Monday, March 19, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known About 'Eraserhead'!

I thought I heard a stranger. We've got 20 things you may not have known about the greatest cult movie ever made tonight. Strangest damn things. They're man made. Little damn things. Smaller than my fist. But they're new! Hi, I'm Psychobabble. Oh, printing's your business? Psychobabbling’s mine. For 35 years now we've watched David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece change from a marginalized movie only fit for the midnight crowd to the celebrated hellhole it is now! I wrote every damn trivial tidbit on this list of 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Eraserhead. People think that trivial tidbits grow on lists. But they sure as hell don't! Look at my knees! Look at my knees!

1. In 1970 David Lynch wrote a screenplay called Gardenback in which the marriage of Henry and Mary is disrupted by adulterous impulses represented by an insectoid monster growing in Henry’s head. These themes of adultery and a ruinous monster born in the head, as well as a couple named Henry and Mary, would soon be reborn in his Eraserhead script.

2. An unfilmed scene in Lynch’s poetic Eraserhead script involved main character Henry Spencer receiving chunks of flesh and bone in the mail, which fuse into a toothy mouth. This sequence was reworked into a sequence in which Henry receives a small worm in his mailbox. The worm grows into a large-mouthed but toothless creature in his cabinet.

3. According to Greg Olson’s Beautiful Dark, Eraserhead was originally supposed to end with the baby growing so large that it swallows Henry, the final image being “Henry’s feet disappearing into the creature’s gaping mouth.”

4. It is common practice for filmmakers to screen movies for their crews to set a tone or suggest an aesthetic before beginning a shoot. For his crew on Eraserhead, Lynch screened Sunset Boulevard by one of his favorite filmmakers, Billy Wilder. A few years later, Lynch was thrilled to learn another of his favorite filmmakers had used Eraserhead for that same purpose when Stanley Kubrick screened it for his crew on The Shining.

5. In 1984, Eraserhead star Jack Nance (Henry Spencer) told Cinefantastique that part of the “meticulous” preparations for the film involved “long, strange conversations” he and Lynch called “skull sessions,” in which they would analyze “everything that was happening inside Henry’s head.”

6. Actress Jeanne Bates (Mrs. X) already had experience performing in a story about a male who conjures destructive forces with his mind. In 1961, she appeared in the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “It’s a Good Life”.

7. Original production manager Doreen G. Small and actor Jack Fisk (The Man in the Planet) first worked together the year Eraserhead went into production on Barry Pollack’s blaxploitation flick Cool Breeze. Fisk served as art director on the film, a role he’d also fill on future films such as Carrie (starring his wife, Sissy Spacek), and Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Days of Heaven. As a production designer, he performed brilliant work on such films as Malick’s The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life, P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, and Lynch’s The Straight Story and Mulholland Dr. According to imdb, he is slated to work his magic on Malick and Anderson’s next films.

8. The Lady in the Radiator was born one day on the Eraserhead set when Lynch was idly sketching a woman with “fetuses falling out of her” (Cinefantastique, September 1984). This potentially disturbing image was a comforting one to Lynch, who decided she belonged “in the radiator, where it’s nice and warm, and this would be a real comfort to Henry.”

9. Assistant cameraperson Catherine Coulson was heading off to the waitressing job she took to help finance Eraserhead when she collapsed with violent convulsions and began vomiting up her stomach lining. Fortunately, Lynch was on hand, as he was staying with Coulson and her husband Jack Nance after splitting with his wife. Lynch's calming presence and swift emergency call saved Coulson's life. She was able to finish the film… and star as the beloved Log Lady in Lynch’s series “Twin Peaks” some fifteen years later.

10. The Eraserhead shoot was notoriously protracted, lasting four years while Lynch worked as a paperboy delivering The Wall Street Journal to continue raising money to fund the film. The stop-start shoot became so frustrating for Lynch that he considered completing it using an eight-inch stop-motion Henry figure on cardboard sets.

11. While Eraserhead was still in post-production, David Lynch presented Jack Nance with a small drawing of a roadhouse with a neon sign reading “Blue Velvet.” Lynch informed his friend that they would “do that” someday. They finally did a decade later.

12. The same year singer/composer Peter Ivers contributed “In Heaven” to Eraserhead, he composed the soundtrack for the Roger Corman/Ron Howard movie Grand Theft Auto. Among the musicians playing on the Grand Theft Auto sessions was Van Dyke Parks, who’d later play a lawyer on “Twin Peaks”.

13. “In Heaven” would be covered by a number of major bands, including The Pixies, Bauhaus, and Faith No More. But the first to tackle the song was Devo, who personally met with David Lynch and Peter Ivers to receive permission to perform the song in the late ‘70s.

14. John Waters was so taken with Eraserhead that while promoting Female Trouble, he spent more time championing Lynch’s film than his own.

15. When Lynch’s debut feature became a Midnight Movie sensation, it certainly did not afford its audiences as many rituals as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but marketer Doug Martin tried to drum up similar collective activity for Eraserhead by dragging a crowd to the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica every Friday to chant the film’s title when Henry first appeared on screen until the rest of the audience has joined in.

16. During the film's initial run as a Midnight Movie, Ben Barenholtz of NYC’s Elgin Cinema (now the Joyce Theater) paired Eraserhead with Suzan Pitt’s more political, but just as sexually charged, animated short Asparagus, which you can watch here:

17. The strangeness of Eraserhead led many to believe its creator was equally odd. Mel Brooks, who’d hire Lynch to helm The Elephant Man, expected him to be like “a young Max Reinhardt” or have “two eyes on one side of his nose” like a Picasso painting! In his book Work in Progress, Paramount President Michael Eisner wrote that he assumed Lynch would be “a gnomish man—unkempt, unbathed, and uncontrollable.” They were very surprised when they finally met the man who Brooks would famously liken to every-man Jimmy Stewart... well, Jimmy Stewart from Mars.

18. In 1981, when Eraserhead was finally released on the successful coattails of The Elephant Man in France, it was given the less evocative title Labyrinth Man.

19. Tom Waits described his groundbreaking album/stageplay Frank’s Wild Years as “a cross between Eraserhead and It’s a Wonderful Life.” Poet Charles Bukowski was another high-profile fan, and his script Barfly would be filmed in 1987 with Jack Nance co-starring.

20. In 2004, Eraserhead became the first David Lynch film to be selected by the United States National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress.

Eraserhead premiered at the Filmex Film Festival on this day in 1977.
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