If you try to explain in a nutshell why Eraserhead is a great film and what its artistic value is, you come up with a set of labels and platitudes. Surrealist masterpiece, existential horror, cult classic, claustrophobic thriller–this approach fails to capture all the monstrous diversity of the picture. Just like with modern online casinos like PlayAmo, which because of their variety of games and services are simply impossible to describe and comprehend.
For criticism to be fruitful, we can try to deal with each aspect separately, although with David Lynch everything is as complicated as ever: it is necessary to answer one question and there will be twice as many.
The film’s high status and popularity are a consequence of its iconography. Here Lynch reveals his full power not as a director, but as an artist. He works with light and shadow and the power of the static image. It’s all about the particular texture of what is going on and the demonic minimalism that is evident in the author’s paintings. The characters of the movie ask to be the decoration of a mosaic, a fresco, or a triptych. Yes, such a painting is not to everyone’s taste and it will not hang in the Louvre Gallery, no matter what, but the “icon” is prayed for almost half a century. The only “but”: the cult status is also ensured by the fact that the viewer sometimes does not understand what is happening, which exoticizes art, depriving it of empathy and thoughtful viewing.
Shy fellow printmaker Henry (Jack Nance) receives an invitation to dinner from his girlfriend Mary’s (Charlotte Stewart) family. After an awkward introduction to his parents, he learns that the girl has given birth to his premature baby, and the family demands a wedding. The young parents and the baby move into Henry’s apartment, but Mary can’t stand the baby’s strange cries and leaves, and the main character is left to babysit. The formal description of the plot means nothing. However, behind the slender rows of situations comedy hide nightmares, hallucinations, and breakdowns of patterns. What comes to the forefront is not what is shown, but how it is shown.
So far we have 89 minutes of running time, although the first director’s version was 20 minutes longer. It must have taken five long years of filming to see the film. Episodes of the film were lost, people died, divorced, born, years went by. Famous and significant is the story that a year and a half of real-time passed between the scene where Henry comes to the door and the scene where he opens it. The montage glues together insurmountable distances into one dense chronotype. Night shoots, home-cooked meals, casual part-time jobs–Lynch eventually just settled on the set and slept in the bed of the main characters. The allocated finances were woefully inadequate. And who would have given money to a man with two ties and hair like the Joker, wearing a ridiculous trilby hat? In the end, even the room with the scenery was asked to vacate the leisurely filmmakers, but the team managed to finish the picture.
The folly of the brave was rewarded. In Hollywood, such low-budget long-form productions were usually quietly buried, but The Silky Head turned out to have a successful box office for its segment, and then cult status. It is worth admitting that David was born under a lucky star and was able to get to the right place at the right time, to please the right people. After the release of the film, he began to receive many offers (up to the request to shoot “Star Wars” – Lynch was a little late to the feast of New Hollywood), and many colleagues sang the praises of a talented debutant.
The town in which the events of the film take place is the epitome of the industrial nightmare of Philadelphia, where Lynch managed to live during the economic crisis. The chimneys, the machine oil, the smoke, the jagged gray landscape are also the setting for the unfilmed dream project Ronnie the Rocket. Something drew the filmmaker to the unfriendly environment found in California, in the factory of Edward Doheny (the prototypical protagonist of “Oil” by Paul Thomas Anderson). Some of the elements came from life itself, and some from art. The famous mosaic floor, for example, is taken from Jean Cocteau’s “Orpheus”, and the dead tree growing out of the pile of the earth is a common image found in other paintings by the creator. A number of atmospheric solutions were suggested by “Window to the Yard” and “Sunset Boulevard,” some of David’s favorite films.
The Procreator Head
The past dictates the future, Agent Cooper told us at the end of season three of you-know-what. Prophetic dreams, predictions, and repetitions determine the future course of events. The climactic, justifying scene in which Henry’s head is sent to a conveyor belt and its contents turned into a rubber pencil tip is exactly what will happen to Lynch in the next decade, when he agrees to direct a Dune adaptation. The thought precedes what’s happening: notice how Henry first thinks the baby is sick and puts him on a thermometer, and only then does the baby really get sick.
Cocteau’s mosaic floor, tiny secret boxes, electricity, and nuclear mushrooms will all jump into Lynch’s next works – the blue chest from Mulholland Drive alone. By the wicked irony of fate (or the author), “Twin Peaks” begins with Jack Nance’s character finding the shawl-wrapped body of a murdered child. “Blindfold Head” predicted and in some ways launched a wave of body horror and served as the basis for the aesthetics of “Alien” and “The Shining.” At the same time, the only close analogue of the film in spirit and aesthetics was the game “Bioshock”. There, too, the vinyl record player rustles with fervor, the events on the screen become uncomfortable, and perversions, madness, and mutations are no longer considered something unusual.
If one uses today’s critical toolkit, one can eerily point out that this whole nightmare is the subjective gaze of the protagonist, hence the male gaze. But not a toxic, masculine one, but a hunted one, like that of a very insecure teenager. Henry fears his fiancée’s parents as potential accusers of his failure fear the child as a liability, fears and objectify his seductive stairwell neighbor. When the level of stress and anxiety becomes unbearable, Henry escapes from reality (and what is real?) into the world of the battery, where a Girl, bright and innocent, who promises deliverance (according to popular interpretation, she is death incarnate) also awaits him. So what if there are pieces of construction foam instead of cheeks. This is the unspeakable depths of the subconscious, and no one will judge her for her appearance. The most popular interpretation of the plot reads that what’s happening on the screen for an hour and a half is an attempt by a young father to come to terms with his status and sexuality.
Although we are all well aware that Lynch’s interpretive approach is a dead end. The director himself said that no one has yet unraveled the film’s true meaning. But also no one will change the fact that shortly before filming began, David had a daughter and divorced his first wife near the end of this marathon. Therefore, “Blindfold Head” is, on different levels of perception, also a personal film, a generalized man’s film, and an existential one, and thus intuitively understandable to every living being.
The characters in the film are divided into two types: those who are tormented by childbirth and those who are tormented by birth. Only the dog in the X family is resolved by the burden, and only the viewer is tormented here by the unbearable squeaking of the puppies. All the other characters and entities are constantly spewing something out of themselves: Henry and Mary are sperm worms (in fact, they were human umbilical cords), the chickens on the table are a brown slop, the mysterious Man on the Planet is the lever movement that generates the plot and controls the characters’ actions. At the same time, the whole newborn squeals, cries, and squirms in misery. This is the main nightmare of local life: to be born and to continue one’s lineage is unpleasant. And in general, being is unpleasant.
The image of the child is not the only pillar of the symbolic framework of “The Head-Face.” There are also recurring penises, vaginas, intercourse, disease, tumors. One can see metaphor in everything – such imagery is dictated by the nature of the dream. But whose dream is this? The dream of the eraser in which he is a man or the dream of the man in which he is the eraser? Henry the child’s dream or Henry the child’s dream? The symbolic unity of father and son only adds to the sense that the film is one big allusion to the biblical story.
It’s not enough to watch the movie, you have to listen to it. Some of the sound effects the makers found literally in a dumpster. Lynch and his sound designer (who also happens to be an Oscar winner) Alan Splet used damaged recordings thrown away by a major studio for lack of use. Freeganship the Hollywood way. Throughout the film, except for a couple of singing scenes, we hear crackling, squeaking, squelching, buzzing and other instruments of putting the viewer in a state of uncomfortable trance. This is an anti-soundtrack, assembled from industrial-sounding noises and drone. The director will perfect the sound in his later works, but even here it is clear how important the auditory aspect is for him. At the first screening of “Flipper Head” the “volume up” button was pressed so many times that every screen rustle could be heard.
The Clown Head
For all its horror and disgust, one cannot help but note the grotesque comicality of what is going on. Jack Nance’s midriffs, looks, and facial expressions are reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin comedies, and the world around him is like a puppet theater (of the absurd). Even in one of the first scenes of the film, the hero is pretentiously and inappropriately stepping in a puddle. The comedy principle of “combining the incongruous” works here as a commentary on the deliriousness of real life. Mrs. X moaning in convulsions at the dinner table and then licking Henry is the norm. Everything can be written off as a dream, but it is clearly not without a dark sense of humor.
A surly critic might have discerned a moral as simple as a stool: to avoid being in the characters’ shoes, take precautions. A psychoanalyst would find a dozen complexes and neuroses in the protagonist. A believer would think it was a twisted history of Jesus Christ and a critique of abortion. An art historian would smartly state that there is a Francis Bacon trace in the picture. Legend has it that David Lynch’s mother said after viewing it: “I wish I hadn’t dreamed that.” And that is perhaps the best review of her son’s film.