One of the many excellent
supplements that appear on this disc is a rare video interview from 1979 with
David Lynch (and cinematographer Frederick Elmes). For those of us who have
aged along with the director, it is a striking glimpse at a young artist at the
beginning of his strange and wonderful career. In it, he explains that he is
attracted to sometimes harsh, oppressive settings, such as the nightmarish
industrial cityscape in Eraserhead.
“What everyone else finds ugly, I find beautiful,” he says proudly. And the
director has pretty much remained true to his word, hasn’t he?
a landmark picture, but its original release in 1977 was slow to reach an
audience. It gained its must-see reputation only after the film was picked up
to run on the midnight movie circuit that was popular on college campuses and
in the big cities at the time. The midnight movie fad had been around a while
but it especially picked up steam in the early-to-mid-70s with titles like El Topo, The Harder They Come, Pink
Flamingos, and The Rocky Horror
Picture Show. By 1980, Eraserhead had
reached cult status, and Lynch was hired by Mel Brooks to direct The Elephant Man. “You’re a madman!
You’re hired!” Brooks purportedly said.
If you’ve never viewed Eraserhead, there is no better
introduction to it than diving into The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray
release. The 4K digital restoration, supervised by Lynch, looks magnificent—the
ugly is indeed quite beautiful. Yes, it’s a strange movie. I’ve heard some
folks say it’s the weirdest movie they’ve ever seen. That could very well be
true, for today Eraserhead is
considered to be one of the classic
surrealist films, sitting alongside Un
Chien Andalou or Blood of a Poet.
Despite its intentional
strangeness, the story is simple. Longtime Lynch collaborator Jack Nance (here
credited as John Nance) plays Henry, a nervous man who is afraid of the
responsibility of becoming a father. He marries his already-pregnant girlfriend
anyway, and the child that is produced is, well, a monster. After a experiencing
a nightmare in which he is decapitated and has his head sold to a company that
somehow converts it into actual pencil eraserheads, Henry attempts to murder
the child (to this day Lynch and his cast/crew have never revealed how the special
effect of the baby was achieved), which causes the destruction of Henry’s
Okay, yeah, it sounds pretty
strange—but it’s also very funny.
It’s the blackest of comedies made with that quirky “Lynchian” (I suppose
that’s a real cinematic term now) humor that audiences in the 70s weren’t quite
ready for. And yet, Lynch also manages to balance the dark satire with
menacing, creepy horror, thereby creating a one-of-a-kind, unique and personal art
The supplemental material
from the DVD box set that Lynch’s company released in 2001 is included
(“Eraserhead Stories,” a 90-minute documentary on the making of the film),
along with a new piece featuring interviews with actors Charlotte Stewart and
Judith Roberts, assistant to the director (and wife to Jack Nance at the time)
Catherine Coulson, and DP Elmes. Additional archival interviews and trailers
and the illustrated booklet containing an interview with Lynch rounds out the
But there’s more! Also
included on the disk are all but one of Lynch’s works that were released on DVD
in 2002 as The Short Films of David
Lynch. The titles on the Criterion edition are: Six Men Getting Sick (67), The
Alphabet (68), The Grandmother (70),
two versions of The Amputee (74), and
Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (95).
Missing from the earlier set is The
Cowboy and the Frenchman (88), and it’s a mystery as to why this is
Nevertheless, Criterion’s new
Blu-ray release of Eraserhead is an
essential purchase for Lynch fans. It is indeed the definitive presentation of
this remarkable piece of celluloid—so settle in, turn out the lights, and
prepare to have your mind blown.