The Film (5/5)
I would suggest that it is a rarity for a director to come out of the gate with a vision so bizarre, and so well formed with their first feature film than David Lynch did with Eraserhead. The film itself could almost be considered a glossary that helps to define future Lynch viewing experiences with his approach to the film, and how it would inform his future films. As Eraserhead contains so many elements that would go on to define the director for decades to come. On a personal level it is quite possibly my favorite of the director’s work.
The film on a surface glance tells the story of Henry Spencer (played by Twin Peaks' Jack Nance), who one night is called to the home of a former lover, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), for dinner. She has not contacted him in many weeks, and in that time it is discovered had a premature, but living baby after a very short pregnancy. The child is a tiny mutant creature that is seemingly always crying. The two are forced by Mary's parents to marry, and move into Henry's tiny studio apartment to raise the child, unfortunately parenting is never easy, and for these 2 it's downright impossible.
That is a surface level reading of the film, of course, nothing Lynch has ever done even at his most mainstream (Elephant Man, Dune, The Straight Story) can be fully read at the surface level. The film is full of bizarre imagery such as the aforementioned baby, a deformed woman who sings to Henry from his radiator, and a man who stares out a window, and seemingly just controls... things.
Much has been discussed about the meaning of the film, the general consensus, and one that I used to buy into myself is that it deals with Lynch's insecurities of sudden and unexpected Fatherhood. If the viewer chooses to read it like that, it is quite understandable, and easy to do so, at this point after so many viewings of the film I have chosen to let Lynch's work both visually and aurally wash over me like the bizarre cinematic experience that is truly is.
Lynch shot the film in a beautiful stark black and white style that balances a look between early silent films and a 40's film noir. The film was shot by 2 cinematographers Herb Caldwell (who had to leave during the films 5 year shoot), and Frederick Elmes. One other factor that elevates Eraserhead's stature is it's wonderfully bizarre sound design, which was done by Lynch in collaboration with Alan Splet. The soundtrack to the film is by no means traditional and is mostly made up of dissonant industrial noise. The only era appropriate comparison I can make is possibly a more moody version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.
Criterion brings David Lynch's Eraserhead (his first Criterion it should be noted) to Blu-ray in a stunningly gorgeous 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer scanned at 4K. The Blu-ray of Eraserhead by Criterion makes the film look better than it has ever appeared on any home video release before, the black levels (so integral to this film), are so inky and deep the viewer could practically get lost in them, and fine detail is superb. There is a nice level of natural grain present.
Criterion have presented Eraserhead with an LPCM 2.0 Mono track in English. This track was created by Lynch and Splet in 1994, and remastered by Criterion in 2014, and sounds glorious. The limited amount of dialogue in the film comes through nice and clearly, as does the films soundtrack which resonates nicely through the speakers.
Criterion have put together an amazing slate of extras for their Blu-ray release of Eraserhead. They have done an interesting thing setting them up by year, so you have extras from 1979, 1982, 1997, 2001, and 2014. This includes archival interviews and documentaries, and new interviews with the cast and crew from 2014. The most substantial extra is most of David Lynch's short film work (The Cowboy and the Frenchman from the Self-Released Lynch set is not included) is included on the disc in HD. In that shorts package you get Six Men Getting Sick an art installation piece that Lynch did as his first film, The Alphabet, The Grandmother, The Amputee (2 versions), and a Lumiere homage shot with the original Lumiere camera entitled Premonitions Following an Evil Deed.
David Lynch finally has a film in the Criterion Collection, and it is arguably his best. The Blu-ray restoration looks and sounds fantastic, and the extras are immense, informative, and entertaining. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (as if there was another option).