This DVD edition of David Lynch’s 1977 “Eraserhead” is presented as “Cleaned & Remastered.” There is no argument in that statement: the film hasn’t looked this good since it first shocked and amused midnight movie audiences some three decades ago.
I had not seen the film in 20 years, and only then I saw it in a single viewing at a friend’s house from a VHS videotape. Seeing it again, there were many things I clearly recalled: the sick humor of the unlikeliest sight gags (the miniature chicken that bled upon carving, the bleating of the mutant baby, the creepy vaudeville stage where the Lady in the Radiator performed), and the daring for presenting such an eclectic vision (even by the standards of experimental cinema).
But what I did not recall was even greater: the brilliance of the non-stop sound effects (hissing steam, thunder, wind, various indescribable noises), the enigma of the film’s final portion (just what the hell is going on there?) and the Chaplinesque physical humor of Jack Nance’s performance (forget the hairdo and focus on the flatfooted walk, the ill-fitting suit, and the sense of constant wonder at the craziness surrounding him). Seeing this again brought back a flood of powerful and positive emotions.
It is also hard to view “Eraserhead” again and recognize how strongly it defined Lynch’s career. In many ways, he spent a lifetime trying to top the film’s outrageous surrealism, dark comedy and ability to creep out an audience without actually presenting anything that is truly scary. In many ways, Lynch’s most satisfying films are the one that stray from this formula: “The Elephant Man” (which kept the monochrome of “Eraserhead” but added a humanity which the first film had no place for), “Dune” (an epic sci-fi which will some day be recognized as a neglected classic) and “The Straight Story” (a deceptively simple tale which is arguably among the greatest films of the 1990s).
But as for the rest of the Lynch canon, all I see is a case of trying to top the weirdness of “Eraserhead.” Honestly, nothing comes close. For my money, this was Lynch at his best.