Nearly fifty years ago, a young father named David Lynch began working on an art film.
For funding, Lynch secured a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute and help from his celebrity friend Sissy Spacek. Still, he was running out of money and the production kept having to be shut down.
But Lynch believed in his vision. He needed to tell the world about his experience of horror, confusion, and dread about being a parent in a struggling marriage to a sickly daughter.
Finally, with a loan from his father and cash from a paper route, David Lynch finished his masterpiece “Eraserhead.”
I do not recommend that you watch “Eraserhead.” It is plotless, uncomfortable, gory, and jarring. The film made little impression when it was first released.
But then something wonderful happened. “Eraserhead” found its audience. 90% of viewers found it inexplicable in a bad way. But a passionate 10% found it surreal in a good way.
David Lynch’s intensely personal film about an unhappy father being forced to care for his hideously deformed baby slowly found a fan base. The film began playing at midnight shows in art theaters around the country.
Mel Brooks professed his love for “Eraserhead.” So did Stanley Kubrick. The killer alien in “Alien” is plainly inspired by the deformed baby. Superfan George Lucas asked Lynch to direct “Return of the Jedi.” Lynch declined.
He also should have said “no” to the fools at Universal Pictures who greenlit an extravagant adaptation of the cult sci-fi novel “Dune.”
Giving a visionary like David Lynch a $50 million budget and a cast of terrific actors (Patrick Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow) turned out to be a really bad idea.
“Dune” is a failure in every conceivable way. My wife started cracking jokes while I was watching it for the first time. Normally, I’d find that annoying. In this case, the jokes at the film’s expense were welcome and appropriate.
“Dune” is an unholy mixture of “Star Wars,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
“Dune” tells the unfollowable story of four planets that are united and divided by their addiction to a drug called “Melange.” Melange expands the mind, extends life, and even bends the fabric of space so you can travel from planet to planet without moving. Melange can only be found on the backward desert planet Arrakis and the three civilized planets near Arrakis are perpetually at war over it.
Sounds intriguing, but David Lynch fails us. “Dune” is too conventional to be awesomely weird. But it’s too esoteric to be enjoyable for people who didn’t read the book.
It was perfectly appropriate that Lynch didn’t answer any of the audience’s questions in “Eraserhead.” In “Dune,” leaving us perplexed after 2½ hours is not acceptable. Is “Dune” really supporting Arab jihad against the west? What do those gigantic worms have to do with Melange? I suppose I’ll never know.
David Lynch is a true American original. His first great labor of love “Eraserhead” is a unique classic. His one mainstream movie “Dune” is a legendary disaster.