One of the wonderful things about the American film industry is that it’s given us “Star Wars” *and* “Eraserhead.” I imagine the overlap between those films’ fan bases is teeny tiny, but I bet it exists, even if their convention would barely fill a couple rooms at the Des Moines Holiday Inn.
“I always say it’s my ‘Philadelphia Story.’ It just doesn’t have Jimmy Stewart in it!” director David Lynch says in the lengthy interview that fills the rather thick booklet accompanying this Blu-ray release. I laughed when I read that, because, again, it gets back to this idea that movies can be anything: They can be straightforward crowd-pleasers with a typical three-act structure, or they can be metaphors for the industrialization of modern life and the intense fears that accompany getting married and having kids today (in the case of “Eraserhead”).
This Blu-ray presents Lynch’s unsettling vision in a new 4K digital restoration, with its one-of-a-kind soundtrack included uncompressed. The story, which is wafer-thin, concerns Henry, who discovers he has impregnated his girlfriend, Mary. The baby turns out to be something not-quite-human, and it cries incessantly. Mary abandons the child, leaving Henry to care for the child while wandering a Kafka-esque industrial landscape, complete with visions of the Man in the Planet and the Lady in the Radiator, who sometimes emerges from his radiator and sings show tunes. The reason for the film’s title is revealed in a sequence in which Henry’s head falls off and a boy takes it to a factory to be turned into erasers.
The bonus features about the making of the film are listed by year:
• 1977: A one-minute trailer for the film that consists of nothing but some of the eerie industrial effects from the soundtrack.
• 1979: A 17-minute interview with Lynch and cinematographer Frederick Elmes from a UCLA class.
• 1982: A two-minute “Eraserhead” trailer that was created for the film’s long-running midnight showings in LA.
• 1988: A 7-minute excerpt from a French program in which Lynch and actor Jack Nance, who played Henry, visit the dark tunnel from the film.
• 1997: A 17-minute segment from a Lynch documentary in which he, Nance, and Charlotte Stewart (Mary) visit Mary’s house and talk about the art of capturing the unique atmosphere in the film.
• 2001: An 86-minute documentary, “‘Eraserhead’ Stories,” made by Lynch. It gets into the film’s lengthy production history and shows a lot of behind-the-scenes photos. (Lynch refuses to speculate on the meaning of the film, as he does in the other extras, which may frustrate some, but this is the kind of movie meant to toss a bunch of images and sounds your way and leave you to figure out what they mean. And your interpretation could be radically different from someone else’s, which is okay.)
• 2014: A 27-minute chunk of new interviews with Stewart, Elmes, director’s assistant Catherine Coulson, and actress Judith Anna Roberts (Beautiful Girl From Across the Hall). They discuss their relationships with Lynch.
Finally, five of Lynch’s short films — “Six Men Getting Sick” (1967), “The Alphabet” (1968), “The Grandmother” (1970), “The Amputee” (1974), and “Premonitions Following an Evil Deed” (1995) — are included too, each of them with a two-minute introduction by him. The shorts were previously only available by purchase directly from Lynch, which was a bit expensive, so it’s nice to have them included here.
The aforementioned booklet, whose Q&A with Lynch is from Chris Rodley’s 1997 book “Lynch on Lynch,” rounds out this release. While many recent Criterion Blu-ray editions have DVDs included too, this one doesn’t — Maybe Lynch feared people would rip “Eraserhead” off the DVD and watch it on their phones.