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220px-Eraserhead poster

Poster for Eraserhead.

Eraserhead is the first feature film directed by famed auteur David Lynch. It tells, in a highly surreal and non-conventional way, the story of a man whose girlfriend has given birth to a hideously deformed mutant baby. After a successful theatrical release, the film remained in wide circulation and is still available today. However, what we see today was not the original version. Certain books have discussed a longer cut that has not been seen since the film's first screening.

History

Eraserhead follows a man named Henry (Jack Nance, who would feature in many of Lynch's films until his death in 1997) who lives in a bleak (some have suggested post-apocalyptic) industrial town. He finds that his girlfriend Mary has given birth to a strangely deformed child after a short gestation period. He attempts to care for the baby, but it slowly drives him mad and he has numerous hallucinations while he tries to understand his life as a father. The meaning of the film and its images is still widely contested today. Lynch has said he prefers people to come up with their own meaning. 

The film was shot over five years due to difficulties in getting money. David Lynch took a paper route to pay for the film and Nance was forced to keep the now iconic hairstyle for the entire shoot. 

When the film premiered, the reviews were resoundingly negative. Variety called the film a bad taste exercise and the original premiere was said to be a disaster. However, several theater owners in New York ran it as a midnight movie. It played for a ninety-nine weeks at New York's famed Waverly Cinema and brought Lynch to the attention of several directors and Hollywood personalities. Stanley Kubrick called Eraserhead his favorite film of all time. Mel Brooks, after seeing the film, hired Lynch to direct The Elephant Man, a biopic of Joseph Merrick. Even George Lucas was impressed and attempted to hire Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi. Lynch has since gone on to direct numerous films and shorts, each marked with critical acclaim. 

Lost Version

In their definitive book on the midnight movie phenomenon, J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum devoted a chapter to Eraserhead. The authors describe the making of the film and its impact. What's interesting is their section on Eraserhead's debut:

"'It was horrifying,' Lynch remembered later...'people right away started getting a certain idea about Eraserhead. I don't even think they knew what they were looking at...We had the sound up way too loud, too.'" In despair, Lynch cut twenty minutes from Eraserhead. It may have been a little less; original credits list the running time as a hundred minutes while its present length is eighty-nine. [1]

The authors further note that this eighty nine minute cut is the only version that has been available since that screening.

This passage is one of the few references to a longer cut. However, a few references to the cut scenes have appeared. In their biography of David Lynch, Colin Odell and Michelle LeBlanc describe the cut scenes. Their description includes a scene in which Henry finds a dead cat and one where a mid wife comes to care for the mutated baby.

However, these references are scant. Lynch himself is famously reluctant to talk about the film; to this day, he refuses to describe how the mutant baby was created and what the film ultimately means. He has not gone in length to describe any of the scenes. Catherine Coulson, who served as the assistant camera person on Eraserhead and would later star as the Log Lady on Lynch's Twin Peaks, supposedly announced that the full cut would be released on DVD in 2000. However, this did not come to pass. [2]

It is unknown if these lost scenes will ever be available again. Lynch has started utilizing deleted scenes on blu ray releases for his films (including the releases of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet) but the most recent Eraserhead release from The Criterion Collection contains no references to these lost scenes.

References

  1. [Hoberman, J; Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Midnight Movies. Da Capo, 1991]
  2. Eraserhead Retrieved 20 September 2014

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