What the deuce did people ever do at midnight before ERASERHEAD (1977)? Perhaps the most perfect late night movie ever made, David Lynch’s feature film debut (funded in part by actress Sissy Spacek, then a rising star whose art director husband Jack Fisk was on Lynch’s crew) gets props from the black tee shirt crowd for being among the weirdest movies ever made… and yet so much of what goes on between its fade in and fade out is drawn so palpably from everyday life. Inspired by his anxieties about being a father (Lynch’s daughter Jennifer is now a filmmaker in her own right), ERASERHEAD rewrites Mario Bava’s notion that the scariest thing is a person alone in a room by suggesting that the scariest thing just might be a person alone with his in-laws. So much of the film is verite masquerading as the bizarre: if you’ve ever kept lonely vigil at the bedside of a sick child or lived in a tenement apartment heated by steam you will take to ERASERHEAD as if it were a home movie… those sounds, that numbing industrial cacophany that one grows accustomed to as part of the contract of city living, that constant, unyielding hiss from the radiator (which does, in early winter, seem like an all-powerful but neglectful god), the dim, cottony quality of life in a badly-lighted building and the odd interaction of strangers in uncomfortable company… this isn’t fantasy, this is neorealism. Close to forty years later, ERASERHEAD has lost none of its highly-touted hallucinogenic/mesmeric power and remains a seminal text of the American independent film movement, as worthy of the honor and the distinction as John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959), Terence Mallick’s Badlands (1973), or Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973).
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