Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Year: 1977 (film), 2002 (DVD)
So Sunday I was able to scratch Erasurehead off my list of movies to see. Despite my appreciation of David Lynch’s films, I’ve been reluctant to view this one; its reputation for weirdness intimidated me. However, one thing I want to do in 2007 is whittle said list down to more of a list and less of a chapter.
The fellow at Film Buff confirmed Erasurehead’s weirdness, but assured me it was worth seeing. My money says most viewers imbibed prior to its screening. Not my style, but I did have a can of Strongbow close at hand. It took me close to two hours to finish, so my reaction is sober.
Many have described Lynch’s debut feature film as a masterpiece. I have a hard time with that; how can one’s first full-length film be one’s best? Certainly, it bespeaks of later cinematic ingenuity, but a masterpiece? I think that’s the acid talking.
Erasurehead feels like a young filmmaker with something to say. It’s definitely over-the-top and chock full of symbolism, be it conscious or no. The director readily admits that his life in Pittsburg informed his film: the industrial environment, the constant mechanical noise, the small communities that spring up amidst the machines. Other things crop up. Filmed in black and white, Erasurehead had a classic 1950s feel to it despite its being shot in the 1970s. The atomic-age Woman in the Radiator seemed somewhat Fellini-esque; indeed, the whole picture appeared to be informed by postwar Italian cinema.
Certainly postwar Italy bore little or no resemblance to postwar America, but what I got from Erasurehead is a comment on the American dream. So in this way, it’s a comment on promises unfulfilled. That the promise of a family, a job, a house, a car, and a stable life is a pipe dream: the pipes in the X’s house, the radiator in the apartment, the pipe-style headboard and footboard. Recall Bill X’s comment, “I remember when this was pastoral, before the pipes.” Admittedly, my analysis is very rudimentary and cliché. Nevertheless, I think it’s borne out.
I don’t think the basis of the film is particularly weird; indeed, I think its actually quite normal. Henry works at a boring job, lives an uneventful life, has a girlfriend, Mary X, who he doesn’t see much, and finds out she’s had his child. He meets the family and makes average conversation. It’s the space between that’s discomforting. Conversation isn’t fluffed up with non sequitors to fill the air. Who hasn’t felt strange “meeting the parents”? Mind you, we don’t all have the same eerie experience with chicken, but the meal never feels right, never tastes the same. People always look a little strange. Lynch merely stretched that sensation out—way out.
So the new parents set up house in Henry’s dire little apartment, and we get glimpse at their child, the one Mrs. X calls “premature” and Mary says, “Doesn’t even look like a baby.” Yup. Looks pretty strange and we recoil. But think about it. How strange does it really look? Don’t most parents (usually fathers) describe their newborns as appearing “alien”? They’re wrinkly and wet and red and cry and demand and get sick… Mary’s frustration and sleep deprivation are hardly weird. Lynch just skews them thus. Makes me wonder if he was, in fact, a new dad at the time. He seemed to nail it just right.
There’s lots of other things going on in Erasurehead: the man on the planet, the pencil machine, losing one’s head, etc. But if you really think about it, David Lynch has merely given form to the various neuroses from which we all suffer, and it makes us uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is good because it makes us squirm, which makes us move. Otherwise, we are like he morbidly fat man on the couch and become one in the same.
I highly recommend sitting through the “Stories” special feature on the DVD. Lynch has a wonderful speaking style, which is echoed in his films. His new venture, Inland Empire, did the festival circuit in 2006 and appears to have had a limited release. Hopefully, wider screenings are planned for 2007.