. Anderson.

James is also a filmmaker and film journalist. Follow his work on his website and follow him on Twitter @jnarden.

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