Over the past 30 years, cult films have gone through something of an evolution. Once thought of as obscure, inaccessible works relegated to midnight shows at boutique movie houses, they have developed into a genre of their own.
In 1977, David Lynch, the hero of aspiring cult filmmakers everywhere, kicked off the concept with his feature-length debut, Eraserhead (kicking off Dryden Theatre's Lunch series on Wednesday, February 2, at 8 p.m., 271-4090). As the prototypical cult classic, it was made on a next-to-nothing budget and has since taken on an almost mythical quality.
Much has been written about the confusing images, the simplistic story line, and the hit-you-over-the-head symbolism. Many have attempted to attach lofty meaning to Lynch's downright bizarre composition. The problem with this sort of discussion, however, is the pretentious assumption that weirdness equals art. Lynch is desperate to convince us this is the case. Don't be fooled.
Set in some dark industrial city, Eraserhead introduces us to Henry Spencer, a random piece of flotsam tossed about by his harsh environment. On learning that his girlfriend, Mary X, has recently given birth to his "baby" (a brilliantly constructed, completely convincing, hideous mutant creature), the two are forced into a stupefying marriage, in which they both eventually go mad.
The film segues into a series of increasingly grotesque sequences, designed to convey the nightmarish quality of Henry's (and perhaps our own) existence. Is Lynch commenting on his own fears of parenthood? The apocalypse? No one, not even Lynch himself, seems sure of the meaning of the woman in the radiator with the puffy cheeks, or the factory that turns Henry's severed head into pencil-top erasers.
The persistent question while digesting all of this is, unfortunately, who cares? Were it not for cinematographer Frederick Elmes (an RIT graduate), whose keen understanding of lighting and black-and-white photography single-handedly creates this film's overwhelming sense of moody horror, it would simply deteriorate into a cheap version of surrealism.
Eraserhead is best viewed for what it is: a cult film and not much more. With its abundant immaturity, Lynch's film is suitable for those who seek shock and entertainment under the mistaken guise of artistic virtue.
--- Christopher Nakis and Katie Papas